Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative is Good Business

4Afrika-300x205This week, Microsoft announced the launch of its new initiative 4Afrika. The 75 million USD project aims to increase internet accessibility via affordable smart devices, educate the next generation of African web developers and promote new Africentric technologies.

The initiative represents a new strategy in which social and business ventures work synergistically rather than independently.

In the past, multinational corporations have used affiliate foundations to engage in aid work throughout the continent. These philanthropic programs, while certainly commendable, are generally intended to showcase corporate responsibility and community values.

This is largely due to the fact that international companies have historically run extractive programs in Africa. Companies based on oil and gas exploitation, mining and agribusiness take basic materials from the African continent and distribute them to international markets. These corporations tend to see Africa simply as the bottom of the supply chain rather than a market for serious, business-minded investments.

Instead of investing to develop local markets these companies conduct sporadic and schizophrenic philanthropic campaigns. In Africa, the corporate citizenship programs for companies like Shell, De Beers and Monsanto consist mostly of small-scale social projects like health clinics or micro-credit schemes.

Microsoft’s new 4Afrika initiative stands in stark contrast to these corporate philanthropy programs. 4Afrika is not an aid project, but rather a strategic campaign which will help create and galvanize a significant, largely untapped market. Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative is good business, plain and simple. It is a socially responsible investment of corporate scale, and will probably make Microsoft a lot of money in the long run.

Ultimately, meaningful development in Africa will come primarily through private sector investments and long-term projects like Microsoft’s, not corporate (or private) philanthropy.

Moreover, Microsoft’s investment in African human capital sets an important precedent: slowly but surely businesses are beginning to see that Africa can provide more than just raw materials. Africans’ rapidly increasing buying power represents a significant and lucrative new market. Microsoft (and a select few other US companies) figured it out. How long until others follow suit?



12 thoughts on “Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative is Good Business

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