Photograph — Microsoft

Over the years, Africa’s young have either been referred to as “ticking-time bomb” or an “opportunity,” the harbinger of bad things to come for Africa, or a force to be harnessed to booster a rapid African development. The archetypal African youth is faced with several challenges; large scale unemployment and under-employment, violent conflicts, conundrum about migrating to Europe for greener pastures, lack of social infrastructures to set up a business, not to mention the oldest presidents in the planet and so on.

But despite all these challenges, many global corporations and businessmen still recognize the potential in investing in the youngest continent in the world.

Ventures Africa had a chat with Microsoft’s Abdella Amrote, one of Africa’s top 100 young business leaders, who also oversees the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, at the recently concluded Africa CEO Forum in Abidjan. The Initiative invests in African innovation, and aims to develop the skills of the African youth, to enable Africans keep pace with our counterparts from around the world. She also described what innovation means for the African youth, and how Microsoft 4Afrika would help fast-track that.

Ventures Africa (VA): What is the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative?

Amrote Abdella: Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is the investment arm of Microsoft in Africa. We invest in social transformation; how do we enable skills, how do we essentially deliver on the promise that Africa aspires to be by enabling & providing skills, and also by providing technology access as well. It is based on the belief that through innovations enablement and access, you can really unlock the opportunities that we have in Africa.

VA: In the 5 years of the 4Afrika initiative, what is the biggest innovation that has been enabled?

Amrote Abdella: It’s innovation for instance around work that we’ve done with startups, that have gone on to do incredible things. AEGEN is one that readily comes to mind, but there are quite a number, whether you’re looking at affordable healthcare or systems that essentially look to solve the basic needs in West Africa; those are some of what the initiative is looking at as well.

VA: How do you think the Microsoft 4Afrika initiative will make setting up businesses or startups better on the continent?

Amrote Abdella: When you are saying to make a business better, what you’re really looking at is: how do you go, one, to market faster? that’s number one. Number two is how do you actually allow, for you as a business guy who has done well in Abuja, how do you know what markets you can actually unlock whether you’re in Lagos or other parts of the country or even regionally. Or even looking continental, where’s the next opportunity for me how can I actually take my business there? So one is business processes. Number two is faster access to global markets, then how do you do that? It’s the ability for you to process a transaction at a cheaper cost but with a more affordable, secure way for you to be able to deliver your business.

VA: What about innovations? Would the initiative help inspire innovation among the young people on the continent?

Amrote Abdella: Innovations are happening, and they are happening in spite of the challenges on the continent. I think what we have to do is really to understand that for example what does it take for something like Mpesa to become not just a one country phenomenon but to actually be a continent right, and not having one cover but actually I’ll really love for some of these innovations to gain traction, so that’s number one. Number 2 is, I believe is how do you have the right people? Students that are coming up need something or somewhere they can actually gain access to information. Like what’s happening? Today we are talking about Artificial Intelligence, what does that even mean. So your student schools at the University of Abuja, how does he know where to go to? Where’s the opportunity for them to test, to try his innovations? But also really just understanding what problem are we solving here so that it’s relevant and how to gain access for hands-on capability and training for them to be able to do that.

VA: In Africa, we think Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa when we discuss digital transformation. What do you think should happen for other African countries to get to their levels?

Amrote Abdella: It’s one, giving the opportunity right, and creating the space. So you go to Nigeria today, you go to whether it’s IdeaHub, CcHub or others. You see people who are actually doing, so how do you actually give them the opportunity to do more of that. And that idea of innovation shouldn’t just be limited to hubs, and that’s for me the key. To actually have it across the countries, across different that people can go in. Today we are talking about how the youth is…or the gems that we have, what do you do with them if they are not been structured, if they are not been given the platform to be able to grow and to fertilize.

VA: Finally, you were named as one of Africa’s top 100 young business leaders in 2017. What is your advice for young business leaders around the continent?

Amrote Abdella: It’s to work hard but also be very ready to take the chances, that’s the biggest part. Look, I keep saying it’s our time and because it is our time we should be able to not be afraid to take our space.


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