Microsoft launched its 4Afrika Initiative in 2013 and has reached over 1.7 million SMEs, bringing over half a million of them online to reach new markets and grow their businesses. The initiative focuses on delivering affordable access to the internet, developing skilled workforces and investing in local technology solutions so they started investing in start-ups, partners, small-to-medium enterprises, governments and youth on the African continent.
South Africa was one of the first countries to benefit, with the opening of an AppFactory in 2013 and internship programme in 2014, which enrolled young students for three to six months to give them hands-on digital work experience. Today, that AppFactory and internship programme are still running, with the AppFactory recently becoming part of Microsoft’s evolved Equity Equivalent Investment Programme. Across the continent, 18 other AppFactories, now known as Skills Labs, have also since opened, securing employment for 85% of its graduates.
Interns4Afrika has placed over 780 interns with 176 partners, while a partnership with the YALI regional leadership centre has upskilled a further 4,049 youth in South Africa. Most recently, an AI and IoT PopUp Lab in Johannesburg provided technical training and guidance to 110 business leaders and technical specialists, including Bidvest Group and Standard Microgrid, accelerating their solutions to commercialization. Collectively, these and other skills development initiatives have impacted some 1.6 million Africans.
Health solutions company, Broad Reach Consulting and The Awareness Company, are working with Microsoft 4Afrika to use data in smart ways to enhance operations and impact societies. BroadReach is currently one of the fastest-growing companies using Microsoft cloud services in South Africa. Their digital HIV portfolio on management solution has helped an estimated 340,000 people access HIV treatment in KwaZulu-Natal where the epidemic is high.
The tools have also enabled BroadReach to reduce the time taken to analyze data from 1,000 sites in South Africa, from eight months to less than one. Their solution, powered by Vantage, Azure and Power BI, gives individuals in the health system the right information at the right time, with the right recommendations and tools to take action, helping save more lives.
The Awareness Company is one of the 300+ startups Microsoft 4Afrika has supported in Africa. The company’s HYDRA platform uses advanced data aggregation and fusion engines, alongside other technologies, to enhance operational efficiency and digital transformation of industries such as agriculture and conservation. Microsoft has provided them with business development support, including access to markets and potential customers.
In addition to BroadReach and The Awareness Company, Microsoft 4Afrika has partnered with the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research in Cape Town, building a new cloud computing platform to enhance the study of African genomes. Through MySkills4Afrika, it has also helped the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation use Power BI to improve healthcare management in Lesotho, and supported Brightwave Technologies in developing school connectivity and connected solutions in the Eastern Cape.
Lillian Barnard, Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa says “Microsoft is committed to accelerating the pace of digital transformation in South Africa, ensuring businesses, government and citizens benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution,”. To grow this ecosystem further, Microsoft earlier this year opened two data centers in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and in the past year has invested over US$ 2.8 million in local education and skills development
4Afrika’s mission is to support entrepreneurs, build digital talent pipelines and investing in technology-enabled solutions that grow economies and impact societies. In support of Microsoft 4Afrika’s work, Regional Director Amrote Abdella highlights that “In Africa, we understand that for people to meaningfully use and benefit from technology, we have to have the foundations of affordable access, digital skills and enabling environments for innovation in place”