Microsoft on the Issues Africa

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  • Microsoft leads the transformation of South Africa’s IT industry

    Posted by Mteto Nyati
    Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa

    Microsoft South Africa has just received the nod from the South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry indicating that it is now a Level 2 Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) contributor. What this really means, is that the local subsidiary of the software company is the most locally relevant multinational IT company operating in South Africa (SA).

    There is no other multinational that has yet shown this level of commitment to the restitution of past inequalities in SA’s business landscape, and it’s a great differentiator to government and to Microsoft’s trusted local partners, vendors and service providers.

    What’s great about this for Microsoft – which does business with 7,500 partner companies and service providers in SA – is that these Government agencies and businesses make themselves more compliant and more empowered in the process – as BEE in South Africa is designed to have exactly such a knock-on effect, to inspire participation in the programme.

    This network is already a major catalyst of economic growth and opportunity in South Africa, driving dynamic solutions for our customers, and jobs and opportunities throughout the industry. With the additional 20 points Microsoft SA received for our Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) equity equivalent programme, the company has even risen above the level of BEE participation of the top empowered companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

    This illustrates our attitude towards investing into empowerment in South Africa – and also supports my views as leader of the local business –by being entrenched in the issues that drive South Africa’s government and business landscape, and by doing all we can to create a vibrant local software economy, Microsoft in South Africa can have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the nation’s citizens.

    While BEE in South Africa has in many cases become a contentious issue, Microsoft has shown that by doing it differently, it is possible to follow not only the letter of the law, but to follow the intent – economic and social development.

    Microsoft SA has already announced the names of four sustainable, independent and majority black-owned software companies that Microsoft SA  will nurture and support under the equity equivalent programme, so that their solutions can compete on the world software service market.

    On 10 June 2011, we furthered our commitment by opening a second public request for proposals (RFPs) – as Microsoft SA   would like to take a few additional majority black owned Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) on this journey to international competitiveness as part of our half a billion rand (USD 57.9m) upliftment programme.

    Our relationship with the South African government has been further strengthened by the commitment we have shown to assisting where we can with the local priorities, of which education, skills and job creation are some of the most key to lifting the country out of a possible service delivery crisis.

    I am of the school that believes software and other technologies, when properly used, can transform lives. Over nearly 20 years, we’ve aligned our programmes and investments in South Africa to support economic development, social advancement and greater dynamism in the local software ecosystem.

    Microsoft has been running various programmes to make the world of computers more accessible and affordable for the majority of South Africans – and to unlock the potential of individuals, institutions and academia, NGOs, businesses and government entities by knowing how to use technology to its ultimate ability.

    Our citizenship commitments include transforming local education, fostering local innovation, and creating jobs and opportunities – giving new hope to people with disabilities, enhancing the country’s education system, helping communities bridge the digital divide, supporting entrepreneurial ventures in many industries, and helping thousands of young graduates and school-leavers to develop skills and find good jobs.

    To achieve all of these objectives, our Citizenship programme managers partner with local NGOs, government departments and service providers to reach and enrich the lives of hundreds of thousands of teachers, learners, students, graduate interns, SMEs, disadvantaged communities, differently-abled citizens and government employees each year. For a look at our Citizenship Report of 2009-10, please have a look at http://www.microsoft.com/southafrica/citizenship/index.html.

    Through the success of the BBBEE programme over time, the market will grow to associate Black Economic Empowerment with real entrepreneurship, job creation, enterprise development and skills enhancement. This makes me sleep better at night – knowing that I – as a black South African working for a multinational technology leader, can make a difference in my country through the work that we do.


  • Office 365 Home Premium Giveaway

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

    To celebrate the availability of Office 2013 in Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, Microsoft is giving away 12-month Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions.

    Office 365 Home Premium, one of the offerings within Office 2013, is a cloud service designed for busy households and people juggling ever-increasing work and family responsibilities. The new offering includes the latest and most complete set of Office applications; works across up to five devices, including Windows tablets, PCs and Macs; and comes with extra SkyDrive storage and Skype calling — all for US$79.00 for an annual subscription, the equivalent of less than US$7.00 per month.

    To enter, simply follow @MicrosoftAfrica on Twitter, tell us what you can buy for $7 per month and stand to win a 12-month license key for Microsoft’s #Office365 Home Premium – Office for your whole household, across the devices you love.

    Terms and conditions below.

    Terms and Conditions

    By participating in our Twitter Competition, you fully agree and accept the Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium Competition Terms and Conditions ("Terms and Conditions") and you agree to be bound by them. You also agree to abide by the terms and conditions of any third party website or service where the competition is hosted, if any. In these Terms and Conditions, "Microsoft", "we", "our", and "us" refer to Microsoft Nigeria Limited. "You," "yourself" refers to an eligible Twitter competition entrant. “The Promoter” is Microsoft Nigeria Limited, For the purposes hereof, “Territory” shall mean:  Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti , Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, French Polynesia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Namibia, New Caledonia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, St. Helena, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

    1. The Competition is only open to Twitter users aged 18 years and over, residing in the Territory.
    2. Prize will be distributed via email in a non-editable Microsoft document.
    3. The Competition starts on Monday 25th of March 2013 and closes at 12:00 GMT +2 on Friday 19th April 2013. Entries received outside of the Promotional Period will not be considered.
    4. To enter the Competition, entrants must have access to a computer, the internet and have a Twitter account.
    5. The prize is 1 of 35 Office 365 Home Premium license keys
    6. To enter, entrants must follow @MicrosoftAfrica and tweet what they can purchase for $7 to @MicrosoftAfrica using the #Office365 hash tag. The entrants should re-tweet “@MicrosoftAfrica For $7 I can buy........ #Office365. Terms and Conditions http://bit.ly/YzzyNv”.
    7. Winners will be drawn at random from all complete Tweets & followers logged during the promotional period. No purchase necessary. Entries are only valid if the entry is completed correctly in accordance with these Terms and Conditions.
    8. Only 1 entry per person.
    9. This competition is not open to employees of Microsoft, their families or agencies.
    10. You hereby grant Microsoft Corporation and its affiliates the right to publish your twitter username in online and offline media for this Competition, in the event you are a winner.
    11. The winners will be notified by Twitter Direct Message within 48 hours of the Competition closing date.
    12. In order to receive their prize, the winners are required to provide Microsoft with their full name and email address. Should a winner not acknowledge receipt of their win, and provide their full name and email address, within 7 days of receiving notice from Microsoft that they have won a prize, we reserve the right to redraw or not fulfill the prize.
    13. The prizes will be sent out within 7 days of the winners notifying Microsoft of their full name and email address pursuant to clause 14 and 15 of these Terms and Conditions.
    14. If you accept a prize, you will be solely responsible for all applicable taxes related to accepting the prize, if any;
    15. The Promoter will not be liable for any delays in the receipt of entries. The Promoter does not accept responsibility for entries which are not received or delivered.
    16. In the event the Promoter believes that an entry contravenes these Terms and Conditions, it reserves all rights to delete the entry at its absolute and sole discretion.
    17. The prizes are non-transferable and cannot be substituted with a cash alternative.
    18. The prize draw decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.  In the event of a dispute, the Promoter’s decision shall be final in all respects on all entrants. The Promoter reserves the right to amend, modify, cancel or withdraw this Prize Draw and to amend these Terms and Conditions at any time without notice. The Promoter cannot guarantee the performance of any third party and shall not be liable for any act or default by a third
      party.
    19. These Terms and Conditions shall be governed by the laws of Nigeria and shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Nigerian courts.
    20. AMENDMENT To the extent permitted by applicable law, the Promoter reserves the right to amend these Terms and Conditions at any time. If cheating, a virus, bug, catastrophic event, or any other unforeseen or unexpected event that cannot be reasonably anticipated or controlled, (also referred to as force majeure) affects the fairness and /or integrity of this Competition, we reserve the right to cancel, change or suspend this Competition. This      right is reserved whether the event is due to human or technical error. If a solution cannot be found to restore the integrity of the Competition, we reserve the right to select winners from among all eligible entries received before we had to cancel, change or suspend the Competition. If you attempt to compromise the integrity or the legitimate operation of this Competition by hacking or by cheating or committing fraud in ANY way, we may seek compensation from you for any losses that we incur as a result of your actions to the fullest extent permitted by law. Further, we may ban you from participating in any of our future Competitions, so please play fairly.
    21. LIABILITY Microsoft cannot guarantee the performance of any third party and shall not be liable for any act or default by a third party. Participants in this Competition agree that Microsoft will have no liability whatsoever for any injuries, losses, costs, damage or disappointment of any kind resulting in whole or in part, directly or indirectly from acceptance, misuse or use of a prize, or from participation in this Competition. The foregoing shall      apply in the event your data is not received or lost by Microsoft. Nothing in this clause shall limit Microsoft’s liability in respect of death or personal injury arising out of its own negligence or arising out of fraud. The provisions of this Section shall apply to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law
    22. DATA Any personal data relating to entrants will be used solely in accordance with current data protection legislation applicable in your country of residence and in the country where the data controller is located. Entrants to the Competition will not be added to any database list. They will however be contacted on the email address or phone number supplied to be advised if they were successful. Microsoft’s Privacy Statement located at http://www.microsoft.com/privacystatement/en-us/core/default.aspx will apply to this Prize Draw and to all information that we receive from your entry. Please read the Privacy Statement before accepting these Terms and
      Conditions and submitting your entry. Please note that by accepting these Terms and Conditions you are also accepting the terms of the Privacy Statement.

     

     

     

  • Microsoft Ventures provides support for African entrepreneurs

    By Amrote Abdella, Director 4Afrika Venture Capital and Startup Programs


    As leading Harvard Professor, Michael Porter, once said: “Innovation is the central issue to economic prosperity.” At Microsoft we couldn’t agree more, which is why one of our goals is to empower Africans to make the most of, and monetize their own business ideas. There is certainly no shortage of brilliant ideas on the continent, but no matter how bright they burn, they require time, investment, and the right tools to become a blazing, fully-fledged business.   

    This is why we are so excited to announce that Microsoft’s Ventures partnership program is expanding into Africa, starting in Kenya. Microsoft Ventures was created to give startups a leg-up by providing access to tools, technology and training. Kenya is quickly being recognised as an innovation hub, particularly in the mobility space. It’s been reported that there are 74 mobile phones for every 100 Kenyans and, of those who access the internet, 99% do it via a mobile device.

    Expanded to Africa as part of our 4Afrika Initiative, Microsoft Ventures speaks to our belief that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world. Around the world, Microsoft Ventures selects strategic accelerator partners in each region to provide local market expertise. For our venture into Kenya, we’ve selected 88mph for its proven track record in helping local entrepreneurs turn ideas into thriving businesses. Since opening up in July 2011 the company has already graduated 32 startups. That equals nearly one success story for every month they’ve been in operation!

    One of my favourite stories and a prime example of what we hope to achieve with this partnership, is a company called Gamsole, started by Nigeria’s own Abiola Olaniram. Abiola had a vision of creating his own tech company, capitalising on the growing mobile space and people’s love of entertainment in Africa and all over the world.  Funded by 88mph and Microsoft’s BizSpark program, he started developing Windows Games and is now the highest paid Windows game developer in Africa, with over 1.5 million downloads.  This is just one example. You can read about dozens more on the Microsoft Ventures website.

    We want to remove as many barriers as we can to enabling a startup to thrive. The program is simple: those who are interested can apply to an immersive 3-6 month
    accelerator program. The only requirements are a full-time founding team and less than $1 million raised. Qualifying companies will have access to mentors, technical and design experts, development tools and key resources.

    Ultimately, we want to see a thriving African startup ecosystem contributing to Africa’s economic development and competitiveness on a global scale. We feel strongly that by partnering with 88mph we are helping to pave the way to a better, stronger future.  

  • Malawi 2.0: Back to make a difference

    Posted by John Nielsen

    GM, EMEA Customer Service and Support

    Around this time last year, I accompanied a team of ten Microsoft engineers from the EMEA Customer Service and Support team to Blantyre in Malawi to help launch the Malawi Learning Partnership. We installed a network to connect four schools to allow teachers, students and partners to collaborate and enhance education in Malawi.

     The impact the trip had on us, and the huge difference we realised we could make in just over one week, led us to return this year to provide more support to the Malawi Learning Partnership and schools in Blantyre. The team set up IT labs, fixed computers, conducted DigiGirlz workshops, and trained 23 teachers, working tirelessly every day to make sure they reached as many schools as possible. They found solutions to new challenges, were inspired by some of the amazing stories they encountered, and all returned home with a slightly different perspective on life.

    23 teachers from 13 different schools were trained on how to set up their own school IT labs, basic troubleshooting and computer maintenance

    A few things in particular stood out for me this year:

    1. The astonishing pace at which children learn: We all know that children have an enormous capacity to learn, far outweighing that of adults. But, time and time again I am surprised at just how much a child can learn in a short space of time. At one of the DigiGirlz events we held this year for girls from the rural area of Chikwawa, we saw young girls who had never even seen a computer before learning how to use one and put together their own CVs - in just one day.

    The DigiGirlz session held at Fishermen's Rest for girls from Chikwawa

    2. The power of partnership: We brought 13 of our top engineers from across the world to bring their valuable expertise to help with training and networking for the Malawi Learning Partnership. But without the support of other partners, like St Andrews’ International School, Access Communications, and The Malawi WiFi Project - these kinds of projects would simply not be possible.  We also donated 40 laptops to two schools in Malawi to help them expand their computer labs – but it will be our partners providing WiFi and 3Gconnectivity, as well as the teachers, who we rely on to make sure that our donation makes the biggest impact possible in these schools.

    3. Excitement is as important as infrastructure: Setting up IT labs and connecting schools is important but unless we build excitement around technology, Malawi will never have enough technology-skilled people to help drive the economy forward. Motivating teachers, showing children what they can create with technology, and giving them the confidence to use computers are important ways of giving young people a glimpse of how technology can positively impact their future. We reached over 120 girls during our seven DigiGirlz events in Malawi in an effort to give young girls a taste of the type of jobs they can pursue in the technology industry.

    One of the girls at the DigiGirlz workshop at Samaritans Trust

    And lastly, the non-tech focused part of our trip reminded us once again how the simplest measures can change lives. We saw this first hand when we visited the 10 boreholes the team had raised money to build and repair in the southern region of Malawi, TA Mphuka. Through our efforts to raise money through friends, family and colleagues, we have ensured that   2500 people will have access to clean water.

    For more pictures and videos of our journey in Malawi, take a look at the Microsoft EMEA CSS: Malawi 2.0 Facebook page.

  • Be the next big thing in Africa

    Posted by: Dele Akinsade, Developer Platforms Evangelism Lead, sub-Saharan Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    I must have the best job at Microsoft. I get to experience the passion of young people using technology every day, and how a little imagination can solve seemingly impossible problems. Like this year’s Imagine Cup winners of the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Award, Team Code 8 of Uganda, who developed a Windows app called Matibabu that diagnoses malaria without pricking a body part! By attaching a Kinect sensor to your finger, your malaria status is fed into your smartphone within seconds, and for free! From the heart of Africa, here is an innovation that has the potential to save lives all over the world.

    Team Code 8 truly deserves their success, and their hard work and dedication is inspiring. I caught up with them after the Imagine Cup World Finals in St. Petersburg and we talked about some of their competition highlights. "Getting to present our project to Matt Smith, who is the famous doctor from BBC’s Doctor Who, is a definite highlight,” says Josiah Kavuma, the team’s mentor.

    When asked how it felt to win, Josiah beams at the memory. “It was awesome, we could not stop smiling. It’s one of the best moments we shared as a team.” 

    We also chatted about the apps presented at the competition that inspired us most. Team Code 8’s favourite was SoundSYNK, developed by the UK’s Team Colinked, which is an app that enables the synchronisation of music playback between multiple Windows devices in perfect harmony, essentially creating a stereo sound system. “The effect is mindblowing,” says Josiah.

     My personal favourite was the Portuguese team’s For a Better World app, which uses a portable device to determine a person’s blood type in about five minutes - no surprise that it won the World Citizenship Award.

     In addition to the USD 12 000 prize, Team Code 8 will take away lifelong memories from participating in the competition - networking with peers, experiencing a world-class city, and being exposed to the best technology ideas in the world. The team’s success will no doubt impact aspiring developers in Uganda and other African countries, and to all the local students out there, I say don’t let your circumstances define you. Be inspired by what you see around you. Be the new Africa!

    I look forward to seeing more local students coming up with inventions that will positively impact millions of people on the continent, and the world. Next year, I believe e-commerce will be the next big thing in app development, for it has the potential to solve the financial inclusion problem in many parts of Africa - just look at the success of Mpesa.

     But for now, keep your eye on the Windows store for new, life-changing apps every day. And in a few weeks, Matibabu will be available for download! 

     

  • Levelling the playing field with the 4Afrika Scholarship Program

    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.

  • Building Your Own Business? A New Curriculum Helps Young People Find Success

    Guest Post by William S. Reese
    President and CEO, International Youth Foundation

    Micro and small businesses are enormously important, serving as engines of economic growth in communities across the globe. In developing African countries in particular, small start ups – when successful – can play a positive role in the day-to-day survival of those living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. And when small businesses are able to grow, they can create much needed jobs in the community. Yet we also know that many young people seeking to support themselves and their families by starting their own business often don’t have the skills, confidence, or knowledge to be successful.  

    That is why I am so pleased that the International Youth Foundation (IYF), in partnership with Microsoft, is introducing Build Your Business (BYB) – a comprehensive and inter-active training course designed to support aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs. This curriculum is targeted to meet the needs of young people, ages 16-35, who are either still in school, out of school, or in formal or informal training programs. It is designed to introduce them to the basic ideas, activities and skills needed to successfully launch and grow a small enterprise – from learning how to research the market to developing an effective sales pitch to obtaining start-up capital. And we believe it is a unique contribution to the field of entrepreneurship education. 

    How is it different? BYB uses an interactive and hands-on approach – using games, exercises, video clips, and case studies to clearly explain and break down complex business skills. Accessible online and on a DVD-ROM, this course uses a blended learning strategy in which skills introduced on e-learning modules are reinforced and enriched with face-to-face instruction. Facilitators play a key role in encouraging young entrepreneurs and supporting them throughout the start up process – and they receive their own Facilitator’s Guide to help them provide that support. Also good news: to encourage the widest possible use, this course is available free of charge to community-based and development organizations worldwide.

    According to Lindsay Vignoles, co-developer of the course, the curriculum seeks to reach youth with different skills sets and experience. “BYB’s e-learning modules allow learners to interact with the material at their own pace, while the facilitator-led activities help them understand difficult concepts, share ideas with their peers, and check their progress.”

    As part of its teaching strategy, BYB provides hands-on opportunities for learners to apply and practice the concepts introduced on the computer. For example, in Module 7, learners explore how to develop their sales skills by watching a video clip on why sales are vital to a business, developing a sales pitch that they practice in front of the class, and testing it on potential customers in their community. 

    The Build Your Business Curriculum was recently piloted in Nigeria, and is already getting high marks from early users. Here’s how one Nigerian student assessed her experience: “As an entrepreneur, I have learned a lot from the program; it boosted my confidence to start my own business and provided me with practical information on the things to consider, know, and be aware of when starting out.”

    Imagine what could be accomplished if hundreds of thousands of aspiring young entrepreneurs – particularly those struggling to survive in some of the world’s most destitute communities – have access to this kind of training and support. I hope we can enlist all of you in helping to make that happen.  

  • Partnering With Microsoft to Transform Education in Africa

    Guest Post By Claire Ighodaro CBE
    Independent Director, British Council 

    As a British Council Trustee, I was proud to announce a new international education and training partnership with Microsoft this morning, at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2011 in Washington DC.

    The partnership with Microsoft is a perfect match, as it aligns with the British Council’s core mission: to build trust and create opportunities. We do 'soft power', to use Joseph Nye's phrase, and we do it on a vast scale, operating in 110 countries and 191 cities across the globe. In fact, we were recently described in the Huffington Post as 'probably the world's best cultural diplomacy agency.'

    The first project in this new partnership will provide teachers and learners across Africa with the skills they need to live and work in a global economy. I have seen firsthand the British Council's education programmes in Africa, and the results of their investment are extraordinary. So I am delighted that the first project in the new British Council - Microsoft partnership will happen in Africa, where we have the experience and connections to work effectively with educators and leaders on the ground to really make a difference.

    At the British Council, we work in three areas: English, Arts, and Education and Society. In terms of our reach and impact, we're the world's leading cultural relations organization. Last year our work engaged more than 30 million people worldwide, and we reached almost 600 million people through digital and broadcast media - approaching one in ten of the earth's people.

    Those numbers are large, but here is an even bigger statistic: three billion people today are under 25. Our common future depends on releasing their potential. This is what is at the heart of our new partnership. We cannot predict what's ahead, but we know that tomorrow's world will be complex and fast-changing, and that there will be major challenges ahead.

    According to the International Labor Organization, 160 million people worldwide are unemployed. That includes 64 million young people. And yet there is also a huge and growing shortage of people with the skills that the 21st century requires.  Global connectivity is rapidly transforming the world, as online and mobile technologies converge. By 2014, there will be 6.5 billion mobile subscribers. That's more than 90% of the world's entire population. This new world demands a whole new set of skills.

    We need outstanding, energetic young people with the skills to navigate this complex landscape. Alongside competence with IT, they will need superb communication and teamwork skills to understand and work with people in their schools and communities. And just as importantly, they will need the skills to reach out and work with people on the other side of the world.

    Where do we begin to address these issues? We believe the answer is through partnerships. We cannot do this alone. We must develop creative new alliances to address our common future, with states, businesses, educational organisations and individuals.

    Our two organizations have complementary expertise in technology, education and cultural relations. Our joint expertise forms a solid foundation for a productive, sustainable alliance.

    Technology is a tool that, when well used, can improve teaching and learning. But technology is just one piece of a larger solution, supported by progressive national education policies, professional development for educators, and innovations led by teachers on the ground.

    This project is not just about wiring schools. It is about ensuring that young people in their communities are equipped with skills that will serve them throughout their lives: leadership, self-confidence, creativity, ambition, and a desire to connect and contribute to the wider world.

    Claire Ighodaro CBE is a Board member, Non-executive Director and Audit Committee Chair of Lloyd’s of London, the UK’s Lending Standards Board and the British Council. She is also a Council Member of the Open University and a Past President of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

  • Windows 8: Changing the way we work and play

    By Attilla Szenvedi, Marketing and Operations Director, WECA and IOI

    Technology is changing the world and has transformed the way people work and play forever. The term ‘global village’ has become popular to describe how friends, family and businesses spread out across countries and continents are able to communicate effectively and close the physical gap between them with the aid of technology. Africa currently has more than 650 million mobile phone subscribers and over 167 million internet users, and these numbers will grow dramatically over the next few years. African smartphone penetration is also predicted to increase to 17% in 2017, according to Analysis Mason, and this will further drive internet adoption.

    The interconnectivity explosion and innovation of new devices, has created a world where people can connect and do business anytime, anywhere. Businesses are taking advantage of new technologies to become more flexible, agile, and penetrate previously inaccessible markets and borders. And having the right operating system in place is critical to support a new, and better way of doing things.

    Windows 8, which has just sold over 100 million licences, is designed for mobility and connectivity, making it the perfect platform across all devices. With a touch screen interface it operates seamlessly on tablets and smartphones, but is just as exciting for traditional PCs operated by a keyboard and mouse.

    In addition to enhanced security and reliability, it has a super speedy boot time, operates ten times faster than XP, and saves power and battery consumption by over 20%. A colourful, customisable dashboard, and intuitive swipe gestures, gives Windows 8 a ‘cool’ edge. There are over 60 000 Windows apps already available and Microsoft is investing heavily through our  DevCamps, AppFactory, and Imagine Cup initiatives, in a generation of African developers with the skills and expertise to increase Windows 8’s local offerings.

    When it comes to technology, our continent is abuzz with excitement! So join the party and download Windows 8 now.

    So, here are some of my favourite features to get you started.

    • Data Sense tracks data usage across cellular networks so you don’t exceed monthly limits.
    • A new look and feel Start Screen with Live Tiles is fully customisable and acts as a virtual bulletin board where you can pin specific websites and particular sections from an app.
    • BitLocker, a security feature that encrypts your PC to protect it from complex, modern threats.
    • Windows To Go allows you to save your own customised version of Windows 8 with all settings, documents and apps on a USB stick. When plugged into another device, it will look exactly the same. Perfect for a mobile workforce!
    • Handwritten note-taking in One Note and commenting on a Word document by hand using digital ink. Sales staff can also close deals on-site by collecting a customer’s signature directly on the display.
    • Windows 8 Storage Spaces lets you expand your storage without replacing your drive and uses data mirroring across drives so that, even if one of the drives crashes, the data remains available. 
    • SkyDrive acts as a data-keeper in the cloud with the ability for you to store, edit, and share Office documents and multimedia content online, from any device.
    • Productivity boosting apps including Lync, Invoice 360, Team Viewer.
    • A highly useful dashboard for displaying critical information quickly. Including business metrics, sales information, supplier and partner status, and more. Easier access to information and critical apps is great for business! Improve your business in a minute with Windows 8 videos from our BusinessHub
  • 5 African startups that secured Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grants

    By Amrote Abdella, Director – Startup Engagement & Partnerships: Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative

    Whenever we come across an entrepreneur looking to start a business in Africa, our first piece of advice is this: Develop solutions relevant to Africa. At Microsoft, we’re always working to identify and engage with promising startups – startups who not only have burning ideas, but who have gone beyond these ideas and developed innovative solutions right here in Africa.

    As you may have heard, last week, as part of our 4Afrika Initiative, we announced the awarding of innovation grants for five local startups who are doing exactly this. Through our partnerships with 88mph, HiveColab, CC’Hub and other developer communities, we discovered Africa 118, Kytabu, access.mobile, Gamsole and Save & Buy – startup companies who are already making waves across Africa. While we are always on the look-out to support ground-breaking innovation, and drive the long-term competitiveness of Africa’s economy, even we are humbled at how truly brilliant this innovation can be. Here are their stories.


    Africa 118 - Kenya

     Ezana Raswork’s father had some new puppies that he wanted to get immunised. But he couldn’t find contact information for a local vet who did house calls. That’s when Ezana, who was working at the Yellow Pages in Canada, decided to work on a business idea that would make it simple for mobile consumers to find services in Africa.

    “I found that 85% of Kenyans experienced frustration trying to find local information at least once a week,” says Ezana. “This problem seemed so solve-able to me, so we developed Africa 118. Here, we work to build the best, most up-to-date and accurate database, where users can get real-time access to the services they need.”

    To use Africa 118, users call an agent at one of the relevant mobile partners, who then sends an SMS back to the caller with the contact information they’re looking for. And a search like this only costs 20 Kenyan shillings.

    “We’ve become experts in identifying the best services, getting the right information first time and ensuring there are no duplications. Websites often have inaccurate information, so it’s our job to step in and contact local businesses, to make sure we provide the most up-to-date information. And we’re proud to say we have an eight to nine out of 10 satisfaction rate. Our users come back and have been known to use the service up to 10 times a month.”

    Going forward, Africa 118 hopes to make their services available across a wider variety of platforms. “We’re excited about our future with Microsoft, who are helping us develop an online platform and app for our service. Our vision is to give users access to an accurate database through whichever platform they prefer – be it through an SMS or an app.”

     

    Kytabu - Kenya

    Tonee Ndungu’s father has always been invested in African education. In 2007, he started a nursery school for his local community, providing classrooms, meals, teachers and uniforms – all at his own investment. But he hit a snag when it came to the unbelievably high cost of school textbooks. So one day in 2012, over a cup of tea with his son, Kytabu was born.

    “Kytabu is a textbook encryption and subscription system,” explains Tonee. “Users can rent an entire textbook, or selections of the book, for any period of time – from an hour to a year – using a mobile money platform.”

    To use Kytabu, a user purchases the service and receives a memory card preloaded with every book in the Kenyan education curriculum. They also receive a SIM card that allows the app to be updated over cellular data. The whole application runs on a Windows tablet, or off a dongle for Windows 8 desktops, where users can enjoy textbooks, audio books, learning games, virtual classrooms, past tests and exams, as well as an app store.

    “The cost of each textbook is subsidised by as much as 20% once it is digitised. The renting concept allows you to rent a page for as little as six Kenyan cents per day. This solves the access, affordability and cost challenge – translating into a 60% overall saving.”

    Kytabu’s goal is for the developing world to have universal access to relevant learning material. “There are three main challenges to this” explains Tonee.  “Infrastructure, cost implications and textbook lifecycles. Through a micro SD for storage, a dongle or tablet as a function device, a SIM card as a communication portal, and the leasing of content on micropayments, we hope to accelerate this change in the next decade.”

    access.mobile - Uganda

     Kaakpema ‘KP’ Yelpaala had been living in East Africa for five years, when he became aware of the growth of mobile and the opportunities it offered. He also saw a thriving and growing SME sector – but not too many businesses focused on them. So, he put this opportunity and this challenge together and created access.mobile.

    “access.mobile provides high-quality and customised mobile technology solutions to a wide range of enterprises,” explains KP. “We’re helping enterprises – large and small and across various sectors – to adopt and integrate technology by digitising their operations. Our technology drives efficiency, provides key business insights and helps enterprises to be more profitable. We’re not just building tech. We’re providing relevant solutions that address wants and needs – and ultimately create value.”

    What’s interesting is that access.mobile has a different story to most tech startups. It wasn’t born out of a business plan. It was born, in part, out of an encounter with a coffee exporter in rural Rwanda.

    “I was chatting to a coffee exporter and I saw his process of working with farmers was all paper- and cash- based. I kept wondering how I could digitise his process. So we built him a mobile app that tracked his transactions and gave him insights into his flow and inventory. And access.mobile just grew from there. Today we carry a 90% customer satisfaction rate, and this is from people who had previously just been using Microsoft Excel, at best.”

    At the heart of this business is an interest in SMEs and technology access, which has led to a great synergy with Microsoft. “There are mutual interests and priorities between 4Afrika and access.mobile. Microsoft has been helping us to build on our small successes in East Africa and to think about scaling across Africa. They’re giving us access to key people who are helping us pursue a broader African vision.”

    Gamsole - Nigeria

    Abiola Olaniran was a computer science and mathematics student, with a passion for the mobile space in Africa. After noticing that most people use their devices for gaming, he started Gamsole – a mobile game production company. 11 weeks into its launch, Gamsole had over 1 000 000 game downloads. Fast forward five years and Abiola is Nigeria’s highest paid Windows Game developer.

    “Human desire for entertainment is undying, and that’s what we hope to satisfy at Gamsole,” says Gamsole CEO Abiola. “On an everyday basis, millions of people are experiencing little boring moments: the long queue at the supermarket, the traffic, a 13-hour flight. Apart from providing the entertainment factor for scenarios like this, mobile gaming also serves as a great tool for education.”

    The secret behind Gamsole’s success is simple: They listen to their audience. “Apart from the fact that we make quality casual games, we listen to our users’ demand. For instance, every now and then we get requests from our Facebook fans for games they would like us to create. Some of these people were on iOs or Android phones before switching to a Windows Phone, and they’re now looking for similar gameplay on their new device”.

    Although he peaked early, Abiola only has plans to sustain his momentum. “Gamsole is operating on the fastest growing mobile platform in the world. And we hope to move along with this growth.”

    Save & Buy - Nigeria

     It was during a work day when Hugo Obi was speaking to his colleagues at a gaming company in Nigeria. They all had things they wanted to buy, yet simply couldn’t afford – mostly due to a lack of access to funds. So imagine a company that helped you save towards them?

     “Save & Buy is all about helping you create a savings plans for specific products you want to buy online,” explains Toni Osibodu, Hugo’s co-founder and business partner. “So while you’re shopping online, you click the Save & Buy button and start a savings plan. You select your duration, put down a small deposit and receive reminders of when to deposit money into your Save & Buy account. Once you’ve paid the full amount, the retailer sends your product to you”.

     Save & Buy was only founded in July 2013, but under their CEO Hugo have already made huge progress. “We’re now looking at implementing new features, such as saving towards virtual products like birthdays or holidays. Part of this will include a group save feature, so that friends and family can work towards a common goal. Microsoft is helping us here by giving us access to world-class servers, so that we’ll have a stable and reliable platform for the increased traffic.”

    Save & Buy are in a good place and their growth is definitely worth keeping an eye on. “Things are moving quickly for us. We were fortunate to have made the right connections fast. We’ve got big expansion plans and ambitions, and hope to be in at least three African countries in the next three years.”

     _____________________________________

     It’s clear that the future is nothing but bright for these five African startups. We at Microsoft are proud and privileged to be a part of their journey. The 4Afrika innovation grant programme will be providing each startup with financial backing, technical support and mentorship. We look forward to seeing them inspiring and influencing future developers and entrepreneurs in Africa, so that together, we can make Africa the global competitor it is destined to be.

     

     

  • Interview with Abiola Olaniran: Taking on the Windows Games world by storm!

    By Dele Akinsade, Platforms Evangelism Lead, West, East, and Central Africa, and Indian Ocean Islands

    A fun-loving, piano-playing, visionary geek. Abiola Olaniran dreamed about the dramatic rise of the mobile space in Africa, and of his own tech empire to go with it. Five years later he is Nigeria’s highest paid Windows Game developer and CEO of his own software development company, Gamsole, with games topping over 4 million downloads. It offers ten games including the popular, TrafficJam, Candy Smasher, Mega Chicken and Ninja Jump, which is downloaded over 20, 000 times per day. Road Blazer, a car racing game where players speed through traffic while earning secret weapons, has attracted over 500,000 downloads alone since its launch in April 2013 to date.

    I was fortunate to catch up with him over Skype to chat more about his story and views on the Gaming and software developer industry in Africa.

    Why focus on developing games?

    When I looked at the mobile space, I noticed that people most love to consume entertainment. About 38% of global phone users have a phone solely for this purpose, second to the use of social networks. People never get tired of gaming. Likewise, creating multimedia games is my passion.

    How did you become a software developer?

    I was always interested in technology and studied computer science and mathematics at University. This became my passion and I was already coding in Java Script as a student. I also connected with Microsoft mentors at the University who invited me to become a Microsoft Student Partner. This gave me the opportunity to be an evangelist for the company and I was organising student events, helping others learn about Windows, and spreading the word about DreamSpark, Microsoft’s online portal for developer resources and tools.   

    Why Windows? 

    I chose the mobile Windows platform because it’s new, exciting and beginning to have ‘magic moments’. I also didn’t want to compete against established gaming companies like Senga where there’s about a one in 3000 chance of getting your game downloaded because of the competition. 

    Windows is easy for young aspiring developers to learn and in Africa it offers the most support. Growing up in Nigeria I was at the Microsoft offices every weekend where there were evangelists to help me. I don’t see that on the other platforms.

    Tell us about your experience at the Imagine Cup World Finals in 2010.

    I participated in Imagine Cup for two years running. The first year, our team came second in Nigeria, just missing the opportunity to attend the World Finals. The following year, I learned to hone my presentation skills, and focused on highlighting the key aspects of the app – and we won!

    Imagine Cup is a great experience. It helped me believe that I had the power to create something amazing,   and that young African students can do it too. I remember playing spider man as a kid and thinking, ‘Wow, the people who created this are crazy clever!’ Imagine Cup showed me that these people can be you or I.

    What came next for you? How did you find out about startup accelerator 88mph?

    With the confidence gained at Imagine Cup, and the experience it gave me in seeing an app idea through from idea stage to being published, I wrote a letter to Yalla Apps, which enables developers from around the world to submit their Windows Phone applications to the Microsoft marketplace without hassle - soon, I had my first app published!

    With the company Gamsole in mind, I then contacted 88mph, which I had read about as being one of the most prominent seed funds in Africa. They replied that they were interested because unlike many startups applying for funding, mine was already making a profit through my published apps. The adventure had just begun and a year ago I left my small home town, Ife in western Nigeria, and moved to bustling Nairobi where 88mph is based.

    What do you look for when hiring interns at Gamsole?

    Nothing can beat a solid set of skills. This can be a challenge in Africa, but a professional portfolio profiling your experience and past projects is very important.

    What do you love most about Nigeria?

    It’s Dynamic. The youth there have this energy that they are just going to make things happen.

    What does the future hold?

    I would like to continue creating games based on African experiences that users from all over the world will love. Most of our 1.5 million downloads already come from other countries: Brazil 20% and China 12%. We are also expanding our advertising offering using in-app advertising and paid apps models.

    What message do you have for aspiring developers?

    There is no better time to be a developer in Africa. The market isn’t saturated and it’s full of possibilities. It’s like ‘super magic power in your hand’. Investors that are traditionally shy of backing local software developers are also seeing the potential. Remember, a great idea doesn’t make a great company. You need solid business fundamentals to get it off the ground and financial support most certainly helps. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with start-up accelerator 88mph and I’m pleased to hear that Microsoft’s Venture Partner Programme has expanded to Africa, selecting 88mph as its first African accelerator partner. 

  • The STEM of change for Women in tech

    Alethea Lodge, Public-Private Partnerships Manager, International Organizations, Microsoft

    Science + technology + engineering + mathematics = STEM, a key driver of progress and economic growth around the world. However, in both developed and developing countries, women are highly underrepresented in these fields, meaning that STEM is also critical to women empowerment. When it comes to the ICT sector, for example, only 18% of computer science degrees in the United States are earned by women. In African countries the representation is similar, with women making up only 15% of the ICT workforce in Kenya and 18% in South Africa.

    But a new generation of ‘girl geeks’ are making a real mark on the technology sector and propelling the economic growth of their countries forward, like Senegalese, Mariéme Jamme, CEO of IT organization, SpotOne and co-founder of Africa Gathering, the first global platform bringing together entrepreneurs and others to share ideas about development in Africa. Although female role models are changing perceptions about women in ICT, most still face barriers to entry and have not yet been able to take advantage of the immense opportunities provided by technology.

    Microsoft is a firm supporter of women in the STEM fields and we are part of several partnerships and initiatives to enhance access. As part of our 4Afrika Initiative we launched Aspire Women, a series of events designed to empower over 3000 young women to play a leadership role in their communities, build their IT skills and self-esteem, and introduce new models for self-employment. Last month, 100 young women from all over Egypt participated in an Aspire Women workshop and learned general computer skills and how IT can help in running a business. The country is one of many in Africa where women perceive a STEM career as unattainable but the technology skills acquired at the workshop will help them secure better jobs, build successful businesses, and have an impact on their personal lives and communities. Exposure to technology should happen at a young age, which is why we also have our YouthSpark’s DigiGirlz program to inspire high school girls to pursue STEM subjects by providing them with the opportunity to interact with Microsoft employees and receive computer and technology training.

    Mobile technology in particular is having real impact on economies and development, and on the 20th June I was fortunate to attend the Scientific
    Mobile Learning
    workshop in Nsukka, with our longstanding partner, UNESCO, and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics and the University of Nigeria. The workshop uncovered how technology can be a catalyst for empowering women, and in turn, enables them to have a greater impact on economic and social development and pedagogies for teaching girls STEM in the classroom. On the agenda was the recently released white paper, Girls in STEM and ICT Careers: The Path toward Gender Equality. Sponsored by Microsoft in conjunction with UNESCO, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UN Women, the whitepaper pinpoints solutions to the global challenge of increasing the number of girls interested in STEM subjects.


    The solutions include four focus areas
    :

    -         Combatting stereotypes about women and girls in science

    -         Making IT relevant to their lives

    -         Women empowerment

    -         Improving access by overcoming the issue of skills availability and development

    This is no quick fix, but if academia, private enterprise, government and NGOs all work together to change cultural perceptions and provide ample and inspirational learning opportunities, we should start to see women finally represented more equally in such critical academic and professional fields.

  • Best of Africa at Imagine Cup 2012

    Posted by Dele Akinsade,
    Developer and Platform Evangelist, West, East and Central Africa

    “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

    Marking Imagine Cup’s ten-year anniversary in 2012, Microsoft is celebrating the 1.4 million (and counting!) students who have participated in the world’s premier technology competition. By focusing on student-led solutions to the world’s toughest problems, Imagine Cup has brought to light some of the most groundbreaking and creative approaches to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, including last year’s People Choice Award finalists from Nigeria, Team Nerd, who developed an innovative remote healthcare app for doctors and patients.

    The participation of African teams in the competition has increased steadily over the years.  This year, registrations in Sub-Saharan Africa grew by 197% compared to 2011, and the number of competitors grew by 64% year on year.

    With this kind of momentum, we are especially proud of the five teams representing Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012, when students from universities in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda will travel to Sydney, Australia to compete in this year’s worldwide finals in July. Their entries for practical use in both the public and private sector represent the brightest young minds of Africa.

    Please join us in following and supporting these talented African developers on their road to Imagine Cup 2012!
     
    • Team E-Soft, from the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët Boigny de Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire, has developed a real- time monitoring solution for environmental threats in industrial areas. As evidence of the growing need to monitor the impact of industrial development on local communities, Team E-Soft has already secured partnership funding from the World Bank and Ministry of Energy to test their “Evolve Safely” solution in Cote d’Ivoire.

    • Team Gravity, from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, has concentrated on a common problem in both urban and rural areas of Africa, with a healthcare solution called “SwiftER,” that aims to improve the rate and quality of response from medical and security providers in the event of an emergency. 

    • Team Sen Section, from the Universite Cheikh in Senegal, has focused on making development and aid agencies more efficient by developing a mobile app, called “Tataane,” that allows fieldworkers to collect data and surveys that automatically updates the home office database. Pan-African NGOs such as Africa Rice are already preparing to use the mobile app in their agricultural research in rural areas.

    • Team Asclepius, from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, has developed an image processing application, which helps radiologist detect signs of tuberculosis at an early stage. Particularly in South Africa where tuberculosis has one of the highest infection rates in the world, early diagnosis is critical to the success of medical treatments available to rural and underdeveloped communities.

    • Team Cipher256, from Makerere University in Uganda, has connected Windows Phone to Windows Azure with an application that aids midwives in their diagnoses for expectant mothers. Using an algorithm that converts the Frequency (Hertz) to Beats Per minute of the fetus, measures the fetus’ position in the uterus and calculates the fetus’ age, this app “WIN-SENGA” can help detect an ectopic pregnancy or abnormal fetal heart beats.

    We wish these teams the best of luck in Sydney. We will be cheering you on from Facebook and Twitter!

  • The benefits of buying ‘genuine’ get sweeter for consumers in Africa

    Posted by Werner Wilders
    OEM / Retail and Consumer Director for Microsoft West, East Central Africa

    When it comes to technology, standing still is falling behind. The rate at which technology changes is so fast and its implications for business so enormous that any lag behind the latest updates and functionality can directly equate to lost potential. That’s why we continue to urge our customers to install the latest updates and why we provide a range of free tools to enhance the performance of their software. 

    Making ‘free’ really mean free

    Consumers can download the latest security solutions, media tools, themes, Internet Explorer 9 and service updates for Windows 7 at Microsoft.com, for free. But for many consumers in Africa, just because something is ‘free’ online, doesn’t mean obtaining it is necessarily affordable or convenient. The high cost of bandwidth on the continent means that to download antivirus software in West, East and Central African countries for example, you’ll pay anything from $25 to $40; add this to limited and unreliable internet accessibility and it is understandable why so many consumers don’t download ‘free’ tools made available online. 

    To address this, we’ve developed the ‘Africa Pack’ – a suite of popular Microsoft technologies and locally-relevant content in DVD format. It’s free to consumers across Africa who purchase or currently run a genuine version of Windows 7, and is available to Microsoft partners to distribute with new PCs that are preinstalled with, or bundled with locally attached copies of genuine Windows. We hope that by making this content available offline, we’ll save our customers time and money, and ensure the very latest Microsoft technologies are easily accessible to them.

    One of the key technologies included in the Africa Pack offering is Security Essentials. Having the latest security technology is becoming critical amid the ever-increasing plethora of malicious software that can harm your PC or target private information. We don’t want our consumers to put themselves or their families at risk by delaying security updates because of slow download speeds or cost. Now, with Africa Pack, we are ensuring that every user who has a genuine copy of Windows 7 will have access to free antivirus software to protect their computer.

    (Locally relevant) Content is King

    We’ve often spoken about our commitment to our Local Language Program. We believe in the benefit of learning in one’s first language as well as the importance of keeping local languages alive by ensuring they remain relevant and continue to evolve. So our Africa Pack, available in English and French, also contains local language interface (LIP) packs for the most widely spoken languages in Africa: KiSwahili, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Amharic. The first edition of the Microsoft Africa Pack includes: Microsoft Security Essentials; Windows Live Essentials; Africa Theme Pack (desktop wallpapers and themes to customize your PC); Local Language Interface Packs (LIPs); Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7 Service Pack 1.  

  • Imagine Cup, the perfect platform to encourage innovative thinking in South Africa

    Guest Post by Josh Leibstein
    Student and Imagine Cup finalist

    When I developed the computer-aided detection programme to identify tuberculosis at an early stage, I never imagined it would lead to winning first prize at Microsoft’s South Africa leg of the Imagine Cup. The competition was tough as there were many great projects – all of them meeting this year’s criteria, which was ‘Solving the World’s Toughest Problems’! 

    It all started a couple of years ago when I overheard my fellow University of Johannesburg students discuss their Imagine Cup entries. It intrigued me. Immediately, I was inspired by the extent of their creativity and that their projects actually had the potential to address real-life issues. And I thought – hey, I can do that too!

    Under the guidance of my honours project mentor, Mr Duncan Coulter, I started working on an image processing application. The great results of the project turned out to defy even my biggest expectations, as I realised it could be applied to help solve a serious problem. Mr Coulter was instrumental from initial design through to the final implementation. His general guidance, feature suggestions and design ideas were incredible.

    The project started out as an application that statistically analyses the texture properties of arbitrary images such as tiles, clothing or paper. Using that data, I found areas that are similar to other given samples. Once I was able to identify and analyse those types of textures, I observed the merits of applying it to more complex textures, such as those that need to be analysed in the early detection of tuberculosis.

    I realised the imaging system would be perfect in assisting a radiologist in identifying areas that have a high probability of containing tuberculosis structures as result of their texture properties.

    Tuberculosis is an endemic disease affecting South Africa on so many levels, socially and economically, and it made sense to me to expand my thinking to try and address this issue. The results so far have been quite promising. As it turned out my project fit perfectly into the theme of the Imagine Cup.

    What’s more, I get to represent my country and pick the innovative brains of like-minded fellow contestants at the Imagine Cup in Sydney later this year.

    Innovation in South Africa is at such a promising stage, especially among the youth. We have many talented up-and-coming developers. Competitions like Imagine Cup gives them an awesome opportunity to produce great ideas for the future – possibly even "the next big thing". The projects showcased at the last national Imagine Cup finals demonstrated this.

    With the right mindset our students can compete with anyone in the world. But we have to overcome this notion of trying to imitate ideas from the USA and other countries. We as South Africans have our own style and we use technologies that give us a unique edge. Individuals should be encouraged by business and government alike to create cutting edge solutions, rather than take the safe option.

    My view is that as our students move into industry, this attitude will hopefully filter through to the public and private sectors, making South Africa a top competitor globally.

    As for my own dreams – I will continue development of the project as part of my master's thesis and hopefully the system can undergo field trials in the not too distant future. The potential for this research to assist so many people is a great motivator. If the system can help stem the tide of a rampant TB epidemic in our country, it will all be worthwhile.

  • SMBs Keep Africa’s Economy Moving

    Posted by Robert Kayihura
    Director - Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft

    Robert KayihuraMicrosoft understands the importance of small and medium businesses (SMBs) to Africa’s economy, which is why in November we launched Keep Your Business Moving. This online program is designed to provide advice to SMB owners as well as the budding entrepreneurs that are key to Africa’s economic future – and as we enter 2013, that future looks very bright.

    With a 5.3% increase in GDP expected in 2013, sub-Saharan Africa’s economy is booming. It’s been largely exempt from many of the economic factors affecting much of the Western world, meaning it’s increasingly attractive to outside investors. However, it’s worth noting that the real clout of Africa’s economy comes from SMBs, which account for 50% of African employment and add 20% to the continent’s GDP.

    Running an SMB is challenging anywhere in the world, but doing so in Africa means facing up to a unique set of challenges. From a computing point of view, the top three barriers to entry are prohibitively expensive hardware, inaccessible software and, most importantly of all, a non-existent or nascent IT and broadband infrastructure – but Microsoft is committed to help through the provision of innovative solutions and programs like BizSpark and DreamSpark, which provide young businesses, students and Academic institutions with free access to developer tools and platform licenses.

    To combat expensive hardware concerns, for example, SMBs can use Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 to virtualize one computer into 10 or more workstations. Not only does this reduce hardware and software costs, but energy consumption and maintenance costs can shrink by 80%. This, combined with a 3G mobile internet connection, allows Africa’s SMBs to conduct business with the rest of the world, even if the landline infrastructure is fragile.

    Furthermore, Microsoft BizSpark is a global program that helps software start-ups to succeed by giving them access to software development tools for free. Again, this gives African SMBs and entrepreneurs the tools they need in order to conduct their business.

    Another challenge facing Africa’s digital development is skills – not in having good ideas for businesses, but rather how to develop these ideas using modern digital tools. The solution lies in providing training for people, and the youth in particular, to teach them how to use technologies that many of them have never experienced before.

    And when it comes to training and providing access to information and tools, a little can really go a long way – particularly when it comes to young people. During a trip to Malawi last year, for example, my colleagues witnessed how quickly young minds absorb information when they witnessed girls from the rural area of Chikwawa, who had never even seen a computer before, learn how to use one and put together their own CVs - in just one day.

    So although there is still much to do before Africa realises its full digital potential, initiatives such as Keep Your Business Moving and BizSpark are already making a difference. And by demonstrating the power of computers and making hardware and software more accessible, we are excited to be playing a part in inspiring the next generation of African entrepreneurs and SMBs.

  • Prioritising Africa – Introducing Microsoft 4Afrika

    Ali Faramawy, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft MiddlePosted by Ali Faramawy

    Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Middle
    East & Africa

    There is an African proverb that reads, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” We couldn’t agree more. Microsoft has been operating in Africa for 20 years, and today we have offices in 14 countries. As we look forward to our next 20 years, we wanted to explore new ways to link the growth of our business with initiatives that spur economic development for the continent. The world has recognized the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise.

    This is why today, we are introducing the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, which is designed to help improve Africa’s global competitiveness. Our goal is to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent, and beyond.

    By 2016, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative intends to:

    - help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth,

    - bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, and

    - help 200 000 Africans develop skills for entrepreneurship and employability. This will include up-skilling 100,000 members of the existing workforce, as well as training 100,000 recent graduates, 75 percent of whom we intend to help place in jobs.

    A smart, affordable device

    In Africa today, smartphones account for only about 10 percent of total phones in the market. As a first step toward driving the adoption of smart devices, Microsoft and Huawei today introduced the Huawei 4Afrika phone, a full-functionality Windows Phone 8 preloaded with select applications designed for Africa, by Africans. The Huawei 4Afrika phone, which is the first in what will be a series of “4Afrika” smart devices, will be targeted toward university students, developers and first-time smart phone users to ensure they have affordable access to best-in-class technology, so they can access the information and tools they need to be active global citizens. (See related blog.)

    A step closer to connectivity for all

    We are also partnering with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and Kenyan Internet Service Provider Indigo Telecom Ltd. to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband across Kenya. Using solar-powered
    base stations
    together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, this project will deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity. We aim to implement similar
    pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of white space technologies. These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would
    enable this white spaces technology to deliver on the promise of universal access to high-speed wireless Internet for the African continent. (See related blog and video.)

     Getting SMEs online 

    To help these 1 million African SMEs get online, a new online hub will launch in April that will aggregate available, free services from Microsoft and many others which can help SMEs expand their business locally, find new business opportunities outside their immediate geography, and increase their overall competitiveness. We’re also planning to provide free domain registration for one year for those qualifying SMEs who want to create a professional website. This online hub will initially be available in Morocco and South Africa and will expand to other markets over time.

    Developing Africa’s business and thought leaders

    The Afrika Academy is another new initiative under the 4Afrika banner aimed specifically at capacity building and skills development. It is an education platform leveraging both online and offline learning tools to help Africans develop both technical and business skills for entrepreneurship and improved employability. Training through the Afrika Academy will be made available starting in March at no cost to higher education students, government elites and the Microsoft partner community.

    Why are we doing this now? When we look at the world, many see China or the BRIC countries as the next big opportunity for growth. At Microsoft, we view the African continent as a game-changer in the global economy. We believe deeply in the potential of technology to change Africa, and we equally believe in the potential of Africa to change technology for the world. We are honored to plant this new seed for Africa, and together with our network of partners, we look forward to the next 20 years of growing amazing opportunities for the continent.

    For more information, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/4Afrika.

  • African innovation leads the way for global citizenship

    Posted by Dele Akinsade

    Developer Microsoft Developer Platforms Evangelism Lead, Sub-Saharan Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.” – Bill Gates

    I am thrilled by the African finalists of this year’s Imagine Cup competition. It’s no secret how innovative African youth are and this year’s winning projects are testament to this. Ten teams from across the continent will be jetting off to St. Petersburg, Russia in June, to compete in the global finals against 120 countries from around the world. In addition to participating in a life-changing event and a chance to win the USD $300, 000 pot prize, our African representatives will have a world stage on which to highlight the role the continent’s local developers play in addressing the most critical issues of the developing world.

    You might have heard about our 4Afrika Initiative, which was launched in February this year, and is built on the belief that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.  It’s this idea that makes me so passionate about our local developers and so excited about Imagine Cup. The competition is just one of our many YouthSpark programmes designed to create opportunities for hundreds of millions of youth around the world.

    So join me in applauding and supporting the African finalists for the Imagine Cup 2013 competition:

    Nigeria

    Team Life Saver from Obafemi Awolowo University and Ladoke Akintola University of Technology  have developed an application called CardioLife, which helps prevent heart attacks by monitoring heart readings on the fly via the Microsoft Windows Phone. It also provides a rehabilitation programme for stroke patients using the Kinect sensor.

    Team Life Saver

    Tunisia

    Wise Team, with members from ENIT, INSAT, and Time Universities, will fly to the finals to present their app, Drive Alive, which reduces the risk of falling asleep at the wheel. By providing a travel schedule, it alerts the drivers to any rest areas along their route and is calculated according to recommended sleep patterns and maximum driving times.

     Wise Team

    Uganda

    The Ugandan winners, Team Code 8 from Makerere University, have developed a solution called Matibabu that diagnoses malaria without pricking any body parts! This cutting-edge technology uses a light sensor connected to a tablet that is passed over a finger to diagnose the disease.

     

     Team Code 8

    Morocco

    Team GreenMust’s winning application makes recycling fun in an effort to promote environmentally friendly habits. Users receive ‘green’ tips and win points and vouchers for checking in their recyclable wastes. It also provides a virtual market place for recyclers and collectors to meet individuals and corporations accumulating a large mass of recyclable wastes.

     

    Team GreenMust

    Kenya

    Team PI CRAFT from Jomo Kenyatta University are the Kenyan finalists, with their project dubbed Protégé. The application allows people from around the world to search for children’s homes and rehabilitation centres, send donations, and even virtually adopt a child. All through their Windows smartphones!

     

    Team PI Craft receiving their prize: A paid trip to compete in the global finals in St, Petersburg Russia

    South Africa

    Team SentiMeter from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa have made it through to the Imagine Cup finals yet again!  They have developed a big data social media analysis tool called SentiMeter, which competes with products like Brandseye, Radian 6 and BrandWatch.  SentiMeter has already had interest from companies wanting to buy it.

     

    The Creators of SentiMeter

    Egypt

    Team Masked Ninjas from Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering scooped top spot with their application called Videolater. It is designed to give users a more interactive experience of the news by automatically
    searching for online video clips of the news item being read. According to the team, “People with smartphones want to touch and feel the news.”  

     

    Participants in Egypt’s final

    Botswana

    Team Tandabala from the Botho College of Software Engineering have developed a pension payment system called Tandabala. The application enables old age pensioners, World War veterans, and the destitute to receive their social security payments from remote locations. This is a solution to a very important issue as many pensioners in deep rural areas can’t easily reach central payment stations such as post offices. There are already 30,000 registered pensioners who benefit from the application.

     

    Team Tandabala

     Angola

    Team UMA, comprising four students from the Angolan Methodist University (UMA) invented the Windows version of the popular game entitled “Don’t Fret” or “Não Te Irrites”.  Played between four competing players across devices, this exciting game can now be enjoyed between friends in different locations.

     

    Team UMA

    Ivory Coast

    Team Kernel from the Ivory Coast won the West and Central Africa regional finals held in Dakar, Senegal. Their innovation, Neoformily, meaning never forget your family, helps patients with Alzheimer's and memory disorders recognise their loved ones through face and voice recognition.

    Team Kernel

    Each competing team deserves the highest recognition for the creativity and imagination applied to some of the world's biggest challenges. All of these solutions will have an impact on the future and inspire others.  Since
    Imagine Cup was launched a decade ago, over 1.65 million students across the globe have participated and many of them have gone on to create thriving startups in their countries. So let’s get behind these teams and give them our
    full support!

    If you are a student with a great idea for an app, I encourage you to apply for next year’s competition. Also, don’t forget that Microsoft’s BizSpark programme, another YouthSpark initiative, is a great way to get the support you need to launch your startup business

    So what are you waiting for? Dream it, build it, live it, and win it!

     

     

     

  • Getting Africa connected: Topics on the table at WEF

    Posted by Fernando de Sousa
    General manager, Africa Initiatives at Microsoft

    This week, Cape Town is hosting the World Economic Forum for Africa (WEF) and I’m lucky enough to be attending. The WEF covers almost 30 different topic areas that together hold the key to Africa’s continued and increased expansion and economic development. The potential for positive change is huge, which is why I’m so excited to be here and to meet likeminded people who have the ideas and energy to help Africa thrive in the digital age.

    Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative is itself trying to achieve more for Africa (it’s in the name!). 4Afrika was launched in February with the aim of improving Africa’s global competitiveness through technology. Two of our stated goals are to make affordable smart devices available to Africa’s youth and to test unused TV broadcast radio frequencies (known as ‘white space’ frequencies) to increase Internet access in underserved areas. In February in Kenya, we launched Project Mawingu, our first white spaces project in Africa.

    Today, I’m excited to announce another white spaces collaboration aimed at connecting African students and teachers and giving them the opportunity to engage in the global – and borderless – digital dialogue. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, we are working alongside the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and local internet service provider UhuruOne to get tens of thousands of university students and faculty members better connected by installing low-cost wireless broadband access at the University of Dar es Salaam, amongst others, and to provide affordable Windows devices and relevant services.  [See press release  for more information]

    Projects like this are part of our overall 4Afrika strategy to engage in Africa’s development, address youth unemployment, help recent graduates develop skills for employability, and support the development of young software developers and entrepreneurs.  

    The three principal themes of this year’s WEF Africa are ‘Accelerating Economic Diversification’, ‘Boosting Strategic Infrastructure’ and ‘Unlocking Africa’s Talent’. We believe 4Afrika serves all three of these themes. Hyper-connectivity is vital to the economic and social development of the continent, and improving access through initiatives like 4Afrika will help achieve these critical goals.

    We’re proud to say that Microsoft 4Afrika is gaining momentum. Since launch we’ve seen nearly 400 apps created by our AppFactory interns, and we’ve touched more than 1,100 developers through DevCamps in Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and Tunisia alone. We’ve also trained around 1,100 partners and government leaders across 14 countries through our Afrika Academy. We’re just getting started, so we’re looking forward to the time here at WEF Africa this week to make sure that as a community, we are working together to pursue common goals and to accelerate African competitiveness and innovation.

     

     

     

  • A local approach to customer service & support

    Posted by Dora Mbuyi
    Marketing Communications & CPE Lead

    Customer support has always been a core focus for Microsoft. The recent roll-out of more local support numbers in Africa is yet another important milestone for us. By expanding our local dedicated support services in Africa to include Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Ivory Coast, and Namibia; we are underscoring our commitment to the continent.


    Evolving to meet customer demand

    Looking back over Microsoft’s history, it’s clear that as the company has grown and evolved, so has our support base.

    - In 1975, customer support consisted of just two people, Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
    - In 1990, with the launch of Windows 3.0, we had just 500 support personnel in place.
    - By 1995, we were providing support in 29 languages.
    - We went on to launch online support services, and later launched support services on Twitter.

    Fast-forward to 2012 and we now have 90 000 employees in over 190 countries supporting and developing varied products and services for our customers and partners. This is not where it ends though.  Our roll-out of local support service in Africa is just another step in our evolution to offer customer support services that reflect the diversity and geographic breadth of our customers and partners.

  • 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.

  • Microsoft appoints new country manager in Ghana: Meet Otema Yirenkyi

    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!

  • Fostering youth skills: a road to success

    Posted by: Djam Bakhshandegi
    CSI Program Manager at Microsoft in Africa

    Finding a job is still a daily struggle for millions of young people. Although the prospects for economic growth in Africa are good, increasing youth unemployment is limiting vital areas of that growth. Governments and industries must keep pace with supplying the opportunities to harness its potential, or face a problematic future.

    With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa today, the youth community represents more than 60 per cent of the continent’s total population and accounts for 45 per cent of its growing labour force. Experts predict that Africa’s labour force will be larger than China’s by 2035.

    So there is a real opportunity here to make young people the drivers of prosperity and growth for an entire region. Yet the International Labour Organisation statistics show that youth unemployment in Africa actually increases as education levels increase. It is a sad truth that young Africans are more literate than their parents, and yet more of them are unemployed. We must start from the ground up to ensure that the young labour force has the capacity to take on this important role in our future. And as such, our efforts must be focused on the core foundation of providing high quality education.

    Evidence suggests that secondary school achievement has regressed in some African countries, yet overall literacy is growing and Africa spends more on secondary education than the global average.

    So what are we missing? What is the recipe to shift this trend, improve education and make a positive impact on youth employment prospects in Africa? The answer must surely be identifying the right kind of skills that African youth need to succeed in today’s knowledge economy, and then boosting access to these skills.

    Mindful that youth is the cornerstone of economic growth and competitiveness, policymakers in the Africa and the Middle East have been undertaking a series of actions and decisions aimed at increasing assistance and opportunities for youth. But this not solely an undertaking for governments. The private sector also has a duty to curb the youth unemployment epidemic, and as a leader in the ICT sector, Microsoft role is particularly critical. As technology becomes more ingrained in industries from manufacturing to healthcare and agriculture, ICT skills are high-priority 21st-century skills for employers. Is this shift evident to youth and is it a reality across educational and professional development courses? We have a clear responsibility to communicate these advancements through open dialogue with education providers, and state the skills they expect future employees to possess.

    Microsoft has recently introduced the YouthSpark initiative, a new company-wide, global program with the goal to address the opportunity divide – the gap between those who have the skills, access and opportunities to be successful and those who do not – facing young people. Through this initiative, Microsoft is creating opportunities for Africa’s youth through partnerships with governments, non-profit organisations and businesses alike. We are pledging to
    serve youths by providing them with the enhanced technology and business training necessary to help them pursue additional education, obtain employment or start a new business or social venture.

    As a case in point, through YouthSpark, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, we have already reached over half a million young people and made $1.1 million worth of software donations to non-Government-organisations.  In addition we have trained almost 30, 000 teachers through our Partners In Learning tools as well as equipping hundreds of small & medium businesses with relevant start up skills.

    I am glad that that specific mechanisms are being put in place across the region to foster skills and employability and fight youth unemployment. As policymakers, local businesses, international organisations and non-profits, it is vital that we are not just in the same boat, but that we are all rowing in the same direction. Avoiding the issue any longer is a mistake - young people have the potential, skills and enthusiasm to drive Africa forward and we should give them the best chance to succeed.

  • Imagine Cup: the journey continues

    Posted by Dele Akinsade
    Developer and Platform Evangelist, West, East and Central Africa

    I can’t believe Imagine Cup 2012 has come and gone again, after months of build-up and excitement. It was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to be part of the journey and to engage with the talented African teams that made it to the finals in Sydney.

    Team Gravity from Nigeria at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in Sydney

    I must congratulate the winners of this year’s Imagine Cup, particularly the overall winner, Team QuadSquad from the Ukraine, who developed an amazing innovation: gloves that translate sign language into speech.  Well done to the Egyptian and Algerian teams who won awards in the IT Challenge, Windows Phone challenge, and Windows Azure challenge, as well as the African teams that participated from Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa.

    Special mention must go to Team Cipher256 from Uganda, who made it to the Top 20, despite not being able to be physically present in Sydney and having to present their project, an affordable mobile antenatal diagnosis solution, to the judges via Live Meeting.

    Each year, during the months leading up to Imagine Cup, I am filled with pride when I see the quality of the projects developed by students across Africa, and hope and excitement at their prospects in the competition.

    Team Sen Section from Senegal at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in Sydney

    But what excites me most is what happens after the competition is over, when the excitement dies down, and everybody gets back to real life.

    I recently checked in with some of the finalists from last year’s worldwide finals, and was thrilled to find out how well they are doing. Team Nerds from Nigeria, for example, has already started their own company and is working on a new web application that allows teachers to develop and customise lessons for their students using high quality multimedia tools. Several members of the other finalist teams from last year are working on their own startups, while others are pursuing their studies with the confidence of knowing what they are already capable of.

    This is the real value of Imagine Cup: the unique experience it offers, the networking opportunities, and the confidence it instills in participants.

    Team E-Soft from Côte d’Ivoire at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in Sydney

    I want to encourage this year’s finalist teams not to see this as the end of journey, but as the beginning of one – it’s now time for you to really shine, pursue your dreams, and take what you have learned to help shape Africa’s future. 

    And lastly, I want to call upon African students to start thinking of new ways of using technology to help solve Africa’s challenges. You could join us in St Petersburg, Russia next year for the 2013 Imagine Cup Finals!

    To keep up with next year’s Imagine Cup news from Africa, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Celebrating more than 15 years in Côte d'Ivoire, Microsoft opens new office in Abidjan

    Posted by Simon Ouattara
    General Manager for Microsoft West and Central Africa

    As a twelve year veteran of Microsoft on the African continent, I’ve watched with great excitement the incredible growth within the ICT sector in Africa – and seen first-hand the power of technology to transform the lives of people, businesses and governments.

    As an Ivorian, I have experienced first-hand my country’s years of conflict and struggle. But I also bear witness to incredible positive transformation taking place here. I’m more bullish now than ever in my optimism for the future. And I believe that ICT will undoubtedly be a conduit for the acceleration of growth in the country.

    On the sunny, cool morning of 21 February, 2012, Microsoft opened the doors of its new office in Abidjan - the second-largest in the company’s West and Central Africa region – a move made to accommodate Microsoft’s rapidly expanding staff and partner network in the country; one which I celebrated alongside my Microsoft colleagues, our partner organizations, and several honourable ministers of ICT and Education including His Excellency the Minister of ICT, Mr. Kone Bruno, and Her Excellency the Minister of Education, Mme. Kandia Camara.

    The expansion of our office in Abidjan marks an important milestone for Microsoft in the region, as it signals the promise of the ICT sector, and speaks to our commitment and passion to the rebuilding and future prosperity in the country.

    One of the many highlights of the day was the signing of the strategic framework agreement with the government of Côte d’Ivoire outlining a plan to increase the use of ICT in the public sector, for enhancing teaching and learning, for increasing youth employability and for increasing access to technology beyond the urban cities to improve the standard of living and access to information and services in the rural areas.

    Our partner network is just one positive indicator of an increasingly stabilized and healthy environment in the country. Today, we have more than 130 partners in Côte d'Ivoire who develop, sell, deploy and support solutions in this important region. The vast majority of those partners are small and medium sized businesses, who have a dramatic impact on local job creation, earning an average of $11 for every dollar Microsoft makes and re-investing that into the Ivorian economy. 

    We know there will be challenges. But we at Microsoft, together with our partners and the Côte d'Ivoire government, are emerging from the recent conflicts with hope and an eye towards leveraging technology to bring about positive change in the country. We’re excited and honoured to play a role in driving what’s next.