How Zimbabwean SME Purple Signs are bringing ever more Africans the benefits of affordable, accessible sign language tools – thanks in part to ITU Telecom World
Purple Signs is set to impact the lives of at least 300 000 deaf adults and children, and enable up to 10 000 front office service providers to communicate with the deaf without prior expensive training in the sign languages of multiple African countries. We asked Dominic Tinashe Tapfuma, Founder and CEO of the Zimbabwean SME about his innovative solution, how his experiences at ITU Telecom World 2018 have helped drive his success – and what the future holds for Purple Signs.
What is Purple Signs all about?
Purple Signs (Private ) Limited seeks to capture the wave of digital innovation and Africa’s lead as a technology adopter by democratizing communication and socio-economic participation for the deaf or hard of hearing – and eliminating the reinforcing nature of exclusion the deaf community suffer from due to communication barriers. Purple Signs equips hearing and deaf people with affordable, accessible sign language live translation and interpretation tools. We eliminate language barriers between the deaf and the hearing to allow seamless the deaf to integrate seamlessly into society and give on demand insights, visualizations and motivation of deaf culture.
Why did you decide to take part in ITU Telecom?
ITU Telecom World was a unique opportunity to learn best practice in the telecommunications space and then improve our product offering, as well as opening up Purple Signs to new world markets. As the leading UN tech event for governments, corporates and SMEs, the event gave us a platform to help accelerate our ICT innovations for social and economic development across the globe. Purple Signs joined ITU Telecom World 2018 to draw insights on emerging trends and the future of communications, and to interact and gain experience from world-renowned administrations of ITU member states, national regulatory authorities and ITU corporates sector members, with help from the Postal &Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe’s Ministry of ICT and Cyber security.
Tell us about your experience at the event – what did you take part in, who did you meet, what did you learn?
Purple Signs uses technology to enable the deaf to communicate with the hearing by means of mobile wireless technology, emerging new technologies and the scale offered by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). So our team targeted forum discussion sessions in line with this. We took part in the exhibition within the Zimbabwean Pavilion. Visits and feedback from influential leaders in the ICT innovation space inspired the need to scale our innovations to new countries across Africa and the globe.
The ITU Telecom World 2018 networking mobile application helped Purple Signs identify potential partners even before even arriving at the event. The influential leaders we met at the event included the Minister of ICT from South Africa, the CEO of MTN, the Minister of ICT from Ghana, regulatory authority officials from Ghana, Cameroon, Namibia, Egypt and Nigeria, as well as SME founders from multiple countries whose vision and drive continue to inspire our future work.
Key learnings included understanding the importance of product quality, designing solutions for scale and impact, franchising and access to investor finance. We also learnt about the importance of collaboration, and of understanding the digital strategies and policies that shape the administration of technologies for a connected, inclusive, sustainable future. Appreciating how fellow SMEs solve socio-economic community challenges using technology and building capacity through collaboration were some of the highlights of the ITU Telecom World experience.
How has taking part in the SME Programme benefited Purple Signs?
The SME programme has helped put Purple Signs on the world map of companies driving ICT solutions with high social impact. Since then, we’ve met with several Zimbabwean government ministries, as well as representatives from UNICEF Zimbabwe. The experience of taking part has had a massive positive impact on the quality of our Purple Signs solutions. On returning to Zimbabwe, senior management hired a team to revamp our branding. Internal employment opportunities have been created for deaf employees with the Purple Signs business model. A new website and applications in line with international best practice have since been developed.
We have also engaged with the Zimbabwe Medical Association and Pharmaceutical Association of Zimbabwe to offer communication solutions to health care service providers and deaf patients in the health sector, and expanded into tourism and legal services. After ITU, Purple Signs initiated consultations with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe which have led to a new national standard to be created in Zimbabwe for customer services offered in Zimbabwean Sign Language for deaf customers across all industries. ITU helped us to understand the need and importance of shaping policies which drive the development of sustainable inclusive multi-purpose technological solutions. The standard is now at draft phase, and will have a direct impact on customer service delivery in sign language in Zimbabwe for generations to come in financial services, pharmaceutical, public utilities, education, entertainment, health care services, legal services, mass media, telecommunications, tourism and hospitality.
And what are your plans for the future?
The future of Purple Signs is global. We want to reach IPO on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange by 2025. Franchising and re-arranging operations in preparation for IPO has become an exciting daily focus. Plans for the year are to drive investor engagement and engage new governments to offer similar solutions in their countries in sectors where needs are greatest – including the finance and tourism sectors, where we want to show how more can be done to engage people with disabilities, and grow products and services to be disability-inclusive in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development goals on fostering inclusion and equality.