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. That is why this week, we introduced 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. Read more about this important initiative from Ali Faramawy, CVP of Microsoft Middle East & Africa.

As Ali points out, we have been doing business in Africa for 20 years across multiple industries.  Our own Colin Kerr, industry solutions manager for WW Financial Services, today shared an interesting perspective on Microsoft's involvement in Africa. Colin points out that in remote rural areas, it has been difficult for financial institutions to provide citizens with access to new business funding in a cost-effective way. This is a market that has simply been too expensive for many banks to service via traditionally hosted and operated systems. For a long time Kenya has been a global pioneer in mobile payments with M-PESA, bringing digital payments to communities that lacked the land-line infrastructures to process traditional 'wired' payments transactions. Microsoft has also been instrumental in providing access to financing in Kenya and Nigeria. With the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform, financial institutions have the ability to deliver banking services to the poor, or to rural populations, at very low cost.

You may recall that late last year, our banking and microfinance solution partner, Temenos, announced the deployment of microfinance in the cloud for Fountain Credit Services. Not only is this a new microfinance institution (MFI), it is the first solution to be cloud-based in Kenya. Just weeks later, another African MFI, Renaissance Credit in Nigeria, also launched in the cloud on the Temenos solution running on Microsoft Windows Azure.

In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing more about Microsoft's efforts to help improve Africa's global competitiveness. Because there has never been a better time to invest in Africa.