Microsoft has been running its 4Afrika Initiative for seven years now, and at a media roundtable this morning, the company explained what it has done in that time, where its current objectives lie and how the firm aims to make the country and the continent ready for the demands of 4IR.

While the focus of 4Afrika has been on working with a range of partners in the industry to tackle issues with the aid of innovative technology, this morning’s roundtable highlighted the stories of two partners in particular – BroadReach and The Awareness Company.

More about those two shortly, but first Microsoft touched on some of the projects and achievements that 4Afrika has mustered in its seven years.

Achievements to date

“South Africa was one of the first countries to benefit, with the opening of an AppFactory in 2013 and internship programme in 2014, which took on young students for three to six months to give them hands-on digital work experience,” the firm notes.

“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, eighteen other AppFactories, now known as Skills Labs, have also since opened, securing employment for 85% of its graduates,” it adds.

Skills development has been a particularly significant pillar for the 4Afrika Initiative Microsoft stresses.

“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 commercialisation. Collectively, these and other skills development initiatives have impacted some 1.6 million Africans,” the firm enthusiastically explains.

The right partners

It’s not only the education and skills space which has benefitted from 4Afrika, with the enterprise sector reaping rewards too. Much of this though, Microsoft stresses has to do with picking the right kind of partners with a desire to address a specific need in the industry, and using technology to do so.

“Over the last seven years, Microsoft 4Afrika has worked alongside local governments, partners, start-ups, SMEs and youth, offering support to develop skills and innovation – and has prioritised industries including healthcare, agriculture, financial services, education and government services,” says the organisation.

This brings us to BroadReach and The Awareness Company.

BroadReach is currently one of the fastest growing companies using Microsoft cloud services in SA, the firm highlights. Its digital HIV Portfolio on Management Solution has helped an estimated 340 000 people access HIV treatment in KwaZulu-Natal, where the epidemic is deemed to be its highest.

Microsoft adds that its tools have also enabled BroadReach to reduce the time taken to analyse data from 1 000 sites in South Africa, from eight months to less than one.

As for The Awareness Company, it is one of the 300-plus startups that the 4Afrika initiative has supported on the continent. 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.

Having only been in existence for 17 months, there is much more expected from this organisation, especially when it comes to other 4IR-related elements like smart cities.

Renewed commitment

With commitment one of the more important aspects that the media are concerned with when it comes to Microsoft’s plans for the country and continent, the firm has highlighted its recent data centre presence in Johannesburg and Cape Town as signs of its desire to assist enterprises in the region with digital transformation.

Added to this is the fact that it has invested an estimated $2.8 million in local education and skills development.

“Microsoft is committed to accelerating the pace of digital transformation in South Africa, ensuring businesses, government and citizens benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” says Lillian Barnard, MD of Microsoft South Africa.

“The recently opened data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and ongoing work through initiatives like 4Afrika, are all milestones in the company’s mission to empower every person and every organisation to achieve more,” she concludes.

As such it should be interesting to see what Microsoft can achieve with its 4Afrika initiative over the next seven years.