In February 2013, Microsoft launched an initiative called 4Afrika in a bid to increase internet accessibility through affordable smart devices, facilitate modern education techniques and promote new Africentric technologies.
Microsoft set out to help accelerate Africa’s economic development by empowering Africa’s youth, entrepreneurs, and developers to turn great ideas into a reality.
With Africa generally grappling with youth unemployment, ICT has been identified as a key sector in which investment can directly and quickly translate into direct employment and better livelihoods for communities.
Microsoft 4Afrika was set up to focus on three strategic areas: Access to technology, world-class skills and innovation.
Access to technology
According to estimates, only about 28.6% of Africa’s population had access to internet by the end of 2015. Less than a third! This is attributable to a wide range of factors, including low literacy levels, limited access to basic infrastructure, as well as inability to afford basic technology.
Expectedly, programmes that aim to contribute positively to the said statistics would focus on finding ways in which to connect the section of the population is able to take advantage of technology to create solutions for the wider communities.
In Kenya, Microsoft partnered with the Ministry of ICT and Indigo Telecom, a local ISP “to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband and create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare, and delivery of government services across Kenya.”
The project utilizes solar powered base-stations to provide last-mile power and internet access to schools, universities, healthcare clinics and regional offices across Africa, effectively delivering connectivity to rural areas where access to internet will not have been possible before.
The deployment is called ‘Mawingu’, which is Kiswahili for cloud. It is the first deployment of solar-powered based stations together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, to deliver high-speed internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity.
There are currently eight projects running in Africa to-date.
Biz4Afrika online hub
As part of its drive to enable access to information, Microsoft 4Afrika the launched an online hub for African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to access locally relevant information and resources to promote SMEs and improve trade. To-date, there are more than 400,000 SMEs placed on the online hub.
The rapid advancement of ICT and technology, coupled with growing demand from a knowledge-driven society, has led to increased pressure on economies generally to innovate with technology.
Various attempts at using technology innovation to create solutions for societal problems has seen the growth of new ventures in education, health-care delivery, and social enterprise, often attracting foreign investment and creating new jobs.
Microsoft is supporting such efforts by making available Innovation Grants through which it provides start-ups with seed funding, mentorship and technical support to scale their solutions.
Through the Microsoft 4Afrika IP Hub, Microsoft is enabling Developers to monetize their software applications by helping them register and protect their Intellectual Property.
The third pillar of 4Afrika’s initiative is world-class skills development. Interns are placed in Microsoft offices and other partner companies across the continent to help to develop their skillsets. To-date, over 350 interns have benefitted from this initiatives.
Under the AppFactory, paid interns are facilitated and tasked to develop relevant apps to meet local challenges and start their own ventures.
Ultimately, meaningful development in Africa will come primarily through private sector investments. Through the 4Afrika initiative, Microsoft is enhancing productivity and the effort will undoubtedly lead to accelerated development.