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By Patrick Onwumere, Director of Youth Enablement, Microsoft 4Afrika
For students around the world, no matter background or location, access to quality education can be challenging. In Africa, it’s usually even tougher. And, when it comes to obtaining a tertiary level qualification, the barriers to entry can seem insurmountable to many young Africans.
These barriers are a huge concern, not only because it means many students aren’t able to follow their career path of choice, but because they impact whole societies. Developing countries require the high-level skills, specialisation, and analytical skills that come with individuals trained at tertiary level. These skills help drive local economies and economic competitiveness in today’s knowledge economy.
This is why I’m so excited about the launch of the Microsoft 4Afrika Scholarship Program, which will provide mentorship, leadership and technical training, certification, university-level education, and employment opportunities to promising African students. Through the 4Afrika Initiative and YouthSpark program, we’ve made our intention clear: to help millions of Africans get critical skills for entrepreneurship and employability. And this Scholarship Program is another example of our strategy in action.
It is fitting that the 4Afrika Scholarship Program, as well as the Program’s first partnership with the University of the People (UoPeople), was officially announced on International Youth Day. Through the UoPeople program, which is the first of what will be several participating higher education institutions, 1000 deserving African students will receive 4Afrika Scholarships. These scholarships will help equip students with the skills to follow a rewarding career path and become valuable contributors to society.
The University of the People is a non-profit online institution, offering associate degrees in Computer Science and Business Administration. Both men and women can apply for the Scholarship Program, but we would like to see these scholarships increase the number of women in these subject fields – so we are encouraging lots of young women to apply.
Students who wish to apply for the first 4Afrika Scholarships to the University of the People must be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma and be proficient in English, as the Program’s coursework is English-language. Applications can be submitted on the following site: www.uopeople.org/4afrika. The first 4Afrika Scholarship students will begin classes in November 2013.
We are looking forward to expanding this program over time, so I encourage all young people to stay tuned for more opportunities that could benefit them by following us on the Microsoft Africa Facebook page, or on @MicrosoftAfrica on Twitter, or checking out www.youth4afrika.com.
By Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International
Africa is essentially a continent of young people – and it’s growing fast. In fact, the top 10 youngest populations in the world are all from Africa, led by Niger, where nearly half the population is below the age of 14. This demographic reality means that many countries on the continent are struggling to keep up with the exploding demand by young people for the skills needed to perform the jobs of today and tomorrow. They’re battling to develop modern workforces, and provide opportunities for the youth.
This is one of the reasons why we at Microsoft launched our 4Afrika Initiative earlier this year, in an attempt to drive innovation, skills development and access across the continent – and more importantly, to accelerate economic development for the continent. Recently, I visited Kenya and South Africa, and I was very happy to see that 4Afrika is already having a meaningful impact on the lives of young Africans.
In Kenya, I was fortunate enough to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House in Nairobi to discuss ways that Microsoft could partner with the Kenyan government. President Kenyatta is a firm believer in the power of technology to drive education and skills development for young people. He even tweeted about our meeting, and was very supportive of the work we’re doing with Mawingu, to deliver high-speed broadband through white spaces to parts of Kenya which are currently off the national power grid.
Our discussion was about how Microsoft can partner with the Kenyan government to help ensure its students and teachers get the very best out of a critical information and communications technology (ICT) investment the government is currently making. They are working on a solution to deliver computers to all first grade students in Kenya, and it was an honor to talk to the President and his team about the value of the entire ICT ecosystem in education – including devices but also critical elements such as teacher training, curriculum, content and more. I’ve since sent President Kenyatta a proposal for what we think we can bring to Kenya’s students through the combined power of devices and services, and we’re looking forward to engaging with him and his government as they move ahead in this important process.
While there, I was also able to spend some time with Kenyan youth. We had an excellent hour-long session at the iHub in Nairobi with students, bloggers, innovators, start-ups and upcoming developers, where we sharedviews on the opportunities available through Microsoft, and how to grow the developer ecosystem in Africa. The message is clear: there’s lots of excitement about the power of technology to make a difference, and people see Microsoft as a key part of the journey. We are committed to delivering on this for Africa.
I next travelled on to South Africa, where the highlight of my visit to Johannesburg was the announcement of a major partnership with the South African Government’s Jobs Fund which will train more than 3000 unemployed graduates to get permanent jobs in the technology sector in the next three years through our Students 2 Business (S2B) program. This represents an extension of our existing S2B efforts, which have already trained more than 6500 South African graduates to date and placed more than 75 percent of them in jobs.
Investing in this way with the Jobs Fund and 4Afrika, we’ll dramatically expand this existing skills development program, adding capacity to South Africa’s growing IT industry, and also providing much-needed jobs at a time when youth unemployment is one of the biggest threats and challenges facing the country.
Again, our partnership with government is key to the success of 4Afrika. Patrick Dlamini, chief executive of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), which administers the Jobs Fund, described the partnership as “a major breakthrough” that would help foster closer collaboration between the public and private sectors in creating jobs in South Africa.
What this tells us is that we’re on the right track in terms of providing support and solutions that make a difference in the lives of African people, and talk to the issues being experienced on the ground. At the end of the day, it’s all about being locally relevant. And right now, you can’t be much more relevant than enabling the creation of a knowledge economy across the continent by using Africa’s greatest resource – its people.