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Posted by Ali Faramawy
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft MiddleEast & Africa
There is an African proverb that reads, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” We couldn’t agree more. Microsoft has been operating in Africa for 20 years, and today we have offices in 14 countries. As we look forward to our next 20 years, we wanted to explore new ways to link the growth of our business with initiatives that spur economic development for the continent. The world has recognized the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise.
This is why today, we are introducing the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, which is designed to help improve Africa’s global competitiveness. Our goal is to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent, and beyond.
By 2016, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative intends to:
- help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth,
- bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, and
- help 200 000 Africans develop skills for entrepreneurship and employability. This will include up-skilling 100,000 members of the existing workforce, as well as training 100,000 recent graduates, 75 percent of whom we intend to help place in jobs.
A smart, affordable device
In Africa today, smartphones account for only about 10 percent of total phones in the market. As a first step toward driving the adoption of smart devices, Microsoft and Huawei today introduced the Huawei 4Afrika phone, a full-functionality Windows Phone 8 preloaded with select applications designed for Africa, by Africans. The Huawei 4Afrika phone, which is the first in what will be a series of “4Afrika” smart devices, will be targeted toward university students, developers and first-time smart phone users to ensure they have affordable access to best-in-class technology, so they can access the information and tools they need to be active global citizens. (See related blog.)
A step closer to connectivity for all
We are also partnering with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and Kenyan Internet Service Provider Indigo Telecom Ltd. to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband across Kenya. Using solar-poweredbase stations together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, this project will deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity. We aim to implement similarpilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of white space technologies. These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that wouldenable this white spaces technology to deliver on the promise of universal access to high-speed wireless Internet for the African continent. (See related blog and video.)
Getting SMEs online
To help these 1 million African SMEs get online, a new online hub will launch in April that will aggregate available, free services from Microsoft and many others which can help SMEs expand their business locally, find new business opportunities outside their immediate geography, and increase their overall competitiveness. We’re also planning to provide free domain registration for one year for those qualifying SMEs who want to create a professional website. This online hub will initially be available in Morocco and South Africa and will expand to other markets over time.
Developing Africa’s business and thought leaders
The Afrika Academy is another new initiative under the 4Afrika banner aimed specifically at capacity building and skills development. It is an education platform leveraging both online and offline learning tools to help Africans develop both technical and business skills for entrepreneurship and improved employability. Training through the Afrika Academy will be made available starting in March at no cost to higher education students, government elites and the Microsoft partner community.
Why are we doing this now? When we look at the world, many see China or the BRIC countries as the next big opportunity for growth. At Microsoft, we view the African continent as a game-changer in the global economy. We believe deeply in the potential of technology to change Africa, and we equally believe in the potential of Africa to change technology for the world. We are honored to plant this new seed for Africa, and together with our network of partners, we look forward to the next 20 years of growing amazing opportunities for the continent.
For more information, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/4Afrika.
Posted by: Djam BakhshandegiCSI Program Manager at Microsoft in Africa
Finding a job is still a daily struggle for millions of young people. Although the prospects for economic growth in Africa are good, increasing youth unemployment is limiting vital areas of that growth. Governments and industries must keep pace with supplying the opportunities to harness its potential, or face a problematic future.
With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa today, the youth community represents more than 60 per cent of the continent’s total population and accounts for 45 per cent of its growing labour force. Experts predict that Africa’s labour force will be larger than China’s by 2035.
So there is a real opportunity here to make young people the drivers of prosperity and growth for an entire region. Yet the International Labour Organisation statistics show that youth unemployment in Africa actually increases as education levels increase. It is a sad truth that young Africans are more literate than their parents, and yet more of them are unemployed. We must start from the ground up to ensure that the young labour force has the capacity to take on this important role in our future. And as such, our efforts must be focused on the core foundation of providing high quality education.
Evidence suggests that secondary school achievement has regressed in some African countries, yet overall literacy is growing and Africa spends more on secondary education than the global average.
So what are we missing? What is the recipe to shift this trend, improve education and make a positive impact on youth employment prospects in Africa? The answer must surely be identifying the right kind of skills that African youth need to succeed in today’s knowledge economy, and then boosting access to these skills.
Mindful that youth is the cornerstone of economic growth and competitiveness, policymakers in the Africa and the Middle East have been undertaking a series of actions and decisions aimed at increasing assistance and opportunities for youth. But this not solely an undertaking for governments. The private sector also has a duty to curb the youth unemployment epidemic, and as a leader in the ICT sector, Microsoft role is particularly critical. As technology becomes more ingrained in industries from manufacturing to healthcare and agriculture, ICT skills are high-priority 21st-century skills for employers. Is this shift evident to youth and is it a reality across educational and professional development courses? We have a clear responsibility to communicate these advancements through open dialogue with education providers, and state the skills they expect future employees to possess.
Microsoft has recently introduced the YouthSpark initiative, a new company-wide, global program with the goal to address the opportunity divide – the gap between those who have the skills, access and opportunities to be successful and those who do not – facing young people. Through this initiative, Microsoft is creating opportunities for Africa’s youth through partnerships with governments, non-profit organisations and businesses alike. We are pledging toserve youths by providing them with the enhanced technology and business training necessary to help them pursue additional education, obtain employment or start a new business or social venture.
As a case in point, through YouthSpark, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, we have already reached over half a million young people and made $1.1 million worth of software donations to non-Government-organisations. In addition we have trained almost 30, 000 teachers through our Partners In Learning tools as well as equipping hundreds of small & medium businesses with relevant start up skills.
I am glad that that specific mechanisms are being put in place across the region to foster skills and employability and fight youth unemployment. As policymakers, local businesses, international organisations and non-profits, it is vital that we are not just in the same boat, but that we are all rowing in the same direction. Avoiding the issue any longer is a mistake - young people have the potential, skills and enthusiasm to drive Africa forward and we should give them the best chance to succeed.
Posted by: Bruce Howe, general manager of Nokia East Africa
The Kenyan market has shown phenomenal growth in the use of mobile phones and particularly smartphones. Data from the GSM Association shows that the smartphone market is growing at 40% per annum and that this growth will continue up to 2017. The availability of cheaper smartphones will allow segments of the population that are currently not connected via mobile broadband to incorporate internet browsing in their day-to-day life.
This presents a very exciting opportunity, in Kenya and across the African continent. Today, we are launching Nokia Lumia 620, the third and most affordable in Nokia’s range of Windows Phone 8 smartphones, to the East African market. Alongside the flagship Nokia Lumia 920 and mid-range Lumia 820, which were announced earlier this month, the Nokia Lumia 620 offers a fun and youthful appeal at a highly competitive price.
Affordability remains a key issue when it comes to smartphone adoption on the continent. Through our partnership with Safaricom, we are able to package the Nokia Lumia 620 with great data offers, which ensures we are giving the market great value for money. The Windows Phone 8 operating system brings with it capabilities of its own – allowing individuals to do a lot more with their phones and enabling mobility in their every-day life and work.
If we look at the increase in productivity in Kenya, relating specifically to an increase of mobile enabled workers, in conjunction with making more smartphones available on the continent, it is not only a step in the right direction of driving up productivity, but will create other opportunities as well.
Our goals in Kenya are very much in line with Microsoft’s recent announcements around Microsoft 4Afrika – by making more smart devices available to the African market we are driving local innovation, allowing for more entrepreneurship and enabling people to play an active role in growing the African economy.
We are already seeing local apps being developed for Africans, by Africans. Feature phones have always been a priority for us and as we now see both feature and smartphones becoming more accessible. We are working closely with the Microsoft developer teams to ensure that Windows Phone 8 is supported in the African markets, with apps that are relevant and make a difference in our every-day lives.
Some examples of these are:
Then there is also Nokia City Lens, an augmented reality application which allows individuals to use the amazing maps of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to look at integrated points of interest. It allows you to navigate to key venues, give feedback, add photos, do reviews and make personal comments.
This is not a case of force-fitting global applications in the hope of meeting local demands – we are actively engaging our developer communities and partners such as Microsoft to meet local needs. We are asking Kenyans to do things differently – engage, develop and do business that makes a difference.