Microsoft4Afrika Director Amrote Abdella

Microsoft, through its Microsoft for Startups initiative, has announced the launch of its Global Social Entrepreneurship programme.

Around the world, startups are creating new businesses, built around powerful technologies and designed to make the world a better place. Innovators and entrepreneurs are finding new ways to harness technology to drive purpose-led social enterprises that measure success not just by the profits they generate, but by the good they do. Microsoft is deeply inspired by the commitment of these social entrepreneurs, who are focusing their passion for positive change on improving human health and the environment, advancing social and economic equity, and much more.

But these are huge, complicated problems and far too large for any single organisation to hope to solve alone. So to empower social entrepreneurs, Microsoft is launching a new Global Social Entrepreneurship programme to offer qualified startups access to technology, skills, customers and grants.

The Global Social Entrepreneurship programme has benefits aimed specifically at elevating startups addressing an important social and/or environmental challenge through their products, services or operations.

“Solving global social and environmental challenges requires synergy of the right technology, partners, conducive environment and technology. When startups work together with investors, enterprises, governments, non-profits and communities, we are able to unlock new potentials,” says Microsoft4Afrika Director Amrote Abdella.

This is just the beginning

This global initiative is designed to help social enterprise startups build and scale their companies to do good globally. Microsoft believes in providing the foundational building blocks to help social entrepreneurs create companies that can achieve worldwide impact. Social enterprises that become part of the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme will receive access to free Microsoft cloud technologies, including up to $120,000 in Azure credits, along with technical support and guidance.

A dedicated programme manager will help Global Social Entrepreneurship startups market and sell solutions and connect to large commercial organisations and nongovernmental organisations that are potential customers. Participants focused on sustainability, accessibility, and skills and employability will also be eligible for grants. Furthermore, the social enterprises that join the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme will be part of a worldwide community of like-minded innovators who come together to share ideas, foster connections and celebrate success.

The programme is available in 140 countries and will actively seek to support underrepresented founders with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Local startups experience benefits

At Zindi, which is based in Cape Town, South Africa, CEO Celina Lee sees incredible opportunities to be a catalyst for applying the power of AI to challenges for businesses, nonprofits and governments in Africa. A platform for hosting online machine learning competitions, Zindi connects engineers and data scientists at every level of experience with organisations that have difficult problems that machine learning and AI can help solve. Recent Zindi competitions include a UNICEF-sponsored effort to use AI to predict the impact of flooding in Malawi, a challenge to be presented at the International Conference on Learning Representations to use computer vision to recognise crop diseases, and a competition sponsored by Tunisia’s Ministry of Finance to use AI to detect tax fraud.

As important as the results of these competition are in creating AI solutions to meet the specific needs of African communities and organisations, Lee believes Zindi can have an even greater long-term impact by helping to build and support a thriving AI ecosystem in Africa and by giving young data scientists opportunities to improve their skills, build their work portfolios and connect with potential employers.

Criteria to qualify

Social impact startups from around the world are welcome to apply. The criteria to qualify for the programme includes a business metric that measures impact on an important social or environmental challenge; an established product or service that will benefit from access to enterprise customers; and a commitment to the ethical and responsible use of AI. Qualified startups will be eligible for grants in the areas of sustainability, accessibility, skills and employability.

Through Global Social Entrepreneurship, Microsoft looks forward to working in close partnership with social enterprises from around the world. To find out more about the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme, or to apply, visit startups.microsoft.com/socialentrepreneurship

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