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Guest Post by Josh LeibsteinStudent 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.
Posted by Djam BakhshandegiCitizenship and Partners in Learning Program Manager in Microsoft’s West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands region
Since we opened our first African office in 1992, our work has been fueled by both a passion for this continent, and a belief that technology has incredible potential to transform the lives of people, governments and economies and to bring about positive change across African society. Our Citizenship work in Africa, we hope, has served as an expression of that belief, supporting our mission – to help people and businesses in Africa realize their full potential.
We recently published our Microsoft 2011 Corporate Social Investment Report for West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands (WECA & IOI) – an important report not only because it’s a reflection of how we hold ourselves accountable as a global corporate citizen - but also because it’s a reflection of whether or not we’re holding true to our passion and belief in the transformative power of technology we were founded on now twenty years ago. I’m pleased to say, I believe we are. Having had the privilege of seeing our social investments in action - and to speak directly with individuals whose lives have been impacted – I can attest that this report represents much more than a summary of our activities. It represents a real transformation taking place in lives and communities in Africa - the result of concerted efforts by Microsoft and its many innovative partners across the continent to use technology to address some of the most pressing issues in African society today.
At the core of our social investment strategy in Africa lies youth and innovation – particularly relevant on a continent where 60% of the one billion plus population is under the age of 30. Here are just a few examples of the work we’ve accomplished in 2011 that I’m particularly proud of:
Understanding that providing for the practical needs of communities in Africa supersedes all, last month saw Microsoft surpass its commitment to support NGO’s responding to the Horn of Africa crisis. With the support of the Microsoft Community Affairs Corporate Team at our headquarters in Redmond, we have now provided over $10.5 million in software and added support to a number of on the ground activities. This collaboration is projected to increase by at least 30% in coming months.
You’ll learn about these and many more accomplishments in this report. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on how we can better harness the power of technology to continue to meet tomorrow’s challenges in Africa.
Guest Post by William S. ReesePresident 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.
Guest Post by Tim James Director, sustainableIT - Microsoft Partner
After attending some of the events around COP17, it has become abundantly clear that the dialogue of business and society at large has been around the desire to embrace the systemic change required to solve the issues we face as a result of global warming and associated climate change.
The overwhelming feeling I get is one that is positive and receptive to change. This sounds fantastic at face value and is certainly a step in the right direction. The reality however, is that when one translates this into the African and more specifically the South African business landscape, this willingness to embrace sustainability on a broad level within all spheres of business has been sorely lacking.
What makes this even more concerning is that the ravages of climate change will be realised more significantly on the African continent, than anywhere else in the world. My hope is that as Africans, we can show leadership and demonstrate to the rest of the world that a green economy is our only future. This aspiration is something that I hope we can achieve against a backdrop of flagging negotiations and protectionist political agendas.
As developing economies we may not have realised the benefits that coal has brought to the industrialised world. Using an analogy from my childhood however, “two wrongs do not make a right” and if we insist on a coal based future, future generations will bear the brunt of our folly. We need access to significant funding from the west in the form of a Green Fund, but we need to use this investment wisely in transforming our economies and leapfrogging many traditional economies in the process.
Fortunately the majority of people I have engaged with at COP17 have been the converts. Sustainability managers, consultants, energy managers and policy makers, all of whom understand the issues and know that we have to adapt our business strategies to ensure a sustainable future. The challenge we face, is how to we extend the converts and create change agents at all levels of society?
So where am I going with all of this and how can we help broaden the base and act as a catalyst for change? A sustainable business is really a journey, not something that should be taken lightly in terms of strategy and certainly should not be ignored if one wants to remain competitive in a low carbon future. The start of this journey for the majority of organisations is an understanding of their environmental impact and in particular, their carbon footprint. The simple maxim, “you cannot manage what you don’t measure” applies.
With the development of The Carbon Report, sustainableIT, a Microsoft partner, has endeavoured to make the process of measuring and reporting carbon emissions simpler, more intuitive and much more cost effective than a traditional consulting lead approach. This achieves a number of objectives but in the main, an objective to broaden the opportunity for companies of every size and in every geography to initiate the process of reporting on their emissions.
How did we go about doing this? In two ways really. In the first instance, being an African company based in Cape Town we are able to utilise world class skills at a fraction of the cost of our Western counterparts. Secondly and more importantly we chose a solution partner in the form of Microsoft.
The Microsoft development framework was chosen by us for its speed in delivering a solution, largely as a result of the availability of best practice patterns and reusable business logic. Not only has this allowed us to develop a solution rapidly, but it also provides us with agility when launching new functionality through the platform.
The other area where we have leveraged Microsoft is the Azure cloud based computing platform, which allows us to publish our solution to the world on a best of breed computing platform, ensuring the security and integrity of our clients data at all times. This also allows us to market the solution to a broad range of companies across the continent as the solution is driven entirely through a web based user interface developed using Microsoft Silverlight.
Any business, whether they are a sole proprietor or a large corporate can, now use the solution to build and report a greenhouse gas inventory, fully compliant with the requirements of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the most globally recognised standard for accounting and reporting carbon emissions.
So where does this lead us to? At the start of this journey we had a number of design goals but two of the key criteria were accessibility and cost effectiveness and our relationship with Microsoft has certainly allowed us to achieve these goals.
Will the positive sentiments coming out of COP17 translate to demonstrable actions at all levels of society? There is now doubt that we live in both exciting and troubling times, to coin a phrase, we are at a tipping point, certainly in more ways than one when we consider the financial markets against the backdrop of COP17 and climate change.
It remains to be seen whether our governments hear our collective voices and deliver a binding deal or at least a meaningful framework that provides us with hope for the generations to come.
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.
Posted by Sarah Collins CEO, Wonderbag
As the CEO of Wonderbag I have spent the last several days with my partner Microsoft at COP17. 20,000 attendees, representing 191 countries and 12 heads of state, all descended on Durban, South Africa, where I live and run my business. We experienced some very busy days and long nights as we spent time meeting with government leaders, NGOs and the private sector to promote what started as a simple idea and is now starting to have a real impact in South Africa and beyond.
Heat retention cooking is nothing new. For centuries people have covered cooking utensils to retain heat and cook food, a Second World War haybox is just one example. With Wonderbag, what is new is both the innovative design of the cooking bag and the business model behind the initiative. The bag itself consists of two recycled polystyrene filled cushions. The bottom bigger cushion creating a nest for the pot and a smaller top cushion that acts as a lid to ensure optimal insulation. They are easy to wash, easy to transport and more importantly easy to produce at a local level.
Acting locally has been a pillar of our strategy from the beginning. The business model not only prioritizes sustainability but also job creation. Each Wonderbag is hand-sewn in communities around South Africa. To fulfill our next order from Unilever of five million bags in South Africa we will employ more than 8,000 people over the next five years.
Households can save up to a third of their monthly expenditure by using a Wonderbag three to four times a week; every woman who cooks using a Wonderbag saves time by not having to source fuel or stay near the kitchen during the cooking process. In addition, food does not burn; the kitchen is a safer place for children and less time around open fires means a healthier environment.
Ensuring the sustainability of all these advantages is the carbon funding business model. If a Wonderbag is used three to four times a week, 500 kilograms of carbon is saved every year, we have had this verified and audited by the UNFCC. This allows us to trade half a ton of carbon per bag per year, which subsidizes the Wonderbag and allows us to scale.
So how does Microsoft fit into all of this? We are in the business of Wonderbags “being used”, however for the process to work, Wonderbag needs to keep track of every single Wonderbag and that’s where technology and Microsoft come in.
We first started working with Microsoft South Africa in 2010 when we approached them to help us to develop a solution that would enable field workers to register new Wonderbag users via a mobile phone. Working together with innovation firm frog, Microsoft was able to provide us with the technology we needed. And over the last few days here at COP17 we have agreed to take this to the next level.
I was surprised to learn about a geospatial mapping solution called Eye on Earth that Microsoft announced at COP17 with the European Environment Agency and their technology partner Esri. Eye on Earth is a cloud based application development platform and online community for environmental data sharing. We’ve determined that this same technology can be used to host an online application to graphically map information on where Wonderbags are in use and how much carbon they save. We have even been discussing the addition of a heat sensor, in the bottom of every Wonderbag, to automatically track its use and map that back to the carbon algorithms. This is still early days, but a developer has already mocked up the first version of the application for us.
At Wonderbag we believe that we have the wind behind us with this project because of the times that we live in. Climate change awareness is at an all-time high, the value of energy is appreciated like never before and there are now mechanisms that award and support those who are trying to do the right thing. When technology and environmental solutions join forces we can make a difference in every household.
Just as Bill Gates was driven the by goal of a PC on every desktop, we will achieve a Wonderbag in every kitchen.
Posted by Mteto Nyati Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa
Earlier this year, South African president Jacob Zuma joined his counterparts from Brazil, Russia, India and China on China's Hainan Island for a summit meeting of the informal group named after the initials of its members. Formerly BRIC, it is now the BRICS club.
Many commentators were surprised by the decision to bring South Africa into the club. How could they bring in South Africa, and leave out the likes of Mexico, South Korea and Turkey? The answer came from none other than Jim O’Neill, the chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management International who originally coined the acronym: On purely economic terms, it makes no sense – but South Africa as a representative of the African continent is a different story.
We cannot underestimate the importance of this move for Africa. Suddenly, BRICS is no longer an artificial body based on similar economic performance, but increasingly a forum representing the developing world. The inclusion of South Africa not only marks a significant milestone in Africa’s developing role on the world stage, but also talks to a potential shift in focus within BRICS from purely mercantile interests to a stronger development agenda.
It’s important to bear in mind that Africa is largely a young continent. This in itself has several implications and opportunities. There’s no doubt that the opportunity for the continent is immense. But it also highlights the critical need for African countries to grow genuine knowledge economies, instead of old-style economies based purely on natural resources that are never beneficiated in their country of origin. We’ve seen far too many examples of the so-called “resource-curse”, where countries with huge natural resources tend to have less economic growth.
In Africa, all of the elements for growing successful and sustainable knowledge economies are falling into place. We have numerous platforms and structures aimed at speeding Africa’s progress toward the much-discussed Millennium Development Goals.
The continent is benefiting from a veritable broadband tsunami, with undersea fibre-optic cables landing practically by the day that connect Africa to the rest of the world.
Mobile telephony is booming in practically every country, offering many people the chance to be part of a global economy. Africa is now the second largest mobile market in the world after Asia, and the fastest-growing mobile market in the world by some distance.
The technology is available to grow modern and competitive knowledge economies in Africa. Now we need to redouble our efforts, with business partners, national and local governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society, to create the frameworks, policies and technology solutions that will spawn a new generation of knowledge workers on our continent.
What does this mean in real terms? At Microsoft we believe that it’s all about enhancing the competitiveness of countries by expanding access to education at all levels of society, and contributing to a thriving African technology economy by stimulating economic growth, innovation, and employment in Africa’s IT industry and beyond.
As an example, in South Africa, we’re busy nurturing six small black-owned software development companies as part of a ZAR500 million black empowerment initiative over a seven-year period. This investment directly addresses the key challenges facing South Africa, and the continent: creating jobs, developing enterprises, building the local software economy and developing scarce technology skills.
It’s also vital that we create jobs and opportunities through ICT-related capacity building, and help improve services for African citizens through e-government solutions that enhance transparency and efficiency. Last, but not least, we need to maintain our focus on empowering local communities through ICT skills training.
In June this year, Microsoft South Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Science and Technology to increase access to e-skills and business skills training for students. The aim is to ensure that young people, particularly those with previously disadvantaged backgrounds, gain the key competencies to help fast-track their progress in future. So far, hundreds of partners, training providers, educational institutions and NGOs have joined us in driving this initiative.
It’s a lot of work. But we’re well on the way. We simply cannot afford to let the BRICS opportunity pass us by.
Posted by Paul Lloyd Robson Microsoft Environmental Sustainability Field Engagement
The beating of African drums was the sound at the 17th Annual UN Global Climate Conference (COP17) as it opened yesterday in Durban, South Africa. The world's Governments, NGOs, and other delegates all filed in through the speedy and efficient accreditation process for the conference.
For me, as an ex-Durbanite and now working for Microsoft Corp, the experience was one of good memories, experiencing the balmy Durban weather and the smells of the sweet sea breeze. I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a member of the official South African delegation in the plenary hall, and I sensed that South Africa is optimistic about the negotiations, and proud to be able to showcase Durban, “The warmest place to be”, to the world.
South Africa has taken something of a leadership role for a group of countries known as the Group of 24 (G24). The G24 was established in 1971 to coordinate the positions of developing countries on international monetary and development finance issues and to ensure that their interests were adequately represented. Developing countries generally work through the G24 to establish common negotiating positions at the COP. According to the South African delegate who I spoke with, they were positive about the opportunity to produce an outcome which was comprehensive, balanced and ambitious, but also focused on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, opened the conference and set expectations. Given that the current climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, is set to expire, the extension of this will be the main hope of the South African government and most participants. The overarching goal of the COP is to create a binding, comprehensive agreement which will cap carbon emissions globally and limit global warming.
Microsoft is in Durban, as it has been present at the previous two COP meetings in Cancun, Mexico and Copenhagen, Denmark. At COP17 we are hosting an area in the conference center for the first time, where we have equipped 10 computers with Skype. These PCs allow delegates to make Skype calls as well as let them call any phone on the planet, free of charge. Speaking to the delegates at the conference today, there has been a lot of interest in “virtual participation”, a new catchphrase at the COP meetings. This entails reducing the amount of travel needed, and thereby environmental impact, from global conferences such as the COP meetings through greater utilization of technologies like Skype and teleconferencing.
This is just one of the few examples of the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change which we will demonstrate in South Africa. In the next two weeks as the conference progresses, myself and the other members of the Microsoft and partner delegation at COP17 will bring a few more blog posts here.
Posted by Dele AkinsadeDeveloper and Platform Evangelist Lead for Microsoft in West, East, Central Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands
The growth of internet access and mobile penetration across Africa has resulted in a technology tipping point in terms of the opportunities available to business and consumers. Now is Africa’s time. The potential is tremendous, but making technology readily accessible and available – and continuing to fuel Africa’s culture of innovation around ICT – is essential to turning that potential into a true impact on economic growth in the region.
The need to create more spaces in which African technology professionals and enthusiasts are able to experience the latest-generation technologies first-hand, exchange ideas, and build skills birthed the idea for ‘Open Door’ – a series of events taking place across the continent aimed at highlighting the latest developments in ICT, but also the potential growth opportunities they offer.
Open Door is essentially a ‘technology showcase’ where we give African technology professionals and enthusiasts the opportunity to experience the latest generation of products and services from Microsoft and its partners. Open Door is literally just that: our doors are open to the public, our customers, partners, students and Government. The events typically last one or two days and are jam-packed with technology sessions, demonstrations and interactive feedback sessions.
2011 is the second year we’ve hosted Open Door events in Africa and the feedback from customers, partners and consumers is that these types of events are needed to help drive technology adoption, and create a better understanding of what is available to consumers, businesses and Government alike – and perhaps most importantly, the growth opportunities they offer.
Open Door events provide attendees access to our latest consumer and business tools, including products such as Windows Phone 7, Kinect for Xbox 360 and the Lync communication platform. The events are hosted across the territories that Microsoft operates in, including Nigeria, West & Central Africa, East & Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands. To date, over 1, 100 developers, customers and partners have attended events in Abidjan, Lagos, Abuja, Nairobi and Kigali. Further events are planned across the region in the near future.
In Kenya and Rwanda alone almost 500 customers, partners and developers attended our events. We also leveraged our Open Door event here to launch the Microsoft Virtual Academy, a fully cloud based online learning platform, designed to assist students in acquiring technologies and skills that would enhance their employability.
What we weren’t expecting was the incredible level of energy and enthusiasm we received in feedback. Partner, customer, but particularly student feedback showed us that Open Door and supporting programmes, such as the Virtual Academy, are what really resonate with the local populus. George Mbuthia, a student at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology shared:
“It is a thrilling experience to study Microsoft technologies and advance my career. Earning points for downloading and studying materials and passing the self-assessment tests the program also keeps me motivated and encouraged, as I can constantly see my progress.”
Microsoft currently has over 250 employees in nine offices and more than 2,500 partners in the WECA & IOI region, each with thousands of employees. With Open Door, never before have so many leaders across the technology industry gathered together to share our product and services vision, and our extensive network is still growing!
Guest Post By Claire Ighodaro CBEIndependent 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.
By Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs
It has been over two months since famine was declared in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, leaving 12.4 million people in need of emergency aid. Every day over 1,500 famine-stricken Somalis arrive in the world’s largest refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya. According to the United Nations, the Dadaab Refugee camp designed for 90,000 people is now home to nearly half a million people.
To put this crisis in perspective, the number of severely famine-stricken people is higher than the combined numbers affected by the South Asia tsunami and South Asia earthquakes of 2005 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
On the Microsoft on the Issues blog for Africa we often focus on the many opportunities present in Africa, the amazing feats and accomplishments of the African people, and how technology is positively impacting the continent. But Africa, and the world community, face a humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about Microsoft’s commitment to help respond to the crisis.
Technology is our business and it also underpins how we try and contribute to the communities we serve. We are committed to using technology to help respond to this crisis. Yesterday in Nairobi, I announced that we are extending our disaster response efforts with a number of partner organizations working in the region. We are committing to deliver support to the value of more than $4 million including:
- Monetary donations to NGOs working in the relief zone.- Donating technical solutions and support to lead response organizations to improve the effectiveness of aid flows and monitoring. Over the last 30 days we have been working with IGOs and NGOs in the region to develop a sustainable model for their disaster response mechanisms. Our efforts include:
- Providing access to technology, eduction and learning opportunities for refugees. Examples include:
We have an on-going commitment to Kenya and East Africa – and are not new to the challenges facing the region. These latest efforts combine our long-term commitment with the immediate disaster response needs of the communities at risk.
There are so many positive developments across the continent and so much progress being made. But, collectively the world needs to respond to the crisis in the Horn of Africa and help address the terrible suffering of so many people. We are committed to playing our part.
If you would like to help, we recommend working with, or donating to, one of the following organizations:
• Kenya Red Cross Society• CARE• NetHope• Oxfam-America Inc.• International Rescue Committee• Save the Children American • Red Cross World Vision • Islamic relief
Guest post by John Nielsen GM, EMEA Customer Service and Support
Earlier in September, I accompanied a ten-strong team of engineers from across Microsoft EMEA Customer Service & Support to the Blantyre area of Malawi. The team were there to install a brand new network that would connect four local schools. Working closely with teams from mobile network Access Communications and the charity Computers for Malawian Schools, we helped launch the Malawi Learning Partnership (MLP) – a community networking project using ICT tools to allow teachers, students and partners communicate and enhance education in Malawi.
We’re extremely proud that, over the week, we helped these schools bridge the digital divide so that they can better harness the power of technology; giving teachers the IT tools that will help them create more dynamic lessons for their students. The network now in place will let schools integrate their work much more closely, widening their access to new learning tools and ideas.
The visit wasn’t without its complications – we made slow progress on our first couple of days and had to deal with rolling power cuts every two nights, which meant that we had to complete a large portion of the networking by candlelight. In addition, using computers with 128MB RAM felt like a trip back in time for many of us. In spite of this, the team made it work and the partnership launch was a great success.
In fact, upon my return to the office, I was delighted to take part in a Skype call with some of the students and my colleagues still in in Malawi at the time – something which would not have been possible a few days earlier.
Late on in the trip, the team met some of the hardworking staff at the Jacaranda School for Orphans. Even though they were already behind with the schools they had initially agreed to network together, they were so impressed and humbled by their work that they insisted on including them within the MLP. Despite the set-backs due to the power-outages, they charged forward.
Our work wasn’t limited to helping to launch the MLP. We also had the pleasure of meeting with several hundred local residents – including parents of children at participating schools, local business leaders and members of the community – at an evening event we hosted. During the session, I presented to the guests about our citizenship agenda, and the work we were doing in Malawi.
The female members of the team were also fortunate enough to run a session as part of Microsoft’s DigiGirlz programme, which gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in IT and participate in hands-on computer workshops. Fifty girls from around Blantyre took part, and everyone was delighted to have seen this part of the project come to fruition. One participant told us the session had been “the best day of her life”, which is pretty amazing. Our hope now is that the participants have more confidence in their abilities and understand more about the possibilities of working in IT thanks to their involvement in the session.
Technology aside, the visit was also a chance for us to see some of our fundraising for Against Malaria in action. We hand-delivered some of the 5,000 nets funded by our efforts – a simple but vital tool in helping Malawian families prevent spread of the disease. This was a great moment of the trip – seeing how our efforts will help to save lives. And although we’ve returned home, our work hasn’t ended. We have now formed a Technology Mentoring Network with the people of Malawi that will offer ongoing support and training to young Malawians starting new businesses.
I think it’s safe to say that the visit to Malawi was one of the proudest moments of the team members’ careers. It was a hugely rewarding experience – it was fantastic to see benefits of our work immediately, and meet some amazing people. We’re excited to keep in touch with the team on the ground and hear more about the progress being made.
I’d like to leave you with a short video showing some of the highlights from our trip.
Posted by Wanjira KamwereGovernment Engagement Manager at Microsoft WECA
Education is viewed by some people as a basic human right. I include myself in this group, however the reality is that education is a luxury for many people in the world and pockets of society often find it hard to access. Across Africa, I feel that the value of educating women in particular cannot be underestimated. Providing education and skills to African women offers them a brighter future and a way to support themselves and their communities in unprecedented ways. Happily, supporting young talent and local communities across Africa is a huge priority for Microsoft and I’m proud to be one of those responsible for driving initiatives in the WECA region, especially when I see firsthand the results it brings.
I’m really proud of some work that I have been able to be a involved in as part of the Global Give Back Circle, which is in turn part of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and is committed to empower disadvantaged adolescent girls in Kenya. Through the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC), women at Microsoft, such as myself, mentor young local girls to help create opportunities and design a future path for them. The programme also addresses a critical challenge for all young people in Kenya – the unavoidable 21 month gap between high school and university. We help to bridge this gap by engaging young, women on a nine-month ICT course in specially built IT Labs in Kenya. This is complemented by an arranged internship, equipping the ‘mentees’ with critical e-Skills and experience of the working world before they embark on their chosen university courses.
As the name suggests, this mentoring programme is also designed to promote the culture of giving back to the community. The young women who take part in the GGBC become mentors themselves, transferring knowledge to others by teaching computer skills. The cycle of local empowerment improves local community support, promotes independence and encourages private sector investment.
The GGBC has helped many young women reach their full potential - three of the first GGBC class of 2009 are Clinton Scholars in the American University in Dubai, two were awarded scholarships to US universities and 25 are attending university throughout Kenya.
This year I was excited to see the programme lead one young Kenyan girl to even greater horizons. Thanks to her commitment to the GGBC, 19-year-old Pauline Kachinja was selected as the spokesperson for the local Microsoft IT Lab during a live-stream of the facility at the 2010 CGI Session on Democratizing Education. This year she went on to win a place as the sole African female representative at the July leadership training summit in Washington DC. Pauline also had a rare opportunity to meet US congresswomen and has gained skills in project and financial management as well as on-camera interview experience. Back in Kenya, she will impart these skills to others, giving back to the community.
Being part of the Global Give Back Circle is a great example of how Microsoft is helping young people worldwide to unlock their full potential, empowering them to expand their horizons, learn new skills and improve their chances of employment. In Kenya this takes on even greater significance as these opportunities offer young women greater independence and ultimately help themselves, and others, escape from poverty. Personally, I look forward to seeing this empowerment eventually come full circle as more highly-skilled young talent enters the business world and fuels our burgeoning local economy. But don’t take it from me, here’s Pauline’s own words on her GGBC experience…
My name is Pauline Kachinja – I’m a beneficiary of the Global Give Back Circle and an undergraduate student at Moi University, Kenya – and I was offered the precious chance to attend the IL2L International Girls’ Summit in Washington D.C. this summer. I was nervous before going, in case I didn’t represent Kenya as best I could. But I shouldn’t have worried – I met so many inspiring girls my age from all over the world, learnt a great deal and I was selected as one of the best two speakers at the summit! My prize was to be filmed in a TV studio talking about my background and my ICAN project, which was great.
I also visited the Kenyan embassy and met His Excellency, Ambassador Elkanah Odembo, who gave me these words of encouragement: “Leadership is a long journey with numerous challenges but if you stay focused you will make it.” My whole stay in the United States was crowned by the graduation which was held at the Georgian embassy. I was joined by my new mentor and her family. All the participants received a certificate, it was a very emotional moment because of the bond that we had created amongst one another and now it was time to part. We are already planning a reunion in ten years so we can see how far we have all come.
Being part of the GGBC and going to America has been a life-changing experience that I can never forget. I’m taking two very valuable lessons back to Kenya from it all: • You don’t have to be rich or to be so educated to make a change in this world; all you need is to believe in yourself. Women are a force of change in this world. • As a leader, try to find an opportunity in every challenge, and overcome any challenges in every opportunity, that comes your way.
Pauline meets the Kenyan Ambassador in Washington D.C.
Posted by Tracey Newman Small and Medium Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) Director for Microsoft West, East & Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands
I was very pleased to see some of the best of Africa’s partner network recognised and their expertise showcased at two separate awards ceremonies that took place in Los Angeles recently. At the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) held from 10 -14 July, 10 partners received WPC Country Awards, while 16 partners received Awards at the WECA Awards, a regional awards ceremony for the West, East and Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands (WECA & IOI) sales locations. Both Awards acknowledge partners for their continued excellence in providing outstanding value to customers and the marketplace as a whole.
Microsoft has always emphasized that its partners form a critical part of its business model: today there are 1.3 million Microsoft partner companies in the world, who together provide 95% of Microsoft’s revenue. The scope and scale of this network is vast, covering distributors, resellers, retailers, system integrators, Independent Software Vendors, OEM manufacturers, hosters and gamers. And our 7000 strong partner network in Africa allows us to develop, sell, deploy and support our software solutions on almost every corner of the continent.
Our partners are certainly important to us because they help us expand our reach, but they also help us achieve something bigger: fuelling transformative innovation across the continent, by developing technologies developed by Africa, for Africa. This continent is brimming with opportunity, and we believe that our software can help realize this by improving the lives of individuals, organisations and local economies. But to do this, we need solid relationships with skilled partners – exactly the sort that our Partner Awards shine the spotlight on.
This is why it is so inspiring to see the calibre of work our partners in Africa are producing, and why I was so excited to see the best of these partners recognized at our global partner event. They will play an integral role in increasing business aptitude and improving government effectiveness.
On this note, I congratulate the following partners for excelling in their respective areas of specialisation:
Country Partner Award winners:
HERMES-SYSTEM – Reunion
IPMC – Ghana
Signal Alliance – Nigeria
System Plus Pioneer Ltd – Mauritius
Computer Revolution Africa – Uganda
Computer Revolution Africa – Kenya
Computer Revolution Africa –Ethiopia
Menshen – Angola
Techno Brain LTD – Malawi
FTF (Full Technologies Formations) - Senegal
West, East and Central Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands Award winners:
Axxend – West and Central Africa (Portals and Collaboration)
Computrade – Indian Ocean Islands (Named)
Coretec – Eastern and Southern Africa (Dynamics Enterprise Resource Planning)
Courts – Indian Ocean Islands (Retail)
Elytis – Indian Ocean Islands (Distributor)
FRCI – Indian Ocean Islands (Learning)
FRCI – Indian Ocean Islands (Virtualisation)
FTF – West and Central Africa (Desktop)
Ha-shem – Nigeria (Small & Medium Business)
LCI – Indian Ocean Islands (Education Sector)
Mitsumi – Eastern and Southern Africa (System Builder)
Signal Alliance – Nigeria (Unified Communication)
Tavia Technologies – Nigeria (Communication Sector)
Technobrain LTD. – Eastern and Southern Africa (Enterprise Software Advisor)
Technobrain LTD. - Eastern and Southern Africa (Independent Software Vendor)
Technobrain LTD. - Eastern and Southern Africa (Government Sector)
Posted by Warren La FleurSenior Business Development Manager, Microsoft East and Southern Africa
Namibia recently held its first-ever National Conference on Education at which the Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Hage Geingob, called upon the private sector to engage and invest in education as a means to combat the skills-shortage and unemployment challenges facing the country. Geingob went on to note that ‘education is too important to be left to the Ministry alone as education is a great liberator and equalizer and has the potential to open doors to success.’ (Source: Namibian Sun)
This is a world view that we share at Microsoft – the belief that government and industry need to work together more than ever towards shared priorities for sustainable growth, as well as to develop thriving and competitive knowledge economies.
In fact, just last month, we opened the doors at the very first Microsoft IT Academy in Namibia. I’m excited about this, as were all those who attended the official ceremony at the Polytechnic of Namibia Centre of Entrepreneurial Development (CED). The fact that Microsoft has already established thousands of IT Academies like this one across the world does not detract from its significance – because for Namibia, one Academy like this one has the potential to make a big difference to the local economy. With an unemployment rate of over 50 percent, Namibia is in desperate need of skilled citizens. And it’s worth highlighting that in order for its economy to thrive, not just any skills will suffice. True, in any country there is a whole spectrum of jobs that need to be filled, but the fact remains: those countries which lack a developed ICT infrastructure and the human resources to support it can’t compete on the global stage, and are unable to utilize the technologies that have the potential to drive increased productivity and prosperity. The rising dependence of businesses on IT has meant that it is now critical that a good portion of a country’s human resources are made up of skilled IT professionals.
While everybody knows how vital education is, creating sustainable and high quality skills development programs is no mean feat. And a further challenge: the rapidly changing nature of the ICT industry and the importance of keeping up to date with trends make it even more difficult to ensure a consistently high quality standard of education for this sector. That’s why it often requires collaboration between several parties, each bringing their unique skills to the table in a quest to develop something greater than what each could achieve working in isolation. Public-private partnerships are a good example of this, and have become critical in fostering the development of robust and sustainable business landscapes, particularly in developing nations. We’ve pointed before to Mauritius as an example of a country that has made great strides in successfully leveraging these sorts of partnerships. We hope to help bring this to Namibia as well, and are confident that the establishment of a Microsoft IT Academy to provide training on the most current technologies will be an important complement to the existing curriculum at the Polytechnic of Namibia, supplementing the good work they do with the very highest quality of IT skills development.
When one takes these factors into account, it is much easier to see the broader significance of the partnership we officially initiated between Microsoft, the Polytechnic and TaTe Group, representing not only a sustainable education program, but an opportunity to stimulate the business landscape and the local economy as a whole. It is important to remember how much has been achieved thanks to great partnerships: they are the facilitators of infinite possibility.
Posted by Lutalo Joseph Willrich (on behalf of the Team Quest-O)
So we hacked like cats at little buttons and mice back in our school dorms many days ago (when no one knew us), and lo! Here we are speaking to the world about our exploits and achievements. It’s lovely, Imagine Cup I mean, amazing and truly a must-get-there moment for every tech student around the globe!
Travelling to Imagine Cup was like programming: thrilling and engaging. The journey was the longest (30hrs approx.) and most exciting, being my first time to travel between-and-above the clouds! Unforgettable I must say.
The feeling of finally breathing, walking, seeing and becoming a part of the awe called New York! Everything so big, everything shining and glittering in the unceasing sun –this was the first time I witnessed a day that starts at 5am and rocks on until 10pm! I remember waiting for night to fall, and the time on my computer kept screaming “It’s night! It’s night!” though the skies looked as daytime as ever! But I soon understood and adjusted. All in all, I was thrilled by the sheer scale of this city– I knew there was going to be lots of storytelling when I returned to the dusty streets of Kampala.
From the moment I stepped onto the Academy bus that picked us off from JFK, I knew it was going to be first-class service, and Microsoft doesn’t disappoint I should tell you! I must admit that everything at the event was very well planned and executed to the very last dot - perfect! And I wouldn’t expect less of a firm that holds the dreams and respect of all these nerdy brains across the globe. Being my first Imagine Cup, this was all fantabulous, and I enjoyed it all. Not forgetting Liberty and the Ellis Island Barbeque!
I can’t forget the speeches at the opening ceremony, especially the one from Ballmer himself, and the experience of presenting before world-class experts and media had its lasting impacts on me. Did I mention the lovely time at Central Park? That was the cream on the cake for me – painting a Malcolm-X mural with the two Winners of the Windows 7 Touch challenge for some lovely kids somewhere in the US! The painting itself might not have been so amazing, but the friends from France (I don’t know French by the way) and the fact that we both shared a passion about the concept portrayed in the mural made it so memorable for us all.
I feel proud to have represented my small village town back at home, my Kampala City, Uganda and Africa as a whole – it’s surely an honor! And I say to my people back at home: though we didn’t bring home the Top Accolade, we are bringing home lots of experience and passion to change us all. Cheer up brothers and sisters. We are here because of you.
And there have been some breathtaking and mind-awakening moments in the realm of the Nerd! This was my first time to witness the marvels of the ‘magic-turned-tech’ phenomenon called the Kinect. I loved the learning session from Coding4Fun.com. I hacked my first ever Kinect app in under 1 hour thanks to Microsoft and Dan Waters (awesome guy). I can’t forget the sessions on IE9 by Giorgio Sardo (he is going places!), and I loved the Windows Phone 7 session too.
Crimex, our solution as Team Quest-O, which for those who don’t know is a response to the 8th MDG, Global Partnership, which is critical to creating– a Crime Free Society. It offers an affordable and effective solution for crunching crime data (from both the community and law enforcement), into useful and real-time applicable security tips and crime patterns for developing countries. We didn’t win, but we shall win for sure. The feedback is encouraging and positive. We have hope.
All in all, Imagine Cup has been thrilling, challenging, and very fantabulous! I look forward to more in the coming years.
Posted by Mteto Nyati and Hennie Loubser
Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa and General Manager, Microsoft WECA respectivelySince 1992, when we opened our first office in Africa, we have actively worked to help individuals, communities and nations across the continent thrive and grow. Fuelled by the incredible potential we see in Africa – from its young population, to its tremendous natural resources, to its opportunities for market growth, we’ve worked with passion to help enhance capacity for development, so that the continent can benefit from locally generated and sustainable development; and that Africa can realize her full potential.And so it was with great honour that on 23 June, we received recognition for our far-reaching effect on improving the lives of citizens in these regions at the fourth annual African Business Awards held in London, UK in the category for ‘Best Corporate Social Responsibility.’
Frank McCosker, General Manager, Global Strategic Accounts, received the award on behalf of Microsoft South Africa and WECA from Omar Ben Yedder, Managing Director of African Business
Organised by African Business magazine, and the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC), the African Business Awards recognise business leaders and companies that have excelled in Africa over the last year. The ‘Best Corporate Social Responsibility’ award recognises the use of the human resources and skills of the company to sustainably improve the living conditions of vulnerable populations, and is aimed at ‘companies which go beyond the philanthropic use of funds to use their overall knowledge, resources and reputation to improve the lives of the poor and disadvantaged.’Microsoft was specifically awarded for its efforts in areas including:• Youth Employability, where we’ve granted funds to the International Youth Foundation to provide technology, life skills, entrepreneurship, and marketable job skills training to 5,500 young people in Kenya and Tanzania. This program’s success has fueled interest and contributions from a range of other donors such as the British foreign aid agency, USAID, the World Bank, and Samsung;• Community Technology Access, where we’ve partnered with the UN High Commission for Refugees and other private sector partners to launch computer literacy and vocational training courses for over 18,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in solar-powered computer classrooms in a camp in the Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda.• Teacher Training & Curriculum, by far one of Microsoft’s most established focus areas in the region, our targeted contribution to the South African education system specifically has focused on providing guidance and training to teachers in the use of technology, and support for school principals and their corresponding provinces and districts. We trained over 4000 teachers in the use of ICT, as well as constructed partnership agreements to ensure ongoing collaboration between corporates, government and NGOs and alignment of projects with plans of the South African Department of Basic Education.Receiving this accolade in the Corporate Social Responsibility category is a significant acknowledgement for Microsoft, where we align our African Citizenship programmes closely to the top priorities identified by the governments of the countries in which we operate, both to remain locally relevant and to make a real difference in the lives of people who need it the most.
Posted by Mteto Nyati Managing Director, Microsoft South AfricaMicrosoft 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.
Posted by Louis OtienoGeneral Manager, Microsoft East and Southern Africa
The language we speak is a cornerstone of our personal, social and cultural identity. At Microsoft, we’re working hard to give people across Africa – and the globe – access to some of our popular technologies localized in their language. Our motive is to make it easier for all users, but specifically first-time users, to become fluent in programs like Windows and Microsoft Office. We also want to assist in modernising local languages, ensuring they remain relevant in an age when day-to-day Communication is rapidly evolving due to the influence of technology. In line with this vision, Microsoft’s Local Language Program recently launched the KiSwahili Language Interface Pack (LIP) for Windows 7, and we are now happy to be releasing the KiSwahili Microsoft Office Language Interface Pack 2010. There are between 5 and 10 million people in Africa who call KiSwahili their first language, and between 50 and 100 million who use it as a second language. Spoken in Eastern Africa and parts of Central Africa, it is the second most widely understood language in Africa after Arabic, and is ranked by the Global Language System as one of the 12 ‘supercentral languages’, which are very widely spoken languages that serve as connectors between speakers of central languages.
We have invested significant time and resources in our Local Language Program because we believe that the impact of learning in one’s first language on educational development is enormous. When we learn new things, especially as a child, our first language is the foundation for this learning. For example, it is far easier for children (and adults) to learn to read in their own mother tongue, as they are able to use their spoken language as a reference point. And computer literacy education is much the same - once a user has mastered a software programme in their own language, they’ll find the progression to using it in English far easier.
In addition to removing the language barrier to education, our Local Language Program also excites me because it is deeply involved in helping to keep native languages modern, mainstream and relevant to their speakers. One of the main causes of ‘language death’ is that bilingual speakers start to use their ‘second’ language gradually more frequently – usually because it has more utility and is more applicable to their daily lives. So although KiSwahili is strengthening its place among the world’s global languages – being taught at many universities across the world and featuring on many high profile radio stations; this isn’t enough on its own. To continue to remain relevant, it needs to expand to reflect the changing experiences of its speakers – such as the incorporation of new tools and technologies into their day-to-day lives. So, rather than encouraging KiSwahili speakers, and speakers of other local languages to simply adopt English terminology for Windows and Office; we’ve partnered with governments, universities, and local language experts to develop glossaries for native languages that reflect the subtle nuances of their lexicon, and are developed in line with the rules and style conventions that define each language. Our language program also ties in with our wider belief that people can really only experience the benefits of technology once they gain access to it – and most importantly, develop the skills to use it effectively. Being able to sit down in front of Office 2010 for the first time and easily understand where to go to ‘save’, ‘print’ or ‘send’ is something English speakers take for granted. I’d like to see the disadvantage faced by other languages eventually evened out completely – so I’m happy to report that this recent wave of LIPs for Office 2010 has set a record as being the fastest that we’ve brought the newest version of Office to native language speakers.
There are currently 43 million people displaced by war, conflict and human rights abuses around the world. The UN Refugee Agency – UNHCR – was established 60 years ago and currently deals with 36.4 million people of concern. Technology has enabled UNHCR to make progress in critical areas of communication, mapping and tracking, data collection, education and capacity building.
Sajjad Malik, Chief Operational Solutions and Transition Section, UNHCR, talks about his experiences working for UNHCR and the impact technology has had on his day to day work at the Microsoft Unlimited Potenial Blog.
Posted by Rizwan TufailRegional Technology Officer, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands
Imagination. It is a characteristic often most strongly noticed in young children in their tendency to create imaginary alternatives to their reality. In human society, the ability to imagine one’s self in another’s place is a critical part of our social fabric. And, it is linked to the nature of what we define as progress: developing better and easier ways to accomplish both new and old tasks.
With this in mind, it makes sense that the theme for Microsoft’s 9th annual student technology competition, Imagine Cup is geared at encouraging innovation in technology to address the challenges set out by the United Nations Millennial Development Goals (MDGs). There is much work to be done globally - and even more so in Africa - if we are to reach these goals by 2015, and in order to pick up the pace of progress, harnessing the latent imagination of the continent’s youth is truly indispensable.
The winners of the Imagine Cup 2011 regional finals from West and Central Africa, East Africa, and Nigeria have recently been announced ahead of the worldwide final which will take place in New York City from 8 to 13 July this year. I am very excited about the quality of work that has come out of the regions this year – here are the winners:
Team Quest-O, East Africa: ‘Crimex’ is a desktop, mobile and web-based crime pattern analysis system for developing countries, which also includes facial recognition capabilities. It aims to solve the problem of under-staffed law enforcement and crime investigation units in East Africa, which usually lack experienced crime analysts. Crimex is linked to the 8th MDG of global partnership, as the team believes that reducing crime will assist business and thus assist to combat poverty. Team Quest-O are students of Makerere University College of Science in Uganda.
Team Cyan Girls, West Africa: ‘PAGEL’ is a database which helps identify markets and places where food is available at lower prices. The project brings together agriculture, fishing and breeding sectors to address the 1st, 3rd and 6th MDG’s of reducing extreme poverty and hunger, enabling gender equality and fostering sustainable environments. Team Cyan Girls hale from the Polytechnic College of Dakar in Senegal.
Team Nerd Inc, Nigeria: ‘Medicare’ is an application that solves the problem of inadequate medical support systems in rural communities. It is aimed at addressing the 4th, 5th, and 6th MDGs: reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/Aids, Malaria and other diseases. Team Nerd represent Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA) in Nigeria.
I wish the respective finalists from West and Central Africa, East Africa, and Nigeria the best as they represent the continent in New York at the worldwide finals on July 8-13. They are a symbol of the innovative potential of the Africa and should inspire students from all African countries.
Imagination is the glue that connects our thinking on the past, the present and the infinite possibilities of the future. It must be remembered, however, that innovation can’t stem from imagination alone. There is no doubt that the sort of innovation necessary to really ‘change the world’ is dependent on good education. And that’s why Microsoft has invested so thoroughly in education in Africa: it is the only means to unleash the true potential of the continent’s collective imagination.
Posted by Frank McCosker
Managing Director, Microsoft Global Strategic Accounts
Today, I’m in Nairobi, Kenya for the United Nations Chief Executive Briefing, where Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, launched the UN’s new energy neutral Nairobi office building. The building is the first of its kind for the UN in Africa and is a global showcase of sustainable design and technology.
We are proud to be part of UNEP’s inspirational goal of supporting forward-thinking and environmentally responsible technology - this goal is shared by the many UN partners and leaders also gathered in Kenya to attend the building’s launch.
Our work with UNEP stems from a public-private partnership that began in 2009, and our contribution to the UN office in Nairobi, which houses the UNEP headquarters began with the design of the building. Extensive consultation and background studies identified information technology and lighting as the highest energy using components and therefore the greatest roadblocks to achieving energy neutrality.
Traditional data centers require expensive air conditioning components that require massive amounts of energy to operate. These components account for up to 90 percent of IT energy consumption. To overcome this, we worked closely with UNEP to see how green technology, specifically the IT pre-assembled components (ITPAC) data center, could help UNEP support an IT infrastructure that achieves its energy neutrality goals for the building.
This piece of cutting-edge technology illustrates how it is possible to create sustainable 21st century work environments, and is at the center of Microsoft’s green IT strategy. And implementing green IT policies like the highly efficient ITPAC data center is not only ensuring the building’s energy neutrality, but also demonstrating the crucial role that technology can play in environmental sustainability.
The ITPAC technology uses fans to create negative pressure, drawing outside air through the container to cool equipment. As a result, the technology dramatically reduces typical data center carbon footprint and the consumption of materials such as water, concrete, steel, piping and copper, along with the additional carbon footprint associated with the packaging and transporting of servers, equipment and supplies.
We have estimated that with ITPAC data centers, the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio is often cut in half. In addition, the ITPAC’s technology also allows the building to leverage increased IT flexibility and scalability of advanced technologies like cloud computing – unlocking even greater efficiencies and allowing the UN staff in Nairobi to do more with less. Based on research Microsoft conducted with Accenture, we’ve found that the carbon emissions running Microsoft business applications were reduced by more than 30% when hosted in the cloud when compared to being installed on-premise. In addition to our technology, the new UN building in Nairobi has some other really interesting and innovative features, such as energy saving lighting, energy efficient laptops, natural ventilation systems and 6,000 square meters of solar panels designed to generate as much electricity as its 1,200 occupants consume.
A working building and a research facility, it also serves as a sustainable showcase aiming to motivate others around the world to become part of the transition to a green economy. Moreover, the building is a testimony to the power of public-private partnerships and the potential for innovation through collaboration.
Microsoft applauds UNEP’s vision and commitment to making their energy neutral goal a reality.
Posted by Mteto NyatiManaging Director, Microsoft South Africa
After an exhaustive five-month process examining and analysing the 683 hopefuls who had responded, Microsoft South Africa today unveiled the first small black-owned software development firms that will benefit from the company’s R475-million investment in a broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) equity equivalence programme.
The four new BBBEE partners were introduced to the media today at our headquarters in Johannesburg, by me and our partners at the government’s Trade and Industry Trade and Industry Ministry.
Empowerment is one mechanism South Africa employs to redress the imbalances of South Africa’s apartheid legacy. Because we at Microsoft South Africa believe that empowerment should be linked more effectively to the development of skills and growing local businesses, we entered with the blessing of government into an Equity Equivalence programme. The investment directly addresses key challenges facing the government and South Africa – namely creating jobs, developing enterprises, building the local software economy and developing scarce technology skills. This deal should elevate Microsoft South Africa from a Level 4 to a Level 2 Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) contributor, which benefits all who do business with us, as well as our image and good standing when dealing with government in business.
We’re satisfied that our choices not only meet the letter of BEE, but also the spirit thereof. I wish to give a salute to every applicant who submitted themselves to this intensely competitive process in which only a handful would be successful.
The journey is not yet over and there are numerous opportunities for the other aspiring companies to continue working with Microsoft in various ways. In this light, we will be starting the next RFP process in June this year. Should these companies be interested, Microsoft would like to work with them in the areas in which they succeeded well in the selection (due diligence) process, and possibly invite them to join Microsoft ISV programme.
At the start of the process, we made it clear that this wasn’t a one-off. We’d like to grow several companies through this process, if we can. Market conditions change and we feel it’s in everyone’s best interests if we continue to engage with potential candidates who might meet the criteria. The more companies we can grow through this process, the better for the software industry as a whole.
Microsoft, its advisors and venture capital backers Vunani will do extensive planning with Microsoft and our selected partners over the next four months, and then decide on the investment requirements to close the gap between the companies’ current business models and what is needed to take them to the next level. We foresee the marketing and due processes of business execution towards growth commencing within the next six months.
When this process started, we had little insight into the potential partners. But we did identify high-growth areas in South Africa and other emerging markets, such healthcare, education, security, software plus services and mobility, where we saw the biggest opportunity of success for incumbents.
Each and every single company that we’ve announced here today is black-owned in terms of the provisions of the BBBEE Act. We’re extremely comfortable that our choices not only meet the letter of BEE, but the spirit thereof. We’re specifically not excluding or favouring anyone, and look forward to growing black skills in the software development sector through this programme.
We remain 100 percent committed to our existing partner channel, and to making their Microsoft lines of business as profitable as possible for them. The fact is that this programme is growing the channel in an underserved niche, and will ultimately result in a far greater volume of business for our partners, who will have opportunities to work with these new partners. We’re not giving smaller slices of pie here, we’re making the size of the pie bigger for everyone.
With this deal, Microsoft is taking a high-risk, high-reward approach, by striving to create a new model for entrepreneurship. The size of the deal – R472 million – makes it the biggest deal of its kind by an IT company in SA. By selecting local black-owned companies with potential, and helping them become significant players who create software that the market wants, we hope that the market will come to associate BBBEE with real entrepreneurship, job creation, business/enterprise development and skills enhancement.
I invite you to follow this first-of-its-kind seeding process with us, and will provide an update a few months from now, when we are ready to truly take these companies to the international marketplace! In the meantime, additional information can be accessed via www.microsoftbee.co.za.
Posted by Larry VenterSenior Director of Retail Solutions for Microsoft Worldwide
Just under a year ago I was fortunate enough to do a tour of Lakeside Park Primary in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. During that tour the headmaster told me of the struggle that the foundation phase children have in learning English – in fact I recall something he said; “when the children stopped using English on the playground, their English results suffered”. I left the school a few hours later thinking about how we could do something to improve literacy acquisition. Over the next few months I set about researching PC educational games and the edutainment market, but it was really at the launch of the San Diego Microsoft Store that the penny dropped. At the opening, in June of last year, I saw Kinect™ for Xbox 360® being played by children and parents outside the store and I recall thinking – that’s the perfect medium for learners! It’s fun, its interactive, it’s in English and it’s highly collaborative too!
Momentum kicked in with Microsoft’s Live@Edu team funding the study, which engaged local educational technology experts, NGO SchoolNet SA, to develop the teacher training materials and conduct training, and also to review, select and purchase appropriate games, install the devices and security systems and manage an independent evaluator, Mindset. Eight teachers from Lakeside Park Primary, a small school in the remote district of Vryheid in rural KwaZulu-Natal, were trained and their classrooms equipped with the interactive Xbox and Kinect gaming platforms and security.I have learnt that in education there are two levers that can be pulled to improve the learning experience – time with teacher, and the quality of the teacher. In the early days of this program we started seeing how teachers were able to use Kinect to drive heightened engagement in the classrooms. One teacher is quoted saying that “the level of interaction I saw on day one would normally take us three to four months to get to”. In my mind that equates to more time with the teacher!
We have also seen teachers use the training we provided to start providing creative solutions – or learning opportunities – that benefit the children and improve the teachers delivery too. In the first week we saw a teacher use “avatar creation” as a way to introduce the learners to life skills – by allowing each to design their own avatar. We also saw a teacher use bowling as a numeracy exercise, and even the use of “kinectimals” as a way of constructing sentences – in my mind all that helps to develop the quality of the teachers delivery.
Studies of gaming in education show that learners really engage when teachers design their lesson activities around the topics in games, simply due to the added stimulus. With Kinect, you can play a variety of sport, edutainment and instructive games using body movements and voice. Sensors replicate your motions via an on-screen avatar – your ‘mirror image’. Change was afoot from the word ‘go’.Today we officially announced the program in South Africa and it has drawn a lot of excitement from national and local educators and politicians. My hope is that we can use the findings of this program and develop solutions that will continue to transform the teaching and learning experience across Africa.
Posted by Matt BergICT Director, Millennium Villages Project
To demonstrate the critical role technology can play in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, the Earth Institute, Columbia University has partnered with Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Community Technology Skills program to establish a computer programmer training center at the Millennium Villages project (MVP) office in Bamako, Mali.
Known as the “Rural Technology Lab,” the full-scale training center is equipped to cultivate local computer programming talent in Mali and offers a demonstration model for how small investments in technology and education can build local capacity in rural communities elsewhere in Africa.
Promising university graduates apply to the nine-month training program at the Lab and have a chance to apply their new skills to develop web and SMS-based applications that serve other MVP initiatives, particularly in the areas of health and education.
By focusing on developing practical solutions for impoverished rural communities, the Earth Institute provides the Lab with local on-the-ground knowledge and experience, in coordination with the Modi Research Group, while Microsoft donated the funds, software, and specialized training curriculum to support the Lab in the long term.
So far, the Lab students have developed a program called Kodonso to track the enrollment rates and school meals data by SMS for 6,000 students at the MVP site in Tiby, Mali – statistics that are critical to monitoring Mali’s progress towards reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The aim is for the Lab students to conclude the training program with opportunities for full-time employment or internships with the MVP or other project partners as well. Four of the 2010 Lab graduates have already moved on to full-time work with a local software development firm in Mali.
In keeping with the MVP’s goals to use science and technology to help rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty, the Lab’s most important contribution is the development of local talent. The Lab’s first eight graduates are already building up Mali’s capacity to resolve its own challenges, within its own communities, and this is just the start.