April, 2014

  • Microsoft brings volunteers to Africa

    Posted by: Lutz Ziob, Dean of 4Afrika Academy

    Kunle Awosika, Microsoft Kenya’s country manager, shared an interesting insight with me the other day. He said that he read an article which stated that according to a survey by PwC, 75% of CEOs in the region are in need of skilled workers. He added that by 2015, Africa is expected to attract USD 150 billion foreign trades. And the biggest challenge is that there aren’t enough skilled workers to meet these business requirements. 

    At Microsoft, we are well aware of the substantial gap that exists between the demand and supply of skills development in Africa. People across the continent crave learning opportunities, but there simply aren’t enough of them. Through our 4Afrika Initiative, we’ve set out to increase these opportunities and help bring world-class skills to Africans. We’re continually developing more programs to help us achieve this goal. And we’ve recently developed one more… 

     There are currently over 100 000 people around the globe who work for Microsoft. We have an intercontinental network of some of the brightest minds around with expertise in IT, Marketing, Engineering and more. And so, we thought, what better way to help bring critical skills to Africa than through our vast pool of talent? 

    Say hello to MySkills4Afrika.

    MySkills4Afrika is a Microsoft employee volunteer program. It is designed to enable Microsoft’s employees, from all over the world, to play a significant role in improving Africa’s competitiveness. We’re giving employees the opportunity to mentor, coach and train African developers, partners, government leaders, SMEs and recent graduates. We’re encouraging both technical and non-technical employees to participate too. This way, we can bring in a much wider range of needed skills, including marketing, sales, leadership, business operations, project management, HR, app development, infrastructure and cloud computing. As one of our volunteers has said: “This program is not about painting a school or planting trees. It is about developing Africa’s business climate to enable people to compete and reach their full potential.” 

    Samar Patel, Regional Sales Director of Techno Brain Ltd.  One of Microsoft’s partners has benefited through this program with his business development managers from East Africa receiving training from one of the volunteers. He said “MySkills4Afrika has helped us in understanding how diverse markets and culture operate to strengthen and build skills in Africa.”

    And the benefits are two-fold. Each employee that is accepted into the program will be assigned a specific area of focus and a series of virtual assignments. They will then spend one to two weeks on the ground in Africa. So we’re also promoting global leadership and skills development amongst our own employees, as well as a better understanding of the African markets throughout the company.

    We’re already seeing enormous successes from the program, both on the beneficiary side, and from our employees, who testify that their lives have positively changed through the experience. These include Melanie Sharpe from China, Michelle Agudera from Netherlands, and Jossie Tirado from Mexico based out of Seattle

    Here’s what they had to say.

    “Coming to the end of an AMAZING week in Johannesburg. With Darren Daniels & Lindi Chatterton, we rolled out a Career Lift development program for 150+ Student2Business Microsoft interns who are being trained on MSFT  technology across Johannesburg. Feeling the impact of the herculean S2B program and our passion...Thank you for the amazing opportunity MySkills4Afrika!”

    – Melanie Sharpe, volunteer in Johannesburg 

    “I was actually surprised at how many volunteer opportunities there were. A real spectrum, from deep technical training, to hard core selling, right all the way through to career development. I leave South Africa with a heavier and fuller heart, returning to Amsterdam with a new found love for this country and its people.”- Michelle Agudera, volunteer in Johannesburg.

    “I got accepted to showcase Office 2013/Office 365. My audience included students, new developers, small businesses and researchers. You realize how the skills we use every day are often taken for granted. It makes a paramount difference when you share them with small businesses and entrepreneurs in markets like Africa.”

    - Jossie Tirado, volunteer in Kenya

    We’re excited to see employees, such as Melanie, Michelle and Jossie, contributing their time, talent and expertise. They are sharing vital skills and perspectives, which is helping Africans grow, innovate and compete on a global level. And that’s our goal. MySkills4Afrika looks forward to seeing over 50 volunteers from 17 countries work in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritius, Tanzania and Egypt. We’ll also see an additional 200 volunteers doing their work virtually. We eagerly await their success stories, and will be watching closely as they empower people all over Africa.

  • Technology in Africa: The potential, the downfalls – and the opportunities it holds for you

     By Kabelo Makwane, Microsoft Nigeria Country Manager

    A great man once said that the internet is the greatest equaliser. I go further to say that access to information through technology is the greatest equaliser.

    I remember the first time I switched on a computer. It was just after my Matric year, and it was an x286 PC running MS DOS. I was totally fascinated by the blinking cursor, and by programs like WordPerfect and Pascal. From that day on, I started growing my own software collection, booting programs from a series of 1.44 MegaByte floppy disks. I’m still growing my collection, except now I’m using USB storage devices with 34 GigaBytes of space, and at less than a tenth of the size!

    Technology has become a lot smaller over the years. But as an enabler, technology is only getting bigger. Now that the natural user interface has become so mainstream, you no longer need to be a rocket scientist to use a computer. Anyone with a PC can, and in fact is, using computers to access valuable information that leads to new skills, and even economic opportunities. Technology enables people from all over the world to explore their true potential. It makes industries more productive and competitive. And it enables governments to be more effective at service delivery and to stay connected to its citizens.

    Information has become like currency and the access to it – whether through traditional means, the internet, social media or mobile communications – has become the lifeblood of thriving economies. Citizens are connected in real-time – they can be productive anywhere! And businesses can deliver products and services at the right time, place and price. ICT holds transformational opportunities for Africa.

    Unfortunately, there is a shortage of skills required to deploy, run and maintain most of these ICT systems in Africa. These skills are highly sought after in the world, and sadly, qualified Africans are gravitating towards the more developed markets with better compensation packages. However, if we want to solve the continent’s technology-related challenges, we need African solutions, developed by African people. Solutions which are relevant and which take into account the present set of circumstances. Only an African knows how best to solve an African problem. So how do we encourage them to stay? How do we encourage bright minds to develop locally relevant solutions?

    We make sure they see value in the opportunities of Africa.

    There’s huge opportunity in mobile solutions. Did you know there are, on average, 2.5 mobile phones per person on the African continent? Mobile apps have become the centre of how people create solutions to real-life challenges. Look, for example, at Tonee Ndungu’s Kytabu app, which is providing affordable textbooks to students in Kenya. He’s just received an innovation grant from Microsoft. His app was also named the education application most likely to change the world in this decade.

    Mobile devices have also become our key engagement and entertainment tools. Look here at Nigeria’s Abiola Olaniran, CEO of Gamsole and developer of mobile games. In his first 11 weeks, Abiola saw over one million downloads of his games. He is now Nigeria’s highest paid Windows Game developer.

    Tonee and Abiola saw opportunities. And they seized them. Unfortunately, when it comes to opportunities in ICT, a lot of people make two cardinal mistakes. One: They think they need a diploma or degree in ICT to get started. But what if I told you that Tonee has a degree in International Relations and Journalism? As I said, it’s access to information that is the greatest equaliser. There are so many free online ICT tools out there, where you can teach yourself and develop your own skills. Microsoft, for example, has the Microsoft Virtual Academy, a massive online portal filled with free online IT training and courses, all designed by industry experts. And that’s just one of our tools.

    The second mistake is that students and graduates think that being qualified in ICT alone is the only way to have a career in ICT. To that I say, the field is vast! Sales, in fact, is an area in ICT where there is a great shortage of suitably qualified and experienced individuals. Why is sales relevant? Even Microsoft has to sell its products! We’re a business, after all. I, for example, studied toward a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance and Management Information Systems, and a Masters in Business Administration. Now I’m the country manager of Microsoft Nigeria!  There is, and will always be, value in key business skills. IT, after all, exists to support business. Finding business solutions that are first underpinned by ICT solutions is an area where I’m in my element.

    I have no doubt that Africa is the land of opportunity. There’s no place like it. I’ve only touched on a few of its opportunities here, but as the country manager in Nigeria, I’ve made it my goal to help Africans see more of these opportunities. I want them to see the value in them and to foster meaningful 21st century skills that will help them seize them. I encourage every African to play, learn and explore with technology. You have the access to the tools – seize the opportunity to unlock your full potential and create your own destiny!