Immense impact of 4IR technologies on African economies to be addressed through South African lawyer’s World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution fellowship

Ashlin Perumall, Senior Associate at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, South Africa, has taken up the role of Fellow at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) in San Francisco. As part of his C4IR Fellowship, Perumall has joined the blockchain and digital currency working group, working on the legal and policy considerations surrounding central bank digital currencies and stablecoins. Perumall was chosen to join the C4IR last year, from a wide range of global firm submissions.

Perumall states that his reasons for taking up the fellowship are based on the immense impact the 4IR will have on the emerging African economies, ranging from the changing nature of work, to the impact of AI technologies and the future of digital currencies.

“The development of the 4IR in Africa demands the focused attention and research of skilled professionals in Africa, who can understand the macro global technological trends and their impacts and risks, as well having the foresight as to how these are addressed in developed economies. My aim is to make the most of this incredible opportunity, and the access and focus that it allows, to equip myself with the knowledge and experience needed to contribute meaningfully to the development of 4IR initiatives across Africa,” says Perumall.

These shifting tides are already being recognised by governments around the world, including South Africa. In 2019, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the formation of a commission on the 4IR, with the aim of assisting the government to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the 4IR. In October 2020, the final report and recommendations of the commission were gazetted and opened for public comment. In February 2020, the South African Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group, separately announced Project Khokha 2, the second phase of its real-world sandbox trial of a distributed ledger tokenised money.

“These initiatives signal that the impact of 4IR technologies is being taken seriously, and legal advisors will need to develop the policy and industry insight to match the future needs of technology clients in Africa,” says Perumall.

Perumall is a corporate and commercial attorney with 10 years’ experience acting for local and multinational clients in Africa, specialising in technology acquisition and transactional matters involving intellectual property. He is also routinely called to advise on complex legal mandates in the technology, media and telecommunication sector, particularly those involving novel or disruptive technologies, products or business models. He is regarded as a key technology advisor in respect of client work in the firm’s Johannesburg office, having advised clients on law and policy in the areas of applied machine learning, and distributed ledger and blockchain technologies, including central bank settlement systems, battery electrical vehicle regulations, autonomous vehicles and autonomous agents, to name a few.

Morne van der Merwe, Managing Partner of Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, says, “Ashlin’s invaluable skills in IPtech and M&A/Commercial law means he has played a key role in many of the firm’s major African transactions in the last few years. His knowledge of the intersection of technology, commercial law, policy and innovation places him at the cutting edge of African legal work.

“Ashlin‘s global fellowship at the C4IR is a highly prestigious appointment within the firm and is a testament to his knowledge and acumen in the area of legal innovation and its business applications. He has also been actively involved in the firm’s internal, pro bono and client-focused innovation initiatives. We know he will achieve great things during his tenure at the C4IR, bringing back with him crucial skills needed to solve client pain points in Africa, and allowing him to play a meaningful role in the implementation of the digital economy across the continent,” he adds.

The Firm’s C4IR fellowships are part of Baker McKenzie’s Reinvent Law innovation programme, which captures the firm’s ongoing commitment to applying clever solutions to meet its clients’ challenges and most strategic goals. Reinvent incorporates the people, processes and technology that can accelerate change and deliver speed, accuracy, flexibility and efficiency gains for clients as well as the broader communities in which the firm operates.