November, 2011

  • The building BRICS for knowledge economies

    Posted by Mteto Nyati
    Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

    Earlier this year, South African president Jacob Zuma joined his counterparts from Brazil, Russia, India and China on China's Hainan Island for a summit meeting of the informal group named after the initials of its members. Formerly BRIC, it is now the BRICS club.

    Many commentators were surprised by the decision to bring South Africa into the club. How could they bring in South Africa, and leave out the likes of Mexico, South Korea and Turkey? The answer came from none other than Jim O’Neill, the chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management International who originally coined the acronym: On purely economic terms, it makes no sense – but South Africa as a representative of the African continent is a different story.

    We cannot underestimate the importance of this move for Africa. Suddenly, BRICS is no longer an artificial body based on similar economic performance, but increasingly a forum representing the developing world. The inclusion of South Africa not only marks a significant milestone in Africa’s developing role on the world stage, but also talks to a potential shift in focus within BRICS from purely mercantile interests to a stronger development agenda.

    It’s important to bear in mind that Africa is largely a young continent. This in itself has several implications and opportunities. There’s no doubt that the opportunity for the continent is immense. But it also highlights the critical need for African countries to grow genuine knowledge economies, instead of old-style economies based purely on natural resources that are never beneficiated in their country of origin. We’ve seen far too many examples of the so-called “resource-curse”, where countries with huge natural resources tend to have less economic growth.

    In Africa, all of the elements for growing successful and sustainable knowledge economies are falling into place. We have numerous platforms and structures aimed at speeding Africa’s progress toward the much-discussed Millennium Development Goals.

    The continent is benefiting from a veritable broadband tsunami, with undersea fibre-optic cables landing practically by the day that connect Africa to the rest of the world.

    Mobile telephony is booming in practically every country, offering many people the chance to be part of a global economy. Africa is now the second largest mobile market in the world after Asia, and the fastest-growing mobile market in the world by some distance.

    The technology is available to grow modern and competitive knowledge economies in Africa. Now we need to redouble our efforts, with business partners, national and local governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society, to create the frameworks, policies and technology solutions that will spawn a new generation of knowledge workers on our continent.

    What does this mean in real terms? At Microsoft we believe that it’s all about enhancing the competitiveness of countries by expanding access to education at all levels of society, and contributing to a thriving African technology economy by stimulating economic growth, innovation, and employment in Africa’s IT industry and beyond.

    As an example, in South Africa, we’re busy nurturing six small black-owned software development companies as part of a ZAR500 million black empowerment initiative over a seven-year period. This investment directly addresses the key challenges facing South Africa, and the continent: creating jobs, developing enterprises, building the local software economy and developing scarce technology skills.

    It’s also vital that we create jobs and opportunities through ICT-related capacity building, and help improve services for African citizens through e-government solutions that enhance transparency and efficiency. Last, but not least, we need to maintain our focus on empowering local communities through ICT skills training.

    In June this year, Microsoft South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Science and Technology to increase access to e-skills and business skills training for students. The aim is to ensure that young people, particularly those with previously disadvantaged backgrounds, gain the key competencies to help fast-track their progress in future. So far, hundreds of partners, training providers, educational institutions and NGOs have joined us in driving this initiative.

    It’s a lot of work. But we’re well on the way. We simply cannot afford to let the BRICS opportunity pass us by.

  • Kicking off an African COP

    Posted by Paul Lloyd Robson
    Microsoft Environmental Sustainability Field Engagement

    The beating of African drums was the sound at the 17th Annual UN Global Climate Conference (COP17) as it opened yesterday in Durban, South Africa. The world's Governments, NGOs, and other delegates all filed in through the speedy and efficient accreditation process for the conference.

    For me, as an ex-Durbanite and now working for Microsoft Corp, the experience was one of good memories, experiencing the balmy Durban weather and the smells of the sweet sea breeze. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a member of the official South African delegation in the plenary hall, and I sensed that South Africa is optimistic about the negotiations, and proud to be able to showcase Durban, “The warmest place to be”, to the world.

    South Africa has taken something of a leadership role for a group of countries known as the Group of 24 (G24). The G24 was established in 1971 to coordinate the positions of developing countries on international monetary and development finance issues and to ensure that their interests were adequately represented. Developing countries generally work through the G24 to establish common negotiating positions at the COP. According to the South African delegate who I spoke with, they were positive about the opportunity to produce an outcome which was comprehensive, balanced and ambitious, but also focused on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, opened the conference and set expectations. Given that the current climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire, the extension of this will be the main hope of the South African government and most participants. The overarching goal of the COP is to create a binding, comprehensive agreement which will cap carbon emissions globally and limit global warming.

    Microsoft is in Durban, as it has been present at the previous two COP meetings in Cancun, Mexico and Copenhagen, Denmark. At COP17 we are hosting an area in the conference center for the first time, where we have equipped 10 computers with Skype. These PCs allow delegates to make Skype calls as well as let them call any phone on the planet, free of charge. Speaking to the delegates at the conference today, there has been a lot of interest in “virtual participation”, a new catchphrase at the COP meetings. This entails reducing the amount of travel needed, and thereby environmental impact, from global conferences such as the COP meetings through greater utilization of technologies like Skype and teleconferencing.

    This is just one of the few examples of the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change which we will demonstrate in South Africa. In the next two weeks as the conference progresses, myself and the other members of the Microsoft and partner delegation at COP17 will bring a few more blog posts here.

  • Microsoft opens its doors to the public

    Posted by Dele Akinsade
    Developer and Platform Evangelist Lead for Microsoft in West, East, Central Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands 

    The growth of internet access and mobile penetration across Africa has resulted in a technology tipping point in terms of the opportunities available to business and consumers. Now is Africa’s time. The potential is tremendous, but making technology readily accessible and available – and continuing to fuel Africa’s culture of innovation around ICT – is essential to turning that potential into a true impact on economic growth in the region.

    The need to create more spaces in which African technology professionals and enthusiasts are able to experience the latest-generation technologies first-hand, exchange ideas, and build skills birthed the idea for ‘Open Door’ – a series of events taking place across the continent aimed at highlighting the latest developments in ICT, but also the potential growth opportunities they offer.

    Open Door is essentially a ‘technology showcase’ where we give African technology professionals and enthusiasts the opportunity to experience the latest generation of products and services from Microsoft and its partners. Open Door is literally just that: our doors are open to the public, our customers, partners, students and Government. The events typically last one or two days and are jam-packed with technology sessions, demonstrations and interactive feedback sessions.  

    2011 is the second year we’ve hosted Open Door events in Africa and the feedback from customers, partners and consumers is that these types of events are needed to help drive technology adoption, and create a better understanding of what is available to consumers, businesses and Government alike – and perhaps most importantly, the growth opportunities they offer.

    Open Door events provide attendees access to our latest consumer and business tools, including products such as Windows Phone 7, Kinect for Xbox 360 and the Lync communication platform. The events are hosted across the territories that Microsoft operates in, including Nigeria, West & Central Africa, East & Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. To date, over 1, 100 developers, customers and partners have attended events in Abidjan, Lagos, Abuja, Nairobi and Kigali. Further events are planned across the region in the near future. 

    In Kenya and Rwanda alone almost 500 customers, partners and developers attended our events.   We also leveraged our Open Door event here to launch the Microsoft Virtual Academy, a fully cloud based online learning platform, designed to assist students in acquiring technologies and skills that would enhance their employability. 

    What we weren’t expecting was the incredible level of energy and enthusiasm we received in feedback.  Partner, customer, but particularly student feedback showed us that Open Door and supporting programmes, such as the Virtual Academy, are what really resonate with the local populus.  George Mbuthia, a student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology shared:

    “It is a thrilling experience to study Microsoft technologies and advance my career. Earning points for downloading and studying materials and passing the self-assessment tests the program also keeps me motivated and encouraged, as I can constantly see my progress.”

    Microsoft currently has over 250 employees in nine offices and more than 2,500 partners in the WECA & IOI region, each with thousands of employees. With Open Door, never before have so many leaders across the technology industry gathered together to share our product and services vision, and our extensive network is still growing!

  • Partnering With Microsoft to Transform Education in Africa

    Guest Post By Claire Ighodaro CBE
    Independent Director, British Council 

    As a British Council Trustee, I was proud to announce a new international education and training partnership with Microsoft this morning, at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2011 in Washington DC.

    The partnership with Microsoft is a perfect match, as it aligns with the British Council’s core mission: to build trust and create opportunities. We do 'soft power', to use Joseph Nye's phrase, and we do it on a vast scale, operating in 110 countries and 191 cities across the globe. In fact, we were recently described in the Huffington Post as 'probably the world's best cultural diplomacy agency.'

    The first project in this new partnership will provide teachers and learners across Africa with the skills they need to live and work in a global economy. I have seen firsthand the British Council's education programmes in Africa, and the results of their investment are extraordinary. So I am delighted that the first project in the new British Council - Microsoft partnership will happen in Africa, where we have the experience and connections to work effectively with educators and leaders on the ground to really make a difference.

    At the British Council, we work in three areas: English, Arts, and Education and Society. In terms of our reach and impact, we're the world's leading cultural relations organization. Last year our work engaged more than 30 million people worldwide, and we reached almost 600 million people through digital and broadcast media - approaching one in ten of the earth's people.

    Those numbers are large, but here is an even bigger statistic: three billion people today are under 25. Our common future depends on releasing their potential. This is what is at the heart of our new partnership. We cannot predict what's ahead, but we know that tomorrow's world will be complex and fast-changing, and that there will be major challenges ahead.

    According to the International Labor Organization, 160 million people worldwide are unemployed. That includes 64 million young people. And yet there is also a huge and growing shortage of people with the skills that the 21st century requires.  Global connectivity is rapidly transforming the world, as online and mobile technologies converge. By 2014, there will be 6.5 billion mobile subscribers. That's more than 90% of the world's entire population. This new world demands a whole new set of skills.

    We need outstanding, energetic young people with the skills to navigate this complex landscape. Alongside competence with IT, they will need superb communication and teamwork skills to understand and work with people in their schools and communities. And just as importantly, they will need the skills to reach out and work with people on the other side of the world.

    Where do we begin to address these issues? We believe the answer is through partnerships. We cannot do this alone. We must develop creative new alliances to address our common future, with states, businesses, educational organisations and individuals.

    Our two organizations have complementary expertise in technology, education and cultural relations. Our joint expertise forms a solid foundation for a productive, sustainable alliance.

    Technology is a tool that, when well used, can improve teaching and learning. But technology is just one piece of a larger solution, supported by progressive national education policies, professional development for educators, and innovations led by teachers on the ground.

    This project is not just about wiring schools. It is about ensuring that young people in their communities are equipped with skills that will serve them throughout their lives: leadership, self-confidence, creativity, ambition, and a desire to connect and contribute to the wider world.

    Claire Ighodaro CBE is a Board member, Non-executive Director and Audit Committee Chair of Lloyd’s of London, the UK’s Lending Standards Board and the British Council. She is also a Council Member of the Open University and a Past President of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.