Microsoft expands efforts to develop skills of African youth, build businesses

Microsoft entered a strategic cooperation with iHub and m:lab East Africa consortium on March 20, 2013 in a ceremony it held at the Sheraton Addis.

The agreement was signed to assist startups in the business sector, innovators and developing communities in East Africa nurture their skills and build businesses using Microsoft technologies.
As part of the 11th Innovation Africa Digital Summit (IADS), Microsoft joined hands with iHub, an innovation hub for the technology community based in Kenya, and m:lab, a consortium of four organizations, with the aim of offering increased access to software, skills development opportunities and a means through which innovative startup companies can access capital investment and benefit from international outreach.
Microsoft that has been providing the world with software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential since its establishment in 1975, entered this agreement as part of its ‘Microsoft 4 Africa Initiative’, which Fernando De Sousa, General Manager at Microsoft Africa Initiatives, said is all about enabling Africa’s innovation to shape the future of the continent.
According to the General Manager, the initiative has three pillars of execution, which are innovation, skills development and access. “We take the ideas and the unbelievable talents that exist in the young population of Africa, bring them to the floor, monetize them if you will, turning it from an idea into a solution and in turn using those solutions to come up with a world class competitive offering that Africa can actually put out to the world,” he explained.
Speaking on the ‘skills development’ part of the initiative, De Sousa said, “We make sure that the young people that are coming into the workforce have skills that are both focused on the employability and also competitiveness in the world.”  According to the General Manager, the initiative would also make technology accessible across the entire continent. “We are talking about tens of millions of devices, with the continent being able to really reach out, to participate through technology,” he said.
According to De souse, the reaction of the governments of African countries for the initiative is very positive as Microsoft also takes a great deal of care in aligning itself with the national priorities of each country. “We engage very deeply in dialogue with governments,” he said. “We try to understand their priorities and see where Microsoft can add value on them.”
Through the initiative, Microsoft is willing only to share certain skills it built through 21 years of experience. “We have, through the many years, made a success out of writing software, selling it profitably, and being a market leader,” he said. “We are now willing to share that knowledge, but we want the commitment from our partners which is, we want to grow, develop and use those skills. It is not us doing it for them”.
Launched in February 2013, the Microsoft 4 Africa Initiative is believed to help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring one million African small and medium-sized enterprises online, upgrade the skills of 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop skills for employability. Microsoft promised to place 75 percent of these graduates.
De Sousa believes this collaboration will help Microsoft achieve its aims to help many more African startups become strong players in the information and communication technology sector at a global scale. “Microsoft sees tremendous potential in African youth, developers and entrepreneurs, and we see this collaboration with iHub and m:lab as an excellent way to quickly and directly engage with these critical communities to listen to how we can best support their ambitions and goals,” he said at the event.
Erik Hersman, Managing Director and Founder of iHub, also agrees that the cooperation will accelerate the development of technology across East Africa. “It enables us to provide tech community members with great programs that can help them develop innovative software products, establish their businesses and reach new markets,” he said.
In the meantime, De Sousa, who believes Microsoft’s business in Africa has always been good, stated that Ethiopia is a mid-to-long term target for Microsoft. “We look at Ethiopia from the impact it has in East Africa and across all of Africa. We look at the population the country has. We look at the young people in Ethiopia. We look at the appetite that the country has to participate in the world economy and we understand strategically there is great opportunity in Ethiopia,” he told Capital in an exclusive interview. In his discussions, he was open about some fundamental works that need to be done about engaging the government and other stakeholders.  “Our work for Ethiopia starts  at a consultative level and it then will continue to evolve” he disclosed.