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Posted by Hennie Loubser, General Manager of Microsoft West East Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands
It’s been a great 10 years for Microsoft in Ghana so far. We’ve seen tremendous growth in the country’s ICT sector, particularly its mobile and internet penetration rates, and our initiatives have reached over one million youth to date. As Microsoft now shifts its global focus to a devices and services offering, we want to continue to ensure that Ghana remains one of our critical investment markets. As part of this commitment, I’m excited to announce that we have appointed our first country manager in the region, and our first female country manager in Africa.
Otema Yirenkyi is a native Ghanaian with over 14 years of experience in ICT and an inspiring leadership vision. I managed to sit down with her and chat about her new role and what she hopes to see Ghana achieve in the future.
Welcome to Microsoft! Why are you excited to be joining the team?I feel privileged to lead the Microsoft business in Ghana. This is an exciting time in Ghana when the country is rapidly transforming both economically and socially. This offers an unprecedented opportunity to drive innovation, particularly in the area of mobile technologies.
What are your roles, responsibilities and goals as country manager in Ghana? As Country Manager for Ghana, I will lead the team to grow the Microsoft business. I will serve as a brand ambassador and evangelist for Microsoft technologies and I hope to inspire young people to create a culture of innovation driven by technology.
Your previous line of work has seen you quite involved in strategy and business development. What are your thoughts on encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa? I think once African entrepreneurs have increased access, affordable technologies and the ability to monetise innovative ideas, they will create solutions that solve many of the economic and social challenges confronting Africa
What advice would you give to young women looking to join the ICT industry – what challenges have you faced as a leader in ICT? I would work to dispel the notion that ICT is mostly for men. I encourage young women who studied in technical fields, as well as those who didn’t, to pursue a career in ICT. The industry offers many technical and non-technical options for women to have rewarding careers. My challenges as a leader in technology have mostly been around how others might perceive a woman leader. But I have always overcome such obstacles by demonstrating that my position is based on my skills and capabilities.
Why are you passionate about technology and the ICT sector? I love problem solving and have always been fascinated with how technology solves so many challenges. . I love how on a personal level it makes my life so much easier and how on a global level provides the tools that enable us to solve problems or explore the boundaries of some of life’s bigger challenges.
When did you first realize your passion for technology? What was the first piece of technology you ever owned? In High School we had a computer lab and I loved spending time there, to learn more and tinker with the machines. My parents, realising that I loved computers, bought me my first PC and it made me one of the most popular girls in my school.
What are your thoughts on the state of technology and ICT skills in Africa? Are there any interesting market trends in your region? I think there is a skills and access gap in Africa. Given the right investments in providing access and affordable technologies, that gap can be closed. I think the mobile platform offers, for the first time, the opportunity to leapfrog and close the digital divide.
What qualifications do you hold? Why did you choose to study these subject fields? I have a BSc from Cornell University in Industrial and Labor Relations and an MA in Development Studies. I wanted to be a labour /employment lawyer but once I started taking African Studies courses I was inspired to commit myself to a career that would enable Africa’s economic development. I spent an internship at the United Nations in New York and in Kenya, and then decided to pursue a Masters in Development Studies. After leaving school I kept wondering how I would marry my love for technology and passion for Africa, so joined the ICT industry and have worked in a number of African countries ever since.
What are your hobbies and interests? I love the arts, particularly going to museums and the theatre. I also write and perform poetry. I love travelling and learning about new cultures. I also enjoy riding my bike and hiking. I have a real commitment to the community and express that through a number of mentorship programs and the mentoring of youth.
What do you love most about Ghana? I love the vibrancy of Ghana, the richness of the food and the energy of the people – striving towards their dreams and always smiling. This may seem clichéd but Ghanaians are some of the friendliest people I know!
By Fernando de Sousa, General Manager of Africa Initiatives at Microsoft
Africa is home to some of the fastest growing mobile phone penetration rates in the world. With a liberalized telecommunications sector and increasing service affordability, mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa alone has increased 44% since 2000, according to the GSM Association (GSMA). As a result, a great deal of Africa’s technology innovation today is taking place on mobile platforms. Although some infrastructural gaps remain, Africans are mobile-savvy and are eager to use the best quality devices. At the same time, Africa is becoming a net producer of technology and already under our 4Afrika banner, we have seen over 100 Windows Phone apps being created per month across the continent.
Last month, I was invited speak at the GSMA’s Mobile for Development conference in Cape Town. This topic of mobile for development in Africa is of particular interest to me and in line with the goals of our 4Afrika Initiative. My message: An affordable phone alone is not enough. We believe that the focus should be on providing Africans with affordable and reliable access to applications or services that enable them to trade, to learn and to grow their businesses in ways that result in economic growth and ultimately a better quality of life.
To read more about how mobile can be a catalyst for economic growth click here
By Daniel Kamau, Anti-Piracy Director for Microsoft West East & Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands
When I say ‘Intellectual Property’, what do you think of? Copyright laws? Trademarks? Patents? Those are all big legal words. Words that don’t sound like they really make an impact on any of us.
But what if I told you to think about local artists. Inventors. Musicians. Think about creative human beings with imaginative and inspired ideas – ideas that foster African innovation and establish Africa as a strong economic competitor on the global stage.
What happens if those ideas get stolen?
Piracy in Africa
Piracy is not only a threat to large and wealthy multinational organisations. It affects small businesses and individuals, which in turn negatively impacts socio-economic development. When people invest time and resources into an idea or product that gets stolen, the research and development cycle breaks down. People become discouraged. New ideas stop. Innovation stops. And because small and medium business enterprises (SMEs) create twice as many new jobs and grow revenues 15% faster than developed markets, job creation and economic growth stops too.
A threat to intellectual property (IP) is a threat to African economic development. Especially when Africa has an average software piracy rate of 80% -- making it one of the most affected continents in the world.
Artists asking for recognition
I recently spoke to Mauritian artist and singer, Jean-Jacques Arjoon, about music piracy. Arjoon has been in the African music industry for 17 years and has seen it evolve from analogue to digital. For him, one of the biggest IP threats is the uploading and sharing capabilities offered by the online space.
“Writing is a form of expression and it takes an average of four months to create a song – maybe even four years for an album,” he explains. “When people upload and share work online, no licence fee is provided for by the producers and other IP owners. This has an impact on the music industry, as people no longer buy works produced by authors and IP owners in official music shops.”
“People need to be recognised in monetary terms for the time and effort they are putting into their work. They need funds to survive and keep providing music to their fans. If we want the music industry to last and be an economic backbone that keeps GDP on an upward curve, an absorber of unemployment and social crisis, and a creator of a happy population through entertainment, we need to protect IP rights.”
IP protection gives small businesses and individuals the confidence they need to develop their ideas. It’s a promise that their time, effort and money will be protected and result in growth and success. For startups, securing investment and funding often depends on how well their IP is protected, because investors aren’t going to plug resources into an idea that could be quickly stolen or copied.
A challenge in Africa is that most people do support IP legislation and believe that inventors should be rewarded. However, they make use of pirated music, software, movies and other ‘fake’ goods, unaware that what they are doing is illegal.
If we want to see Africa thrive and become the economic competitor we know it can be, we have to protect our local talent – our musicians, artists and great thinkers. At Microsoft, we are deeply committed to IP protection. We have an important role to play in educating the public on IP rights and in partnering with governments to help them introduce and implement the right laws. It is up to us all to ensure that businesses – big or small – know that they have the opportunity to see their ideas become a reality.
If you are unsure whether or not you are buying fake software or goods, visit our website: How-to-Tell.