May, 2013

  • ICT skills for world’s largest refugee camp

    By Akhtar Badsah, Microsoft senior director of citizenship and public affairs

    Image courtesy of UNHCR Innovation/R. Nuri

    UNHCR Innovation/R. NuriDadaab, Kenya, is home to nearly half a million Somali refugees. For many, the walls of a refugee camp are the only life they have ever known. But education and skills development can break down these barriers, with technology as the catalyst. This is why I am delighted to announce the official launch of the Dadaab Community Technology Access Centre (CTA), a Microsoft collaboration with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), to bring technology access and training to young refugees.

    The launch is a culmination of two years’ worth of efforts and I applaud the Microsoft Kenyan office, which has worked closely with UNHCR Innovation on the ground to bring the Centre and our initial investment to life. UNHCR has been a long-term partner of Microsoft since 1999, our first public-private partnership with an international organization. Since then, we have developed a range of innovative solutions like the CTA programme to address the many needs of refugee communities around the world.

    Already in Dadaab, 214 computers are being distributed to 39 schools and four vocational centres in the region, effectively increasing formal access by 100% in schools and doubling the number of available computers to vocational learners. These resources will equip students with ICT skills and provide access to a world of knowledge on educational subjects. Computer studies have therefore become a highly valued and demanded course in the community. In just one week, as many as 145 secondary school students will enroll in IT skills classes. Over 800 vocational students have already registered for the 2013 curriculum, and there have been requests for advanced IT courses to become available.

    To support this uptake, a ‘Train-the-Trainer’ programme has been initiated to help teachers provide high-quality, community-based tuition. To date, 863 individuals have been trained and many teachers are young refugees themselves. ‘Train-the-Trainer’ also provides community ownership, which is essential for sustainability. And sustainability is the heart of any project’s success!

    Sustainability, long-term relationships and engagement are at the heart of our partnerships. We believe it is critical to build the capacity of local individuals by bringing the knowledge, talent and skills of our Microsoft employees to NGOs and communities. And it’s not a one-sided transaction – using the skills they learn, these  communities will help stimulate local economies and fuel economic development in Kenya, benefiting everyone. This scenario is at the heart of our recently launched 4Afrika Initiative, which is built on the belief that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and in turn, Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.  And just a few months after launch, we’ve already formed strong partnerships to help facilitate this, such as our recent collaboration with the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and local internet service provider UhuruOne, in a TV white spaces project to increase low-cost wireless broadband access.

    In Dadaab, we have ensured that each school and the Centre, has a sustainability and livelihood plan. Several schools are offering additional training programmes after hours, where they will charge a small fee, giving them a sense of ownership, generating a flair for business, and providing more learning opportunities.

    At Microsoft, our belief is firm in the possibilities that technology offers nations and individuals as they emerge on the world stage. Our BizSpark, YouthSpark, and DreamSpark programmes are some of the ways in which we are upskilling, mentoring, and creating business and employment opportunities for thousands of people through ICT. For refugees, access to a computer and the internet can change their life, open their minds, and spark dreams for the future. With the CTA, the youth of Dadaab will gain more than digital literacy; they will gain access to livelihoods. Together with the UNHCR, our long-standing partners, we aim to embrace refugees as part of the worldwide community’s technology movement and support ICT education and learning in challenging environments.





  • Unleashing Africa’s Lions

    Fernando de Sousa, General Manager – Africa Initiatives, Microsoft Corporation

    In Thomas L. Friedman’s book The World is Flat, he uses a proverb to describe today’s globalized economy:

    Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.

    It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or
    it will be killed.

    Every morning a lion wakes up.

    It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will
    starve to death.

    It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.

    When the sun comes up, you better start running

    Today, in almost every sense, Africa’s lions are running. And they’re running fast. The lions I refer to are the new breed of African-born tech companies being supported through programs like the Liberalizing Innovation Opportunity Nations (LIONS@FRICA) partnership and Microsoft’s own 4Afrika initiative.

    Through LIONS@FRICA, Microsoft along with program partners the US State Department, Nokia, USAID and African Development Bank, are providing resources to emerging African startups with the ultimate aim of promoting economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. LIONS@AFRICA is a public-private partnership mobilizing the knowledge, expertise and resources of leading institutions and corporations to encourage and enhance Africa’s innovation ecosystem and to spur entrepreneurship across the continent. The partnership promotes the 4Cs of engagement to support Africa’s budding startup ecosystem: Capacity, Connectivity, Credibility, and Capital.

    LIONS@FRICA was launched last year at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Addis Ababa and today is again front and center with African policymakers and business leaders at the African Development Bank (AfDB) Annual Meeting in Marrakech. In an all-day side event, Microsoft is part of a wide spectrum of technology stakeholders LIONS@FRICA is bringing together to discuss and debate the policy framework and reforms needed to let our lions run as fast as they can. The hope is that by gaining a better understanding of the challenges facing the continents most dynamic and innovative startups, policymakers and institutional stakeholders will have a better sense of how to support their local ICT industry.

    Africa’s development is unique in many respects and demands a policy environment that reflects this. When policymakers think about how to create a nurturing and supportive environment for innovative technology entrepreneurs and companies, it is critical to take these factors into account.

    Convening events like the AfDB Annual Meetings and WEF on Africa are unique opportunities to bring stakeholders together. Last October in Nairobi, Microsoft was a cornerstone sponsor at DEMO Africa, one of LIONS@FRICA’s
    flagship initiatives. At DEMO Africa, forty young African startups were selected to showcase their solutions to a high qualified set of venture capitalists, executives and press members. The startups at DEMO Africa came from a wide range from technology fields: mobile, enterprise tech, consumer tech, social media and cloud. They came from across Africa and many used it as an opportunity to launch their products, compete for awards and announce to Africa and the world what they have developed.

    Encouraging innovative entrepreneurship is also one of our leading 4Afrika objectives. By 2016, we aim to bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, upskill 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills, 75 percent of which Microsoft will help place in jobs. In addition, we are putting a services offering in place to help qualifying SMEs gain access to free, relevant products and services from Microsoft and other partners. Our aim is to aggregate services, which can help SMEs expand their businesses locally, find new business opportunities outside their immediate geography and increase their overall competitiveness.

    Through programs like LIONS@FRICA and 4Afrika, public private partnerships are providing additional resources and support for Africa’s tech startups to thrive.

    It’s time we unleashed our lions.


  • Standing still is falling behind: a little insight into Windows XP End of Support

    By Kevin Connolly, Windows Business Group Manager for Microsoft Sub-Saharan Africa & Indian Ocean Islands

    To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.  ~ Henri Bergson

    The news has been out for a while but if you haven’t heard, take note. Microsoft is ending Windows XP support from April 8th, 2014. This may sound scary, but moving onto a new operating system is a completely natural progression, and just like a car needs to be serviced and upgraded, so do computers. This is why Microsoft has a ten year Support Lifecycle Policy.

    Windows XP was launched in October 2001. When I think back on the last 10 years, I realize just how much can change in a decade. In 2001, many of us were still using floppy disks, the very first Harry Potter film graced our screens; Africa’s Queen of pop, Brenda Fassie had just released her ‘Greatest Hits’ album, and flip phones were all the rage. Wikipedia had just launched, Facebook didn’t exist yet – and, Windows XP was the latest and greatest operating system on the market with a faster start-up time, a sleeker interface, and exciting new tools like Media Player and Movie Maker.

    Over the last ten years, the floppy disk has become antiquated, seven Harry Potter movies have been box-office hits, Africa has mourned the loss of the Queen of African Pop, and flip phones have become a rarity. Wikipedia has replaced encyclopaedias, Facebook has become the most popular website in the world – and, people who are still using Windows XP are now missing out on the latest and greatest technology.

    Just like pop culture, technology has changed drastically over the last decade.  As an enabler, it responds to the changing needs of its users. It empowers people by saving them time, improving productivity and removing constraints– from geographical distance to language barriers. It makes what was previously impossible, possible. And the limit to what it can do is constantly expanding. When you start to think of technology like this, it becomes clear why using outdated forms of it cause you to fall behind.

    So, relying on XP, which is now 11 years old, could mean you’re doing business at half the pace of everyone else, and coming up against obstacles no one else encounters
    anymore. Because of its age, Windows XP also relies on the ongoing delivery of security-related patches to remain secure. When support ends, users will no longer receive new security updates and patches. With more sophisticated cyber threats emerging every day it’s critical that individuals and businesses have a modern OS to protect their data, customer and credit card information, and keep their IP safe!

    With Windows 8 having just reached its 100 millionth license activation  and over 60 000 Windows 8 apps available in the app store, there is no better opportunity to embrace newer and better
    technologies than now!
    When it comes to the world of technology, standing still really is falling behind.

    And, the good news for SMBs, is that if they register for Windows 8 Pro before 30 June, they’ll receive a 15% discount on Windows 8 Pro and Office Standard 2013
















  • Getting Africa connected: Topics on the table at WEF

    Posted by Fernando de Sousa
    General manager, Africa Initiatives at Microsoft

    This week, Cape Town is hosting the World Economic Forum for Africa (WEF) and I’m lucky enough to be attending. The WEF covers almost 30 different topic areas that together hold the key to Africa’s continued and increased expansion and economic development. The potential for positive change is huge, which is why I’m so excited to be here and to meet likeminded people who have the ideas and energy to help Africa thrive in the digital age.

    Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative is itself trying to achieve more for Africa (it’s in the name!). 4Afrika was launched in February with the aim of improving Africa’s global competitiveness through technology. Two of our stated goals are to make affordable smart devices available to Africa’s youth and to test unused TV broadcast radio frequencies (known as ‘white space’ frequencies) to increase Internet access in underserved areas. In February in Kenya, we launched Project Mawingu, our first white spaces project in Africa.

    Today, I’m excited to announce another white spaces collaboration aimed at connecting African students and teachers and giving them the opportunity to engage in the global – and borderless – digital dialogue. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, we are working alongside the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and local internet service provider UhuruOne to get tens of thousands of university students and faculty members better connected by installing low-cost wireless broadband access at the University of Dar es Salaam, amongst others, and to provide affordable Windows devices and relevant services.  [See press release  for more information]

    Projects like this are part of our overall 4Afrika strategy to engage in Africa’s development, address youth unemployment, help recent graduates develop skills for employability, and support the development of young software developers and entrepreneurs.  

    The three principal themes of this year’s WEF Africa are ‘Accelerating Economic Diversification’, ‘Boosting Strategic Infrastructure’ and ‘Unlocking Africa’s Talent’. We believe 4Afrika serves all three of these themes. Hyper-connectivity is vital to the economic and social development of the continent, and improving access through initiatives like 4Afrika will help achieve these critical goals.

    We’re proud to say that Microsoft 4Afrika is gaining momentum. Since launch we’ve seen nearly 400 apps created by our AppFactory interns, and we’ve touched more than 1,100 developers through DevCamps in Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and Tunisia alone. We’ve also trained around 1,100 partners and government leaders across 14 countries through our Afrika Academy. We’re just getting started, so we’re looking forward to the time here at WEF Africa this week to make sure that as a community, we are working together to pursue common goals and to accelerate African competitiveness and innovation.