Microsoft on the Issues Africa

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  • Proof that Africa is home to some of the most innovative young minds


    Posted by: Djam Bakhshandegi, Citizenship Lead, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands.

    1.65 million. That’s a big number. More importantly, it’s an exciting number, because it’s the number of students who have participated in our annual Microsoft Imagine Cup competition since its inception 10 years ago.

    Over the past decade, young minds have created millions of new games, applications and solutions – solutions that address some of the world’s toughest social problems.

    And Africa has been among them!

    Last year, Team Code 8 from Uganda walked away with the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Award, for developing an app that helps detect Malaria – without even pricking a body part.

    And this year, we’re proud to see even more brilliant, innovative and life-saving solutions come out of Africa. Teams from Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Botswana, Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco have all competed in this year’s 12th annual edition – and three of them are moving on to the World Finals, taking place in Seattle on the 29th of July 2014!

    Below is an overview of what just some of our local teams have created.

    Team AfriGal Tech,Uganda – World Finalist
    What they created:
    mDex
    What it does:
    According to Team AfriGal Tech, every year in Uganda 30 000 babies are born with sickle cell disease, a hereditary and life-threatening blood disorder. 80% of these babies won’t make it to the age of five. mDex is a mobile sickle cell diagnosis tool, which is made up of a mobile app and an external compound lens. The tool allows for a quick, easy and affordable diagnosis, by using computer vision and pattern recognition.

    Fun fact: Team AfriGal Tech come from Makerere University. They were also the only all-female team to compete in the Imagine Cup National Finals this year!

      

    Team High Rise, Nigeria – World Finalist
    What they created:
    CATARA
    What it does: CATARA uses HD smartphone cameras to quickly, accurately and affordably detect early cataracts. It helps to reduce the rate at which cataracts cause total blindness, while also supplying statistical data to NGOs, government bodies and research institutions.

    “We are passionate about reducing the rate of cataract surgeries performed in the world. We want to offer a better life for everyone. We have dreamt it. We have built it. And now we, as a team, believe that our solution can live it,” says the team.


    Team Illogic, Egypt – World Finalist
    What they created:
    Puppy in Bubble
    What it does: Falling under the ‘Games’ category, Puppy in Bubble is a fun and interactive physics-based game. It follows the story of Spout, a mischievous puppy that always wanders away from his owner, Adam!

    Team AGRIStars,Rwanda
    What they created:
    Farmer climate and soil assistant
    What it does:
    Farmer climate and soil assistant is a software application that analyses the fertility of soil. Users take a photo of the soil to begin the analysis process, which detects available nutrients and suggests crops that are suitable to be grown on that piece of land.

    Fun fact: This is the first year that Rwanda has competed in the Imagine Cup competition. Team AGRIStars come from the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology, where they are all completing their bachelor’s degrees in Computer Engineering.

    Team Africon,Kenya 

    What they created: Life Buddy
    What it does:
    Life Buddy is a mobile application that uses Microsoft Azure to help anyone who is in need of a blood donation to find matching blood donors. Users send a request to the app, which then sends a notification to donors of a compatible blood group. The notification includes details of the hospital and contact details, so that users can receive blood in the fastest possible time.

    Fun fact: Team Africon hail from Jomo Kenyatta University. Their platform of choice for development is Windows Phone 8, for its easy-to-use and cost-effective development framework.

    Team NewGen,Tunisia

    What they created: Hero from the Past
    What it does:
    Hero from the Past is a 3D, Windows Phone 8 game. It follows the story of a child on a quest to save the planet. The most innovative feature of the game is the ability to take your favourite characters and print them on a t-shirt!

    Fun fact: Tunisia has competed in the Imagine Cup competition every year. This year, the country had over 500 entries from 1 000 participants – and Team NewGen came out on top!

    Team Absoft Corp.,Senegal
    What they created:
    EControl
    What it does:
    EControl is an application that allows for remote monitoring, home automation and telemetry, by combining a bi-modular electronic device with Windows Phone or PC technology.

     

    Team Win Programmers,Botswana
    What they created:
    KLOK
    What it does:
    KLOK is a tour and first-aid guide application. The app combines Bing Maps and Bing Weather to provide tourists with on-the-go weather updates, allowing them to check conditions before their outings and view alternative routes should the weather be bad. It also provides useful tips on how to respond to encounters with dangerous animals or poisonous plants.

    Fun fact: KLOK is not an internet-based application. That means it’s reliable, anywhere!

    Team RedSilence,Morocco
    What they created:
    Red Silence
    What it does:
    Red Silence is a robot that is controlled only by blinking! It is designed to help paraplegics and quadriplegics complete various daily tasks that would otherwise be very difficult to do.

    Fun fact: Team Red Silence is made up of three members from the Moroccan School of Engineering Science. This is the 6th year that Morocco has competed in the competition.

    I am so proud and humbled to see the many teams who have and who are still representing Africa in this year’s competition. I’m also gratified to see more young women entering the coding world. These apps, games and solutions are all extraordinary, and are proof that the youth of Africa are passionate about making a difference in the world. I hope that their hard work encourages even more young students to join in the Imagine Cup competition next year – and show everyone that Africa can accelerate technology for the world.

    Please join me in congratulating each and every one of the teams who took part.

  • Riham Mansour, a computer science researcher at Microsoft

    Her objective was to challenge the idea that motherhood and professional life do not mix. 
    "I told them you can do both," she says.

    At 36, Riham Mansour from Cairo is a computer science researcher at Microsoft, has a BSc and MSc degree, has won two awards and – on top of it all – is a full-time mother. How does she manage her work and life balance? When Riham joined Microsoft, she made it clear that she would come in early, do her job well, and leave at exactly 4pm to spend time with her children.

    “Motherhood and careers have nothing to do with each other. Each is a stand-alone thing. I’m showing the world you can have a family and make progress in your career.”

    Read her story here: http://www.microsoft.com/eu/creative-minds-at-microsoft/riham-mansour.aspx

     

  • Getting to know Eric Odipo

    He loves football, reading, travelling and watching movies. He’s also a trained Mechanical

    Engineer – who is now the General Manager of Microsoft East and Southern Africa! We sat

    down with Eric Odipo to chat about his role at Microsoft, his advice for graduates, and why he loves

    his country, Kenya.

     As the General Manager of Microsoft East and Southern Africa (ESA), what do you enjoy most about your job?

    First off, I like the General Manager role because it’s broad and gives me an all-up view of the business. I also like that I have a really strong team who are good at what they do, are able to work independently and are highly motivated. We have a great diversity in the team – and in the partner and customer community as well. In ESA, each country has a unique culture, business practice and set of priorities, which makes my role very exciting and the interaction very stimulating.

    What are your day-to-day responsibilities as a General Manager?

    My key accountability is to ensure that the company’s priorities in each of my assigned markets are achieved. Broadly, these can be defined as:

    • Attainment of the business priorities – around software, devices and services, both in terms of revenue and share
    • Employee engagement, development and motivation
    • Customer and Partner satisfaction

    Everything I do is tied to making these happen.

    Why are you passionate about technology and the ICT sector?

    I’ve had a strong interest in science and technology from an early age, driven by what I observed from my older siblings. I naturally chose to specialise in sciences in school and I was great at it. I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and worked for several years in the motor industry, before transitioning into sales and marketing, then into fast moving consumer goods and now ICT. My joining Microsoft was quite by chance, but when the opportunity came I knew that I wanted to get back into the technology field.

    How did you go from being an engineer to working in IT?

    Microsoft was actually my first entry into an ICT firm! My first job after graduation was with General Motors as an engineer supporting production.  I found that a lot of the processes were very manual and much of the documentation was hand written. With my limited knowledge of computers then, I created the first digital Bill of Materials and also created the first technical drawings using AutoCAD (which I didn’t have formal training on). I was promoted in my first year due to this contribution. From then on I valued ICT and saw its potential to improve processes and, in my case, my career.

    What are your thoughts on the state of technology and ICT skills in Africa?

    I can’t comment about the whole of Africa, but the state of technology and ICT skills in the ESA markets is definitely not at par with some of the larger countries in Africa (such as South Africa and Kenya). However, the commitment to get relevant technology is strong. And the commitment to get technology into schools is even stronger. We continue to see this becoming a high priority for most countries. We want school children to have access to some form of device. I also see increasing efforts by Governments to minimise the digital divide by promoting universal access to technology and broadband. Microsoft TV white spaces technology, which we are pioneering in Tanzania, and Namibia, fits right into this.

    What advice would you give to any young African professionals looking to get into a career in ICT? What would they need to have studied or done to make them as employable as possible?

    As with any career, everyone needs to have a strong interest in their career of choice. When you are passionate, it becomes visible to prospective employers. ICT also offers more career opportunities than just technical roles. It offers Sales, Evangelism, Marketing and, of course, HR, Finance and so on. Technical roles certainly need deep professional knowledge of ICT. Technical training also gives you a head start in sales, but it’s not mandatory. I personally prefer a strong sales person who can learn what is required to create interest, and then call in a technical person if that’s required.

    What are your thoughts on encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa?

    We have so many talented Africans who are capable of innovating and becoming successful entrepreneurs. However, they face a number of challenges. Laws which were once created to protect their Intellectual Property are now weak, or do not exist at all in many countries. This is discouraging to many. Startups also face funding challenges, because they are seen by the majority of commercial banks as not being ‘credit-worthy’. Added to this, many do not get mentoring or coaching opportunities, which are critical at the startup stage of their enterprise. 

    The support that Microsoft provides, through programs such as Youth Spark and BizSpark, help to address some of these challenges. With 4Afrika, we also provide some support to entrepreneurs to expose their innovation to prospective investors or venture capitalists, and then provide continuing mentoring. In some exceptional cases, we are also providing startup funding for these entrepreneurs.

    How important are the youth in Africa to you?

    I have two children in their teens and so the subject of youth, their development, their access to opportunities that furthers their aspirations and their eventual career success (whether in employment or as entrepreneurs) is very dear to me. Young people have big aspirations, which we don’t recognise many times, and a “can do” attitude around their areas of interest. We need to find ways of encouraging their interests in the short-term, so that they can develop possible viable commercial enterprises in the future.

    As a native Kenyan, what do you love most about Kenya?

    I love Kenya because of the diversity we have in the people. I love the spectacular natural resources that we have (wildlife, beaches, the Great Rift Valley, fertile and arid lands etc.) the way we socialise, the way we are generally welcoming, the way we can rally around some common issues and also in the way we can disagree on many issues. Kenya is a land of talented and hardworking people with very high aspirations, some of whom have won great international recognition in sports, education, nature conservation, politics, the arts etc. I’m very proud of them.

     

  • A window to the online world for visually-impaired students in Kenya

    Posted by: Djam Bakhshandegi, Citizenship and Partners in Learning Lead, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    In my role at Microsoft I spend a lot of time dealing with organisations who are making a positive impact in Africa. But there is one that is especially close to my heart because it supports children that not only confront many of the common challenges faced by children in Africa, but are also visually-impaired or blind. The Thika School for the Blind is a boarding school that provides learning facilities for over 200 visually impaired learners. Serving as the only high school for the blind in East and Central Africa, the boarding school offers speech therapy, living skills, braille and low vision classes to kindergarten, primary and high school learners. 

     inABLE is an organization that works to connect these children – and many others across Africa-  with computers and technology resources. With support from its funding partners including Microsoft, it launched Kenya's first assistive technology computer program at the Thika Primary School for the Blind in 2009. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The learners at Thika use normal computers with standard keyboards, to ensure they will be able to cope in a ‘normal’ work environment. Using text-to-speech screen readers, voice activated software and screen magnifier tools for students that retain partial sight, pupils can easily navigate around a normal computer. They easily access online educational resources, communicate with new friends worldwide, type essays, and research homework assignments, all while developing employability skills. Carol Ngandi, the lead computer instructor from inABLE says that children really enjoy the program, “They are able to send e-mails to friends and parents. They are able to go get the news and so they are able to be updated and they really enjoy that”.

    Ngandi says that aside from providing the children with valuable skills, internet access alone gives blind children a window to the world that they can’t see. “Many of them weren’t blind from birth and they say that when they lost their sight their whole life was in darkness. But now that they have computers, they say their eyes have been opened through the internet”.

    Walking around the school and meeting some of the children, I was reminded about how important it is to ensure equal access to technology.

     “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it” – Helen Keller

     Irene Nthambi is one of the schools top learners excelling in computer literacy, despite being not only blind but also suffering from a disease that has left her unable to use her hands. She has mastered the unique ability to type with her tongue and lips, while using headphones to listen to what is written on screen. Irene’s teachers say she is one of the brightest children in the class, especially when it comes to using computers.  Her excellence despite the impediments she faces highlights the program’s success.

    The World Health Organization estimates that at least 26.3 million people in Africa are visually impaired. The work by inABLE and Thika School is a shining example of what can be achieved  when great people and organisations form strong partnerships; and at Microsoft we are very proud to have  inspirational partners carrying out such important work.

  • Investing in Global Health: The Role of the Private Sector and Technology in sub-Saharan Africa

    Guest post by: Kaakpema Yelpaala, Founder and CEO of access.mobile. Recipient of 2014 4Afrika Innovation Grant

     Would you ever consider strapping a small sensor to your finger? One that connects to your phone and detects your malaria status, via an app?

    Believe it or not, this technology exists. It was developed by the Ugandan Team Code 8 at last year’s Imagine Cup. The app helps improve people’s healthcare and saves lives, all through the power of technology.

    When I founded access.mobile in 2011 as a mobile and web-based technology provider for data collection, client communication and decision support, I wanted to focus on the healthcare sector. Our first area of work was in the healthcare sector in Uganda, where we helped 70 private clinics better manage data collection processes related to service delivery, all through a mobile application and web-based solution called am•health. We are also rolling out ClinicCommunicatorTM, a web application that offers health clinics an easy way to manage patient communication and care, including SMS and email-based appointment reminders, medication compliance and patient surveys.

    I believe that there are big opportunities at the intersection of health and technology in Africa.  At the heart of the matter is to facilitate access to quality healthcare services for consumers, and to find ways for the public and private sector to work together to improve health standards and facilitate technology adoption in high impact ways.

    I was recently invited to attend a forum in Washington, DC, on key priorities for investing in global health. At the event, entitled “Global Health Best Buys”, we discussed what sound investments and best-practices in global health should look like. Each panelist came from a different expertise, with unique experiences and interests. It was a great opportunity for me to emphasise the growing role of the private health sector in sub-Saharan Africa. I was also able to highlight how technology-driven, private investments in health can increase access to quality healthcare and professionalism in the private health sector, while stimulating innovation. Here is some of what I shared with the panel.

     From left to right: Amanda Glassman, Director of Global Health Policy, Center for Global Development; Karl Hoffman, CEO, Population Services International (PSI); Karen Cavanaugh, Director, Office of Health Systems, USAID; Kaakpema Yelpaala, CEO & Founder, access.mobile, Inc. (Photo Credit: Center for Global Development, Washington, DC). The event convened experts from implementing agencies, governments, researcher institutions, and the private sector to discuss and debate what makes a “best buy” in global health. It was held in partnership with PSI, PATH, and Devex and the program was also supported by a grant from Merck, through its Merck for Mothers Program.

    The state of the Private Health Sector in sub-Saharan Africa

    The healthcare sector in sub-Saharan Africa is going through an exciting and pivotal time. According to the International Finance Corporation, approximately $16.7 billion was spent on health in sub-Saharan Africa in 2005. 60% of that was private and mainly out-of-pocket spending by individuals. In the last decade, such spending has continued to increase dramatically, driven, in many cases, by a growing middle-class in several African countries. According to a report by McKinsey and Company, by 2016 the market for healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa will be worth $35 billion.

    People are looking for quality healthcare services in their own countries. If they have a serious health issue, they want to have quality options in their own market. They don’t want to travel to another country to get the care they need. In January 2014, while traveling to the international airport in Nairobi, I saw a massive billboard by a leading private hospital. It said that people in Kenya no longer need to leave Nairobi to receive international standard medical care. It’s quite telling that the message of the billboard is one of the last major advertisements before departing Nairobi.

    Innovators are rising to the challenge and are developing locally-relevant solutions in their markets, which are helping to bring the healthcare services people need. For Africa to truly reap the full benefits of technology in healthcare, there needs to be an enabling environment for entrepreneurs, developers, technologists and medical professionals. Private and public investment is key to support innovation in the health sector in Africa.


    Some tips for startups in the healthcare sector

    There are many opportunities to meet local needs in Africa through the creative use of technology in healthcare. If you want to hear a few of my ideas on this topic, take a look at my interview with Devex – the leading international development news source – below.

      

     

    The most important thing for startups to remember is that products which scale over time – especially technology products – must change, evolve and adapt to user needs. In the world of donor-funded projects in Africa, the challenge I see is that technology initiatives get locked in to a fixed set of deliverables. They don’t adapt to new information easily. At access.mobile, we believe that being nimble and flexible is at the centre of building context-appropriate, user-centred technologies.  Listening to your market allows you to adapt to new feedback from clients and users, and build meaningful and scalable solutions.

    Africa’s adoption of products and services looks different to the rest of the world. The African market is highly dynamic, so enterprises need to give themselves the flexibility to experiment. Experimentation is, after all, critical to the success of any new approach to solving big challenges. access.mobile is grateful to have won one of the first Microsoft 4Afrika innovation grants, which is helping us design, test and scale tailored solutions for our target markets in Africa. We look forward to watching the health sector in Africa grow, and to also playing a role in this growth.

    To learn more about access.mobile and our work with Microsoft 4Afrika, you can take a look at my interview with Devex below:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Lessons in leadership from Microsoft Kenya’s country manager

    Posted by: Kunle Awosika, Microsoft Kenya Country Manager

    Respect. Results. Recognition. These are my three R’s of leadership. Eight months ago, I was appointed as Microsoft Kenya’s country manager, or, in other words, The Chief Servant’. I see my number one priority as leading a high performing team to greater success. I know that if I don’t show my team mates respect, they won’t be motivated to be results-driven. Likewise, if I don’t recognise the good results they produce, they won’t continue producing them. It’s a cycle that maintains itself – and it’s a cycle that every good leader should live by.

    I’ve been in various leadership positions at Microsoft over the last nine years. A key part of my leadership has always been keeping employees satisfied, dealing with ambiguities, navigating challenging conversations, and selling solutions, services and now devices. My experiences have helped me to learn some very important lessons around these Three R’s. Needless to say, I’m still learning, and that’s one thing I love about my job. But here are a few of my insights so far…

    Respect

    One of the profound truths I’ve learnt about respect can be summed up into this formula.

    As a leader, how do you earn trust and respect? You build a relationship with your team, colleagues, partners and customers that is based on three things: Increased value, credibility and reduced risk.

    To add value and credibility, you act with accountability. A good leader should always accept responsibility for their actions and the actions of the team. Be accountable and share all your key learnings, successes and mistakes. By being transparent like this, your team will see you as a vested member who is genuinely interested in their growth. 

    As a leader, you should also show your vulnerability. You won’t always know the answers, and so you should be willing to gather them from your team members in different ways.  The best leaders earn the respect of their peers and team members by being open and respectfully challenging, and by always inspiring a shared vision or goal.  As the saying goes, respect is earned and not demanded; trust is built and worthy leaders are naturally followed.

    Results

    Once you’ve established trust and respect, your employees will be eager to work hard for you and collaborate as a team. It’s important for you to continually challenge them to act, and to inspire them to sustain and even exceed their results. Use their achievements to help grow and develop them into leaders of their own.

    Think of your team as a team of oxen. Every ox or team member has the potential to grow as big and strong as you, their leader. Be humble enough to both remember and encourage this. It will only help you pull your load faster and, eventually, hand the reins over with greater confidence.

     Recognition

    Every leader knows how important it is to recognise people for a job well done. It drives motivation and productivity. But what a lot of leaders miss is self-recognition. This includes recognising your own wins, and failures. Recognising failures and being self-critical is quite difficult for most leaders, but it’s essential in helping you to grow and develop. I personally have no issues with being respectfully challenged by my team members, so long as it’s constructive and for the common good of the team.

    Being able to look inward and recognise where improvements can be made helps you to lead with integrity. Evaluating yourself doesn’t need to be a stressful or damaging exercise. It should be empowering – a strategy to see how far you’ve come, and where you still can go.

    Leadership

    Together with the Three R’s, my core values as a leader have always been: Accountability, Openness, Respect and, most importantly, Honesty and Integrity.

    I fundamentally believe the following 3 principles:

    1)      Everything rises and falls with leadership

    2)      You must have a high leadership lid

    3)      If your leadership lid is 5 your organisation cannot grow more than 4

    It is critical to always challenge your team for better outcomes, help grow and develop them for future leadership roles, drive consistent results, and publicly recognise the individual or team when good work is done.  

    As country manager, I hope to do all this. But I also hope to inspire my team to always take the lead in innovation – to always take new ways of doing things and build a belief system that nothing is impossible.  Because, as a leader, ‘Impossible is Nothing’.

     

  • Microsoft brings volunteers to Africa

    Posted by: Lutz Ziob, Dean of 4Afrika Academy

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

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

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

    Say hello to MySkills4Afrika.

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

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

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

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

    Here’s what they had to say.

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

    – Melanie Sharpe, volunteer in Johannesburg 

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

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

    - Jossie Tirado, volunteer in Kenya

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

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

     By Kabelo Makwane, Microsoft Nigeria Country Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Where do all our old gadgets go?

    Posted by: Djam Bakhshandegi, Citizenship and Partners in Learning Lead, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

     We are living in what many people call the ‘age of consumption’. We’re constantly purchasing new gadgets and devices, most of which have relatively short lifespans. The lifespan of most electronic devices is only about 3 years. And it’s not just that some things aren’t made to last. Technology is evolving at such a rate that soon after you’ve bought something, a newer, better and faster version is released. We often throw things away not because they are broken, but because we want a newer model.

    The impact this has on the environment is alarming. Many of our gadgets contain toxic substances that are harmful to the environment. It’s called e-Waste – and it's an increasing problem across the globe. As a technology company, Microsoft is committed to being part of the solution.

    I recently visited the WEEE Centre (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), the only e-Waste Management Centre in Kenya, and came back feeling very privileged to have met, and partnered, with this wonderful and passionate organisation. Microsoft has, in fact, been a partner to the centre’s founder, Dr Tom Musili, for over 10 years.

     Dr Musili took me on a tour of the centre and explained how they recycle ‘e-Waste’. It’s far more complex than I imagined. The centre sorts through waste to establish what can be reused and what needs to be dismantled into parts for recycling. Cables are separated and stripped to use the copper. Hard plastic is shredded into powder and mixed with ad plastic to make fencing poles. Some things are particularly difficult to deal with, such as computers with the older Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors, which contain very harmful substances. These are taken apart with a special machine which cuts the glass away to be reused. Motherboards (from computers and phones) are also difficult to handle, and are shipped to a partner in Belgium that specialises in disposing them in an environmentally-friendly manner.

    Giving new life to old computers

    Of course, some computers that are thrown away are still in working order – or just need a little maintenance. They are unwanted, but Musili is adamant that they can still serve an important role in under-resourced schools. And I agree with him. While we know that African schools should not be getting ‘left-overs’ from the rest of society, there can be no disputing that an old computer is better than no computer at all. With the fastest growing consumer market in the world, we are certain to get an ever increasing number of devices on the continent. Our channels for disposing of used hardware therefore need to be optimal to recycle good parts and destroy e-waste and safeguard our environment.

    This is the rationale behind Musili’s second project, ‘Computers for Schools Kenya’, which refurbishes old computers for use in schools that currently have no computers at all. The organisation has not only already equipped over 100 000 schools with computers, but has worked to maintain them, trained over 20 000 educators and provided students with computer literacy certifications.

    Last month Computers for Schools Kenya joined the TechSoup Global Network. As TechSoup Kenya, the organisation can now supplement its hardware and services offering with software at very low fees in conjunction with ICT donor partners, such as Microsoft, as well as by supporting NGOs to make the most of their ICT purchases and infrastructure.

     So, the next time you  have a computer or cellphone you’d like to get rid of, look up your nearest recycling service or e-Waste organisation. At least you know your gadgets are going to a good cause.

     

  • Why these eight visionary teachers were chosen as sub-Saharan Africa’s best

    By Djam Bakhshandegi, Education Lead for West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    Last week, eight teachers from sub-Saharan Africa are travelling to Barcelona, Spain, to attend the Microsoft in Education Global Forum, a hallmark initiative to recognize the world’s most innovative teachers.

    Why? They have been selected to be part of Microsoft’s 2014 class of Mentor Schools and the Inaugural class of Expert Educators. These exclusive one year programmes recognise visionary educators who are using technology to improve student outcomes, equip them with 21st century skills, and who are paving the way for other teachers showing them what be achieved with technology in the classroom

    Our youth population is growing fast. Currently, nearly one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa are between the ages of 10 and 24. By 2050, this number is projected to double. So it is essential now more than ever to invest in the education of youth in the region, which in turn, will improve the potential for economic growth and development. At Microsoft, we strongly believe in the role that ICT can play in bridging the emerging opportunity divide and guiding youth toward the education, skills and opportunities they need to prosper in the hyper-connected era. And teachers need to be at the heart of this.

    I chatted to some of the teachers who are representing sub-Saharan Africa in Spain. Here is what they had to say about using technology in education:

     Uganda has one of the youngest populations in Africa, and a youth unemployment rate of 63%. So, what Uganda needs is an education system that empowers young people to respond to the pressing needs of the country and the world at large by engaging them to seek to effect positive change,” Chole Richard, Uganda.

    “To function in this technology driven world and help in the development of the country, our youth ought to be IT proficient and adequately prepared to shoulder new jobs. Mauritius, being a small island devoid of natural resources, will have to rely on its human resources to ensure continuous economic and social growth. Therefore it is important to empower our youth with the necessary skills to stay in tune with world demand for continuous progress.” Anil Saccaram, Mauritius

    Education is the greatest legacy that can be handed over to the younger generation and we need to invest in the education of Nigerian youth so as to prepare them psychologically,  intellectually and socially to deal with life after school. This also invariably leads to national development, peace and security,” Iyke Ikechukwu Chukwu, Nigeria

    To be selected as an Expert Educator, teachers much demonstrate a commitment to innovation and taking advantage of technology to deliver lessons in inspiring ways. Here are some of the ways they use technology in the classroom.

    My students use technology for problem solving by creating multimedia with a purpose of voicing their concerns to communities in any part of the world,” Chole Richard, Uganda.

     We are the first school in our country to use technology to teach visual arts. This allows students to gain knowledge in the field and saves time. We use creative software programmes including Windows Movie Maker, imaging and animation tools,” Papa Mamadou, Senegal

    All of the teachers can attest to the immediate positive effects of bringing ICT to the classroom.

    Classes have become more interesting, engaging and fun,” Anil Saccaram, Mauritius

    I teach mathematics and further mathematics to semi-rural students. After applying technology in my classroom, the number of students who pass examinations has increased by 73%

     especially in the teaching of 3D and abstract maths,” Veranique Obiakor, Nigeria

    The Microsoft in Education Forum kicks off on Wednesday, and teachers will be heavily involved in advising Microsoft on its investments in education. They will provide insights on new product

    What advice do Microsoft’s Expert Educators have for other teachers?s and tools, and help the company understand how technology works – or doesn’t work – in real-life classrooms.

    Be pragmatic and start with simple applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint, which I find are excellent tools enabling teachers to create their own resources.” Veranique Obiakor, Nigeria

    Many young people are already ahead of teachers because they find it easier to (and are already) wholly embracing technology. The teacher therefore needs to be more versatile in order to remain relevant in the lives of the learners.” Chole Richard, Uganda

     Don’t be afraid. Technology is easy and fun for both students and the teacher, there are many courses available for teachers to learn how to implement it in their classrooms effectively,” Hannington Ochieng, Kenya

    What do they hope to achieve as part of 2014 Class of Expert Educators?

    I hope to access and use free Microsoft resources to create innovative productivity tools that will help to add more life to my teaching and learning activities.” Ikechukwu Chukwu, Nigeria

    I look forward to making the most of the mentoring and learning opportunities that are now available to me, as well as being able to connect with like-minded educators in Africa. Being a Microsoft Expert Educator will help me to increase learning outcomes for my students, my fellow educators, as well as drive technology in education on a global stage,” David Muya, Kenya.

    I can assure you that I shall do what it takes to ensure this opportunity is transformed to the classroom for improved performance, and improved learning for the entire community,” Hannington Ochieng, Kenya

     “I hope to achieve with my students a fully developed art exhibition of works created and performed with technology,” Papa Mamadou, Senegaldele Odeogbola, Nigeria

    I hope to make a difference in education in Nigeria. There is not a lot of budget for education in the country, but I believe that access to technology can level the playing field for children from all backgrounds,” Ayodele Odeogbola, Nigeria

  • The 4Afrika Youth Device Program: Bringing meaningful ICT into African classrooms

    By Patrick Onwumere, Director of Youth Enablement, Microsoft 4Afrika

     When we think about technology in education, we don’t just think about putting devices into the hands of teachers and students. We think beyond it. We think about education, training and infrastructure – vital investments needed to support the effective integration of ICT into the classroom. We want to deliver experiences that students and educators love. And so hardware isn’t the main priority. A relevant, valuable and practical education is.

    With that in mind, today Microsoft, Intel and the Kenya Private Schools Association have all joined forces to launch the 4Afrika Youth Device Pilot Program in Kenya. We’ve set out to create a bundle offering, to provide affordable devices, educational applications, online services, affordable data plans and smart financing to Kenyan learning institutions. This forms part of our Microsoft 4Afrika Youth Initiative, which was unveiled last year to provide scholarships, fellowships and internship opportunities to thousands of African youth.

    Here’s how the Program works.

    Affordable devices                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
    The 4Afrika Youth Device Program will be providing a range of affordable devices to learning institutions. These devices include smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs and the Intel Classmate. Intel Corporation East Africa, together with Mitsumi Computer Garage, have played a huge role in designing customised, rugged devices for this Program. The devices are water-resistant, dust-resistant and built to fit a classroom setting, and are also optimised for the provision of digital textbooks with Skype installed, to enable students and teachers to collaborate between classrooms and from home. "The devices all come with Intel® Education Software, a suite of eLearning tools including the newly launched Intel Explore and Learn, designed to promote deeper engagement with content, plus apps that enable science exploration, data analysis and promote creativity," says Alex Twinomugisha, Business Development Manager for Intel Corporation East Africa.

    Educational applications
    Each device in this Program will come pre-loaded with the latest versions of Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1 and the cloud-based Office 365 suite, which includes Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. In addition to this, each device will have a range of educational applications, games and digital books installed, including:

    • The Khan Academy suite
      A personalised learning solution with over 100,000 exercise problems and over 4000 micro lectures via video tutorials. The suite covers mathematics, history, physics, chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, business and computer science and more.
    • Intel Explore & Learn Marketplace
      A mobile application where learners can find and download free and paid for textbooks, worksheets,  instructional videos and exam preparation materials.

     Training
    In addition to affordable devices, Microsoft and Intel will be training educators on how best to integrate technology into their classrooms. This will be done through the Intel Teach program – a series of courses designed to help educators teach critical digital skills – and Microsoft’s Teach with Technology course, which leads to the Microsoft Certified Educator Accreditation.


    Infrastructure

    Bandwidth is a top ICT priority, and so each user in our Program will be provided with affordable and tailored data packages from Safaricom. These include 5GB and 10GB bundles for PCs and laptops, to ensure teachers and students stay connected.

    With regards to financing for Kenyan institutions, bank loans and contributions will be made available from Equity Bank and M-Changa, a mobile money-based way to contribute towards the purchase of devices.

    We’re so excited to be launching this 4Afrika Youth Device Program, and to be supporting efforts in e-Learning. Based on the success of this pilot in Kenya, we hope to soon extend the Program to South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. There are 209 m
    illion students and 6.7 million educators across Africa. Our goal is to offer affordable devices, educational applications and online services to as many as possible, through strategic cost ownership, education partner ecosystem and training support.

    For more information on the Microsoft 4Afrika Youth Program, visit: http://www.microsoft.com/africa/youth4afrika/

  • 5 minutes with Dele Akinsade

    Posted by Editor

    Dele has recently taken up the position of Server and Tools Business Group Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa. Previously, he was the Developer Platform Evangelism Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa.  Here, he shares his thoughts on life, Africa and why he loves his job.

    Dele AkinsadeHow long have you been at Microsoft?

    I’ve been at Microsoft for 13 years! This is my seventh role at the company. My previous roles have spanned across our Services Group, Enterprise Group and Business Group.

    Firstly, can you tell us what the Servers and Tools Business Group actually is – what does it mean and why is it relevant IN Africa?

    The Microsoft Server and Tools Group develops, markets and supports software and services designed to help companies be more productive at every level – from the individual, to the team, to the whole organisation.  The products that fall under this umbrella include technologies such as Windows Server, Windows Azure, SQL Server, System Center our Develop Tools (Visual Studio) and Windows Intune. While each of these products plays different roles for the customers, the commonalities between the products ensure that customers have a consistent experience when using the products with the end result being an increase in resource efficiency.  With more African companies wanting to increase their competitiveness and more companies investing in Africa than ever before, being effective and streamlined remains a top priority for business stakeholders. For African SMEs and businesses that can’t afford to implement IT infrastructure, moving to the cloud is especially advantageous.

    What are your goals as Lead of Server & Tools?

    My goal is to provide economical solutions to our customers to encourage adoption of our products, and to bring the cloud to businesses across sub-Saharan Africa.   

    What was your highlight of serving as the Developer Platforms Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and Indian Ocean islands? How long did you serve in this role?

    I was in the role for two and a

     half years. It’s hard to single out one highlight as there have been so many. The biggest ones have definitely been providing students, startups and developers with the opportunities to access a global market, and seeing the impact that we have on the continent, especially in academia.  Travelling to so many different African countries and getting the chance to interact with some of the brightest developers in Africa is also definitely something I’m thankful I had the opportunity to do! Also the partnership with the 4Afrika initiative has made our impact stick and be long term as we are seen larger as a strategic advisor on this topic.

    Do you still do any work in the development field?

    Yes, I do. In my current role, I still do some things that I did in my previous role as Developer and Platform Evangelist. Only now I tend to work more directly with enterprises and businesses when it comes to using apps and leveraging the cloud, rather than directly to developers as I did in the past. I also will have more interactions with IT Professionals as in our market they sometimes wear the developer hat as well plus advocacy for the cloud via our Windows Azure platform.

    What does your new role entail?

    As the Server and Tools Business Group Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, I’m responsible for the marketing, sales, and deployment strategy of our products, for enterprise, and small and medium customers.  I’m really excited to work with our SME customers because they are the future of the continent’s economic growth and development. They account for 50% of employment in Africa and add 20% to its collective GDP. These companies face a unique set of challenges and part of my role will be to help them find the best solutions possible.

    What did you study, and why?

    My first interest was to study Medicine but I ended up changing my major and studied Computer Science. I was always interested in the sciences – both natural science and physical science. I loved gadgets and tools and had a passion for software. So it seemed like the best fit for me!

    What’s the first piece of technology you ever owned?

    A TV video game console.

    What are your hobbies?

    I love to travel, I love sports of all kinds, and I love to sing. My main sports are Golf, Basketball, American Football and Soccer. Passionate about the Washington Wizards, Redskins and Arsenal J

    What is your life philosophy?

    One of the things I’ve always believed is that nobody is going to hand you anything in life. You have to go and grab it! I believe in being fiercely independent, believing in yourself and going out and getting what you need to be happy/successful.

    Why do you love Africa?

    I was born in the US and spent most of my life in the US. Both my parents are from Nigeria and I always felt close to the country through my heritage. I’ve always been fascinated by the vast opportunities in Africa. My relocation to Nigeria is my way of ‘giving back’ to the country and the continent that I’m so proud of. That’s why I really enjoy the travelling aspect of my job, as I get to experience the diversity that makes up Africa, and I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and expertise with people from many different countries.

  • Developing Africa’s Youth: Meet the 4Afrika Advisory Council youth members ready to make a difference

    By Mteto Nyati, Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa and Vice Chair of 4Afrika Advisory Council

    Did you know that in Mo Ibrahim’s foundation’s 2012 report, African Youths: Fulfilling the Potential, it was indicated that in less than three generations, 41% of the world’s youth will be African? An exciting yet daunting challenge!

    When I was appointed as the Vice Chair of the 4Afrika Advisory Council in October last year, I immediately knew I wanted to bring strong and influential youth voices on board.  The Advisory Council is tasked with aligning our 4Afrika Initiative to broader African development goals. One of Africa and 4Afrika’s goals is to empower and enable African youth so that, in three generation’s time, the continent will be a strong economic competitor on the global stage. The best way for us to sincerely meet this goal is hear and learn from the youth themselves.

    And so today, I’m proud to announce four highly influential and innovative young leaders who have been added to the Council. These leaders are going to make the critical young voices of Africa heard, and they are going to help us solve the issues most relevant to young people in Africa. I’m humbled to be working with them. I’m inspired by their stories. And I’m excited about the futures they are going to create.


      Akaliza Keza Gara - Rwanda

     I’m really looking forward to joining the 4Afrika Advisory Council. I hope to help the 4Afrika Initiative better understand my country. I hope to share the needs that exist here, as well as the opportunities to use technology to impact people’s lives.

    After noticing that women in Rwanda weren’t encouraged to study ICT, Akaliza set out to make a difference. She studied Multimedia Technology & Design in university and soon after formed her own company, Shaking Sun, which specialises in graphic design, animation and website development. She now uses her expertise to mentor at kLab and Girls in ICT Rwanda, where she encourages women to pursue careers in ICT and shares key insights on being a tech entrepreneur in Africa.

    “When it comes to youth issues in Africa, female empowerment, access to quality education, unemployment and the stereotypes about African youth are most important to me. I find that most of the schools do not teach skills that are valuable in the market. I hope to encourage young people, who have Internet access, to take advantage of the many free online courses and keep up-to-date with industry trends and developments.”

    I am also a huge promoter of entrepreneurship. There are simply not enough jobs to employ all of us, so it's important that we create our own.  It’s also so important for us to tell our stories. I’m an avid blogger and I would encourage all African youth to start blogging and in that way open the world, and ourselves, to the diversity of our continent.”

    Tayeb Sbihi – Morocco                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

    I’m very excited to be joining the council as a youth leader. As a telecommunications professional, I hope to bring affordable broadband access to the youth in Africa. I believe
     that Internet access will enhance the development of Africa and improve its competitiveness.

    Tayeb has a B.S.c, M.Sc and MBA degree all to his name, and is also the founder of B2N Consulting. His company provides the testing, evaluation and optimisation of telecom infrastructure, which means Tayeb is very passionate about bringing universal and quality internet access to Africa.

    “Connectivity is one of the solutions and tools that can help us solve prominent issues in Africa. We can reduce illiteracy through e-Learning programmes. We can give the youth a means to speak and share their issues. We can enhance creativity. And we can provide a platform for young Africans to broadcast local solutions and innovations. All of this will make our competitiveness as a continent much higher.”

     Olivia Mukham - Cameroon

    As a youth council member, I hope to bring light to Africa’s youth aspirations, ambitions and current actions. I also hope to bring my various networks within Cameroon and from more than 20 countries in Africa to the 4Afrika Initiative and action plan.

    A self-described ‘Solutionneur’, Olivia has always been passionate about searching for solutions and solving local problems within her community. When she was just a first-year student, she initiated her own water addition project, which solved water-borne diseases such as cholera. The project now provides clean water access to over 5 000 villagers. Olivia also formed Harambe Cameroon, an NGO with the goal of encouraging youths to transform their challenges into opportunities. On top of this, she co-founded Solutionneurs SARL, a company which uses the talented youth of Harambe Cameroon to provide locally-relevant micro-services.

    I look forward to encouraging more and more African youths to be solutions-driven. I think it’s very ironic that we have many mundane and resolvable problems that hamper our standard of living on a daily basis. I hope to encourage the youth of Africa to take action and solve problems in their communities. The zeal of many youths today is impressive, and I know they’re ready to take these challenges on.”

    Chude Jideonwo – Nigeria                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

    I’m most looking forward to being part of a committed group of African leaders, who are working hard to open up access to opportunities and be part of the transformation story for the continent and its people. 4Afrika has a huge potential to make a lasting impact, and it’s exciting to be part of that process.

    Chude is many great things: A lawyer, award-winning journalist, media entrepreneur and youth development expert. He is also the co-founder and managing partner of RED, and the founder of Enough is Enough Nigeria. As one of Forbes’ 30 Best Young African Entrepreneurs, Chude knows all about jobs and opportunities – and is passionate about creating these for the youth of Africa.

    “The challenges young people face continue to evolve. As a youth council member, I hope to achieve more access, more open doors and more opportunities. I’m always asking myself: How can we engage young Africans through and for enterprise, connecting them with opportunities that ensure they create value for themselves and their countries? I am obsessed with how we can use the media to drive this African imperative. So media, youth and opportunities – that’s the intersection I hope to make a difference in.”

    The four new youth council members are currently in Abidjan, where they are meeting in-person with the 4Afrika team for their mid-year meeting. For updates on this inspirational group, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

     

  • Three reasons to visit Innovation centers like the iHub

    By Leila Charfi, Director, Innovation Partnerships, Microsoft 4Afrika

    Just over a year ago we launched Microsoft  4Afrika, an Initiative designed to accelerate Africa’s economic competitiveness by investing in Africa’s youth and small and medium businesses in three areas - skills, innovation, and  access to affordable smart devices. From the start, we recognized that partnerships with likeminded organizations were critical to the success of this initiative. One of our first such partnerships is a strategic cooperation agreement with the iHub in Nairobi and m:lab East Africa, which in the past year has together provided technical training to 520 startups, SMEs, entrepreneurs, & developers – helping them become fully fledged businesses. Over the past year we have entered into similar agreements with CcHUB in Nigeria, DTBi in Tanzania and AfriLabs, the pan-African hub network.

    If you’ve been a closer follower of the African innovation landscape, you will realize there has been a shift in recent years from investors seeking innovative solutions from established independent software vendors toward investing more aggressively in developers and start-ups. Why? They are innately innovative, nimble, have potential for tremendous growth, and are using one-of-a-kind solutions to address local problems.

    So if you’re an innovative startup or a developer with big ideas, here are my top reasons for signing up with an innovation Hub– also, check out the video here for more!

    1.     Networking

    We all know the saying, ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’, often quoted to illustrate the importance of networking. There is great truth in this, especially when it comes to the exciting and dynamic technology industry. And there is no better place to do this than at the vibrant iHub in Nairobi. According to its founder, Erik Hersman, “The iHub’s mission is to catalyze and grow the Kenyan tech community. We do this by connecting people, supporting startups and surfacing valuable information to the community, whether they’re engineers, web designers, investors, government or academia. At our core, we believe that just by putting smart people in a room, good things happen. This has been proved true over and over again for four years now, it is a place where companies spring up, products are funded, people get connected and where innovation thrives. The iHub was born of an idea by the community, and it should be no surprise that it grows due to that same community’s drive and ambition.” 

    2.     Support and resources

    Innovation hubs provide direct access to companies like Microsoft, meaning that developers get access not only to a range of tools to help them develop their products, but one-on-one time with experts that provide invaluable feedback and strategic guidance. For example, Microsoft Developer Evangelist and , John Kimani @kimanigakingo on Twitter is at the iHub every Wednesday to provide technical support to developers and answer their questions. And the best thing about people like John is that they are not just there to do their ‘job’ – they’re genuinely passionate about helping people and seeing ideas turned into reality.

    One great example of how this kind of support can help developers, comes from Catherine Kiguru, Chief Innovator of Ukall Limited. Catherine is a successful developer who launched her own startup focused on providing mobile HR solutions that address the challenges that business face who employ large and diverse workforces in multiple and often remote sites. She says the collaborative environment and the support she received from Microsoft, ranging from mentorship to resources and testing, have been instrumental to her success.  “(The support from Microsoft) has been very instrumental, both in mentorship and in providing us with the right working environment… and in providing us with the resources we actually needed to develop the product and get it out.

     3.     Motivation and inspiration

    Coding way into the night at your desk all alone in the dark isn’t very glamorous or motivating. Far more appealing is sitting in a trendy, light and colourful space surrounded by like-minded people and everything you could possibly need to be successful. From its bustling coffee shop to foosball table, bean bags, and outside canteen area, the iHub also enables people to maintain some form of social life while they make their development dreams come true. And, there’s a strong chance that by socializing with some of the greatest tech brains around, they’ll walk away with enough inspiration to burn the midnight oil back at home – even if it is at a drab desk, in the dark!

    We fiercely believe in the potential of African innovations, and the developers, entrepreneurs, and youth that are driving them, which is why we’ve chosen to support startups by working with innovation hubs. In addition, we believe that open spaces for innovation and collaboration can help nurture this potential, which is tightly aligned with 4Afrika’s goal of helping accelerate Africa’s economic development and improve its global competitiveness.

    So, if you are in Kenya and these reasons sound like good ones to you – or if you need more convincing – I urge you to get down to the iHub and see what the space has to offer (you can also follow iHub on Twitter here). And if you aren’t in Kenya, find out more about an innovation hub in your country at the following links:

    CCHub (Nigeria)

    DTBi (Tanzania)

    Afrilabs (pan-African network with affiliates in Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia)

     

  • 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.

     

     

  • 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!

  • Mobile for development in Africa

    By Fernando de Sousa, General Manager of Africa Initiatives at Microsoft

    Africa is home to some of the fastest growing mobile phone penetration rates in the world. With a liberalized telecommunications sector and increasing service affordability, mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa alone has increased 44% since 2000, according to the GSM Association (GSMA). As a result, a great deal of Africa’s technology innovation today is taking place on mobile platforms. Although some infrastructural gaps remain, Africans are mobile-savvy and are eager to use the best quality devices. At the same time, Africa is becoming a net producer of technology and already under our 4Afrika banner, we have seen over 100 Windows Phone apps being created per month across the continent.

    Last month, I was invited speak at the GSMA’s Mobile for Development conference in Cape Town. This topic of mobile for development in Africa is of particular interest to me and in line with the goals of our 4Afrika Initiative. My message: An affordable phone alone is not enough. We believe that the focus should be on providing Africans with affordable and reliable access to applications or services that enable them to trade, to learn and to grow their businesses in ways that result in economic growth and ultimately a better quality of life.

    To read more about how mobile can be a catalyst for economic growth click here

     

  • Protecting local talent in Africa

    By Daniel Kamau, Anti-Piracy Director for Microsoft West East & Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

    When I say ‘Intellectual Property’, what do you think of? Copyright laws? Trademarks? Patents? Those are all big legal words. Words that don’t sound like they really make an impact on any of us.

    But what if I told you to think about local artists. Inventors. Musicians. Think about creative human beings with imaginative and inspired ideas – ideas that foster African innovation and establish Africa as a strong economic competitor on the global stage.

    What happens if those ideas get stolen?

    Piracy in Africa

    Piracy is not only a threat to large and wealthy multinational organisations. It affects small businesses and individuals, which in turn negatively impacts socio-economic development. When people invest time and resources into an idea or product that gets stolen, the research and development cycle breaks down. People become discouraged. New ideas stop. Innovation stops. And because small and medium business enterprises (SMEs) create twice as many new jobs and grow revenues 15% faster than developed markets, job creation and economic growth stops too.

    A threat to intellectual property (IP) is a threat to African economic development. Especially when Africa has an average software piracy rate of 80% -- making it one of the most affected continents in the world.


    Jean Jacques ArjoonArtists asking for recognition

    I recently spoke to Mauritian artist and singer, Jean-Jacques Arjoon, about music piracy. Arjoon has been in the African music industry for 17 years and has seen it evolve from analogue to digital. For him, one of the biggest IP threats is the uploading and sharing capabilities offered by the online space.

    “Writing is a form of expression and it takes an average of four months to create a song – maybe even four years for an album,” he explains. “When people upload and share work online, no licence fee is provided for by the producers and other IP owners. This has an impact on the music industry, as people no longer buy works produced by authors and IP owners in official music shops.”

    “People need to be recognised in monetary terms for the time and effort they are putting into their work. They need funds to survive and keep providing music to their fans. If we want the music industry to last and be an economic backbone that keeps GDP on an upward curve, an absorber of unemployment and social crisis, and a creator of a happy population through entertainment, we need to protect IP rights.”

    IP protection

    IP protection gives small businesses and individuals the confidence they need to develop their ideas. It’s a promise that their time, effort and money will be protected and result in growth and success. For startups, securing investment and funding often depends on how well their IP is protected, because investors aren’t going to plug resources into an idea that could be quickly stolen or copied.

    A challenge in Africa is that most people do support IP legislation and believe that inventors should be rewarded. However, they make use of pirated music, software, movies and other ‘fake’ goods, unaware that what they are doing is illegal.

    If we want to see Africa thrive and become the economic competitor we know it can be, we have to protect our local talent – our musicians, artists and great thinkers. At Microsoft, we are deeply committed to IP protection. We have an important role to play in educating the public on IP rights and in partnering with governments to help them introduce and implement the right laws. It is up to us all to ensure that businesses – big or small – know that they have the opportunity to see their ideas become a reality.


    If you are unsure whether or not you are buying fake software or goods, visit our website: How-to-Tell.

     

  • 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. 

  • Microsoft invests in the future of South African SMEs

    By Mteto Nyati, Vice Chair of the 4Afrika Advisory Council and MD of Microsoft South Africa

    When we launched the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative in February this year, we set out to improve Africa’s economic competitiveness. Key to this is our goal of getting one million SMEs online in three years, and it as my honour to be in Johannesburg today to share some details on how we’re going to do that.

    Why is this such a big priority for us? Well, for SMEs, going online opens up enormous opportunities. Tech-savvy SMEs created twice as many new jobs and grew revenues 15 percentage points faster over the past three years than SMEs using little technology, according to a study we commissioned with the Boston Consulting Group.

    As a company, we’ve recognised that addressing Africa’s employment crisis is not only about enabling unemployed people to work for a wage, but about helping aspiring entrepreneurs create small businesses that create jobs and foster locally relevant innovation. With SMEs representing over 90 percent of private business in Africa and contributing more than 50 percent of employment and GDP – their success is paramount to the overall performance of local economies.

    Today, we have furthered our commitment to the small business sector by launching our first SME hub, in South Africa. This new online hub – which can be found at southafrica.biz4afrika.com – is a collaboration between Microsoft, Vodacom, Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and the National Small Business Chamber and is designed to bring a range of free and highly relevant products and services to SMEs in South Africa. For the first year, this includes helping SMEs get their businesses online, by providing a free .co.za domain, a free website and free email and collaboration tools.

    In addition, Microsoft—with support from the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT-SETA) and Solver Consulting—will also place one 4Afrika intern in each of the SEDA’s 43 centres across the country. Four additional 4Afrika interns will also support SME queries online, where they will receive on-the-job training on technology, connectivity, retail and more. The goal is for these interns to become SME business and technology advisors in the communities where they are directly needed.

    The challenges facing SMEs

    Microsoft has always had a strong heritage of supporting entrepreneurs. We recognise their crucial role in the global economy, and because we understand their challenges and needs, we believe we’re in a good position to help them find solutions.

    We understand that across the world, many SMEs don’t have access to modern technology or even to broadband networks. They are using old and less efficient hardware and software, which negatively impacts their productivity and relevance in an increasingly digital world. Just having a website can radically increase a SME’s chances of success, and internet access opens up new borders and markets to help them acquire new customers. The range of cloud-based tools and services we’re offering on the hub will give SMEs easy and cost-effective access to the modern technology they need to operate at their maximum potential.

    Technology can level the playing field for small businesses, helping them compete against much larger players.

    Embracing new tools

    SMEs are quick to embrace new tools. And so, with this new SME hub, we look forward to helping them succeed in the first three to five years of their lives – the most challenging and vulnerable time for most SMEs.

    The result of more SMEs surviving and become successful will be increased job creation and economic development. In doing this, we’re not only investing in local communities, but we’re also supporting the South African government’s national priority of creating jobs, growing skills and giving people meaningful work.

    As 4Afrika works to get one million SMEs online by 2016, I’m excited to see new job opportunities open up, and see this dynamic sector use the power of the internet to push new boundaries. This hub in South Africa is only the first of many country-specific hubs we’ll open in the coming months. We’re excited to bring these resources to bear for SMEs and look forward to the amazing things we know they’ll do for their local economies.

    Visit the hub

    If you’re an SME in South Africa who is interested in working with tools and resources from Microsoft and other partners, we encourage you to visit the new hub here: southafrica.biz4afrika.com

  • Partnering to accelerate African innovation

    By Leila Charfi, Director, Innovation Partnerships, Africa Initiatives

    What do we mean when we say we see boundless potential in the people of Africa? To be boundless is to be limitless. Abundant. Infinite. To have potential is to have qualities and abilities that can be developed; that can lead to future successes. To have boundless potential must then be to have abundant abilities and endless opportunities for development.

    Unfortunately, in Africa, opportunities for development are not endless. At least not yet. There is limitless talent, but more opportunities are still needed to develop it. Being on the continent for over 20 years, Microsoft is very familiar with Africa’s inherent talent and through our 4Afrika Initiative, we’re helping to ensure that Africa can continue to grow and create its own opportunities.

    Today, at DEMO Africa, we unveiled a new commitment to support startups under the 4Afrika banner by entering into cooperation agreements with innovation hubs CcHub in Nigeria, DTBi in Tanzania and AfriLabs – a pan-African hub network spanning Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. Through these cooperations, we’re giving their communities access to:

    • Microsoft BizSpark memberships for startups
    • Business networking
    • Capital investment opportunities
    • Events and workshops on the latest Microsoft technologies for developers
    • The 4Afrika Internship and Volunteer programs, providing access to Microsoft mentors and experts as additional resources

    In short, we’ll be a catalyst for young innovators to have much easier access to the tools and resources they need to fully develop their ideas. This builds upon our existing agreements with Kenya’s iHub and m:lab which were announced in March. As Eric Hersman, founder and manager of iHub said, “Microsoft is clearly a brand that developers and startups want to engage with and this cooperation enables us to provide tech community members with great programs that can help them develop innovative new software products, establish their businesses and reach new markets”.

    It also builds on our news from last week, when we announced the expansion of the Microsoft Ventures partnership program into Africa, with 88mph as our first African accelerator partner. Microsoft Ventures is our global effort to offer the tools, resources, expertise and routes to market for startups, through partnerships with accelerators around the world.

    I can imagine no better backdrop for this great momentum than DEMO Africa, which is built on the premise that startups in Africa are developing real-world solutions and are worthy of investment and global attention. As platinum sponsor, we’re partnering with fantastic organisations in Africa to get these startups seen and turn their ideas into realities. We don’t just want to encourage African innovation, we want to help accelerate it. And to do this, we’re providing each DEMO Africa finalist with free access to our global BizSpark program, which provides them with software, support, visibility and a community of mentors. 

    To have boundless potential means to have no boundaries to success. These cooperations are a strategic and crucial opportunity to help remove these boundaries and extend our support broadly to the African continent. Because when we say we see boundless potential in the people of Africa, we mean it. In every sense of the word.

  • 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! 

     

  • 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.  

  • Listening to Africa: Microsoft Forms 4Afrika Advisory Council

    By Mteto Nyati, MD of Microsoft South Africa and Vice Chair of the 4Afrika Advisory Council 


    Last Friday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I was honored to take on an additional role and responsibility as vice-chair of our new 4Afrika Advisory Council, led by His Excellency, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. The first meeting of our Council brought together 10 prominent business and thought leaders from across Africa who have all accepted to help us shape our strategy around the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative.

    At Microsoft, we strongly believe in the collective wisdom of a group and the value of outside perspective, which is why we invited these distinguished influencers to establish the Council. The mission: to ensure that the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative always remains relevant for Africans and does in fact help the continent become and remain globally competitive for the benefit of the African people. The Council will meet in-person twice yearly in different locations and hold regional meetings at other times throughout the year.  

    It was important to us that our Council truly represent the diversity of Africa – geographic, age, gender and a broad range of industries which stand to benefit from technology. It is that very diversity that is so core to Africa’s allure and potential.

    Council members therefore include the likes of Senegalese Mariam Jamme, CEO of SpotOne Global Solutions and co-founder of Africa Gathering, the first global platform bringing together entrepreneurs and others to share ideas about development in Africa. We also have technology innovator, development activist and World Economic Forum member, Bright Simons, who as President of the mPedigree Network invented a system that empowers consumers to instantly verify whether their medicines are safe and not counterfeit. For the full list of the Council members, see bottom of the blog or Click here.

    With such a diverse and distinguished group, the conversation at our first meeting was lively and insightful. Topics ranged from how to spur local innovation, to economic growth and urban development. Leading the agenda was the topic of how to fuel the potential of Africa’s youth. The continent is home to the top ten youngest populations in the world, and according to the World Bank, there are 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 years on the continent, comprising more than 20% of the total population. An even bigger challenge is that youth make up 37% percent of the working-age population, but 60% of the total unemployed.

    In the coming weeks, we will also add four African youth leaders to the Council because we want to make certain that we are really listening to and understanding the needs and wishes of this critical demographic. We look forward to introducing those new Council members soon, and to working together as a full Council to continually push forward the agenda of the 4Afrika Initiative to accelerate economic development and improve African competitiveness.     

    4Afrika Council Members

    Chairperson - H.E. Benjamin Mkapa

    Vice-Chair - Mteto Nyati

    Secretary - Louis Otieno

    Benjamin Mophatlane

    Bright Simons

    Fernando de Sousa, General Manager 4Afrika

    Florence Iwegbue

    Hanan Abdelmeguid

    Juliana Rotich

    Luís Lélis

    Marieme Jamme

    Monica Musonda

    Phuti Mahanyele

    Richard Attias

    Ali Faramawy, Convener, 4Afrika Inaugural Meeting, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Middle East & Africa.

     

     

     

  • Microsoft’s YouthSpark turns one - and gets ready to target more African youth

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

    Microsoft’s Partners in Learning isn’t the only initiative to celebrate an anniversary this year. On the 23rd of September 2013, Microsoft’s global YouthSpark programme officially turned one. Over the past 12 months, we’re proud to say that this programme has created opportunities for over 103 million youth worldwide.

    But this is only the beginning.

    In Africa alone, there are over 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 today. When we see that number, we think of all the potential and innovation there is still to be unlocked. Which is why, through YouthSpark and initiatives like 4Afrika, we’re placing more focus on the youth than ever. Young people are at the core of Africa’s economic growth, its innovation and its future. If we can bring access to technology, opportunities for innovation and world-class skills to them, imagine what they can bring back to us.

    YouthSpark in Africa has so far impacted over 2.5 million youth. We look forward to reaching more of our young people, and celebrating even more new opportunities this time next year.

    Read more on YouthSpark’s first year, and how it’s impacted students globally.