June, 2011

  • Microsoft leads the transformation of South Africa’s IT industry

    Posted by Mteto Nyati
    Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

    Microsoft South Africa has just received the nod from the South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry indicating that it is now a Level 2 Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) contributor. What this really means, is that the local subsidiary of the software company is the most locally relevant multinational IT company operating in South Africa (SA).

    There is no other multinational that has yet shown this level of commitment to the restitution of past inequalities in SA’s business landscape, and it’s a great differentiator to government and to Microsoft’s trusted local partners, vendors and service providers.

    What’s great about this for Microsoft – which does business with 7,500 partner companies and service providers in SA – is that these Government agencies and businesses make themselves more compliant and more empowered in the process – as BEE in South Africa is designed to have exactly such a knock-on effect, to inspire participation in the programme.

    This network is already a major catalyst of economic growth and opportunity in South Africa, driving dynamic solutions for our customers, and jobs and opportunities throughout the industry. With the additional 20 points Microsoft SA received for our Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) equity equivalent programme, the company has even risen above the level of BEE participation of the top empowered companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

    This illustrates our attitude towards investing into empowerment in South Africa – and also supports my views as leader of the local business –by being entrenched in the issues that drive South Africa’s government and business landscape, and by doing all we can to create a vibrant local software economy, Microsoft in South Africa can have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the nation’s citizens.

    While BEE in South Africa has in many cases become a contentious issue, Microsoft has shown that by doing it differently, it is possible to follow not only the letter of the law, but to follow the intent – economic and social development.

    Microsoft SA has already announced the names of four sustainable, independent and majority black-owned software companies that Microsoft SA  will nurture and support under the equity equivalent programme, so that their solutions can compete on the world software service market.

    On 10 June 2011, we furthered our commitment by opening a second public request for proposals (RFPs) – as Microsoft SA   would like to take a few additional majority black owned Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) on this journey to international competitiveness as part of our half a billion rand (USD 57.9m) upliftment programme.

    Our relationship with the South African government has been further strengthened by the commitment we have shown to assisting where we can with the local priorities, of which education, skills and job creation are some of the most key to lifting the country out of a possible service delivery crisis.

    I am of the school that believes software and other technologies, when properly used, can transform lives. Over nearly 20 years, we’ve aligned our programmes and investments in South Africa to support economic development, social advancement and greater dynamism in the local software ecosystem.

    Microsoft has been running various programmes to make the world of computers more accessible and affordable for the majority of South Africans – and to unlock the potential of individuals, institutions and academia, NGOs, businesses and government entities by knowing how to use technology to its ultimate ability.

    Our citizenship commitments include transforming local education, fostering local innovation, and creating jobs and opportunities – giving new hope to people with disabilities, enhancing the country’s education system, helping communities bridge the digital divide, supporting entrepreneurial ventures in many industries, and helping thousands of young graduates and school-leavers to develop skills and find good jobs.

    To achieve all of these objectives, our Citizenship programme managers partner with local NGOs, government departments and service providers to reach and enrich the lives of hundreds of thousands of teachers, learners, students, graduate interns, SMEs, disadvantaged communities, differently-abled citizens and government employees each year. For a look at our Citizenship Report of 2009-10, please have a look at http://www.microsoft.com/southafrica/citizenship/index.html.

    Through the success of the BBBEE programme over time, the market will grow to associate Black Economic Empowerment with real entrepreneurship, job creation, enterprise development and skills enhancement. This makes me sleep better at night – knowing that I – as a black South African working for a multinational technology leader, can make a difference in my country through the work that we do.

  • Microsoft launches KiSwahili Language Interface Pack for Office 2010

    Posted by Louis Otieno
    General Manager, Microsoft East and Southern Africa

    The language we speak is a cornerstone of our personal, social and cultural identity. At Microsoft, we’re working hard to give people across Africa – and the globe – access to some of our popular technologies localized in their language. Our motive is to make it easier for all users, but specifically first-time users, to become fluent in programs like Windows and Microsoft Office. We also want to assist in modernising local languages, ensuring they remain relevant in an age when day-to-day Communication is rapidly evolving due to the influence of technology.
    In line with this vision, Microsoft’s Local Language Program recently launched the KiSwahili Language Interface Pack (LIP) for Windows 7, and we are now happy to be releasing the KiSwahili Microsoft Office Language Interface Pack 2010. There are between 5 and 10 million people in Africa who call KiSwahili their first language, and between 50 and 100 million who use it as a second language. Spoken in Eastern Africa and parts of Central Africa, it is the second most widely understood language in Africa after Arabic, and is ranked by the Global Language System as one of the 12 ‘supercentral languages’, which are very widely spoken languages that serve as connectors between speakers of central languages.

    We have invested significant time and resources in our Local Language Program because we believe that the impact of learning in one’s first language on educational development is enormous. When we learn new things, especially as a child, our first language is the foundation for this learning. For example, it is far easier for children (and adults) to learn to read in their own mother tongue, as they are able to use their spoken language as a reference point. And computer literacy education is much the same - once a user has mastered a software programme in their own language, they’ll find the progression to using it in English far easier.

    In addition to removing the language barrier to education, our Local Language Program also excites me because it is deeply involved in helping to keep native languages modern, mainstream and relevant to their speakers. One of the main causes of ‘language death’ is that bilingual speakers start to use their ‘second’ language gradually more frequently – usually because it has more utility and is more applicable to their daily lives. So although KiSwahili is strengthening its place among the world’s global languages – being taught at many universities across the world and featuring on many high profile radio stations; this isn’t enough on its own. To continue to remain relevant, it needs to expand to reflect the changing experiences of its speakers – such as the incorporation of new tools and technologies into their day-to-day lives. So, rather than encouraging KiSwahili speakers, and speakers of other local languages to simply adopt English terminology for Windows and Office; we’ve partnered with governments, universities, and local language experts to develop glossaries for native languages that reflect the subtle nuances of their lexicon, and are developed in line with the rules and style conventions that define each language. Our language program also ties in with our wider belief that people can really only experience the benefits of technology once they gain access to it – and most importantly, develop the skills to use it effectively.
    Being able to sit down in front of Office 2010 for the first time and easily understand where to go to ‘save’, ‘print’ or ‘send’ is something English speakers take for granted. I’d like to see the disadvantage faced by other languages eventually evened out completely – so I’m happy to report that this recent wave of LIPs for Office 2010 has set a record as being the fastest that we’ve brought the newest version of Office to native language speakers. 


  • Out of Isolation: How technology is supporting refugees

    There are currently 43 million people displaced by war, conflict and human rights abuses around the world. The UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR – was established 60 years ago and currently deals with 36.4 million people of concern. Technology has enabled UNHCR to make progress in critical areas of communication, mapping and tracking, data collection, education and capacity building.

    Sajjad Malik, Chief Operational Solutions and Transition Section, UNHCR, talks about his experiences working for UNHCR and the impact technology has had on his day to day work at the Microsoft Unlimited Potenial Blog.