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.