Microsoft unveils 4Afrika project


Image: By BiztechAfrica
Microsoft unveils 4Afrika project

Microsoft has introduced the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, a new effort through which the company will actively engage in Africa's economic development to improve its global competitiveness.

By 2016, the 4Afrika Initiative plans to help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) online, upskill 100,000 members of Africa's existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills, 75% of whom Microsoft will help place in jobs.

"The world has recognized the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise. We want 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," said Fernando de Sousa , general manager, 4Afrika Initiative. "The 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world."

As a first critical step toward increasing the adoption of smart devices, Microsoft and Huawei are introducing the Huawei 4Afrika, a full-functionality Windows Phone 8, which will come preloaded with select applications designed for Africa. The phone will initially be available in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa later this month. The Huawei 4Afrika phone, which is the first in a series of smart devices designed "4Afrika," will be targeted toward university students, developers and first-time smartphone users to ensure they have affordable access to best-in-class technology to enable them to connect, collaborate, and access markets and opportunities online. (See related release and blog.)

To improve technology access, Microsoft also announced the deployment of a pilot project with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and Kenyan Internet service provider Indigo Telecom Ltd. to deliver low-cost, high-speed, wireless broadband and create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare and delivery of government services across Kenya. The deployment is called "Mawingu," which is Kiswahili for cloud. It is the first deployment of solar-powered base stations working 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. Microsoft hopes to implement similar pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of TV white space technology. These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would enable this TV white space technology to deliver on the promise of universal access for Africa.

To help empower African SMEs, Microsoft announced a new SME Online Hub through which African SMEs will have access to free, relevant products and services from Microsoft and other partners. The hub will aggregate the available services, which can help SMEs expand their businesses locally, find new business opportunities outside their immediate geographies and help increase their overall competitiveness. As a welcome offer, Microsoft will provide free domain registration for one year and free tools for SMEs interested in creating a professional Web presence. The hub is expected to initially open in April in South Africa and Morocco and will expand to other African markets over time.

To accelerate capacity building and skills development, Microsoft has established the Afrika Academy, an education platform leveraging 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 available starting in March at no cost to recent higher education graduates, government leaders and the Microsoft partner community. One of the first offline training sessions will take place with Microsoft-managed partners in Ivory Coast in the coming months, focusing on capacity building in business and technical skills for Microsoft's partners in Francophone West Africa.

The 4Afrika Initiative will be tightly connected to Microsoft's network of more than 10,000 existing partners in Africa today, a network it has built through more than 20 years of investing and operating in the continent. The 4Afrika Initiative will leverage these existing partnerships and create new ones across the public and private sectors to help advance common goals and to create value for Africans. Together with its partners, Microsoft has initiated various other efforts in recent months as part of the 4Afrika Initiative:

  • AppFactory (South Africa and Egypt). Microsoft is hiring 30 paid student interns to staff the AppFactory — centers to which the public can submit requests for Africa-relevant Windows applications (Windows 8 or Windows Phone). These requests are being crowdsourced for voting, and the most popular ideas are assigned development resources to build and launch the apps in the Windows Store. Already, the AppFactory teams have built 73 Windows apps and 39 Windows Phone apps, and at full capacity, the teams plan to contribute approximately 90 new apps to the Windows Store per month.
  • Nokia and Windows Phone user training (Kenya and Nigeria). Microsoft has established agreements with Safaricom in Kenya and Bharti Airtel in Nigeria to accelerate local adoption of the Nokia Lumia 510 and Nokia Lumia 620 Windows Phones. In Nigeria, 95 percent of phones sold are feature phones. Through these agreements, Microsoft is funding in-store training for consumers who purchase these Nokia models with a data plan. The training explains the benefits of owning a smartphone, helping make these smartphones better understood and, therefore, more desirable for consumers.
  • Female empowerment portal (North Africa). This portal targeted at North African women will launch in March as an offshoot of the MasrWorks IT skills portal. It is designed to empower young women to play a leadership role in their communities, build their skills and self-esteem, and introduce new models for self-employment. It will provide IT skills training and softer-skills training on topics including leadership, self-confidence and interviewing, as well as the mentorship needed to build a long-term career in technology. The mentorship will be provided via a sustained engagement between Microsoft, its partners, a local NGO and the beneficiaries to support them in career building and to plan their role in society as female leaders.

"We believe there has never been a better time to invest in Africa and that access to technology — particularly cloud services and smart devices — can and will serve as a great accelerator for African competitiveness," said Jean-Philippe Courtois , president of Microsoft International. "The launches of Windows 8 and many other new products in the coming months represent a new era for Microsoft, which we believe will redefine the technology industry globally. These additional investments under the 4Afrika banner will help define our company's new era in Africa."

Simultaneous launch events to kick off this new era in Africa are taking place today in five locations spanning the continent: Cairo; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Lagos, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; and Johannesburg. In all locations except for Cairo, Microsoft will also be hosting separate developer workshops in the coming weeks to facilitate and accelerate the development of new and innovative Windows applications for Africa, by Africans.

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