By Mteto Nyati, Vice Chair of the 4Afrika Advisory Council and MD of Microsoft South Africa
When we launched the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative in February this year, we set out to improve Africa’s economic competitiveness. Key to this is our goal of getting one million SMEs online in three years, and it as my honour to be in Johannesburg today to share some details on how we’re going to do that.
Why is this such a big priority for us? Well, for SMEs, going online opens up enormous opportunities. Tech-savvy SMEs created twice as many new jobs and grew revenues 15 percentage points faster over the past three years than SMEs using little technology, according to a study we commissioned with the Boston Consulting Group.
As a company, we’ve recognised that addressing Africa’s employment crisis is not only about enabling unemployed people to work for a wage, but about helping aspiring entrepreneurs create small businesses that create jobs and foster locally relevant innovation. With SMEs representing over 90 percent of private business in Africa and contributing more than 50 percent of employment and GDP – their success is paramount to the overall performance of local economies.
Today, we have furthered our commitment to the small business sector by launching our first SME hub, in South Africa. This new online hub – which can be found at southafrica.biz4afrika.com – is a collaboration between Microsoft, Vodacom, Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and the National Small Business Chamber and is designed to bring a range of free and highly relevant products and services to SMEs in South Africa. For the first year, this includes helping SMEs get their businesses online, by providing a free .co.za domain, a free website and free email and collaboration tools.
In addition, Microsoft—with support from the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT-SETA) and Solver Consulting—will also place one 4Afrika intern in each of the SEDA’s 43 centres across the country. Four additional 4Afrika interns will also support SME queries online, where they will receive on-the-job training on technology, connectivity, retail and more. The goal is for these interns to become SME business and technology advisors in the communities where they are directly needed.
The challenges facing SMEs
Microsoft has always had a strong heritage of supporting entrepreneurs. We recognise their crucial role in the global economy, and because we understand their challenges and needs, we believe we’re in a good position to help them find solutions.
We understand that across the world, many SMEs don’t have access to modern technology or even to broadband networks. They are using old and less efficient hardware and software, which negatively impacts their productivity and relevance in an increasingly digital world. Just having a website can radically increase a SME’s chances of success, and internet access opens up new borders and markets to help them acquire new customers. The range of cloud-based tools and services we’re offering on the hub will give SMEs easy and cost-effective access to the modern technology they need to operate at their maximum potential.
Technology can level the playing field for small businesses, helping them compete against much larger players.
Embracing new tools
SMEs are quick to embrace new tools. And so, with this new SME hub, we look forward to helping them succeed in the first three to five years of their lives – the most challenging and vulnerable time for most SMEs.
The result of more SMEs surviving and become successful will be increased job creation and economic development. In doing this, we’re not only investing in local communities, but we’re also supporting the South African government’s national priority of creating jobs, growing skills and giving people meaningful work.
As 4Afrika works to get one million SMEs online by 2016, I’m excited to see new job opportunities open up, and see this dynamic sector use the power of the internet to push new boundaries. This hub in South Africa is only the first of many country-specific hubs we’ll open in the coming months. We’re excited to bring these resources to bear for SMEs and look forward to the amazing things we know they’ll do for their local economies.
Visit the hub
If you’re an SME in South Africa who is interested in working with tools and resources from Microsoft and other partners, we encourage you to visit the new hub here: southafrica.biz4afrika.com