Microsoft is looking for entrepreneurs to join its latest programme. Specifically social entrepreneurs as part of its recently launched Global Social Entrepreneurship programme, which has been made available in 140 countries, including South Africa.

The programme forms part of the Microsoft for Startups initiative and aims to give entrepreneurs access to the necessary technology they need in order to get their socially-focused projects running.

“The Global Social Entrepreneurship programme has benefits aimed specifically at elevating startups addressing an important social and/or environmental challenge through their products, services or operations,” Microsoft explained regarding the announcement.

“Solving global social and environmental challenges requires synergy of the right technology, partners, conducive environment and technology. When startups work together with investors, enterprises, governments, non-profits and communities, we are able to unlock new potentials,” adds Microsoft4Afrika director, Amrote Abdella.

In terms of the specific elements that Microsoft will make available, social enterprises that become part of the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme will receive access to free Microsoft cloud technologies, including up to $120 000 (~R1.8 million) in Azure credits, along with technical support and guidance.

Looking at how this programme can assist locally, Microsoft has highlighted Zindi, a Cape Town-based firm that connects engineers and data scientists at every level of experience with organisations that have difficult problems that machine learning and AI can help solve.

CEO Celina Lee sees incredible opportunities for applying the power of AI to challenges for businesses, non-profits and governments in Africa.

“Recent Zindi competitions include a UNICEF-sponsored effort to use AI to predict the impact of flooding in Malawi, a challenge to be presented at the International Conference on Learning Representations to use computer vision to recognise crop diseases, and a competition sponsored by Tunisia’s Ministry of Finance to use AI to detect tax fraud,” Lee outlines.

As important as the results of these competitions are in creating AI solutions to meet the specific needs of African communities and organisations, Lee believes Zindi can have an even greater long-term impact by helping to build and support a thriving AI ecosystem on the continent.

Social entrepreneurs interested in applying for the programme can do so here, but should be advised that there are specific criteria that need to be met. These include having a product that benefits enterprise customers, as well as measuring the impact on an important social or environmental challenge your product provides.