The Microsoft Corporation announced a series of new programs aimed at helping unemployed youth, young women entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses in Egypt and elsewhere on the African continent.
At an event on Tuesday celebrating the company's 20th year operating in Africa, Microsoft executives said the new programs are meant to accelerate economic growth in the region. The initiative's investments could reach between US$75 million and $100 million, they estimated.
The announcement comes over a month after Microsoft renewed its licensing contract with the government, which will cement the company's involvement in the country for at least the coming decade.
On 26 December, the official Facebook page of Prime Minister Hesham Qandil announced that the Cabinet had sealed a deal with Microsoft to buy and maintain licensed software for the government worth nearly $44 million to be paid over four fiscal years.
However, activists and leaders within the Telecommunication Ministry are talking about how the government could be weaned off Microsoft software to use open-source software, which does not require expensive licensing. It could be years before the transition is complete, though, and in the interim ministry officials say the government had little choice but to renew the Microsoft contract.
The new social outreach programs will no doubt act as a further anchor for the software giant in the country. Microsoft was one of the first residents of Smart Village, a public-private business park outside Cairo which now hosts the offices of a number of multinational companies.
"We wanted to explore new ways to link the growth of our business with initiatives that accelerate growth for the continent," said Ali Faramawy, Microsoft corporate vice president for Middle East and Africa. "To do this, we are focusing on three critical areas — world-class skills, access and innovation."
The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative would focus on the continent's underdeveloped strengths, executives said.
Youth, who account for an estimated 60 percent of Africa's total population, women entrepreneurs and new technology opportunities are all emerging forces that can help move Egypt's economy forward, Microsoft leaders said.
One arm of the initiative is “World-Class Skills,” a self-sustaining education platform with both an online and offline presence targeted at helping Africans develop skills for entrepreneurship and improve their employability and competitiveness in the job market.
Microsoft also intends to launch a portal targeted at North African women in March as an offshoot of the MasrWorks IT skills portal. It aims to empower young women to play a leadership role in their communities and introduce new models for self-employment.
“Microsoft saw an opportunity to help these women through economic empowerment as they work to realize gender equality, improve social conditions and attain and maintain political rights," said Khaled Abdel Kader, the general manager for Microsoft Egypt.
The portal aims to reach 25,000 Egyptian women in the first year, with the goal of helping 40 percent of those women improve their economic and social position.
Small and medium-sized businesses will also be targeted in the corporations' outreach plan.
Microsoft announced a new online hub through which African SMEs will have access to free, relevant products and services from Microsoft and other partners. The hub will aggregate the available services which can help them expand their business locally, and help them find new business opportunities outside their immediate area.
The plan will also encourage mobile application developers, which executives said has huge market potential for in Egypt and Africa at large.
To encourage mobile application development, the company set up two AppFactories offices in South Africa and Egypt. At full capacity, the offices would be staffed by 30 paid interns, and would act as an incubator for new ideas, executives said.