050213 Mteto Nyati, Microsoft MD presenting Africa-wide initiative to help drive economic growth and opportunities across the continent in Johannesburg.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 453

Asha Speckman

BY 2016 Microsoft aims to have placed tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African consumers, to have helped 1 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to come online, and to have provided skills to 200 000 people.

The initiative, Microsoft 4Afrika, was launched in Johannesburg yesterday and is intended to improve Africa’s economic development and its global competitiveness, according to Mteto Nyati, the managing director of Microsoft Africa.

The entire initiative would cost about $70m (R630m), Nyati said.

He said the three pillars of the initiative were innovation, skills development, and access to affordable devices and connectivity.

In South Africa, the software giant established an apps factory three months ago and is in collaboration with Wits University. It is renovating premises in Braamfontein, where the factory will be based.

Microsoft has trained 15 paid interns to develop apps on its Windows platform based on suggestions from the South African public. It intends to employ more young people to develop about 700 apps a year for the South African environment.

The existing group of developers had already built 73 Windows apps and 29 Windows phone apps, according to Daniel Chileshe, an intern at the Application Factory.

The apps included one to report infrastructure faults to the relevant municipality.

“Beyond Mxit, we don’t have many applications that are of use, but our country is facing huge challenges,” Nyati said.

Microsoft and Huawei, a leading information and communications technology solutions provider, are in a partnership to launch a handset featuring the apps.

Yesterday, the Mail & Guardian quoted Huawei as saying the phone would be available in South Africa towards the latter part of the first quarter of this year.

Over the next three years, Microsoft South Africa would skill 3 000 unemployed people in a job creation programme. Some of the funding would come from the government’s Jobs Fund and some from the 4Afrika initiative.

Each year, for the next three years, the initiative would incubate 200 technology start-ups through Microsoft’s BizSpark programme. About 1 800 jobs would be created. The businesses would receive development tools and production licences with no upfront costs and minimal obligations.

Nyati said: “At the moment, our unemployed youth are the biggest threat to our stability as a nation. But harnessed well, they can become the country’s greatest asset.”

About 10 percent of Africa’s more than 1 billion people have access to the internet, and this number could increase to 400 million by 2015, according to Google Incorporated.

Microsoft will offer the SME4Afrika initiative with three partners: the National Small Business Chamber, the Small Enterprise Development Agency and Vodacom.

An online support hub for SMEs will be launched in April. It is expected that 100 000 enterprises will be assisted over the next three years with free domain registration for a year and free tools for SMEs interested in creating a professional web presence.

The 4Afrika initiative is also being launched in Cairo, Egypt; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Lagos, Nigeria; and Nairobi, Kenya.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg