March, 2012

  • Imagine Cup, the perfect platform to encourage innovative thinking in South Africa

    Guest Post by Josh Leibstein
    Student and Imagine Cup finalist

    When I developed the computer-aided detection programme to identify tuberculosis at an early stage, I never imagined it would lead to winning first prize at Microsoft’s South Africa leg of the Imagine Cup. The competition was tough as there were many great projects – all of them meeting this year’s criteria, which was ‘Solving the World’s Toughest Problems’! 

    It all started a couple of years ago when I overheard my fellow University of Johannesburg students discuss their Imagine Cup entries. It intrigued me. Immediately, I was inspired by the extent of their creativity and that their projects actually had the potential to address real-life issues. And I thought – hey, I can do that too!

    Under the guidance of my honours project mentor, Mr Duncan Coulter, I started working on an image processing application. The great results of the project turned out to defy even my biggest expectations, as I realised it could be applied to help solve a serious problem. Mr Coulter was instrumental from initial design through to the final implementation. His general guidance, feature suggestions and design ideas were incredible.

    The project started out as an application that statistically analyses the texture properties of arbitrary images such as tiles, clothing or paper. Using that data, I found areas that are similar to other given samples. Once I was able to identify and analyse those types of textures, I observed the merits of applying it to more complex textures, such as those that need to be analysed in the early detection of tuberculosis.

    I realised the imaging system would be perfect in assisting a radiologist in identifying areas that have a high probability of containing tuberculosis structures as result of their texture properties.

    Tuberculosis is an endemic disease affecting South Africa on so many levels, socially and economically, and it made sense to me to expand my thinking to try and address this issue. The results so far have been quite promising. As it turned out my project fit perfectly into the theme of the Imagine Cup.

    What’s more, I get to represent my country and pick the innovative brains of like-minded fellow contestants at the Imagine Cup in Sydney later this year.

    Innovation in South Africa is at such a promising stage, especially among the youth. We have many talented up-and-coming developers. Competitions like Imagine Cup gives them an awesome opportunity to produce great ideas for the future – possibly even "the next big thing". The projects showcased at the last national Imagine Cup finals demonstrated this.

    With the right mindset our students can compete with anyone in the world. But we have to overcome this notion of trying to imitate ideas from the USA and other countries. We as South Africans have our own style and we use technologies that give us a unique edge. Individuals should be encouraged by business and government alike to create cutting edge solutions, rather than take the safe option.

    My view is that as our students move into industry, this attitude will hopefully filter through to the public and private sectors, making South Africa a top competitor globally.

    As for my own dreams – I will continue development of the project as part of my master's thesis and hopefully the system can undergo field trials in the not too distant future. The potential for this research to assist so many people is a great motivator. If the system can help stem the tide of a rampant TB epidemic in our country, it will all be worthwhile.

  • Microsoft’s 2011 Corporate Social Investment Report: One Microsoft, One Africa

    Posted by Djam Bakhshandegi
    Citizenship and Partners in Learning Program Manager in Microsoft’s West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands region

    Since we opened our first African office in 1992, our work has been fueled by both a passion for this continent, and a belief that technology has incredible potential to transform the lives of people, governments and economies and to bring about positive change across African society. Our Citizenship work in Africa, we hope, has served as an expression of that belief, supporting our mission – to help people and businesses in Africa realize their full potential.

    We recently published our Microsoft 2011 Corporate Social Investment Report for West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands (WECA & IOI) – an important report not only because it’s a reflection of how we hold ourselves accountable as a global corporate citizen - but also because it’s a reflection of whether or not we’re holding true to our passion and belief in the transformative power of technology we were founded on now twenty years ago. I’m pleased to say, I believe we are. Having had the privilege of seeing our social investments in action - and to speak directly with individuals whose lives have been impacted – I can attest that this report represents much more than a summary of our activities. It represents a real transformation taking place in lives and communities in Africa - the result of concerted efforts by Microsoft and its many innovative partners across the continent to use technology to address some of the most pressing issues in African society today.

    At the core of our social investment strategy in Africa lies youth and innovation – particularly relevant on a continent where 60% of the one billion plus population is under the age of 30. Here are just a few examples of the work we’ve accomplished in 2011 that I’m particularly proud of:

    • We’ve continued to leverage our core strength – technology – to create access to quality education in Africa. Delivering on our vision for ‘anytime anywhere’ education, which comes to life through our Partners in Learning program, we’ve reached more than 21 million people in the region to date; focusing on capacity-building for teachers and providing native language interfaces through our local language program to reduce language barriers to technology.
    • We addressed some of the growing risks and opportunities facing youth in the wake of staggering unemployment on the continent. Again, leveraging our core strength in technology, we created new opportunities for youth through initiatives like Student 2 Business (S2B), which provided entry-level and internship positions to youth in eight African countries this year. Our Community Technology Skills Program (CTSP), provided IT skills training programmes for under-served communities and youth, reaching more than 2.5 million individuals in the region to date. And we launched two types of Innovation Centres across the region as platforms for the development of local innovation – Microsoft Innovation Centers (MIC) in Uganda, Botswana and Tanzania to provide access to technology experts to create new technologies built on the Microsoft platform; and School Technology Innovation Centres (STIC) in Johannesburg and Nairobi to promote the innovative use of ICT in the classroom.
    • We stepped up our investments in micro and small-scale entrepreneurs (MSE’s) – one of the principle driving forces in Africa’s economic development. We trained and placed 705 unemployed youth in Ghana, Senegal and Ethiopia; and created 458 jobs in new business ventures in Ghana and Senegal through partnerships with organizations like the Enablis Entrepreneur Network.  And in 2012, we hope to have a more significant impact on Africa’s MSE community through the Build Your Business curriculum, a ground-breaking program to provide small businesses and entrepreneurs with the skills to lead and grow their businesses.

    Understanding that providing for the practical needs of communities in Africa supersedes all, last month saw Microsoft surpass its commitment to support NGO’s responding to the Horn of Africa crisis. With the support of the Microsoft Community Affairs Corporate Team at our headquarters in Redmond, we have now provided over $10.5 million in software and added support to a number of on the ground activities.  This collaboration is projected to increase by at least 30% in coming months. 

    You’ll learn about these and many more accomplishments in this report. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on how we can better harness the power of technology to continue to meet tomorrow’s challenges in Africa.