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Microsoft for Africa

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The latest plan for Microsoft in Africa is all about enabling African youth realize their full potential. Ali Faramawy, Corporate VP in MEA area, says:

“For years, we have led the way in Africa: we opened many offices, hired hundreds of people, built a partner network, invested in education and communities, partnered with governments. Now we are in a position to deliver great value to Africa and in partnership with other companies and organizations committed to the same goal. Some say we are in Africa. We say Africa is in us.”

Partnering for Growth

With this in mind, Microsoft has taken the bold move to partner with IDG, Nokia, U.S. Department of State and Startup Weekend to deliver the first ever DEMO Africa in 2012. LIONS@FRICA is a new initiative designed to support the next generation entrepreneurs and startups in Africa. This is no PR sound bite. We believe that this partnership will enhance and deepen the startup and innovation ecosystem in Africa.

Microsoft is not new to such alliances (indeed, we are a founding partner in Startup America Partnership, on which LIONS@FRICA is based). These ‘campaigns’ act as a strong foundation to convene the skills necessary to thrive – from committed partners – and then to catalyze and mobilize those skills and assets into doing something meaningful, in a coordinated fashion. Myriad organizations are targeting Africa now, companies and investment firms (from China to Silicon Valley) setting up shop there, with a view to taking advantage of this growth. The seeds are sewn. The time is right to take decisive action.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now”. – African Proverb

Of course, we have been pioneering early investment in emerging markets for several years now, and I have been privileged to be at the forefront of this personally and professionally with the Emerging Business Team through our “Local Software Economy” initiative and more recently, through the BizSpark Program we set up to address the huge opportunity with the next generation software developers. We keep an eye on the future, spot trends, informing the company how and where to place bets. It may just be the most rewarding job on the planet: seeing first-hand all the new innovation in the ideas economy, creating programs and services that accelerate growth and mitigate risk, ultimately helping startups survive and thrive (or fail fast and return stronger) and, on a macro level, create jobs and wealth for all.

We also get to hang around with incredibly talented individuals: entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs, and those that educate and enable. BizSpark is designed for startups, and the organizations that support them. Today the program has almost 50,000 startups in 110 countries, enabled by more than 2,400 Network Partners in the community. We are a champion for entrepreneurs and through BizSpark we can connect a thriving community of investors, incubators, accelerators, agencies, associations, trade groups, foundations and entrepreneurship groups that are doing the same – fueling innovation.

“We face neither North nor West. We face forward”. – Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana

Partnership is something we believe can be transformative. It’s this community we turn to, to solve big problems. There is a difference between doing something small-scale, short-term and commercially ‘selfish’ – and investing in multi-stakeholder programs to address a market opportunity (and significant challenges). Yes, we’re committing to what is undeniably an ambitious project, which requires complex orchestration. Thanks to Skype we have the ability to connect with the diverse team all over the world, to make this happen. If we didn’t have passionate and talented, committed people at great companies – we’d likely give up now.

The Art of the Possible

We need to “grow the pie” and not just our own piece of the pie. We are legacy building. Investing in volatile markets is never easy, especially when they are chronically disadvantaged or acutely short of resources and skills that we have learned to take for granted in London or Silicon Valley. Learning from and listening to our partners has informed us what it takes to create sustainable programs and be successful. We’re moving away from aid to Africa. Instead we’ll focus on capacity building, training in emerging technology and business development, connecting the best startups to markets and capital. In our view DEMO is one of the best platforms to facilitate this. Let’s find great ideas and put them on a (global) stage.

Start Something

We are bringing together organizations with assets and strengths to help Africa stand tall amongst other emerging powers in the world. Who said strategy without execution is hallucination? Not enough to create graphs and PowerPoint slides about growth. Better to leap off that fence, place a bet and get busy figuring out how we’re going to deliver something really game-changing in this calendar year. That bet is DEMO Africa. Fancy joining us in Nairobi in October? Be there and I guarantee you’ll not be disappointed.

Claire Lee, Head of Partnerships, Emerging Business Team, Microsoft Corporation
This is the first blog post in a series of posts leading up to DEMO Africa 2012. Keep tuned for more news. On Twitter, follow @Claire0h @lionsafrica @bizspark @demo @startupweekend @unleashingideas. To find out more about Microsoft BizSpark please visit and apply here.