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Posted by Ali Faramawy
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft MiddleEast & Africa
There is an African proverb that reads, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” We couldn’t agree more. Microsoft has been operating in Africa for 20 years, and today we have offices in 14 countries. As we look forward to our next 20 years, we wanted to explore new ways to link the growth of our business with initiatives that spur economic development for the continent. The world has recognized the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise.
This is why today, we are introducing the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, which is designed to help improve Africa’s global competitiveness. Our goal is to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent, and beyond.
By 2016, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative intends to:
- help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth,
- bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, and
- help 200 000 Africans develop skills for entrepreneurship and employability. This will include up-skilling 100,000 members of the existing workforce, as well as training 100,000 recent graduates, 75 percent of whom we intend to help place in jobs.
A smart, affordable device
In Africa today, smartphones account for only about 10 percent of total phones in the market. As a first step toward driving the adoption of smart devices, Microsoft and Huawei today introduced the Huawei 4Afrika phone, a full-functionality Windows Phone 8 preloaded with select applications designed for Africa, by Africans. The Huawei 4Afrika phone, which is the first in what will be a series of “4Afrika” smart devices, will be targeted toward university students, developers and first-time smart phone users to ensure they have affordable access to best-in-class technology, so they can access the information and tools they need to be active global citizens. (See related blog.)
A step closer to connectivity for all
We are also partnering with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and Kenyan Internet Service Provider Indigo Telecom Ltd. to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband across Kenya. Using solar-poweredbase stations together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, this project will deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity. We aim to implement similarpilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of white space technologies. These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that wouldenable this white spaces technology to deliver on the promise of universal access to high-speed wireless Internet for the African continent. (See related blog and video.)
Getting SMEs online
To help these 1 million African SMEs get online, a new online hub will launch in April that will aggregate available, free services from Microsoft and many others which can help SMEs expand their business locally, find new business opportunities outside their immediate geography, and increase their overall competitiveness. We’re also planning to provide free domain registration for one year for those qualifying SMEs who want to create a professional website. This online hub will initially be available in Morocco and South Africa and will expand to other markets over time.
Developing Africa’s business and thought leaders
The Afrika Academy is another new initiative under the 4Afrika banner aimed specifically at capacity building and skills development. It is an education platform leveraging both online and offline learning tools to help Africans develop both technical and business skills for entrepreneurship and improved employability. Training through the Afrika Academy will be made available starting in March at no cost to higher education students, government elites and the Microsoft partner community.
Why are we doing this now? When we look at the world, many see China or the BRIC countries as the next big opportunity for growth. At Microsoft, we view the African continent as a game-changer in the global economy. We believe deeply in the potential of technology to change Africa, and we equally believe in the potential of Africa to change technology for the world. We are honored to plant this new seed for Africa, and together with our network of partners, we look forward to the next 20 years of growing amazing opportunities for the continent.
For more information, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/4Afrika.
By Ghada Khalifa, Citizenship and Community Affairs lead, Microsoft Egypt
Working in community affairs in Egypt, particularly in the areas of youth education and job support, has been my passion and privilege for many years. Youth unemployment in Egypt stood at 25% in 2010 and evidence suggests that it has risen in the months since the Revolution. The youth unemployment rate in North Africa as a whole is 27%, according to the ILO Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012 report, and has been consistently high for two decades. These numbers are worrisome, and they show that my area of work is critical to securing the future prosperity of the region and its young inhabitants. I spend a lot of time with young people in Egypt, many of whom were the driving force behind the Revolution, and I hear the same things over and over - they go through many training programs, but they simply can't find jobs. The level of frustration and disillusionment among youth here, who have strong ambition and skills and who will ultimately lead the region’s future, is a major concern.
By collaborating with partners and social enterprise organisations to help improve the employability of Egyptian youth, Microsoft is determined to change the situation. This spring, we launched the first Arabic employment resource portal for Egyptian youth - MasrWorks - which offers resources ranging from online career guidance, employability and entrepreneurship training, to specific work experience and job opportunities.
Youth programs from recent years, despite significant investment by various organisations, have failed to deliver sufficient impact on the young community. Research on curricula in Egypt showed that at least ten agencies developed similar programs, but they simply did not reach enough people. MasrWorks, however, is not just another online portal. It takes a comprehensive approach towards Egyptian youth empowerment and employment, so job seekers can make a successful transition into the world of work.
As a national portal, MasrWorks is designed to reach wider audiences with resources tailored to language levels, skill levels and social opportunities in the country. We are working with our public and private sector partners to help youth realize their opportunities and truly fulfil their potential. Just an example - we found that a lot of people end up in careers they aren’t passionate about. So Microsoft provides mentorship resources, something I highly valued myself at early stages of my own career. We also help young people develop business skills, without which they can struggle to find employment.
Since the launch in April there have been over 45,000 page views of the website, and there are currently more than 1,200 active MasrWorks users. New users view and join the site every day and we often get positive feedback from users who are learning they have new strengths in the workplace. I am really proud of the work we have done with MasrWorks. I even submitted a short video about eSkills training programs including MasrWorks into the Microsoft Next competition and I won a prize! Microsoft Next is an internal programme to celebrate innovation within the company, so it’s great to see these important initiatives are really appreciated within Microsoft. After all, MasrWorks is as a great example of how we can support workforce development and use technology to empower young people and help shape the future of the next generation in Egypt. North Africa is poised to re-create its prospects and supporting the ‘future builders’, the young people who will go on to lead businesses and future governments, is vital for laying the best foundations today.
Posted by Sarietjie MusgraveHead of ICT Innovation in School Education at the University of the Free State, South Africa
The sixth annual Worldwide Innovative Education Forum (WWIEF) kicks off today in Cape Town with a visit to schools in the area that are leading the way in new and exciting teaching techniques. Here, guest blogger Sarietjie Musgrave, Head: ICT Innovation in School Education at the University of the Free State, South Africa, tells us why she values WWIEF:
WWIEF gives teachers a truly unique chance to be recognised for the work they do and feel connected with a global network of educators. Teachers can be ambassadors for their own countries and really be recognised for the work that they do – then take what they have seen back to the classroom and share it with their peers to continue to change the face of learning.
When I attend WWIEF each year, I expect to feel inspired. This community of teachers is very passionate and, for me, the event is all about the people that you meet who are willing to share that passion for students across the world. As I walk around the projects on display and listen to the thoughts of both the speakers and other attendees, I love thinking of how what I have heard can be applied to the educators I work with – from first year teaching students through to someone who has been teaching Maths for 30 years. Throwing in new techniques and ideas helps me to think outside of the box and really collaborate with others to develop the best learning experience possible.
The things that you see at WWIEF may not be complicated – normally the best out-takes are simple ideas done extraordinarily well and can be repeated in any classroom worldwide. Engaging learners with twenty-first century skills should be our goal: putting them at the centre of the stage. Once you’ve been to WWIEF it will always spark something in your own mind and the platform it provides to share your own ideas is like no other.
My advice to teachers attending WWIEF for the first time this year is to put the competition side of this forum to one side and really focus on connecting with some of the most amazing teachers they will ever meet. Look for ways to feel inspired and don’t go home and keep it all to yourself: take what you have seen and inspire other teachers in your own communities who weren’t here. Together, we can bring exciting new ways of teaching to the classroom and create unique experiences for learners and educators alike.
By: Marc Israel, Office Division Group Lead for Microsoft West, East and Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands
To celebrate the availability of Office 2013 in Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, Microsoft is giving away 12-month Office 365 Home Premium subscriptions.
Office 365 Home Premium, one of the offerings within Office 2013, is a cloud service designed for busy households and people juggling ever-increasing work and family responsibilities. The new offering includes the latest and most complete set of Office applications; works across up to five devices, including Windows tablets, PCs and Macs; and comes with extra SkyDrive storage and Skype calling — all for US$79.00 for an annual subscription, the equivalent of less than US$7.00 per month.
To enter, simply follow @MicrosoftAfrica on Twitter, tell us what you can buy for $7 per month and stand to win a 12-month license key for Microsoft’s #Office365 Home Premium – Office for your whole household, across the devices you love.
Terms and conditions below.
By participating in our Twitter Competition, you fully agree and accept the Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium Competition Terms and Conditions ("Terms and Conditions") and you agree to be bound by them. You also agree to abide by the terms and conditions of any third party website or service where the competition is hosted, if any. In these Terms and Conditions, "Microsoft", "we", "our", and "us" refer to Microsoft Nigeria Limited. "You," "yourself" refers to an eligible Twitter competition entrant. “The Promoter” is Microsoft Nigeria Limited, For the purposes hereof, “Territory” shall mean: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti , Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, French Polynesia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Namibia, New Caledonia, Niger, Nigeria, Reunion, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, St. Helena, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Posted by Mteto Nyati Managing Director, Microsoft South AfricaMicrosoft South Africa has just received the nod from the South Africa’s Minister of Trade and Industry indicating that it is now a Level 2 Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) contributor. What this really means, is that the local subsidiary of the software company is the most locally relevant multinational IT company operating in South Africa (SA).There is no other multinational that has yet shown this level of commitment to the restitution of past inequalities in SA’s business landscape, and it’s a great differentiator to government and to Microsoft’s trusted local partners, vendors and service providers. What’s great about this for Microsoft – which does business with 7,500 partner companies and service providers in SA – is that these Government agencies and businesses make themselves more compliant and more empowered in the process – as BEE in South Africa is designed to have exactly such a knock-on effect, to inspire participation in the programme. This network is already a major catalyst of economic growth and opportunity in South Africa, driving dynamic solutions for our customers, and jobs and opportunities throughout the industry. With the additional 20 points Microsoft SA received for our Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) equity equivalent programme, the company has even risen above the level of BEE participation of the top empowered companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. This illustrates our attitude towards investing into empowerment in South Africa – and also supports my views as leader of the local business –by being entrenched in the issues that drive South Africa’s government and business landscape, and by doing all we can to create a vibrant local software economy, Microsoft in South Africa can have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the nation’s citizens.While BEE in South Africa has in many cases become a contentious issue, Microsoft has shown that by doing it differently, it is possible to follow not only the letter of the law, but to follow the intent – economic and social development.Microsoft SA has already announced the names of four sustainable, independent and majority black-owned software companies that Microsoft SA will nurture and support under the equity equivalent programme, so that their solutions can compete on the world software service market. On 10 June 2011, we furthered our commitment by opening a second public request for proposals (RFPs) – as Microsoft SA would like to take a few additional majority black owned Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) on this journey to international competitiveness as part of our half a billion rand (USD 57.9m) upliftment programme.Our relationship with the South African government has been further strengthened by the commitment we have shown to assisting where we can with the local priorities, of which education, skills and job creation are some of the most key to lifting the country out of a possible service delivery crisis.I am of the school that believes software and other technologies, when properly used, can transform lives. Over nearly 20 years, we’ve aligned our programmes and investments in South Africa to support economic development, social advancement and greater dynamism in the local software ecosystem.Microsoft has been running various programmes to make the world of computers more accessible and affordable for the majority of South Africans – and to unlock the potential of individuals, institutions and academia, NGOs, businesses and government entities by knowing how to use technology to its ultimate ability.Our citizenship commitments include transforming local education, fostering local innovation, and creating jobs and opportunities – giving new hope to people with disabilities, enhancing the country’s education system, helping communities bridge the digital divide, supporting entrepreneurial ventures in many industries, and helping thousands of young graduates and school-leavers to develop skills and find good jobs.To achieve all of these objectives, our Citizenship programme managers partner with local NGOs, government departments and service providers to reach and enrich the lives of hundreds of thousands of teachers, learners, students, graduate interns, SMEs, disadvantaged communities, differently-abled citizens and government employees each year. For a look at our Citizenship Report of 2009-10, please have a look at http://www.microsoft.com/southafrica/citizenship/index.html. Through the success of the BBBEE programme over time, the market will grow to associate Black Economic Empowerment with real entrepreneurship, job creation, enterprise development and skills enhancement. This makes me sleep better at night – knowing that I – as a black South African working for a multinational technology leader, can make a difference in my country through the work that we do.
Guest Post By Claire Ighodaro CBEIndependent Director, British Council
As a British Council Trustee, I was proud to announce a new international education and training partnership with Microsoft this morning, at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum 2011 in Washington DC.
The partnership with Microsoft is a perfect match, as it aligns with the British Council’s core mission: to build trust and create opportunities. We do 'soft power', to use Joseph Nye's phrase, and we do it on a vast scale, operating in 110 countries and 191 cities across the globe. In fact, we were recently described in the Huffington Post as 'probably the world's best cultural diplomacy agency.'
The first project in this new partnership will provide teachers and learners across Africa with the skills they need to live and work in a global economy. I have seen firsthand the British Council's education programmes in Africa, and the results of their investment are extraordinary. So I am delighted that the first project in the new British Council - Microsoft partnership will happen in Africa, where we have the experience and connections to work effectively with educators and leaders on the ground to really make a difference.
At the British Council, we work in three areas: English, Arts, and Education and Society. In terms of our reach and impact, we're the world's leading cultural relations organization. Last year our work engaged more than 30 million people worldwide, and we reached almost 600 million people through digital and broadcast media - approaching one in ten of the earth's people.
Those numbers are large, but here is an even bigger statistic: three billion people today are under 25. Our common future depends on releasing their potential. This is what is at the heart of our new partnership. We cannot predict what's ahead, but we know that tomorrow's world will be complex and fast-changing, and that there will be major challenges ahead.
According to the International Labor Organization, 160 million people worldwide are unemployed. That includes 64 million young people. And yet there is also a huge and growing shortage of people with the skills that the 21st century requires. Global connectivity is rapidly transforming the world, as online and mobile technologies converge. By 2014, there will be 6.5 billion mobile subscribers. That's more than 90% of the world's entire population. This new world demands a whole new set of skills.
We need outstanding, energetic young people with the skills to navigate this complex landscape. Alongside competence with IT, they will need superb communication and teamwork skills to understand and work with people in their schools and communities. And just as importantly, they will need the skills to reach out and work with people on the other side of the world.
Where do we begin to address these issues? We believe the answer is through partnerships. We cannot do this alone. We must develop creative new alliances to address our common future, with states, businesses, educational organisations and individuals.
Our two organizations have complementary expertise in technology, education and cultural relations. Our joint expertise forms a solid foundation for a productive, sustainable alliance.
Technology is a tool that, when well used, can improve teaching and learning. But technology is just one piece of a larger solution, supported by progressive national education policies, professional development for educators, and innovations led by teachers on the ground.
This project is not just about wiring schools. It is about ensuring that young people in their communities are equipped with skills that will serve them throughout their lives: leadership, self-confidence, creativity, ambition, and a desire to connect and contribute to the wider world.
Claire Ighodaro CBE is a Board member, Non-executive Director and Audit Committee Chair of Lloyd’s of London, the UK’s Lending Standards Board and the British Council. She is also a Council Member of the Open University and a Past President of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
Posted by John Nielsen
GM, EMEA Customer Service and Support
Around this time last year, I accompanied a team of ten Microsoft engineers from the EMEA Customer Service and Support team to Blantyre in Malawi to help launch the Malawi Learning Partnership. We installed a network to connect four schools to allow teachers, students and partners to collaborate and enhance education in Malawi.
The impact the trip had on us, and the huge difference we realised we could make in just over one week, led us to return this year to provide more support to the Malawi Learning Partnership and schools in Blantyre. The team set up IT labs, fixed computers, conducted DigiGirlz workshops, and trained 23 teachers, working tirelessly every day to make sure they reached as many schools as possible. They found solutions to new challenges, were inspired by some of the amazing stories they encountered, and all returned home with a slightly different perspective on life.
23 teachers from 13 different schools were trained on how to set up their own school IT labs, basic troubleshooting and computer maintenance
A few things in particular stood out for me this year:
1. The astonishing pace at which children learn: We all know that children have an enormous capacity to learn, far outweighing that of adults. But, time and time again I am surprised at just how much a child can learn in a short space of time. At one of the DigiGirlz events we held this year for girls from the rural area of Chikwawa, we saw young girls who had never even seen a computer before learning how to use one and put together their own CVs - in just one day.
The DigiGirlz session held at Fishermen's Rest for girls from Chikwawa
2. The power of partnership: We brought 13 of our top engineers from across the world to bring their valuable expertise to help with training and networking for the Malawi Learning Partnership. But without the support of other partners, like St Andrews’ International School, Access Communications, and The Malawi WiFi Project - these kinds of projects would simply not be possible. We also donated 40 laptops to two schools in Malawi to help them expand their computer labs – but it will be our partners providing WiFi and 3Gconnectivity, as well as the teachers, who we rely on to make sure that our donation makes the biggest impact possible in these schools.
3. Excitement is as important as infrastructure: Setting up IT labs and connecting schools is important but unless we build excitement around technology, Malawi will never have enough technology-skilled people to help drive the economy forward. Motivating teachers, showing children what they can create with technology, and giving them the confidence to use computers are important ways of giving young people a glimpse of how technology can positively impact their future. We reached over 120 girls during our seven DigiGirlz events in Malawi in an effort to give young girls a taste of the type of jobs they can pursue in the technology industry.
One of the girls at the DigiGirlz workshop at Samaritans Trust
And lastly, the non-tech focused part of our trip reminded us once again how the simplest measures can change lives. We saw this first hand when we visited the 10 boreholes the team had raised money to build and repair in the southern region of Malawi, TA Mphuka. Through our efforts to raise money through friends, family and colleagues, we have ensured that 2500 people will have access to clean water.
For more pictures and videos of our journey in Malawi, take a look at the Microsoft EMEA CSS: Malawi 2.0 Facebook page.
Posted by Mteto NyatiManaging Director, Microsoft South Africa
After an exhaustive five-month process examining and analysing the 683 hopefuls who had responded, Microsoft South Africa today unveiled the first small black-owned software development firms that will benefit from the company’s R475-million investment in a broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) equity equivalence programme.
The four new BBBEE partners were introduced to the media today at our headquarters in Johannesburg, by me and our partners at the government’s Trade and Industry Trade and Industry Ministry.
Empowerment is one mechanism South Africa employs to redress the imbalances of South Africa’s apartheid legacy. Because we at Microsoft South Africa believe that empowerment should be linked more effectively to the development of skills and growing local businesses, we entered with the blessing of government into an Equity Equivalence programme. The investment directly addresses key challenges facing the government and South Africa – namely creating jobs, developing enterprises, building the local software economy and developing scarce technology skills. This deal should elevate Microsoft South Africa from a Level 4 to a Level 2 Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) contributor, which benefits all who do business with us, as well as our image and good standing when dealing with government in business.
We’re satisfied that our choices not only meet the letter of BEE, but also the spirit thereof. I wish to give a salute to every applicant who submitted themselves to this intensely competitive process in which only a handful would be successful.
The journey is not yet over and there are numerous opportunities for the other aspiring companies to continue working with Microsoft in various ways. In this light, we will be starting the next RFP process in June this year. Should these companies be interested, Microsoft would like to work with them in the areas in which they succeeded well in the selection (due diligence) process, and possibly invite them to join Microsoft ISV programme.
At the start of the process, we made it clear that this wasn’t a one-off. We’d like to grow several companies through this process, if we can. Market conditions change and we feel it’s in everyone’s best interests if we continue to engage with potential candidates who might meet the criteria. The more companies we can grow through this process, the better for the software industry as a whole.
Microsoft, its advisors and venture capital backers Vunani will do extensive planning with Microsoft and our selected partners over the next four months, and then decide on the investment requirements to close the gap between the companies’ current business models and what is needed to take them to the next level. We foresee the marketing and due processes of business execution towards growth commencing within the next six months.
When this process started, we had little insight into the potential partners. But we did identify high-growth areas in South Africa and other emerging markets, such healthcare, education, security, software plus services and mobility, where we saw the biggest opportunity of success for incumbents.
Each and every single company that we’ve announced here today is black-owned in terms of the provisions of the BBBEE Act. We’re extremely comfortable that our choices not only meet the letter of BEE, but the spirit thereof. We’re specifically not excluding or favouring anyone, and look forward to growing black skills in the software development sector through this programme.
We remain 100 percent committed to our existing partner channel, and to making their Microsoft lines of business as profitable as possible for them. The fact is that this programme is growing the channel in an underserved niche, and will ultimately result in a far greater volume of business for our partners, who will have opportunities to work with these new partners. We’re not giving smaller slices of pie here, we’re making the size of the pie bigger for everyone.
With this deal, Microsoft is taking a high-risk, high-reward approach, by striving to create a new model for entrepreneurship. The size of the deal – R472 million – makes it the biggest deal of its kind by an IT company in SA. By selecting local black-owned companies with potential, and helping them become significant players who create software that the market wants, we hope that the market will come to associate BBBEE with real entrepreneurship, job creation, business/enterprise development and skills enhancement.
I invite you to follow this first-of-its-kind seeding process with us, and will provide an update a few months from now, when we are ready to truly take these companies to the international marketplace! In the meantime, additional information can be accessed via www.microsoftbee.co.za.
Guest Post by William S. ReesePresident and CEO, International Youth Foundation
Micro and small businesses are enormously important, serving as engines of economic growth in communities across the globe. In developing African countries in particular, small start ups – when successful – can play a positive role in the day-to-day survival of those living at the bottom of the economic pyramid. And when small businesses are able to grow, they can create much needed jobs in the community. Yet we also know that many young people seeking to support themselves and their families by starting their own business often don’t have the skills, confidence, or knowledge to be successful.
That is why I am so pleased that the International Youth Foundation (IYF), in partnership with Microsoft, is introducing Build Your Business (BYB) – a comprehensive and inter-active training course designed to support aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs. This curriculum is targeted to meet the needs of young people, ages 16-35, who are either still in school, out of school, or in formal or informal training programs. It is designed to introduce them to the basic ideas, activities and skills needed to successfully launch and grow a small enterprise – from learning how to research the market to developing an effective sales pitch to obtaining start-up capital. And we believe it is a unique contribution to the field of entrepreneurship education.
How is it different? BYB uses an interactive and hands-on approach – using games, exercises, video clips, and case studies to clearly explain and break down complex business skills. Accessible online and on a DVD-ROM, this course uses a blended learning strategy in which skills introduced on e-learning modules are reinforced and enriched with face-to-face instruction. Facilitators play a key role in encouraging young entrepreneurs and supporting them throughout the start up process – and they receive their own Facilitator’s Guide to help them provide that support. Also good news: to encourage the widest possible use, this course is available free of charge to community-based and development organizations worldwide.
According to Lindsay Vignoles, co-developer of the course, the curriculum seeks to reach youth with different skills sets and experience. “BYB’s e-learning modules allow learners to interact with the material at their own pace, while the facilitator-led activities help them understand difficult concepts, share ideas with their peers, and check their progress.”
As part of its teaching strategy, BYB provides hands-on opportunities for learners to apply and practice the concepts introduced on the computer. For example, in Module 7, learners explore how to develop their sales skills by watching a video clip on why sales are vital to a business, developing a sales pitch that they practice in front of the class, and testing it on potential customers in their community.
The Build Your Business Curriculum was recently piloted in Nigeria, and is already getting high marks from early users. Here’s how one Nigerian student assessed her experience: “As an entrepreneur, I have learned a lot from the program; it boosted my confidence to start my own business and provided me with practical information on the things to consider, know, and be aware of when starting out.”
Imagine what could be accomplished if hundreds of thousands of aspiring young entrepreneurs – particularly those struggling to survive in some of the world’s most destitute communities – have access to this kind of training and support. I hope we can enlist all of you in helping to make that happen.
Guest Post by Josh LeibsteinStudent and Imagine Cup finalist
When I developed the computer-aided detection programme to identify tuberculosis at an early stage, I never imagined it would lead to winning first prize at Microsoft’s South Africa leg of the Imagine Cup. The competition was tough as there were many great projects – all of them meeting this year’s criteria, which was ‘Solving the World’s Toughest Problems’!
It all started a couple of years ago when I overheard my fellow University of Johannesburg students discuss their Imagine Cup entries. It intrigued me. Immediately, I was inspired by the extent of their creativity and that their projects actually had the potential to address real-life issues. And I thought – hey, I can do that too!
Under the guidance of my honours project mentor, Mr Duncan Coulter, I started working on an image processing application. The great results of the project turned out to defy even my biggest expectations, as I realised it could be applied to help solve a serious problem. Mr Coulter was instrumental from initial design through to the final implementation. His general guidance, feature suggestions and design ideas were incredible.
The project started out as an application that statistically analyses the texture properties of arbitrary images such as tiles, clothing or paper. Using that data, I found areas that are similar to other given samples. Once I was able to identify and analyse those types of textures, I observed the merits of applying it to more complex textures, such as those that need to be analysed in the early detection of tuberculosis.
I realised the imaging system would be perfect in assisting a radiologist in identifying areas that have a high probability of containing tuberculosis structures as result of their texture properties.
Tuberculosis is an endemic disease affecting South Africa on so many levels, socially and economically, and it made sense to me to expand my thinking to try and address this issue. The results so far have been quite promising. As it turned out my project fit perfectly into the theme of the Imagine Cup.
What’s more, I get to represent my country and pick the innovative brains of like-minded fellow contestants at the Imagine Cup in Sydney later this year.
Innovation in South Africa is at such a promising stage, especially among the youth. We have many talented up-and-coming developers. Competitions like Imagine Cup gives them an awesome opportunity to produce great ideas for the future – possibly even "the next big thing". The projects showcased at the last national Imagine Cup finals demonstrated this.
With the right mindset our students can compete with anyone in the world. But we have to overcome this notion of trying to imitate ideas from the USA and other countries. We as South Africans have our own style and we use technologies that give us a unique edge. Individuals should be encouraged by business and government alike to create cutting edge solutions, rather than take the safe option.
My view is that as our students move into industry, this attitude will hopefully filter through to the public and private sectors, making South Africa a top competitor globally.
As for my own dreams – I will continue development of the project as part of my master's thesis and hopefully the system can undergo field trials in the not too distant future. The potential for this research to assist so many people is a great motivator. If the system can help stem the tide of a rampant TB epidemic in our country, it will all be worthwhile.
Posted by Frank McCosker
Managing Director, Microsoft Global Strategic Accounts
Today, I’m in Nairobi, Kenya for the United Nations Chief Executive Briefing, where Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, launched the UN’s new energy neutral Nairobi office building. The building is the first of its kind for the UN in Africa and is a global showcase of sustainable design and technology.
We are proud to be part of UNEP’s inspirational goal of supporting forward-thinking and environmentally responsible technology - this goal is shared by the many UN partners and leaders also gathered in Kenya to attend the building’s launch.
Our work with UNEP stems from a public-private partnership that began in 2009, and our contribution to the UN office in Nairobi, which houses the UNEP headquarters began with the design of the building. Extensive consultation and background studies identified information technology and lighting as the highest energy using components and therefore the greatest roadblocks to achieving energy neutrality.
Traditional data centers require expensive air conditioning components that require massive amounts of energy to operate. These components account for up to 90 percent of IT energy consumption. To overcome this, we worked closely with UNEP to see how green technology, specifically the IT pre-assembled components (ITPAC) data center, could help UNEP support an IT infrastructure that achieves its energy neutrality goals for the building.
This piece of cutting-edge technology illustrates how it is possible to create sustainable 21st century work environments, and is at the center of Microsoft’s green IT strategy. And implementing green IT policies like the highly efficient ITPAC data center is not only ensuring the building’s energy neutrality, but also demonstrating the crucial role that technology can play in environmental sustainability.
The ITPAC technology uses fans to create negative pressure, drawing outside air through the container to cool equipment. As a result, the technology dramatically reduces typical data center carbon footprint and the consumption of materials such as water, concrete, steel, piping and copper, along with the additional carbon footprint associated with the packaging and transporting of servers, equipment and supplies.
We have estimated that with ITPAC data centers, the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio is often cut in half. In addition, the ITPAC’s technology also allows the building to leverage increased IT flexibility and scalability of advanced technologies like cloud computing – unlocking even greater efficiencies and allowing the UN staff in Nairobi to do more with less. Based on research Microsoft conducted with Accenture, we’ve found that the carbon emissions running Microsoft business applications were reduced by more than 30% when hosted in the cloud when compared to being installed on-premise. In addition to our technology, the new UN building in Nairobi has some other really interesting and innovative features, such as energy saving lighting, energy efficient laptops, natural ventilation systems and 6,000 square meters of solar panels designed to generate as much electricity as its 1,200 occupants consume.
A working building and a research facility, it also serves as a sustainable showcase aiming to motivate others around the world to become part of the transition to a green economy. Moreover, the building is a testimony to the power of public-private partnerships and the potential for innovation through collaboration.
Microsoft applauds UNEP’s vision and commitment to making their energy neutral goal a reality.
Posted by Louis Otieno
General Manager, Microsoft East and Southern Africa
For nearly 20 years, Microsoft has worked hard to create a vast and diverse network of partners across Africa, helping to place technology at the heart of sustainable development. We see our role within the region as providing investment opportunities, whilst helping to improve Africa’s business and investment climate in order to attract and sustain higher levels of investment and enriching the lives of the African people. We are very proud of the work we do locally with our partners and believe strongly that the implementation and impact of our products and programmes, offers renewed growth and development within Africa.
I am pleased to say our partner, Virtual City, was recently awarded an Outstanding Regional Achievement Award at this year’s World Summit Award Mobile 2010 for their product Virtual City AgriManagr. The Outstanding Regional Achievement award celebrates creativity and innovation, which VirtualCity has in abundance.
With over 10 years’ experience Virtual City has been able to carve a position for itself as the market leader in the development, customization and implementation of innovative mobility solutions. Having been registered in the Microsoft Partner Network since August 2009, we have worked closely with them to provide tailor-made mobility solutions both in the local and international spheres.
Its winning solution, Virtual City AgriManagr was developed to help local farmers manage the weighing, grading and receipting of produce collected. The system also allows farmers to pay suppliers using cashless transactions and track & reward their most loyal customers and suppliers. Built on Microsoft technologies, Virtual City AgriManagr can be used to accurately capture and deliver produce from the buying centre up until delivery to the factory.
The system works by weighing the farmer’s produce at the collection point using an electronic weighing scale and the information is sent directly using Bluetooth technology to the field agent's handheld device/ Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) specifying produce delivered, quality, quantity, farmer details, collection point, payment due etc. which is automatically sent to the headquarters using a secure VPN connection.
The farmer is supplied with a receipt at the collection point which gives information on month-to-date deliveries. This means the farmer has an accurate record of the deliveries they have made and can use information captured for trading, credit facilities, track their productivity etc. This process reduces turn-around time from collection to payments and gives the members of the supply chain accurate, real-time information while improving relationships and profitability.
At times it can be difficult for farmers in the region to manage the capture and delivery of their goods accurately. By automating this process, Virtual City AgriManagr increases efficiency while reducing fraud. The introduction of this new technology to farmers has led to an increase in efficiency and simplified business processes this has led to improved relations between the growers, buyers and the factories.
I invite you to join me in congratulating the team at Virtual City for a well deserved win. They work hard to innovate and create software technologies that improve the way Africa grows. This innovation has transformed life and opportunity for many people and we look forward to working with them again in the future and contributing to real change in Africa.
Guest post by John Nielsen GM, EMEA Customer Service and Support
Earlier in September, I accompanied a ten-strong team of engineers from across Microsoft EMEA Customer Service & Support to the Blantyre area of Malawi. The team were there to install a brand new network that would connect four local schools. Working closely with teams from mobile network Access Communications and the charity Computers for Malawian Schools, we helped launch the Malawi Learning Partnership (MLP) – a community networking project using ICT tools to allow teachers, students and partners communicate and enhance education in Malawi.
We’re extremely proud that, over the week, we helped these schools bridge the digital divide so that they can better harness the power of technology; giving teachers the IT tools that will help them create more dynamic lessons for their students. The network now in place will let schools integrate their work much more closely, widening their access to new learning tools and ideas.
The visit wasn’t without its complications – we made slow progress on our first couple of days and had to deal with rolling power cuts every two nights, which meant that we had to complete a large portion of the networking by candlelight. In addition, using computers with 128MB RAM felt like a trip back in time for many of us. In spite of this, the team made it work and the partnership launch was a great success.
In fact, upon my return to the office, I was delighted to take part in a Skype call with some of the students and my colleagues still in in Malawi at the time – something which would not have been possible a few days earlier.
Late on in the trip, the team met some of the hardworking staff at the Jacaranda School for Orphans. Even though they were already behind with the schools they had initially agreed to network together, they were so impressed and humbled by their work that they insisted on including them within the MLP. Despite the set-backs due to the power-outages, they charged forward.
Our work wasn’t limited to helping to launch the MLP. We also had the pleasure of meeting with several hundred local residents – including parents of children at participating schools, local business leaders and members of the community – at an evening event we hosted. During the session, I presented to the guests about our citizenship agenda, and the work we were doing in Malawi.
The female members of the team were also fortunate enough to run a session as part of Microsoft’s DigiGirlz programme, which gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in IT and participate in hands-on computer workshops. Fifty girls from around Blantyre took part, and everyone was delighted to have seen this part of the project come to fruition. One participant told us the session had been “the best day of her life”, which is pretty amazing. Our hope now is that the participants have more confidence in their abilities and understand more about the possibilities of working in IT thanks to their involvement in the session.
Technology aside, the visit was also a chance for us to see some of our fundraising for Against Malaria in action. We hand-delivered some of the 5,000 nets funded by our efforts – a simple but vital tool in helping Malawian families prevent spread of the disease. This was a great moment of the trip – seeing how our efforts will help to save lives. And although we’ve returned home, our work hasn’t ended. We have now formed a Technology Mentoring Network with the people of Malawi that will offer ongoing support and training to young Malawians starting new businesses.
I think it’s safe to say that the visit to Malawi was one of the proudest moments of the team members’ careers. It was a hugely rewarding experience – it was fantastic to see benefits of our work immediately, and meet some amazing people. We’re excited to keep in touch with the team on the ground and hear more about the progress being made.
I’d like to leave you with a short video showing some of the highlights from our trip.
Posted by Matt BergICT Director, Millennium Villages Project
To demonstrate the critical role technology can play in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, the Earth Institute, Columbia University has partnered with Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Community Technology Skills program to establish a computer programmer training center at the Millennium Villages project (MVP) office in Bamako, Mali.
Known as the “Rural Technology Lab,” the full-scale training center is equipped to cultivate local computer programming talent in Mali and offers a demonstration model for how small investments in technology and education can build local capacity in rural communities elsewhere in Africa.
Promising university graduates apply to the nine-month training program at the Lab and have a chance to apply their new skills to develop web and SMS-based applications that serve other MVP initiatives, particularly in the areas of health and education.
By focusing on developing practical solutions for impoverished rural communities, the Earth Institute provides the Lab with local on-the-ground knowledge and experience, in coordination with the Modi Research Group, while Microsoft donated the funds, software, and specialized training curriculum to support the Lab in the long term.
So far, the Lab students have developed a program called Kodonso to track the enrollment rates and school meals data by SMS for 6,000 students at the MVP site in Tiby, Mali – statistics that are critical to monitoring Mali’s progress towards reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The aim is for the Lab students to conclude the training program with opportunities for full-time employment or internships with the MVP or other project partners as well. Four of the 2010 Lab graduates have already moved on to full-time work with a local software development firm in Mali.
In keeping with the MVP’s goals to use science and technology to help rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty, the Lab’s most important contribution is the development of local talent. The Lab’s first eight graduates are already building up Mali’s capacity to resolve its own challenges, within its own communities, and this is just the start.
Posted by Larry VenterSenior Director of Retail Solutions for Microsoft Worldwide
Just under a year ago I was fortunate enough to do a tour of Lakeside Park Primary in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. During that tour the headmaster told me of the struggle that the foundation phase children have in learning English – in fact I recall something he said; “when the children stopped using English on the playground, their English results suffered”. I left the school a few hours later thinking about how we could do something to improve literacy acquisition. Over the next few months I set about researching PC educational games and the edutainment market, but it was really at the launch of the San Diego Microsoft Store that the penny dropped. At the opening, in June of last year, I saw Kinect™ for Xbox 360® being played by children and parents outside the store and I recall thinking – that’s the perfect medium for learners! It’s fun, its interactive, it’s in English and it’s highly collaborative too!
Momentum kicked in with Microsoft’s Live@Edu team funding the study, which engaged local educational technology experts, NGO SchoolNet SA, to develop the teacher training materials and conduct training, and also to review, select and purchase appropriate games, install the devices and security systems and manage an independent evaluator, Mindset. Eight teachers from Lakeside Park Primary, a small school in the remote district of Vryheid in rural KwaZulu-Natal, were trained and their classrooms equipped with the interactive Xbox and Kinect gaming platforms and security.I have learnt that in education there are two levers that can be pulled to improve the learning experience – time with teacher, and the quality of the teacher. In the early days of this program we started seeing how teachers were able to use Kinect to drive heightened engagement in the classrooms. One teacher is quoted saying that “the level of interaction I saw on day one would normally take us three to four months to get to”. In my mind that equates to more time with the teacher!
We have also seen teachers use the training we provided to start providing creative solutions – or learning opportunities – that benefit the children and improve the teachers delivery too. In the first week we saw a teacher use “avatar creation” as a way to introduce the learners to life skills – by allowing each to design their own avatar. We also saw a teacher use bowling as a numeracy exercise, and even the use of “kinectimals” as a way of constructing sentences – in my mind all that helps to develop the quality of the teachers delivery.
Studies of gaming in education show that learners really engage when teachers design their lesson activities around the topics in games, simply due to the added stimulus. With Kinect, you can play a variety of sport, edutainment and instructive games using body movements and voice. Sensors replicate your motions via an on-screen avatar – your ‘mirror image’. Change was afoot from the word ‘go’.Today we officially announced the program in South Africa and it has drawn a lot of excitement from national and local educators and politicians. My hope is that we can use the findings of this program and develop solutions that will continue to transform the teaching and learning experience across Africa.
Posted by Vis Naidoo, Citizenship Lead, Microsoft South Africa
Many of the world's 6 000 languages are absent from the public arena, and 50 percent are in danger of disappearing altogether.
As we observe Mother Language Day around the world today, we are also celebrating it in our own “Rainbow Nation”, where 10 million citizens speak isiZulu as their first-language, 8 million isiXhosa, 4 million Sesotho sa Leboa and 6.5 million Afrikaans, to name but a few. In fact, in South Africa, more than 47 million people use 25 different languages every single day.
I sit in the fortunate position, here at the southern tip of Africa, of having learnt to speak bits of the official and unofficial languages outside of English that are spoken here. Outside of talking technology I try to limit my use of English as I deal with NGOs and business partners whose first language this is not - most of my fellow South Africans speak one of the 11 official languages of the country.
Although my ideal world constitutes a place where everybody is able to talk to each other freely, unhindered by obstacles like language and access to technology, there’s tremendous empowerment in working in your own language.
First languages play an important role in the integration of all aspects of public life, but especially so in education. Yet half of all South Africans don't have access to technology, and when they do, English is more often than not, not a language they can fully understand.
Nurturing a rich linguistic diversity depends on these languages becoming more than just vehicles of cultural heritage – they must also become vehicles of opportunity for advancement. South Africa’s much-acclaimed multilingual language policy was born of the need to recognise and support those African languages that were marginalised in the past. However, with English still dominating as the official language in most sectors of society, mother-tongue speakers of South Africa’s other 10 official languages have received the short end of the stick.
Through Microsoft’s broader Local Language Program, we have seen first-hand how providing software programmes in local languages has opened up new worlds for education and the economic participation of millions, and especially so in adults and for continuing education among South Africa’s previously disadvantaged communities.
Our partnership with local translation vendor Web-lingo over the years has seen the successful translation of our software and operating systems into the four language streams of Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu and Sesotho sa Leboa. In a country whose indigenous languages formed the basis of local cultures, it was no easy task to apply language, culture and preferred “look and feel” nuances such as idiomatic expressions and color sensitivities to the localization of these language interface packs into the correct technical lexis for each vernacular.
In fact, when Web-lingo originally had to translate the 4 million words used in the Office 2007 suite and Vista operating system into the four languages, this herculean task took the 40 linguists and project managers working on it many hundreds of hours to successfully complete. The real test was translating words such as ‘broadband’ and ‘network’, because in languages like isiZulu, isiXhosa and Sesotho sa Leboa, a direct translation simply doesn't exist. For us, it was really important to protect the languages and address their specific needs when designing the translations.
Languages in general have a wider social function – they reflect the dynamic growth of science and technology. As a language is used less and less, speakers lose confidence and pride in it. The creation of technical languages is therefore directly linked to the revival and growth of all national languages.
On this note, we have gone one step further in our collaborative efforts. To build interoperable solutions applicable to real-world problems, we partnered with local open source software evangelist, Dwayne Bailey of Translate.org.za, to incorporate the Creole machine translation support from Bing into Translate.org.za’s Virtaal tool.
This simple step made it possible to translate anything from disaster management software to documents, press releases, blogs and other content in a tool specifically designed for human translators. This tool can play a real role for global government agencies and NGOs in international disaster-relief efforts, where language presents a barrier to effective aid.
So, in deference to the ‘mother languages’ of our deep-tech readers, we also pay our respects to greater interoperability – the ability of different systems to talk to each other – on this special day.
Finally, I’m proud to share that our isiZulu version of the Digital Literacy Curriculum will in May 2011 join the stable of 35 globally translated DLC’s currently in global circulation, allowing isiZulu users to not only see the software in their home language, but also to learn in their mother tongue the essential skills to compute with confidence, including guidelines on how to use the Internet, send e-mails and prepare a résumé.
Posted by Louis OtienoGeneral Manager, Microsoft East and Southern Africa
The language we speak is a cornerstone of our personal, social and cultural identity. At Microsoft, we’re working hard to give people across Africa – and the globe – access to some of our popular technologies localized in their language. Our motive is to make it easier for all users, but specifically first-time users, to become fluent in programs like Windows and Microsoft Office. We also want to assist in modernising local languages, ensuring they remain relevant in an age when day-to-day Communication is rapidly evolving due to the influence of technology. In line with this vision, Microsoft’s Local Language Program recently launched the KiSwahili Language Interface Pack (LIP) for Windows 7, and we are now happy to be releasing the KiSwahili Microsoft Office Language Interface Pack 2010. There are between 5 and 10 million people in Africa who call KiSwahili their first language, and between 50 and 100 million who use it as a second language. Spoken in Eastern Africa and parts of Central Africa, it is the second most widely understood language in Africa after Arabic, and is ranked by the Global Language System as one of the 12 ‘supercentral languages’, which are very widely spoken languages that serve as connectors between speakers of central languages.
We have invested significant time and resources in our Local Language Program because we believe that the impact of learning in one’s first language on educational development is enormous. When we learn new things, especially as a child, our first language is the foundation for this learning. For example, it is far easier for children (and adults) to learn to read in their own mother tongue, as they are able to use their spoken language as a reference point. And computer literacy education is much the same - once a user has mastered a software programme in their own language, they’ll find the progression to using it in English far easier.
In addition to removing the language barrier to education, our Local Language Program also excites me because it is deeply involved in helping to keep native languages modern, mainstream and relevant to their speakers. One of the main causes of ‘language death’ is that bilingual speakers start to use their ‘second’ language gradually more frequently – usually because it has more utility and is more applicable to their daily lives. So although KiSwahili is strengthening its place among the world’s global languages – being taught at many universities across the world and featuring on many high profile radio stations; this isn’t enough on its own. To continue to remain relevant, it needs to expand to reflect the changing experiences of its speakers – such as the incorporation of new tools and technologies into their day-to-day lives. So, rather than encouraging KiSwahili speakers, and speakers of other local languages to simply adopt English terminology for Windows and Office; we’ve partnered with governments, universities, and local language experts to develop glossaries for native languages that reflect the subtle nuances of their lexicon, and are developed in line with the rules and style conventions that define each language. Our language program also ties in with our wider belief that people can really only experience the benefits of technology once they gain access to it – and most importantly, develop the skills to use it effectively. Being able to sit down in front of Office 2010 for the first time and easily understand where to go to ‘save’, ‘print’ or ‘send’ is something English speakers take for granted. I’d like to see the disadvantage faced by other languages eventually evened out completely – so I’m happy to report that this recent wave of LIPs for Office 2010 has set a record as being the fastest that we’ve brought the newest version of Office to native language speakers.
By Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs
It has been over two months since famine was declared in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, leaving 12.4 million people in need of emergency aid. Every day over 1,500 famine-stricken Somalis arrive in the world’s largest refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya. According to the United Nations, the Dadaab Refugee camp designed for 90,000 people is now home to nearly half a million people.
To put this crisis in perspective, the number of severely famine-stricken people is higher than the combined numbers affected by the South Asia tsunami and South Asia earthquakes of 2005 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
On the Microsoft on the Issues blog for Africa we often focus on the many opportunities present in Africa, the amazing feats and accomplishments of the African people, and how technology is positively impacting the continent. But Africa, and the world community, face a humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about Microsoft’s commitment to help respond to the crisis.
Technology is our business and it also underpins how we try and contribute to the communities we serve. We are committed to using technology to help respond to this crisis. Yesterday in Nairobi, I announced that we are extending our disaster response efforts with a number of partner organizations working in the region. We are committing to deliver support to the value of more than $4 million including:
- Monetary donations to NGOs working in the relief zone.- Donating technical solutions and support to lead response organizations to improve the effectiveness of aid flows and monitoring. Over the last 30 days we have been working with IGOs and NGOs in the region to develop a sustainable model for their disaster response mechanisms. Our efforts include:
- Providing access to technology, eduction and learning opportunities for refugees. Examples include:
We have an on-going commitment to Kenya and East Africa – and are not new to the challenges facing the region. These latest efforts combine our long-term commitment with the immediate disaster response needs of the communities at risk.
There are so many positive developments across the continent and so much progress being made. But, collectively the world needs to respond to the crisis in the Horn of Africa and help address the terrible suffering of so many people. We are committed to playing our part.
If you would like to help, we recommend working with, or donating to, one of the following organizations:
• Kenya Red Cross Society• CARE• NetHope• Oxfam-America Inc.• International Rescue Committee• Save the Children American • Red Cross World Vision • Islamic relief
Posted by Lutalo Joseph Willrich (on behalf of the Team Quest-O)
So we hacked like cats at little buttons and mice back in our school dorms many days ago (when no one knew us), and lo! Here we are speaking to the world about our exploits and achievements. It’s lovely, Imagine Cup I mean, amazing and truly a must-get-there moment for every tech student around the globe!
Travelling to Imagine Cup was like programming: thrilling and engaging. The journey was the longest (30hrs approx.) and most exciting, being my first time to travel between-and-above the clouds! Unforgettable I must say.
The feeling of finally breathing, walking, seeing and becoming a part of the awe called New York! Everything so big, everything shining and glittering in the unceasing sun –this was the first time I witnessed a day that starts at 5am and rocks on until 10pm! I remember waiting for night to fall, and the time on my computer kept screaming “It’s night! It’s night!” though the skies looked as daytime as ever! But I soon understood and adjusted. All in all, I was thrilled by the sheer scale of this city– I knew there was going to be lots of storytelling when I returned to the dusty streets of Kampala.
From the moment I stepped onto the Academy bus that picked us off from JFK, I knew it was going to be first-class service, and Microsoft doesn’t disappoint I should tell you! I must admit that everything at the event was very well planned and executed to the very last dot - perfect! And I wouldn’t expect less of a firm that holds the dreams and respect of all these nerdy brains across the globe. Being my first Imagine Cup, this was all fantabulous, and I enjoyed it all. Not forgetting Liberty and the Ellis Island Barbeque!
I can’t forget the speeches at the opening ceremony, especially the one from Ballmer himself, and the experience of presenting before world-class experts and media had its lasting impacts on me. Did I mention the lovely time at Central Park? That was the cream on the cake for me – painting a Malcolm-X mural with the two Winners of the Windows 7 Touch challenge for some lovely kids somewhere in the US! The painting itself might not have been so amazing, but the friends from France (I don’t know French by the way) and the fact that we both shared a passion about the concept portrayed in the mural made it so memorable for us all.
I feel proud to have represented my small village town back at home, my Kampala City, Uganda and Africa as a whole – it’s surely an honor! And I say to my people back at home: though we didn’t bring home the Top Accolade, we are bringing home lots of experience and passion to change us all. Cheer up brothers and sisters. We are here because of you.
And there have been some breathtaking and mind-awakening moments in the realm of the Nerd! This was my first time to witness the marvels of the ‘magic-turned-tech’ phenomenon called the Kinect. I loved the learning session from Coding4Fun.com. I hacked my first ever Kinect app in under 1 hour thanks to Microsoft and Dan Waters (awesome guy). I can’t forget the sessions on IE9 by Giorgio Sardo (he is going places!), and I loved the Windows Phone 7 session too.
Crimex, our solution as Team Quest-O, which for those who don’t know is a response to the 8th MDG, Global Partnership, which is critical to creating– a Crime Free Society. It offers an affordable and effective solution for crunching crime data (from both the community and law enforcement), into useful and real-time applicable security tips and crime patterns for developing countries. We didn’t win, but we shall win for sure. The feedback is encouraging and positive. We have hope.
All in all, Imagine Cup has been thrilling, challenging, and very fantabulous! I look forward to more in the coming years.
Posted by Sarah Collins CEO, Wonderbag
As the CEO of Wonderbag I have spent the last several days with my partner Microsoft at COP17. 20,000 attendees, representing 191 countries and 12 heads of state, all descended on Durban, South Africa, where I live and run my business. We experienced some very busy days and long nights as we spent time meeting with government leaders, NGOs and the private sector to promote what started as a simple idea and is now starting to have a real impact in South Africa and beyond.
Heat retention cooking is nothing new. For centuries people have covered cooking utensils to retain heat and cook food, a Second World War haybox is just one example. With Wonderbag, what is new is both the innovative design of the cooking bag and the business model behind the initiative. The bag itself consists of two recycled polystyrene filled cushions. The bottom bigger cushion creating a nest for the pot and a smaller top cushion that acts as a lid to ensure optimal insulation. They are easy to wash, easy to transport and more importantly easy to produce at a local level.
Acting locally has been a pillar of our strategy from the beginning. The business model not only prioritizes sustainability but also job creation. Each Wonderbag is hand-sewn in communities around South Africa. To fulfill our next order from Unilever of five million bags in South Africa we will employ more than 8,000 people over the next five years.
Households can save up to a third of their monthly expenditure by using a Wonderbag three to four times a week; every woman who cooks using a Wonderbag saves time by not having to source fuel or stay near the kitchen during the cooking process. In addition, food does not burn; the kitchen is a safer place for children and less time around open fires means a healthier environment.
Ensuring the sustainability of all these advantages is the carbon funding business model. If a Wonderbag is used three to four times a week, 500 kilograms of carbon is saved every year, we have had this verified and audited by the UNFCC. This allows us to trade half a ton of carbon per bag per year, which subsidizes the Wonderbag and allows us to scale.
So how does Microsoft fit into all of this? We are in the business of Wonderbags “being used”, however for the process to work, Wonderbag needs to keep track of every single Wonderbag and that’s where technology and Microsoft come in.
We first started working with Microsoft South Africa in 2010 when we approached them to help us to develop a solution that would enable field workers to register new Wonderbag users via a mobile phone. Working together with innovation firm frog, Microsoft was able to provide us with the technology we needed. And over the last few days here at COP17 we have agreed to take this to the next level.
I was surprised to learn about a geospatial mapping solution called Eye on Earth that Microsoft announced at COP17 with the European Environment Agency and their technology partner Esri. Eye on Earth is a cloud based application development platform and online community for environmental data sharing. We’ve determined that this same technology can be used to host an online application to graphically map information on where Wonderbags are in use and how much carbon they save. We have even been discussing the addition of a heat sensor, in the bottom of every Wonderbag, to automatically track its use and map that back to the carbon algorithms. This is still early days, but a developer has already mocked up the first version of the application for us.
At Wonderbag we believe that we have the wind behind us with this project because of the times that we live in. Climate change awareness is at an all-time high, the value of energy is appreciated like never before and there are now mechanisms that award and support those who are trying to do the right thing. When technology and environmental solutions join forces we can make a difference in every household.
Just as Bill Gates was driven the by goal of a PC on every desktop, we will achieve a Wonderbag in every kitchen.
Posted by Werner Wilders OEM / Retail and Consumer Director for Microsoft West, East Central Africa
When it comes to technology, standing still is falling behind. The rate at which technology changes is so fast and its implications for business so enormous that any lag behind the latest updates and functionality can directly equate to lost potential. That’s why we continue to urge our customers to install the latest updates and why we provide a range of free tools to enhance the performance of their software.
Making ‘free’ really mean free
Consumers can download the latest security solutions, media tools, themes, Internet Explorer 9 and service updates for Windows 7 at Microsoft.com, for free. But for many consumers in Africa, just because something is ‘free’ online, doesn’t mean obtaining it is necessarily affordable or convenient. The high cost of bandwidth on the continent means that to download antivirus software in West, East and Central African countries for example, you’ll pay anything from $25 to $40; add this to limited and unreliable internet accessibility and it is understandable why so many consumers don’t download ‘free’ tools made available online.
To address this, we’ve developed the ‘Africa Pack’ – a suite of popular Microsoft technologies and locally-relevant content in DVD format. It’s free to consumers across Africa who purchase or currently run a genuine version of Windows 7, and is available to Microsoft partners to distribute with new PCs that are preinstalled with, or bundled with locally attached copies of genuine Windows. We hope that by making this content available offline, we’ll save our customers time and money, and ensure the very latest Microsoft technologies are easily accessible to them.
One of the key technologies included in the Africa Pack offering is Security Essentials. Having the latest security technology is becoming critical amid the ever-increasing plethora of malicious software that can harm your PC or target private information. We don’t want our consumers to put themselves or their families at risk by delaying security updates because of slow download speeds or cost. Now, with Africa Pack, we are ensuring that every user who has a genuine copy of Windows 7 will have access to free antivirus software to protect their computer.
(Locally relevant) Content is King
We’ve often spoken about our commitment to our Local Language Program. We believe in the benefit of learning in one’s first language as well as the importance of keeping local languages alive by ensuring they remain relevant and continue to evolve. So our Africa Pack, available in English and French, also contains local language interface (LIP) packs for the most widely spoken languages in Africa: KiSwahili, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Amharic. The first edition of the Microsoft Africa Pack includes: Microsoft Security Essentials; Windows Live Essentials; Africa Theme Pack (desktop wallpapers and themes to customize your PC); Local Language Interface Packs (LIPs); Internet Explorer 9 and Windows 7 Service Pack 1.
Posted by Dele Akinsade, Developer and Platform Evangelist, West, East and Central Africa
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein
Marking Imagine Cup’s ten-year anniversary in 2012, Microsoft is celebrating the 1.4 million (and counting!) students who have participated in the world’s premier technology competition. By focusing on student-led solutions to the world’s toughest problems, Imagine Cup has brought to light some of the most groundbreaking and creative approaches to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, including last year’s People Choice Award finalists from Nigeria, Team Nerd, who developed an innovative remote healthcare app for doctors and patients.
The participation of African teams in the competition has increased steadily over the years. This year, registrations in Sub-Saharan Africa grew by 197% compared to 2011, and the number of competitors grew by 64% year on year.
With this kind of momentum, we are especially proud of the five teams representing Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012, when students from universities in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda will travel to Sydney, Australia to compete in this year’s worldwide finals in July. Their entries for practical use in both the public and private sector represent the brightest young minds of Africa.
Please join us in following and supporting these talented African developers on their road to Imagine Cup 2012! • Team E-Soft, from the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët Boigny de Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire, has developed a real- time monitoring solution for environmental threats in industrial areas. As evidence of the growing need to monitor the impact of industrial development on local communities, Team E-Soft has already secured partnership funding from the World Bank and Ministry of Energy to test their “Evolve Safely” solution in Cote d’Ivoire.
• Team Gravity, from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, has concentrated on a common problem in both urban and rural areas of Africa, with a healthcare solution called “SwiftER,” that aims to improve the rate and quality of response from medical and security providers in the event of an emergency.
• Team Sen Section, from the Universite Cheikh in Senegal, has focused on making development and aid agencies more efficient by developing a mobile app, called “Tataane,” that allows fieldworkers to collect data and surveys that automatically updates the home office database. Pan-African NGOs such as Africa Rice are already preparing to use the mobile app in their agricultural research in rural areas.
• Team Asclepius, from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, has developed an image processing application, which helps radiologist detect signs of tuberculosis at an early stage. Particularly in South Africa where tuberculosis has one of the highest infection rates in the world, early diagnosis is critical to the success of medical treatments available to rural and underdeveloped communities.
• Team Cipher256, from Makerere University in Uganda, has connected Windows Phone to Windows Azure with an application that aids midwives in their diagnoses for expectant mothers. Using an algorithm that converts the Frequency (Hertz) to Beats Per minute of the fetus, measures the fetus’ position in the uterus and calculates the fetus’ age, this app “WIN-SENGA” can help detect an ectopic pregnancy or abnormal fetal heart beats.
We wish these teams the best of luck in Sydney. We will be cheering you on from Facebook and Twitter!
Posted by Dr. Jummai Umar-AjijolaCitizenship Manager Lead, Microsoft Anglophone West AfricaThe concern for Internet safety is a global phenomenon. It is of particular concern in Africa as those who previously never had access are increasingly being connected through their computers, mobile phones and other devices. Although the prevalence of both social and business Internet-enabled processes is generally seen as good news, the concern for safety and the attendant fears around cybercrime remain a major source of worry.Nigeria itself is beset by many of those problems common to Africa and the rest of the world – many people living below the breadline, high unemployment and a segment of the population that is willing to do anything, legal or otherwise, in order to make a living. However, since there is no clear legislation in Nigeria around cybercrime, it has become one of those grey areas increasingly exploited by criminals seeking an easy route to riches.But all this is changing and this week in Nigeria the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Microsoft, held the first West Africa Cybercrime Summit. This event was the first ever regional event on combatting cybercrime and bought together over 200 people from across the world, from both the public and private sector, to focus on eliminating cybercrime and fostering legitimate economic opportunity for West Africans.It may seem unlikely that Nigeria, a country that may sometimes have something of an infamous reputation with regards to cybercrime, would be the host for a cybercrime summit. However, the impact of cybercrime on Nigeria’s ability to do business globally is enormous. With figures suggesting that some 40 per cent of the country’s annual $20-billion income is lost to fraud and corruption, the nation’s international reputation has taken a battering. Not only is Nigeria losing millions in tax revenue that could go towards local infrastructure that would attract foreign investment, but even local businesses find their emails are automatically blocked, simply because they originate on a Nigerian server. With this in mind, it is vital for private and public sector players to work at redirecting the country’s youth towards a more appropriate use of online resources. The aim is to provide opportunities to use skills positively, if they are not to waste the opportunity that ICT offers to compete globally.As co-sponsors of the summit, Microsoft Nigeria and the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit are actively working with international stakeholders, including the EFCC of Nigeria, on programs to fight Internet fraud in West Africa, a problem that continues to victimize people around the world. One form of cybercrime that has become especially associated with the region is the advance fee fraud, collectively known as “Nigeria” or “419” scams. Through schemes such as fake lotteries, bogus inheritances, romantic relationships, investment opportunities or – infamously – requests for assistance from “officials,” scammers promise an elusive fortune in exchange for advance payments. According to Microsoft’s Security Intelligence Report volume 9, advance fee fraud accounted for 8.6 per cent of the spam messages blocked by Microsoft’s Forefront Online Protection for Exchange (FOPE) in the second quarter of 2010 alone.419 scams, known locally as “yahoo-yahoo,” have also taken root in Nigeria’s popular culture, where scammers’ reputations in Nigeria are popularised in songs and music videos celebrating their exploits. To help address this issue, the Microsoft Internet Safety, Security and Privacy Initiative for Nigeria (MISSPIN), EFCC and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria collaborated with the highly respected Nigerian music producer, Cobhams Emmanuel Asuquo, and popular local musicians, Banky W, MI, Modele, Omawumi, Rooftop MCs, Bez and Wordsmith, to release the song “Maga No Need Pay.”
Posted by Cheick Diarra (Chairman for Africa) and Mteto Nyati (Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa)
FIFA is still completing their official evaluation report of the host country for the 2010 World Cup, but we know South Africa shared a victory with Spain on the night of July 10th by raising Africa's profile in the international community as a proud, hopeful, and increasingly stable continent. Moreover, we were thrilled to see that technology in all its forms played a major role in the month-long event’s success and wide-spread acclaim.
We have watched the South African government, FIFA, and the industry at large make huge investments in technology over the last six years in order to bring the 2010 World Cup to as broad an audience as possible. For example, for the first time, technology allowed fans from across the globe to determine the Man-of-the-Match awards for the 2010 World Cup via Web and SMS technology. Visually-impaired fans were able to enjoy soccer like everyone else during the 2010 World Cup thanks to an Audio Description project that provided the visually impaired with small receivers with inner-ear headphones for 44 matches. FIFA itself charted seven billion page views of its site FIFA.com, 410 million of those page views were recorded in a single day!
Among our partners and customers, we were especially proud to see the Official IT Services Provider to FIFA, Mahindra Satyam, run a world-class, Microsoft-based IT system that delivered a Ticketing, Accreditation, Transportation, Volunteer, Space and Material management solution that assured a safe and secure event for over 230,000 World Cup delegates, staff and volunteers.
But more significantly, we recognize the 2010 World Cup's longer term social impact.
South Africa Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was interviewed recently in the McKinsey Quarterly, saying that, “Sporting events such as the World Cup always serve to cement the sense of belonging, the sense of being one nation."
On behalf of Microsoft’s 88,000 employees around the world, we want to say ‘Thank you, South Africa, for leading the way!’
Posted by Cheick DiarraChairman for Africa
Two weeks ago I had the honor of participating in the third African ICT Best Practices Forum in Burkina Faso, where I met with government leaders from across Africa to discuss one of the most pressing issues in public sector ICT right now: cyber security.
As Internet penetration increases across the continent, so does the risk of sophisticated cyber attacks, threatening African nations’ security, infrastructure, economic growth and citizen services. Microsoft detected over 126 million samples of malware worldwide in the second half of 2009 alone, an increase of 8.9% over the first half of the year. Worse still is the association of cybercrime with Africa, where such countries as Nigeria have become synonymous with advance fee fraud or “419” scams. The cybercriminals who pose as government “officials” requesting assistance in exchange for advance payments undermine the trust as well as the freedom of a healthy Internet economy.
At Microsoft, we believe our ability to retain the confidence of ICT adopters in both government and society rests on three urgent areas of intervention against cyber threats in Africa, and around the world:
While these three principles provide a practical framework for the development of government's effective cyber security policies, we are also working closely with law enforcement to combat cybercrime. Microsoft is looking forward to joining the Economic and Financial Crime Commission of Nigeria, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), Council of Europe, Serious Crime Organisation, Interpol, and other members of the ICT industry at the West Africa Cybercrime Summit in Nigeria in October 2010, where we hope to take the best practices outlined in Burkina Faso a step further by developing multi-lateral commitments to put an end to cybercrime.