April, 2012

  • The human face of Intellectual Property Rights

    Posted by Serge Ntamack
    Intellectual Property, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands

    Behind every great innovation, either artistic or technological, is a human story – a tale in which new pathways open as a result of the curiosity, insight or determination of individuals.” - The World Intellectual Property Organization

    You may have read about the remarkable story of a young Malawian boy, William Kamkwamba, who built a windmill using scraps to power his family’s electrical appliances. The invention made him famous, representing the sort of solution so needed in rural Africa - simple and cheap, yet with the potential to make a huge difference to living standards. It could have been spread throughout the region, if not for a lack of investment.

    And sadly, that lack of investment was largely related to the risk of intellectual property infringement so high throughout Africa. The risk of Kamkwamba’s idea being copied by his neighbours, or any other party, was just too high in an area where IP rights are not protected. 

    This story struck a chord in me because I believe that in Africa, often our inventors, artists and musicians face challenges that are typically much greater than those faced in the first world – and so their curiosity and determination needs to be that much more strong. In many cases, the hard work they put into their works is not justly rewarded – to no fault of their own, but rather, merely because of their context.

    Intellectual property is something we typically hear about in the context of large companies, having become increasingly significant in the ‘knowledge economy’ of today. This year’s World IP Day, which took place yesterday to celebrate ‘visionary innovators,’ reminds us that it is also important to think about the value of intellectual property rights to individuals - to the artists, musicians, and great thinkers of Africa.

    These are the people whose curiosity, determination, and insight have the potential to transform the continent, and whose talents play an important societal role in the expression of ideas and cultural wealth. 

    And they deserve recognition and reward for the role they play.

  • Looking beyond ICT for ICT’s sake

    Posted by Rizwan Tufail
    Regional Director and Technology Officer for Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    Technology is an undisputed enabler of innovation. And in Africa, it has the potential to revolutionize development.

    In particular, the explosion of mobile phones across the continent, coupled with the rise in development of mobile apps to meet the unique challenges faced by people in Africa, has the ability to bridge the many opportunity divides across the continent.

    Take, for example, the farmer in rural Africa, once isolated, now able to access information via his mobile phone about commodity prices and market fluctuations, allowing him to mitigate yield losses. Or, the small-scale producers and traders who can now use mobile technology to access inventory monitoring and supply tracking tools to improve supply chain efficiency - something particularly challenging in areas with small populations.

    But, as our colleagues at SANGONet recently pointed out: “For every M-PESA, dozens of applications never get past the piloting stage. And, there are many remaining questions regarding effectiveness. A decade after mobile technology began blazing trails across the continent, it’s time to take stock.”

    Taking stock – identifying barriers to innovation, addressing the challenges ICT has met - was precisely the aim of discussions that took place yesterday at the very first Innovation Forum, in Lagos, Nigeria.

    The idea for the Innovation Forum was conceived by Microsoft, Nokia and others who were inspired by the dynamism of the new Ministry of Communication Technology in Nigeria – which is encouraging us all to re-examine the role that ICT plays in development and competitiveness.

    We’re starting to see an exciting shift in the way governments in Africa view the role of ICT - they’re no longer approaching it as an isolated sector, but as an enabler of innovation, with the potential to boost growth and development across traditional work-horse sectors of our economies.

    We know that ICT has the potential to create thousands of new technology jobs on the continent, but there are limitations in even this due to barriers like infrastructure, for example. But the smarter application of ICT can drive productivity gains in key sectors like agriculture, tourism, transport, and power, where even a 1-3% overall gain in the sector could translate to much more tangible, measurable and direct impact on many more lives.

    Furthering great ideas requires a space to engage in dialogue, and a bringing together of a diverse set of voices and viewpoints to spur one another on. This is exactly why we – along with Nokia and others – initiated the Innovation Forum. So private sector players, academia, and representatives from the Government of Nigeria gathered yesterday to talk – with the ultimate goal to turn words into action – and identify a way to realize the enormous potential of ICT in the development of Africa. Watch this space for developments.

  • Celebrating more than 15 years in Côte d'Ivoire, Microsoft opens new office in Abidjan

    Posted by Simon Ouattara
    General Manager for Microsoft West and Central Africa

    As a twelve year veteran of Microsoft on the African continent, I’ve watched with great excitement the incredible growth within the ICT sector in Africa – and seen first-hand the power of technology to transform the lives of people, businesses and governments.

    As an Ivorian, I have experienced first-hand my country’s years of conflict and struggle. But I also bear witness to incredible positive transformation taking place here. I’m more bullish now than ever in my optimism for the future. And I believe that ICT will undoubtedly be a conduit for the acceleration of growth in the country.

    On the sunny, cool morning of 21 February, 2012, Microsoft opened the doors of its new office in Abidjan - the second-largest in the company’s West and Central Africa region – a move made to accommodate Microsoft’s rapidly expanding staff and partner network in the country; one which I celebrated alongside my Microsoft colleagues, our partner organizations, and several honourable ministers of ICT and Education including His Excellency the Minister of ICT, Mr. Kone Bruno, and Her Excellency the Minister of Education, Mme. Kandia Camara.

    The expansion of our office in Abidjan marks an important milestone for Microsoft in the region, as it signals the promise of the ICT sector, and speaks to our commitment and passion to the rebuilding and future prosperity in the country.

    One of the many highlights of the day was the signing of the strategic framework agreement with the government of Côte d’Ivoire outlining a plan to increase the use of ICT in the public sector, for enhancing teaching and learning, for increasing youth employability and for increasing access to technology beyond the urban cities to improve the standard of living and access to information and services in the rural areas.

    Our partner network is just one positive indicator of an increasingly stabilized and healthy environment in the country. Today, we have more than 130 partners in Côte d'Ivoire who develop, sell, deploy and support solutions in this important region. The vast majority of those partners are small and medium sized businesses, who have a dramatic impact on local job creation, earning an average of $11 for every dollar Microsoft makes and re-investing that into the Ivorian economy. 

    We know there will be challenges. But we at Microsoft, together with our partners and the Côte d'Ivoire government, are emerging from the recent conflicts with hope and an eye towards leveraging technology to bring about positive change in the country. We’re excited and honoured to play a role in driving what’s next.