Today at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, high-level representatives from the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, African Development Bank, Microsoft, Nokia, infoDev, DEMO, and the World Economic Forum launched a new partnership to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa. The Liberalizing Innovation Opportunity Nations (LIONS@FRICA) partnership seeks to mobilize the knowledge, expertise and resources of leading public and private institutions to encourage and enhance Africa’s innovation ecosystem and to spur entrepreneurship across the continent.

You can read live updates all day at the DEMOAfrica Twitter account, @DEMOAfrica. The State Department press release is here.

All the information at DEMO can be found here: DEMOAfrica announcement.

If you would like to contact people regarding the DEMOAfrica launch, you can reach those people here: DEMOAfrica contacts and info.

Children Planning Homework on Mobile Phones

Zambian high schoolers and their mobile phones

Photo courtesy of mLearning Africa, on Flickr. Creative Commons

Africa in October 

When October rolls around, we're going to be heading to Kenya to see this kind of ingenuity firsthand, and to take part in the first ever DEMO Africa, an initiative that is being put together by Microsoft, DEMO, IDG, Nokia, several NGOs, Startup Weekend, and Lions@frica, a coalition created by the State Department that is working in the continent of just over 1 billion people to team up budding entrepreneurs with powerful global players. LIONS@FRICA and DEMO will leverage the Microsoft Innovation Centers, as well the company’s signature BizSpark program, which supports over 600 African startups and has 188 Network Partners.

It's of course not just mobile phone apps, but the cloud apps ecosytem, in general. Nowhere is there more sudden innovation and extrapolation. Developers building cloud apps and web apps make the world easier for anyone doing their business on the go, or in areas of the world where broadband and other telco infrastructure is fragmented. The DEMO Africa and State Department partnership is a way to encourage young entrepreneurs to excel at solving development problems using the kind of technology that many of us use for the sole purpose of checking in on Foursquare.

I found this story the other day when I was reading about Africa and its cell phone / smart phone habits. 

My survey underlined a simple fact: Africa has experienced an incredible boom in mobile phone use over the past decade. In 1998, there were fewer than four million mobiles on the continent. Today, there are more than 500 million. In Uganda alone, 10 million people, or about 30% of the population, own a mobile phone, and that number is growing rapidly every year. For Ugandans, these ubiquitous devices are more than just a handy way of communicating on the fly: they are a way of life.

It may seem unlikely, given its track record in technological development, but Africa is at the centre of a mobile revolution. In the west, we have been adapting mobile phones to be more like our computers: the smartphone could be described as a PC for your pocket. In Africa, where a billion people use only 4% of the world's electricity, many cannot afford to charge a computer, let alone buy one. This has led phone users and developers to be more resourceful, and African mobiles are being used to do things that the developed world is only now beginning to pick up on.

Microsoft will be in Africa to support this generation with our partners. 

What You Should Know

Q: What is Microsoft’s role in the Lions@frica partnership?

A: LIONS@FRICA will leverage Microsoft’s state of the art technology facilities on the continent (Microsoft Innovation Centers or ‘MICs’), as well the company’s signature BizSpark program, which supports over 600 African startups has 188 Network Partners.

Q: How does it differ from/build on the work you’re already doing in Africa to support start-ups/entrepreneurs?

A: Microsoft’s investment in LIONS@FRICA is a natural extension of our work to help accelerate the success of entrepreneurs and early stage start-ups on the continent, and to provide promising young African developers and innovators access technology tools, skills and resources they need to realise their full potential. Investing in helping others innovate and compete is an important motivation for Microsoft. And we’re focused on helping to create the right infrastructure, provide the right opportunities and build the right partnerships that will give start-ups in Africa a chance to thrive. We’re involved in a number of programs and projects to achieve this end. For example, we’re connecting Microsoft partners and customers with qualified students for entry-level and internship through our Student2Business (S2B) program; and we recently launched our Build Your Business program - an engaging, accessible multimedia MSE training toolkit aimed at providing African micro and small Scale entrepreneurs the skills to lead and grow their businesses, through improved business knowledge and technology know-how.