March, 2011

  • Rural KwaZulu-Natal school connects the dots in world-first teaching trial

    Posted by Larry Venter
    Senior Director of Retail Solutions for Microsoft Worldwide

    Just under a year ago I was fortunate enough to do a tour of Lakeside Park Primary in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. During that tour the headmaster told me of the struggle that the foundation phase children have in learning English – in fact I recall something he said; “when the children stopped using English on the playground, their English results suffered”. I left the school a few hours later thinking about how we could do something to improve literacy acquisition. Over the next few months I set about researching PC educational games and the edutainment market, but it was really at the launch of the San Diego Microsoft Store that the penny dropped. At the opening, in June of last year, I saw Kinect™ for Xbox 360® being played by children and parents outside the store and I recall thinking – that’s the perfect medium for learners! It’s fun, its interactive, it’s in English and it’s highly collaborative too!

    Momentum kicked in with Microsoft’s Live@Edu team funding the study, which engaged local educational technology experts, NGO SchoolNet SA, to develop the teacher training materials and conduct training, and also to review, select and purchase appropriate games, install the devices and security systems and manage an independent evaluator, Mindset. Eight teachers from Lakeside Park Primary, a small school in the remote district of Vryheid in rural KwaZulu-Natal, were trained and their classrooms equipped with the interactive Xbox and Kinect gaming platforms and security.
    I have learnt that in education there are two levers that can be pulled to improve the learning experience – time with teacher, and the quality of the teacher.  In the early days of this program we started seeing how teachers were able to use Kinect to drive heightened engagement in the classrooms. One teacher is quoted saying that “the level of interaction I saw on day one would normally take us three to four months to get to”. In my mind that equates to more time with the teacher!

    We have also seen teachers use the training we provided to start providing creative solutions – or learning opportunities – that benefit the children and improve the teachers delivery too. In the first week we saw a teacher use “avatar creation” as a way to introduce the learners to life skills – by allowing each to design their own avatar. We also saw a teacher use bowling as a numeracy exercise, and even the use of “kinectimals” as a way of constructing sentences – in my mind all that helps to develop the quality of the teachers delivery. 

    Studies of gaming in education show that learners really engage when teachers design their lesson activities around the topics in games, simply due to the added stimulus. With Kinect, you can play a variety of sport, edutainment and instructive games using body movements and voice. Sensors replicate your motions via an on-screen avatar – your ‘mirror image’.  Change was afoot from the word ‘go’.
    Today we officially announced the program in South Africa and it has drawn a lot of excitement from national and local educators and politicians. My hope is that we can use the findings of this program and develop solutions that will continue to transform the teaching and learning experience across Africa.

  • New Innovations in IT Support Environmental Sustainability in Africa

    Posted by Frank McCosker

    Managing Director, Microsoft Global Strategic Accounts

    Today, I’m in Nairobi, Kenya for the United Nations Chief Executive Briefing, where Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, launched the UN’s new energy neutral Nairobi office building. The building is the first of its kind for the UN in Africa and is a global showcase of sustainable design and technology.

    We are proud to be part of UNEP’s inspirational goal of supporting forward-thinking and environmentally responsible technology - this goal is shared by the many UN partners and leaders also gathered in Kenya to attend the building’s launch.

    Our work with UNEP stems from a public-private partnership that began in 2009, and our contribution to the UN office in Nairobi, which houses the UNEP headquarters began with the design of the building. Extensive consultation and background studies identified information technology and lighting as the highest energy using components and therefore the greatest roadblocks to achieving energy neutrality.

    Traditional data centers require expensive air conditioning components that require massive amounts of energy to operate. These components account for up to 90 percent of IT energy consumption. To overcome this, we worked closely with UNEP to see how  green technology, specifically the IT pre-assembled components (ITPAC) data center, could help UNEP support an IT infrastructure that achieves its energy neutrality goals for the building.

    This piece of cutting-edge technology illustrates how it is possible to create sustainable 21st century work environments, and is at the center of Microsoft’s green IT strategy. And implementing green IT policies like the highly efficient ITPAC data center is not only ensuring the building’s energy neutrality, but also demonstrating the crucial role that technology can play in environmental sustainability.

    The ITPAC technology uses fans to create negative pressure, drawing outside air through the container to cool equipment. As a result, the technology dramatically reduces typical data center carbon footprint and the consumption of materials such as water, concrete, steel, piping and copper, along with the additional carbon footprint associated with the packaging and transporting of servers, equipment and supplies.

    We have estimated that with ITPAC data centers, the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio is often cut in half. In addition, the ITPAC’s technology also allows the building to leverage increased IT flexibility and scalability of advanced technologies like cloud computing – unlocking even greater efficiencies and allowing the UN staff in Nairobi to do more with less. Based on research Microsoft conducted with Accenture, we’ve found that the carbon emissions running Microsoft business applications were reduced by more than 30% when hosted in the cloud when compared to being installed on-premise.
    In addition to our technology, the new UN building in Nairobi has some other really interesting and innovative features, such as energy saving lighting, energy efficient laptops, natural ventilation systems and 6,000 square meters of solar panels designed to generate as much electricity as its 1,200 occupants consume.

    A working building and a research facility, it also serves as a sustainable showcase aiming to motivate others around the world to become part of the transition to a green economy. Moreover, the building is a testimony to the power of public-private partnerships and the potential for innovation through collaboration.

    Microsoft applauds UNEP’s vision and commitment to making their energy neutral goal a reality.

  • Microsoft announces BBBEE partners

    Posted by Mteto Nyati
    Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

    After an exhaustive five-month process examining and analysing the 683 hopefuls who had responded, Microsoft South Africa today unveiled the first small black-owned software development firms that will benefit from the company’s R475-million investment in a broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) equity equivalence programme.

    The four new BBBEE partners were introduced to the media today at our headquarters in Johannesburg, by me and our partners at the government’s Trade and Industry Trade and Industry Ministry.

    They are:

    • Pietermaritzburg-based Chillisoft, who create public health software solutions that assists in alleviating service delivery bottlenecks;
    • Cape Town-based Maxxor, which creates consumer applications for mobile phones;
    • Security solutions specialists BUI from Johannesburg; and
    • Durban-based Home Grown Business Integrations, who create cloud-based software that boosts government service delivery to rural people.

    Empowerment is one mechanism South Africa employs to redress the imbalances of South Africa’s apartheid legacy. Because we at Microsoft South Africa believe that empowerment should be linked more effectively to the development of skills and growing local businesses, we entered with the blessing of government into an Equity Equivalence programme.
    The investment directly addresses key challenges facing the government and South Africa – namely creating jobs, developing enterprises, building the local software economy and developing scarce technology skills. This deal should elevate Microsoft South Africa from a Level 4 to a Level 2 Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) contributor, which benefits all who do business with us, as well as our image and good standing when dealing with government in business.

    We’re satisfied that our choices not only meet the letter of BEE, but also the spirit thereof. I wish to give a salute to every applicant who submitted themselves to this intensely competitive process in which only a handful would be successful.

    The journey is not yet over and there are numerous opportunities for the other aspiring companies to continue working with Microsoft in various ways. In this light, we will be starting the next RFP process in June this year. Should these companies be interested, Microsoft would like to work with them in the areas in which they succeeded well in the selection (due diligence) process, and possibly invite them to join Microsoft ISV programme.

    At the start of the process, we made it clear that this wasn’t a one-off. We’d like to grow several companies through this process, if we can. Market conditions change and we feel it’s in everyone’s best interests if we continue to engage with potential candidates who might meet the criteria. The more companies we can grow through this process, the better for the software industry as a whole.

    Microsoft, its advisors and venture capital backers Vunani will do extensive planning with Microsoft and our selected partners over the next four months, and then decide on the investment requirements to close the gap between the companies’ current business models and what is needed to take them to the next level. We foresee the marketing and due processes of business execution towards growth commencing within the next six months.

    When this process started, we had little insight into the potential partners. But we did identify high-growth areas in South Africa and other emerging markets, such healthcare, education, security, software plus services and mobility, where we saw the biggest opportunity of success for incumbents.

    Each and every single company that we’ve announced here today is black-owned in terms of the provisions of the BBBEE Act. We’re extremely comfortable that our choices not only meet the letter of BEE, but the spirit thereof. We’re specifically not excluding or favouring anyone, and look forward to growing black skills in the software development sector through this programme.

    We remain 100 percent committed to our existing partner channel, and to making their Microsoft lines of business as profitable as possible for them. The fact is that this programme is growing the channel in an underserved niche, and will ultimately result in a far greater volume of business for our partners, who will have opportunities to work with these new partners. We’re not giving smaller slices of pie here, we’re making the size of the pie bigger for everyone.

    With this deal, Microsoft is taking a high-risk, high-reward approach, by striving to create a new model for entrepreneurship. The size of the deal – R472 million – makes it the biggest deal of its kind by an IT company in SA. By selecting local black-owned companies with potential, and helping them become significant players who create software that the market wants, we hope that the market will come to associate BBBEE with real entrepreneurship, job creation, business/enterprise development and skills enhancement.

    I invite you to follow this first-of-its-kind seeding process with us, and will provide an update a few months from now, when we are ready to truly take these companies to the international marketplace! In the meantime, additional information can be accessed via



    Pictured here (left to right) are Anujah Powell, CEO of Chillisoft, Mustapha Baboo, CEO of Maxxor, Miles Kubheka, Executive Director of BUI from Johannesburg; Mteto Nyati, MD of Microsoft South Africa; Thaisi Shale, MD of Home Grown Business Integrations and Sipho Zikode, acting deputy director-general within the DTI.
  • Rural Technology Lab Launched in Mali

    Posted by Matt Berg
    ICT Director, Millennium Villages Project

    To demonstrate the critical role technology can play in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, the Earth Institute, Columbia University  has partnered with Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Community Technology Skills program to establish a computer programmer training center at the Millennium Villages project (MVP) office in Bamako, Mali.

    Known as the “Rural Technology Lab,” the full-scale training center is equipped to cultivate local computer programming talent in Mali and offers a demonstration model for how small investments in technology and education can build local capacity in rural communities elsewhere in Africa. 

    Promising university graduates apply to the nine-month training program at the Lab and have a chance to apply their new skills to develop web and SMS-based applications that serve other MVP initiatives, particularly in the areas of health and education.

    By focusing on developing practical solutions for impoverished rural communities, the Earth Institute provides the Lab with local on-the-ground knowledge and experience, in coordination with the Modi Research Group, while Microsoft donated the funds, software, and specialized training curriculum to support the Lab in the long term.

    So far, the Lab students have developed a program called Kodonso to track the enrollment rates and school meals data by SMS for 6,000 students at the MVP site in Tiby, Mali – statistics that are critical to monitoring Mali’s progress towards reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals.

    The aim is for the Lab students to conclude the training program with opportunities for full-time employment or internships with the MVP or other project partners as well. Four of the 2010 Lab graduates have already moved on to full-time work with a local software development firm in Mali.

    In keeping with the MVP’s goals to use science and technology to help rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty, the Lab’s most important contribution is the development of local talent. The Lab’s first eight graduates are already building up Mali’s capacity to resolve its own challenges, within its own communities, and this is just the start.


  • International Women’s Day

    Posted by Cheick Diarra
    Chairman for Africa

    African women from all walks of life have demonstrated capabilities and potentials that extend far beyond producing food and raising children. Given their central role not only as mothers and caregivers, but also as farmers and informal traders among others, by unleashing their potential we stand a better chance of unlocking the continent’s growth.  Significant progress has been made in Africa to advance both women’s empowerment and their status in society – but there is still more we can do. 

    Women in Africa continue to face discrimination and inequality. Despite the legal guarantees for women’s right for political and economic participation, stereotypical gender roles are deep-seated, limiting women’s employment and decision-making opportunities. Progress on gender equality and women's empowerment is critical to advance the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) overall and there is increased recognition of the linkages between gender equality and achievement of all the MDGs.

    Adding to that, we have a legacy in Africa of uneducated adults – and this cycle needs to be broken. Two thirds of the world’s illiterate population are women and girls.  Despite tremendous progress made toward gender empowerment, significant challenges still face women throughout their lives. 

    Broadly speaking, women are poor in Africa, they have limited claim to their land, no property, less opportunity and yet they are the ones who hold the key to education for all. The challenge is by no means a small one – but the potential is what we should focus on. As we invest in literacy programmes around the world - I suggest that special attention is paid to the female population.
    If we invest in the women of Africa and in basic literacy programmes for them, this will have an exponential effect in terms of broader literacy and education.  We can create economies of scale if we correctly target the sector of the population that has the power to influence and lead and fundamentally accelerate literacy across the continent.  The ambitious task of educating our children in Africa suddenly becomes a good deal more simple – and achievable. 

    I believe this economy of scale is best achieved through technology. Think of how the combination of a computer, mobile telephony, multi-media software and the Internet have the power to bring the written word to life, by sound or by sight, at relatively little expense across oceans and continents.

    Technology access has a multiplying effect that opens up new worlds to schoolchildren, new markets to entrepreneurs and small businesses or new citizen communities to governments, irrespective of geographical location. 

    How then do we harness this potential in ICT?

    Last September we launched a portal with UNESCO called the Knowledge and Innovations Network for Literacy. This online resource connects experts with teachers, NGOs and governments who need tried and tested literacy curriculum, programmes, teaching methodologies and policy guidance. Based on Microsoft’s SharePoint technology, the Network serves as a global forum and community that can help scale the best practices in the spread of literacy, and especially literacy for women.  I believe that is a step in the right direction.

    This is the type of collaboration that is going to help reverse the gender gap and address the poverty illiteracy often breeds. Today, on International Women’s Day I want to urge you to start thinking about how you can contribute. Together, we can use technology to transform the lives of children and women around the world who are excluded from society, the economy and national policy. We are all stakeholders in the MDG’s common denominator - literacy.