Google’s Tech Initiatives in Africa

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SEATTLE — In 2017, Google expanded its tech initiatives in Africa. Through training programs, the company is aiming to help African youth acquire digital skills, making them more self-sufficient.

With powerful technical skills, African youths can help uplift the lives of the impoverished across the region and assist the unemployed in Africa in navigating digital jobs. The company’s efforts could strengthen the jobs market, reducing the growing skills gap.

For starters, the usage of mobile phones in Africa has increased from 5 percent in 2003 to 73 percent in 2014. With as many as 650 million mobile phone owners in the continent (more than the U.S. and Europe combined), the 3G mobile network is also growing rapidly.

By 2034, Africa will have the world’s largest working population, totaling 1.1 billion people. So far, only 22 percent of African university students are graduating with degrees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, and this creates a huge skills gap on the continent.

In order to employ this working-age population, significant investment needs to be made to support the digital revolution in Africa. These are three of Google’s tech initiatives in Africa that could help youths navigate the potential digital opportunities in the region.

Digital Skills for Africa

In 2017, Google stepped forward to train 10 million people in Africa in online skills over the next five years. The company’s effort to make the people in the country more employable came after it successfully trained one million people in Africa.

It plans to carry out the training in different languages, including Swahili, Hausa and Zulu, and will primarily focus on Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Additionally, as many as 100,000 Africans will receive mobile developer training to develop world-class apps.

The training will be both online and in-person and will ensure that at least 40 percent of people trained are women. In Africa, females make up more than 50 percent of the population of most African countries, yet there is a huge shortage of women working in STEM roles. Such programs could allow more women to gain STEM employment once they have the technical skills.

Education and training from Google have already triggered a domino effect. Through a case study, the company highlighted how after acquiring Google’s digital skills training program, a young digital expert trained 5,000 young Africans in 2016.

Google.org Grants

Google’s funding of professional development grants for computer science educators enables educators of universities and nonprofits in Africa to receive grants. So far, educators of 61 such organizations have received grants, impacting 5,000 educators from more than 15 countries in Africa. Such efforts are allowing educators from non-profits to teach computer science in classrooms.

Albert Opoku, a 2017 Google grantee, developed Code4Girls, a project that focused on professional development for teachers. As a training program for student champions, Code4Girls has been co-delivered in school workshops in 12 senior high schools in Ghana.

Launchpad Accelerator Africa

According to a recent report by Disrupt Africa, in 2016, the number of tech start-ups that secured funding increased by 16.8 percent compared to 2015. Google has stepped forward to support more than 60 startups from Africa spanning three years. The company is helping them build technology companies and products by providing more than $3 million in equity-free funding, mentorship, working stations and access to expert advisors. The new Google Launchpad Space in Lagos will be a three-month intensive program to be held twice a year and will be the program’s first location outside of the U.S.

Besides the above tech initiatives, Google is also improving its own products and services in Africa like YouTube Go, Google Search and Google Maps. The company is ensuring that even with a 2G connection, people in Africa can load more information despite poor internet connectivity.

Challenges and Responses for Tech Initiatives in Africa

These huge initiatives are dwarfed by the number of challenges faced on the continent. For many reasons, tech initiatives in African countries are still slow when compared to developing Asian countries like China and India. Firstly, parts of the African continent face huge wealth gaps, meaning that much of the population in places like Nigeria have little disposable income. In addition, mobile adoptees tend to favor more basic phone models, which, when combined with bad telecommunications infrastructure, means slower and less internet surfing.

Hence, it is not surprising that more and more tech initiatives in Africa like Google’s are being launched in the region. In 2017, the World Bank Group launched XL Africa, a five-month acceleration program designed to support the 20 most promising digital start-ups in sub-Saharan Africa. Executives such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s chairman Jack Ma also recently toured countries in Africa.

According to the World Economic Forum, technology can help end poverty. In developing Africa, digital skills can help the country fight poverty, along with addressing other challenges like lack of education and healthcare, poor living conditions and food scarcity.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Flickr

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