June, 2012

  • Best of Africa at Imagine Cup 2012

    Posted by Dele Akinsade,
    Developer and Platform Evangelist, West, East and Central Africa

    “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

    Marking Imagine Cup’s ten-year anniversary in 2012, Microsoft is celebrating the 1.4 million (and counting!) students who have participated in the world’s premier technology competition. By focusing on student-led solutions to the world’s toughest problems, Imagine Cup has brought to light some of the most groundbreaking and creative approaches to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, including last year’s People Choice Award finalists from Nigeria, Team Nerd, who developed an innovative remote healthcare app for doctors and patients.

    The participation of African teams in the competition has increased steadily over the years.  This year, registrations in Sub-Saharan Africa grew by 197% compared to 2011, and the number of competitors grew by 64% year on year.

    With this kind of momentum, we are especially proud of the five teams representing Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012, when students from universities in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda will travel to Sydney, Australia to compete in this year’s worldwide finals in July. Their entries for practical use in both the public and private sector represent the brightest young minds of Africa.

    Please join us in following and supporting these talented African developers on their road to Imagine Cup 2012!
    • Team E-Soft, from the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët Boigny de Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire, has developed a real- time monitoring solution for environmental threats in industrial areas. As evidence of the growing need to monitor the impact of industrial development on local communities, Team E-Soft has already secured partnership funding from the World Bank and Ministry of Energy to test their “Evolve Safely” solution in Cote d’Ivoire.

    • Team Gravity, from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, has concentrated on a common problem in both urban and rural areas of Africa, with a healthcare solution called “SwiftER,” that aims to improve the rate and quality of response from medical and security providers in the event of an emergency. 

    • Team Sen Section, from the Universite Cheikh in Senegal, has focused on making development and aid agencies more efficient by developing a mobile app, called “Tataane,” that allows fieldworkers to collect data and surveys that automatically updates the home office database. Pan-African NGOs such as Africa Rice are already preparing to use the mobile app in their agricultural research in rural areas.

    • Team Asclepius, from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, has developed an image processing application, which helps radiologist detect signs of tuberculosis at an early stage. Particularly in South Africa where tuberculosis has one of the highest infection rates in the world, early diagnosis is critical to the success of medical treatments available to rural and underdeveloped communities.

    • Team Cipher256, from Makerere University in Uganda, has connected Windows Phone to Windows Azure with an application that aids midwives in their diagnoses for expectant mothers. Using an algorithm that converts the Frequency (Hertz) to Beats Per minute of the fetus, measures the fetus’ position in the uterus and calculates the fetus’ age, this app “WIN-SENGA” can help detect an ectopic pregnancy or abnormal fetal heart beats.

    We wish these teams the best of luck in Sydney. We will be cheering you on from Facebook and Twitter!

  • Start-up Africa

    Posted by Aben Kovoor

    Area Lead, Developer & Platform Group, Microsoft Middle East & Africa


    To help accelerate the success of entrepreneurs and early stage startups across the African continent, we were proud to announce our support last month for the LIONS@FRICA initiative in partnership with U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development, African Development Bank, Nokia, infoDev and DEMO and the World Economic Forum. The partnership aims to mobilize the knowledge, expertise and resources of leading public and private institutions to encourage and enhance Africa’s innovation ecosystem, and spur entrepreneurship across the continent.


    We are delighted to be a core member of this initiative announced last month at the World Economic Forum Africa 2012, and our investment is a natural extension of the work we have driven over the past 20 years to support entrepreneurship and innovation in Africa. With six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies over the past decade in sub-Saharan Africa and the awakening of the African economy providing new prospects, we are keen to continue dedicating resources to working with entrepreneurs to help them realize their potential and take advantage of these opportunities.



    We are fully aware that that the success of a startup hangs on its ability to monetize ideas as quickly as possible. To minimize the initial costs associated with development and testing, we made available the Microsoft BizSpark program across the African continent, thereby providing over 600 African startups and 188 Network Partners with fast and easy access to full featured Microsoft developer tools and platform licenses. With the consistent developer taxonomy and tight integration across Windows, entrepreneurs can focus on differentiating their innovations from the competition, not platform interoperability.


    We built upon the support provided by the Microsoft BizSpark Program by giving entrepreneurs access to Microsoft Innovation Centers – world-class facilities that help foster the local software economy by providing qualified startups with access to infrastructure, technical and business mentorships. These are offered in partnership with local organizations such as academic institutions, technology hubs and our certified training partners where available. Other readiness activities include specific training for startups such as the Build Your Business program, which provides the skills needed to lead and grow businesses through improved  knowledge and technology know-how.


    Finally, to ensure entrepreneurs and innovators have the means to also market their ideas and solutions, we provide them visibility across the globe through both our internal and external networks. Imagine Cup is but one example of this, where the next generation of developers use technology to solve the world’s toughest problems. Last year, 1,300 students across 32 countries in Africa, participated in Imagine Cup, showcasing such entries as PAGEL, a database developed by Senegalese students that helps identify markets and places where food is available at lower prices. This year, a student team from Makerere University in Uganda has secured a place in Imagine Cup’s Worldwide Finals in Sydney for their application that aids midwives in their diagnoses for expectant mothers.


    These are just a few examples of how Microsoft is enabling and supporting innovation in Africa to help build vibrant and self-sustaining local economies, and we expect our partnership with the experts at LIONS@FRICA to give us a fresh, new perspective as well. But for those start-ups who have ideas for action now, I would encourage you to:


    1. Register for BizSpark, so one of our network partners can provide you access to the development tools you need.
    2. Register with DEMO Africa 2012 in Nairobi on October 24-26, 2012, where you may qualify to present your product/solution to investors from around the world.
    3. Get in touch with your nearest Microsoft subsidiary to sign up for our training sessions on how to develop applications on our platforms.


  • Helping Stop the Cycle of Online Bullying

    Posted by: Djam Bakhshandegi

    Citizenship and Partners in Learning Program Manager, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    For all the benefits that smartphones, computers and the web have to offer – especially for young people who have embraced digital technology and gained access to its benefits – there will always be those who misuse the technology.

    Just like bullying in person, online bullying (also known as cyberbullying) is willful and is defined as repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices to others.   Using technology to bully others potentially opens the door to 24-hour abuse often in the privacy of one’s home, perhaps made anonymously and potentially broadcast to a wider audience. Children and youth can use any type of Internet-connected device or services like texting and instant messaging, games, or social media to cyber bully others. Cyberbullies may even disclose their targets’ personal data publically or may create fake accounts, comments or sites posing as their victim to defame, discredit or ridicule them. It is also more difficult to escape from cyberbullies as they have access to their targets’ personal data.

    According to a new Microsoft Global Youth Online Behavior Survey released today of 7600 children and youth between the ages of eight and 17, four in 10 have been bullied online. It’s no wonder that (54 percent) of children around the world, worry about becoming a target of online mean and cruel behavior.  Compare that to Egypt where the concern drops to 52 percent, and in Morocco the number of children that worry about being bullied online is 45 percent.

    In Egypt, only 27% (compared with a 25 country average of 37%) of the children and youth age 8 – 17 who responded to the survey say they have been subjected to a range of online activities that some may consider to be online bullying or to have adverse effects. In Morocco, however, 40% of the children and youth state that they have been subjected to such activities.

    Parents and trusted adults need to get involved.  Often due to the technological generation gap between parents and children, adults are unaware of the harm that is being caused to their children on a daily basis. Globally, less than a third (29%) said parents have talked to them about poor online behavior, and they failed to pinpoint one common step parents took to help address the problem. In Egypt the percentage of respondents who indicate that their parents discuss online risks with them is a mere 12% with 28% indicating that their parents monitor their use of computers. In Morocco on the other hand,  52% of respondents said their parents talk to them about online risks, and 61% stated that their parents monitor their computer usage.

    Kids need to know that adults can and will help.  And, parents and educators should make themselves available and offer support.  To assist adults in recognizing and addressing the issue, Microsoft has created several new resources:  an interactive online bullying quiz, our Digital Citizenship in Action Toolkit, and steps to help stop the cycle of online bullying which include:


    Pay attention

    • Make time to listen. Sit with younger children while they play and explore online. Regularly ask tweens and teens to show you around the websites they visit, where they hang out, who with, and how they talk to each other.
    •  Lead by example. Kids learn from what adults do.
    • Watch for signs of online cruelty. Look for kids getting upset when online or texting, or for a reluctance to go to school. Watch, too, for kids being mean to others online.
    • Make clear that they should never bully anyone.


    Ask your kids to report bullying. Promise unconditional support. Reassure them that you won’t take away their phone, gaming, or computer privileges because of others’ behavior.


    Encourage empathy

    Ask kids to put themselves in others’ shoes. Encourage them to stand up for those they see being bullied:

    • Be kind. Spend time together. Reassure the friend with supportive phone calls and texts.
    • Set a good example. Don’t forward mean messages, or use insults to defend a friend.
    • Block bullying. Help the friend block bullies or change his or her password.
    • Ask those who are bullying to stop. Ask politely, and only if it feels safe to do so.
    • Tell others. Help the friend report what’s happening to a trusted adult or trained professional. Report the abuse to the website.

    Promote kindnessin your community  

    • Advocate for empathy training at school. Help prevent online bullying through social and emotional learning—the process by which we learn to build strong relationships and develop healthy boundaries and self-perceptions.
    • Start a kindness campaign at home, school, or in the neighborhood—as small as one kind deed a day or as broad as a program to challenge a culture of criticism at school.

    What to do if a child is involved in online bullying?

    • Get the full story. Listen carefully and take it seriously. It may not be simple: the child or teen may be the target of bullying, or may be bullying someone as well.
    • Together, make a plan. Ask what you can do to help, and make the kid’s answers the basis of the plan.
    • For a kid being bullied: Don’t blame the target of bullying (even if he or she started it). Advise kids not to respond or retaliate. (Do save the material in case authorities need it.) Report bullying to the website or company where the abuse occurred.
    • For a kid bullying someone: Try to understand the source of the bullying behavior. It’s the behavior, not the kid that is at the heart of the conflict. (But, don’t let reasons become excuses.) Discuss how the kid can make amends.
    • Get help. Find counselors or others trained to deal with kids who have been bullied or have bullied others.

    Whatever the issue facing children and youth online, Microsoft’s primary piece of guidance stands: parents, trusted adults, teachers, coaches, and counselors need to keep the lines of communication open.         

    The full Global Youth Online Behavior Survey report, along with the complete list of individual executive summaries for each country, is available here.

  • Guiding Hand: Helping North African Youth To Fulfil Their Potential

    By Ghada Khalifa, Citizenship and Community Affairs lead, Microsoft Egypt

    Working in community affairs in Egypt, particularly in the areas of youth education and job support, has been my passion and privilege for many years. Youth unemployment in Egypt stood at 25% in 2010 and evidence suggests that it has risen in the months since the Revolution. The youth unemployment rate in North Africa as a whole is 27%, according to the ILO Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012 report, and has been consistently high for two decades. These numbers are worrisome, and they show that my area of work is critical to securing the future prosperity of the region and its young inhabitants. I spend a lot of time with young people in Egypt, many of whom were the driving force behind the Revolution, and I hear the same things over and over - they go through many training programs, but they simply can't find jobs. The level of frustration and disillusionment among youth here, who have strong ambition and skills and who will ultimately lead the region’s future, is a major concern.

    By collaborating with partners and social enterprise organisations to help improve the employability of Egyptian youth, Microsoft is determined to change the situation. This spring, we launched the first Arabic employment resource portal for Egyptian youth - MasrWorks - which offers resources ranging from online career guidance, employability and entrepreneurship training, to specific work experience and job opportunities.

    Youth programs from recent years, despite significant investment by various organisations, have failed to deliver sufficient impact on the young community. Research on curricula in Egypt showed that at least ten agencies developed similar programs, but they simply did not reach enough people. MasrWorks, however, is not just another online portal. It takes a comprehensive approach towards Egyptian youth empowerment and employment, so job seekers can make a successful transition into the world of work.

    As a national portal, MasrWorks is designed to reach wider audiences with resources tailored to language levels, skill levels and social opportunities in the country. We are working with our public and private sector partners to help youth realize their opportunities and truly fulfil their potential. Just an example - we found that a lot of people end up in careers they aren’t passionate about. So Microsoft provides mentorship resources, something I highly valued myself at early stages of my own career. We also help young people develop business skills, without which they can struggle to find employment.

    Since the launch in April there have been over 45,000 page views of the website, and there are currently more than 1,200 active MasrWorks users. New users view and join the site every day and we often get positive feedback from users who are learning they have new strengths in the workplace. I am really proud of the work we have done with MasrWorks. I even submitted a short video about eSkills training programs including MasrWorks into the Microsoft Next competition and I won a prize! Microsoft Next is an internal programme to celebrate innovation within the company, so it’s great to see these important initiatives are really appreciated within Microsoft. After all, MasrWorks is as a great example of how we can support workforce development and use technology to empower young people and help shape the future of the next generation in Egypt. North Africa is poised to re-create its prospects and supporting the ‘future builders’, the young people who will go on to lead businesses and future governments, is vital for laying the best foundations today.