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 shared
views 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.