Why Have We Launched The 4Afrika Initiative: Interview with Fernando de Sousa, General Manager of Microsoft Africa Initiatives

Fernando de Sousa“The world has recognized the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise.” is the slogan behind the 75 million dollars initiative Microsoft has just launched  for Africa.

The purpose of the 4Afrika initiative is to empower the youth on the continent to bring 1 million African small businesses online over the next 3 years; build entrepreneurship & employability skills for 200.000 people by 2016, and to deliver low-cost, high-speed, wireless broadband to the whole continent starting with Kenyan this year.

This is a very ambitious initiative. In order to better understand the reasons behind the initiative, we’ve met with Fernando de Sousa, General Manager of Microsoft Africa Initiatives.

Fernado is computer science graduate from Witwatersrand University in South Africa. He has joined Microsoft in 1992 as a Technical Manager in South Africa. He established the first Services team in that country, and then became General Manager for Services across Africa, India and the Middle East. Fernando has 30 years of experience in ICT across four continents, and he is now the general manager of Microsoft’s investment initiatives for Africa.

In this interview, Fernando shared his passion for Africa, and his commitment with Microsoft to help improve the continent’s global competitiveness.

Good Morning, Fernando. In the overall presentation of the Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative it’s stated “The world has recognized the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise.” What are the hard data, numbers Microsoft has pulled together to justify this initiative?
Africa is home to more than a billion people and houses 16 of the world’s 30 fastest growing economies. Roughly 44% of the population is under the age of 15, and roughly 90% of the phones sold on the continent are still feature phones. We believe there has simply never been a better time to invest in Africa and in the African people. When we look at the world, many see China or the BRICs as the next big opportunity for growth. At Microsoft, we view the African Continent as a game-changer in the global economy. The 4Afrika Initiative is about delivering tens of millions of smart devices into the hands of African youth, bringing 1 million small and medium enterprises online and training 200,000 Africans on skills for employability. In doing these things, we feel we can help ignite African innovation for the Continent and for the world.

This Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative is a huge grassroots initiative covering an entire continent. It seems overwhelming for me. Does Microsoft have experience in working with communities around the world that could be leveraged for the success of this initiative?
The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is a Continent-wide effort, however the reality of roll-out, as any experienced program managers will tell you, is that success depends on the systematic and sustainable deployment of all elements over time. We are initially prioritizing ten markets: Angola, Botswana, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia. These markets were selected as the initial focus countries in order to address the four main languages in Africa – Arabic, English, French and Portuguese – and due to business opportunities, available resources on-the-ground today, and a desire to start in established “hub” markets which are regionally influential. We will broaden this list of priority markets over time.

credit © Greg Von Doersten/Mawingu.
Credit © Greg Von Doersten/Mawingu

The SMEs (Small and medium enterprises) Initiative is my favorite. If successful, Microsoft would lift a lot of small businesses with itself. Still, I wonder what Microsoft will do differently to succeed the SMEs initiative in Africa, while the same initiative has been in place for almost 10 years in USA and Europe but will very little impact?
We are creating an online hub for African SMEs, specifically designed to aggregate all the best resources – both IT and non-IT resources – available to them in a given market. The baseline services offered will be free and highly relevant for African SMEs looking to bring their business online and improve their general competitiveness. Getting a SME online can immediately expand its addressable market, so we saw this as an important place to start. As such, the first service we decided to offer is a free domain registration, for the period of one year. That said, we know technology is only one piece of the complex puzzle that defines a SME’s success, so we wanted to bring together as many free, high quality, highly relevant resources as possible, to help these SMEs thrive.

Microsoft’s existing SME portal is 100% focused on the Microsoft products and services available to SMEs. This new online hub will certainly link to that existing resource, as clearly we have many relevant products and services to offer. This new hub is designed not simply to showcase Microsoft’s offering but rather as an aggregator, bringing together our services and those from many other providers, to give African SMEs a one-stop-shop for anything they might need to help them accelerate their business growth.

The Afrika Academy is the second most promising initiative in the package. It has been reported that the Afrika Academy will train up to 100,000 African staffers and enable another 100,000 who are currently employed to gain new skills to boost their countries’ economies. Is it something entirely new or you have already done the same in other places in the world?
We do have similar efforts in other parts of the world from which we’ve leveraged best practices and other learnings. The Afrika Academy is, however, a unique offering specifically designed for Africa and for Africans.

Let take the example of a recent university graduate in Nigeria. He has heard that the Afrika Academy courses will start in March. How can he apply? Are the first students already selected?
For higher ed students, we will work with various universities, business schools or other academic institutions to identify top talent, and interested parties will also be able to submit themselves for selection via our Afrika Academy online site, which will launch in the coming months. The first students have not yet been selected.

The AppFactory initiative resembles the Microsoft Appcampus initiative with Nokia in Finland. Will AppFactory work in the same way as Appcampus? When will the call for proposals or projects be launched?
There certainly are some similarities between these programs, but there are also a few differences. Today we have AppFactories in Egypt and South Africa, and the primary goal of both is to ensure that the best ideas for apps can easily move from the idea stage into the Windows Store. We believe that there are many people who have a great idea for an app but who simply don’t have the development time or resource to get it built, and we know we can help bridge that gap. At full capacity, the AppFactories will be staffed by 30 paid interns. The internships are designed as a 9-12 month engagement, however they’re also designed to create a roadmap to employment. We’ve heard from our African partners that many developers just out of university don’t have the practical skills they need to hit the ground running, so these interns are being provided with deep training on how to develop best-in-class applications for Windows 8. At the end of their internship, our plan is to help them secure jobs with our partners or to create their own business. Youth unemployment is a critical issue in Africa and around the world, so helping to address this and to create sustainable knowledge economies is also core to the AppFactory effort.

Africa is the stronghold of Nokia, Microsoft’s partner for Windows phone market development. Nokia knows Africa quite well, and still holds the highest market share. Why did Microsoft chose to go with Huawei for this initiative instead of Nokia?
Nokia is and will remain a close and strategic partner for Windows Phone and Microsoft, and the only vendor who has selected Windows Phone as their sole smartphone platform. We also have strong relationships with other phone manufacturers, including HTC and Samsung, and we are pleased to welcome Huawei to the Windows Phone ecosystem in Africa. Delivering on our commitment to deliver tens of millions of smart devices into the hands of African youth will only be accomplished through our continued strong partnerships with many hardware manufacturers – across PCs, phones and slates.

white-original-africa

Critics say with the Huawei 4Afrika smartphone phone starting at $150, it is almost the double of the price of some alternative OS phone people could find in Cairo or Lagos, how do you respond to that?
First of all it’s important to note that the price for the phone will be determined by the operators in each market where it is sold, and we are still working to finalize these operator deals and look forward to sharing specifics in the coming weeks. More broadly, we decided to build a Windows Phone “4Afrika” with the top quality people expect from Microsoft, but at a very affordable price point, to facilitate access to this technology for more Africans. The Huawei 4Afrika phone is the first in what we expect will be a series of devices designed “4Afrika” over time. Every 4Afrika device will be designed to help address the specific needs of African consumers and businesses, by pre-loading it with content, apps and other offerings in order to ensure it delivered a highly relevant, high quality Windows Phone experience for Africans. While it may not be the cheapest smartphone on the continent, we believe that it will deliver incredibly high quality for cost.

The White spaces project is the most intriguing initiative in the 4Afrika package. Could you please describe it briefly and explain what is the purpose of the White spaces project?
To help improve technology access, Microsoft deployed 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 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. This pilot will serve up to 6,000 people, by implementing the technology at 20 select sites that create a multiplier effect: schools, healthcare clinics, government offices, and community centres. For example, computer labs in each of the schools will serve not only the approximately 200 students per school but also other members of the community, ensuring that several thousand people in total can take advantage of the technology. This video also helps bring the story to life.

We think this pilot is very unique for its aim to deliver high speed broadband to communities currently lacking electricity. The wireless broadband delivery and the recharging of devices will all be managed through solar power. The second key differentiator is our focus on testing the commercial feasibility of delivering access using unique and innovative business models, such as the work we’re doing with the local government agriculture office in this pilot. We believe both of these approaches are unmatched elsewhere in Africa.

White spaces spectrum is a technology developed by Microsoft Research, and is touted as “the next generation of wireless networks which will include software defined radios, cognitive radios, and multi-radio systems which will co-exist harmoniously while operating over a very wide range of frequencies.” Do you see the White spaces project expanding beyond Kenya in a near future?
Microsoft hopes to implement similar pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of white space technologies. Our intent is to use these pilots to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would enable this white spaces technology to deliver on the promise of universal access for the African Continent.

Thanks Fernando for answering our questions. Do you have anything else to add?
We are very proud to have been doing business in Africa for the past 20 years. As we looked forward to our next 20 years and thought about what we really wanted this 4Afrika Initiative to do, we knew we wanted to explore ways to link the growth of our business with initiatives that accelerate growth for the Continent. We believe the commitments we’ve made under the 4Afrika banner will help accomplish this dual goal. We see incredibly innovative things happening across the continent today, and we hope to be a catalyst for that innovation – to help 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. The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world. We look forward to being part of this journey.

How could our readers get updates and additional information about the 4Afrika projects?
Please visit our website at http://www.microsoft.com/4afrika, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date on all the latest developments!

Thanks.

mm

About Mawuna KOUTONIN

Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of SiliconAfrica.com, Founder of Goodbuzz.net, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at mk@linkcrafter.com.

3 Responses to “Why Have We Launched The 4Afrika Initiative: Interview with Fernando de Sousa, General Manager of Microsoft Africa Initiatives”

  1. Sandile

    I have heard about this but I want to know more how can I get involved I am from Eastern Cape South Africa.

    Reply

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