Posted by Robert Kayihura
Director - Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft
Microsoft understands the importance of small and medium businesses (SMBs) to Africa’s economy, which is why in November we launched Keep Your Business Moving. This online program is designed to provide advice to SMB owners as well as the budding entrepreneurs that are key to Africa’s economic future – and as we enter 2013, that future looks very bright.
With a 5.3% increase in GDP expected in 2013, sub-Saharan Africa’s economy is booming. It’s been largely exempt from many of the economic factors affecting much of the Western world, meaning it’s increasingly attractive to outside investors. However, it’s worth noting that the real clout of Africa’s economy comes from SMBs, which account for 50% of African employment and add 20% to the continent’s GDP.
Running an SMB is challenging anywhere in the world, but doing so in Africa means facing up to a unique set of challenges. From a computing point of view, the top three barriers to entry are prohibitively expensive hardware, inaccessible software and, most importantly of all, a non-existent or nascent IT and broadband infrastructure – but Microsoft is committed to help through the provision of innovative solutions and programs like BizSpark and DreamSpark, which provide young businesses, students and Academic institutions with free access to developer tools and platform licenses.
To combat expensive hardware concerns, for example, SMBs can use Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 to virtualize one computer into 10 or more workstations. Not only does this reduce hardware and software costs, but energy consumption and maintenance costs can shrink by 80%. This, combined with a 3G mobile internet connection, allows Africa’s SMBs to conduct business with the rest of the world, even if the landline infrastructure is fragile.
Furthermore, Microsoft BizSpark is a global program that helps software start-ups to succeed by giving them access to software development tools for free. Again, this gives African SMBs and entrepreneurs the tools they need in order to conduct their business.
Another challenge facing Africa’s digital development is skills – not in having good ideas for businesses, but rather how to develop these ideas using modern digital tools. The solution lies in providing training for people, and the youth in particular, to teach them how to use technologies that many of them have never experienced before.
And when it comes to training and providing access to information and tools, a little can really go a long way – particularly when it comes to young people. During a trip to Malawi last year, for example, my colleagues witnessed how quickly young minds absorb information when they witnessed girls from the rural area of Chikwawa, who had never even seen a computer before, learn how to use one and put together their own CVs - in just one day.
So although there is still much to do before Africa realises its full digital potential, initiatives such as Keep Your Business Moving and BizSpark are already making a difference. And by demonstrating the power of computers and making hardware and software more accessible, we are excited to be playing a part in inspiring the next generation of African entrepreneurs and SMBs.