An innovation-driven economy is a game changer – creating jobs, boosting economic growth and attracting investment. Innovation is also the lifeblood of a growing SME sector. As Nigerian vice president Yemi Osinbajo recently said:
“Nigeria is a country hungry for innovation” to address developmental challenges including security, financial inclusion and employment.
Microsoft, through its 4Afrika Initiative, has been an innovation-enabler – both in Nigeria and across the continent – since 2013, by developing affordable access to the internet, digital skills and an environment that enables start-up success.
To mark the fifth year of 4Afrika, Regional Director, Amrote Abdella and Microsoft Nigeria Country Manager, Akin Banuso, hosted a showcase event for media in Lagos today, April 4, 2018.
They shared details around the history and impact of the initiative in the region, as well as broader insights on how Nigeria is progressing in terms of its digital transformation.
“Nigeria is an important innovation hub – one which is largely influencing the digital transformation of West Africa,” says Abdella. “As technology becomes a larger part of our lives, businesses and industries, it’s essential to ensure meaningful and inclusive adoption.
This can only be achieved by ensuring that youth, entrepreneurs and governments have affordable access to the internet, relevant digital skills and opportunities for innovation. Our three-pronged approach is empowering every person and organisation to take advantage of the technological age.”
Investing in start-ups
In partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), 4Afrika is supporting entrepreneurs in the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme in Nigeria and across the continent.
This support includes providing access to cloud-based software, new markets, technical and business training, and 1:1 mentorship.
Start-ups in the programme can also apply to receive certified interns, who spend up to six months assisting with day-to-day operations.
The Initiative has also partnered with local innovation hubs, accelerators and SME enablers – including AfriLabs, DEMO Africa and Seedstars – to offer support and training, and identify high potential start-ups for investment. Some of the Nigerian start-ups 4Afrika has invested in include Gamsole, MyMusic and SpacePointe.
After winning a 4Afrika grant, Gamsole has been able to create new gaming titles every month, diversify their service offering, and grow their revenue.
They were also exposed to Diamond Bank, where they developed Dreamville on Azure, a digital financial platform that lets youth plan their future, save, chat and develop their financial literacy – all while playing games.
MyMusic has integrated new technologies including cloud, data analytics, machine learning and augmented reality.
This has enabled them to expand their user base to over 700,000 users and build a more intuitive experience for their users, including song recommendations and chat bots.
“Microsoft 4Afrika has given us the capacity to scale to larger infrastructure and services. This has enabled us to grow and expand faster as a business,” says Damola Taiwo from MyMusic.
“Having just received a grant from 4Afrika, we have been able to initiate our growth and customer acquisition plans. We now have the tools and resources to explore more innovation and expand the functionality and reach of our products.”
In 2016, local internet service provider Ekovolt received a grant through Microsoft’s global Affordable Access fund. With the funding, Ekovolt, who provide bundled packages of internet and enterprise solutions to SMEs – is expanding their solution to reach more small businesses across Nigeria.
Investing in skills
Microsoft 4Afrika has launched two AppFactories – or Apprenticeship Factories – in Nigeria, in partnership with local partners Lotus Beta Analytics and Sidmach Technologies Limited.
The AppFactory equips ICT graduates with in-demand skills and experience in designing and deploying modern software solutions, turning them into highly sought after software engineers.
There are currently 16 AppFactories across the continent – including in Ghana, Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Mauritius – which have secured full-time employment for 85% of its graduates.
The Interns4Afrika programme is also securing jobs for youth in Nigeria. Graduates are working in high ICT intensity jobs with local partners, including Wragby, Riby, Snapnet and Reliance Infosystems – with 85% of them being retained.
Investing in public-private partnerships
The 4Afrika Open4Business programme recently launched in Nigeria, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (MITI). MITI is working with Microsoft to digitally transform the delivery of services to Nigeria’s investor community.
MITI are vested in reducing the complexity, time and cost of complying with business governance and regulations, creating a more agile and investment-friendly environment and accelerating the pace of job creation.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) have also formed strategic partnerships with 4Afrika, to develop access, innovation and skills in its member states.
4Afrika works closely with these two organisations, empowering them to create policies and regulations that promote ICT growth.
“These are the kind of innovations that will let us leapfrog old infrastructure concerns and accelerate digital transformation,” says Banuso.
“Our approach through 4Afrika has been one of empowerment and collaboration,” adds Abdella. “We are empowering Africans to shape Africa’s future, by enabling people to get online, start businesses and thrive.
It’s a people-centric approach, which recognises the local insight and innovative thinking of the individuals we work with here – rather than coming in with ‘global north’ mind-set.”
Since 2013, 4Afrika has established 15 TV white spaces connectivity projects in six African countries, reached 1.7 million SMEs, brought 500,000 SMEs online, trained over half a million Africans and supported hundreds of local start-ups, enabling them to secure $5.1 million in reciprocal funding.