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December 07, 2007

Africa: A New Beginning

On Tuesday, the Global Innovation Outlook held an event in New York called Africa: Open for Business. The all-day affair was meant to present the findings from the GIO deep dive sessions on Africa. We invited many of our GIO friends from Africa and around the world. We brought together hundreds of IBM clients and ecosystem partners. And many of IBM’s highest ranking executives were there to both participate and observe the proceedings.

In some ways, it was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work. There were talks on what the GIO had learned about the economic future of Africa. There were panels on the development of skills in Africa, and the new reality of this great continent. There were presentations by some truly inspiring “local heros.” And there were many teary goodbyes to our friends from overseas. To some of us, it felt like an ending.

But in other ways, it was merely the beginning of what is sure to be a most intriguing new chapter in Africa’s history. At the event, IBM announced a series of commitments to Africa, including $120 million over the next 18 months. It announced partnerships with businesses (Cisco, FedEx, Siemens), NGOs (CARE International) and governments (to be determined.) And there was an unmistakable sense that the momentum that has been generated inside of IBM would spread rapidly to other international businesses. See the list of initiatives that IBM is embarking upon below.

To that end, the GIO has developed a kind of blueprint for innovation and economic progress in Africa. The report is called, simply, Africa: A Global Innovation Outlook Report. Inside it, you will find specific examples and suggestions as to how any business, be it African, American, or Asian, can compete in the global economy by doing business in Africa. It is available in PDF or hard copy here. And best of all, it’s free. I highly recommend you read it.

I’m also including some links to videos that we produced from the Africa: Open for Business event. This will give you an opportunity to meet some of the GIO participants, and hear their thoughts on different subjects concerning economic development in Africa. As you watch them, think about what you as an individual, or your organization, could or should be doing to enable and profit from the economic growth in Africa. And don’t hesitate to contact the GIO team to explore opportunities to work with IBM in that regard.

Video Links to GIO Forum: Africa: Open for Business

Nick Donofrio's opening remarks
Ginni Rommetty's presentation of GIO findings
Panel on Africa's New Reality
Panel on Skills in Africa
Local Hero: Gbenga Odujinrin, CEO, Telnet
Local Hero: Priscilla Motlhako, CEO, Africa Khusini Capital
Local Hero: Jessica Jackley Flannery, Co-founder, Kiva.org

GIO Africa Initiatives:

Makocha Minds – A mentoring program for African students in need of help honing their skills in IT-related fields. Makocha, which means “teacher” in Swahili, will put 250 IBM Fellows and Distinguished Engineers to work counseling African students from 18 different universities. There are already 100 pairings in place, interactions are in progress, and several mentors are taking personal trips over the holidays to meet with their students face-to-face.  Inspired by the commitment made by our technical leaders, other companies, including Cisco, Federal Express, Coca-Cola and Siemens, have signed on as partners and will also provide mentors. 

Africa Financial Grid – Microfinancing is extremely expensive to administer, and those costs are passed on to borrowers in the form of high interest rates. In an effort to reduce those costs and improve access to finance in Africa, IBM is partnering with CARE International to provide a full end-to-end transaction processing infrastructure that will significantly reduce the cost of providing microfinance to small and medium businesses and individual entrepreneurs throughout the continent.

Blue Gene – To infuse some much-needed computing power into Africa, IBM is donating a $1.5 million Blue Gene/P supercomputing system to the Meraka Institute’s CHPC facility in South Africa, for installation early next year. The system will be the most powerful computer on the continent, and open to use by any African research institution that has a qualifying computational challenge that helps the socio-economic growth of the region.

African innovation policy program – Similar to earlier efforts in Vietnam, India, and the U.S., IBM will work with a select number of governments and private organizations in Africa to establish more effective innovation development programs.  The first three countries will be announced early next year. 

Part of what the GIO does is energize IBM about a specific market or opportunity the company may not have been paying enough attention to. But no topic has ever had as profound an effect on this 370,000 employee company as Africa. The enthusiasm has spread like wildfire throughout the company. And when a company that’s this large, and has this many ecosystem partners, gets excited about something, it can make a big difference. A global difference. 

December 7, 2007 in Africa | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack