– Lillian Barnard, Managing Director – Microsoft South Africa
Microsoft was recently awarded a Level 1 B-BBEE rating. This is a momentous milestone, and represents years of focused investment and commitment towards realising the true intent of what broad-based black empowerment means for South Africa, namely a means of addressing the imbalances of the past and building an inclusive economic environment.
This is an achievement worth noting, but what is worth celebrating is the focused investment represented here – the journey, rather than the outcome.
Despite meaningful progress in the past 20-plus years, South Africa remains affected by a legacy of deeply rooted inequality and disproportionate wealth distribution. Numerous previously disadvantaged South Africans do not have access to the opportunities that would allow them to pull themselves and their families out of their immediate circumstance. Part of this is due to a lack of skills relevant to the technologically focused world we currently live in, and a handicap in the ability to obtain them, as well as other factors that hinder participation and ownership in the economy.
Redressing these imbalances is critical to facilitating economic growth and prosperity. We must make use of the resources and knowledge at our disposal to drive positive change in the lives of the citizens of South Africa.
Digital skills are essential for employability
In organisations across the country there remains a significant gap in the skills demanded, and the skills available in the general labour force. This is especially true of technology and digital skills. The world is rapidly changing – and technology is at the centre of this.
In South Africa, 87% of CEOs are most concerned about the lack of skills. Closing this gap to ensure that the level of skills matches with the demand for them is key to ensuring inclusive economic growth. Microsoft has prioritised skills development in South Africa as a core pillar of our effort and investment in South Africa. Microsoft has invested heavily in skills learning interventions and digital skills programmes, particularly those with a focus on 4IR such as data engineering, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity, and cloud computing.
Over the past year, we have upskilled more than 83,000 learners and 1,900 educators and learners through a range of different programmes, including Student to Business, Edunova, Code4Change, Yes4Youth, Tshepo1Million, DigiGirlz and Techsoup.
We are particularly proud of our Accessibility programme, which empowers people with disabilities with technical competencies, including work experience and assistance with finding employment at the end of the programme.
Facilitating development and growth of black-owned businesses
Transforming South Africa’s economy to become more inclusive and stimulate sustainable growth requires the development of black-owned enterprises. This is particularly crucial to creating a dynamic environment, as small businesses are a driving force for economic growth.
Microsoft’s enterprise and supplier development initiative, the Emerging Partner programme, has provided over 100 fully black-owned small and medium-sized ICT businesses with accreditation training across three cloud solutions, funded their access to market journeys, and provided bespoke business development support.
Ensuring meaningful participation in the economy
Ensuring socio-economic development requires the creation of equitable opportunities for all. This means investing in transformative initiatives that enable long-term access to the economy. Microsoft South Africa’s vision is to ensure that that no person or organisation is left behind in an increasingly digital world.
From the time the COVID-19 lockdown started, until the end of the 2020 Financial Year in at the end of June, 170 new non-profits registered on Microsoft’s Techsoup programme. Microsoft also trained 12 non-profits on how to use Teams and train online.
One of the world’s leading youth employment accelerators, Harambee, partnered with Microsoft to tackle South Africa’s unemployment crisis.
In 2011, Microsoft was one of the first companies to introduce an EEIP. During the first few years of this programme, we engaged with eight small, black-owned Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), with the primary objective of developing and growing them through targeted investments based on their specific needs. And, in the latest evolution of this programme, black-owned manufacturing companies will benefit from a Digital Transformation Journey and Implementation Programme, and farmers will benefit from 4IR technologies to address problems faced in agriculture. Our new EEIP will also include additional funding for skills development among South Africa’s young software developers.
Creating positive change in the structure of an economy is not an easy endeavour. Microsoft remains dedicated and unwavering in its journey to ensure that this goal is achieved.
While Microsoft South Africa’s efforts have led to achieving a Level 1 B-BBEE rating, this status is only a representation of the work that has been undertaken to help create an economically inclusive South Africa and affect South Africans in a way that gives rise to a better and brighter future for all.