September, 2013

  • Celebrating 10 years of Partners in Learning

    By Djam Bakhshandegi, Corporate Citizenship and Partners in Learning West East Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands 

    On the 10th of September 2013, Microsoft’s flagship education programme, Partners in Learning (PiL), celebrated its 10 year anniversary. We celebrated 10 years of helping educators and students connect, collaborate, create and share. 10 years of bringing tools and technology that teach critical 21st century skills. And 10 years of providing educators with the resources that help them do what they do best – growing young minds.

    PiL in Africa

    Although PiL is a global initiative, it has held a particularly relevant – and special – place in Africa. African countries have recognised the need to prepare their youth for the 21st century. ICT skills, research, innovation and problem-solving are increasingly seen as vital to the continent’s sustainable social and economic success.

    African countries have also recognised the potential of their youth. Microsoft sees this potential and has created engaging youth focused initiatives, including Imagine Cup, AppFactory and Innovate4Good. This dynamic capacity, coupled with the necessary skills, has proven that this continent can indeed be a global competitor in the field of innovation. However, for many African schools, access to devices and the ever-changing technology landscape still remain a challenge.

    Through PiL, we have worked with African governments, school leaders and teachers to keep up-to-date with technology. We have integrated technology into the classroom in a meaningful way – by introducing not just devices, but mentorship, time and support. Together, we have worked to make technology an educational and empowering tool. A device strategy in education without the content and professional development to complement it is bound to fail, and we at Microsoft are very aware of this. Our engagement with African governments is to provide them with a holistic, relevant, and value-based educational experience, ripe for the 21st century.

    I’m proud to say that African classrooms are now using technology to provide group and individualised learning experiences; that tablets and smartphones, among other devices,are teaching critical 21st century skills; that teachers are working with their colleagues at school and around the world to share best practices and find inspiration; and that education leaders are becoming change agents. Technology is making the educational world smaller – and students are all the better for it.

    10 is not the only milestone

    But a decade of empowering students and teachers is not the only number to celebrate. In the last 10 years, PiL has:

    • Reached 12 million educators in 134 countries – 20 of which are in Sub Saharan Africa
    • Worked directly with over 20,000 schools around the world to bring technology, resources and more into the classroom
    • Reached over 207 million students – 20% of the world’s population

    Looking back to 2003

    10 years ago, the goal of PiL was to help educators prepare their students for the jobs of tomorrow. Today, 10 years later, our vision remains unchanged.  The vision of PiL is forever relevant. As long as technology is constantly transforming – and there’s no doubt it will – there will be a need to constantly prepare students for the changing global workforce.

    Going forward, Microsoft will continue to invest in PiL. We have, in fact, just announced a 5-year extension to our programme, bringing it to a total of $750 million in 15 years. We look forward to celebrating the next big milestone – and making our youth of today the leaders of tomorrow.

  • The sky’s the limit: SME productivity in the cloud

    By: Marc Israel, Office Division Group Lead for Microsoft West, East and Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    It’s no secret that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the powerhouse of the African continent. In fact, the UN estimates that they contribute over 50% to employment and GDP in most African countries and account for about 90% of private businesses. But it’s not always easy doing business in Africa, as many entrepreneurs reading this will know. And access to affordable technology, which is key to growth, is one of the biggest challenges. On top of this, there’s often a shortage of internal skills to get the best out of complex and expensive technologies. Cloud computing, which essentially means using the internet to host and access software, is a real opportunity for SMEs that want world-class technology at an affordable price and that’s easy to use. Here’s how:

    • Affordability
      With cloud, you can pay-as-you-go, so you only pay for what you need as you need it. Designed for companies with between 1 and 10 employees, Office 365 Small Business Premium gives you all the richness of Office applications, but extending the functionality to make it available via the cloud means you can save big on your IT budget.
    • A lack of technical expertise
      Office 365 Small Business Premium is simple enough for anyone to use and can be up and running in minutes -- with a domain, website, email addresses, video and audio conferencing and offline access.
    • Scalability
      As your company grows your needs change, but you don’t want to have to buy expensive new software, especially if you’ve just bought new computers to accommodate a growing employee base. With cloud, you can purchase just what you need without paying for additional licenses, costly upgrades, or a whole new batch of software packages for each new device. While Office 365 Small Business Premium is designed with the smaller company in mind, scaling up to Office 365 is as easy as logging in online and clicking your mouse! Voila, business growth as easy as that.
    • Mobility is also critical for African businesses that often operate across vast geographies and face traditional infrastructure and connectivity gaps. The delivery of cloud services through mobile devices means you can check emails while on the road, deliver invoices in front of a client, and check your finances during a business meeting so you don’t miss out on clinching that deal there and then! Office 365 allows users to access functionality across multiple devices at no extra charge. So, you can work on documents at the same time as your business partners in different countries, connect via Lync or Skype calls, share calendars and more.  It works the same on Windows PCs and Mac, and is compatible with iPads and Android tablets, enabling a mobile workforce. Icing on the cake, even if you lack connectivity, you can still be productive with all your documents and emails right on your device, synchronized to the cloud as soon as connectivity comes back.

    We believe that cloud computing has the potential to transform the region through empowering SMEs to embrace the technology they need. If you’re still unsure, why not visit our Office 365 video hub for free tutorials and our SME video hub for tips on how to unlock your business potential with our software.