Investing in the “African Renaissance”

JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 11, 1999 — Seven years ago, Microsoft South Africa opened its first office in Johannesburg, with four employees that shared one small room and a single telephone. Since then, this fast-growing subsidiary has ballooned to 180 employees, supporting the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and the islands of Mauritius, Reunion, the Comores and Seychelles.

To give its employees more breathing room, the company this week opened its new offices in the Sunninghill area of Johannesburg, celebrating the occasion with an appearance by former South African president Nelson Mandela and the announcement of a major investment in Modern Africa, an investment fund aimed at supporting new businesses and joint ventures in the deregulated economies of sub-Saharan Africa.

Microsoft will invest $15 million in the fund, which provides capital and business guidance to companies in the region. The fund invests in companies with strong growth prospects throughout sub-Saharan Africa, provides support for joint ventures with companies around the world, and helps lay the foundation for Africa’s continued economic development. One of the fund’s early goals is to establish an Internet Service Provider that will eventually span the continent, giving Africans greater access to valuable information and business opportunities.

In response to this investment, Nelson Mandela referred to Microsoft as the flagship of the private sector: “Bill Gates gives hope to the poorest of the poor,” he commented in his opening address. “Microsoft’s investment in South Africa has heightened and intensified hope for many South Africans.”

For Microsoft South Africa general manager Mark Hill, the company’s investment in Modern Africa puts Microsoft’s experience and vision to the best possible use.
“The core skill we have to offer is our understanding of technology. This investment is a way for us to apply our company vision — empowering people through great software — to help the African continent leapfrog into the 21st century.”

“There’s a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit in Africa, and we believe that our contributions to the technological development of the region can help capture some of that spirit and uplift the continent as a whole,”
said Hill.

This investment is one of many ways the company contributes to the technological and economic development of South Africa. The company’s Community Investment Program aims to develop computer literacy and contribute to skills development through the enabling power of technology. As part of this program, the company established several
“Digital Villages”
in disadvantaged communities throughout the country, outfitting community centers with twenty state-of-the-art PCs, Microsoft software and Internet access.

“In our community programs, we focus on doing what we do best — providing technology to people. Creating these Digital Villages and using technology to assist in education is the best possible use of our resources to assist society in South Africa,”
Hill said.

“It’s amazing to see what kinds of businesses get started as a result,”
Hill said.
“Once, I visited a Digital Village in Soweto and saw a young man in his 20s, who had no formal schooling, learning to use Microsoft Word. When I returned two months later, this man had started a little business typing up resumes for people in the area. A few months later, he was focused on marketing his new business, and he’d hired an assistant to do the typing for him!”

These programs reflect the company’s support for the
“African Renaissance,”
a continent-wide initiative to mobilize Africa’s human, intellectual and economic capital to help the continent take its rightful place in global society. The initiative works with African governments, organizations and businesses to share information, counsel governments on development and reform strategies, facilitate economic development and create a competitive role for Africa in the global economy.

“A country’s economic state has no effect on the intellectual capital within that country,”
said Hill.
“Africa is full of very bright, motivated people, and the goal of our Community Investment Program is to use technology to make the most out of this vast potential.”

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