The fact that millions of Chinese workers are cycling to work every morning on cleaner, clearer, streets is just one reason, according to a veteran banker, why we shouldn’t fear the fourth industrial revolution – a concept that will be near the top of the agenda at this week’s BRICS conference at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.
South Africa is chairing the conference that will see the leaders of China, Russia, Brazil and India – who between them preside over a third of the world’s GDP – descend upon the continent for talks on everything from investment to peacekeeping.
“We shouldn’t see the words ‘fourth industrial revolution’ as a frightening phrase for something that is too costly,” says K V Kamath, the president of the Shanghai-based New Development Bank – the so-called BRICS bank – in Johannesburg this week for the conference.
“What we are talking about is cost effective solutions. Disruption goes hand-in-hand with the fourth industrial revolution.”
Kamath cited an example from his bank’s backyard in Shanghai. He said there had been a sharp growth in cycling to work – as many as two million new cyclist commuters in Shanghai alone and 25 million in China that has cut congestion and pollution.
The new army of people, who leave their cars at home, is down to a new app that is part of the fourth industrial revolution, says Kamath.
“You can open the bike with your app, ride it for an hour for 10 cents, and then close it with the app and leave it. No one gives you the bike or takes it from you. It is cheap and efficient and the reason why many car owners are leaving their vehicles at home.”
The NDB plans to invest more into infrastructure projects in Africa. So far, it has ploughed $380 million into two projects in South Africa. It plans to look into projects from energy to roads.
“For Africa, China can act as a mirror with small changes and massive infrastructure investment leading to high economic growth,” says Kamath.
The NBD, in its third year, has a mere $10 billion in capitalisation, a small amount in the banking world, yet Kamath believes it can make a difference in Africa where the infrastructure gap runs into hundreds of billions.
“Sure, it will only be like a drop in the ocean, but we can help the economies of Africa to grow.”
So says KV Kamath who believes his bank can help Africa to get on its bike.