In a continued effort to increase its network to reach over seven million people across the Middle East and Africa by the end of the year, Microsoft is looking to create over 100,000 new job opportunities via partnerships with public, private and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Microsoft’s target markets for what it refers to as future “employability platforms” to include Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Algeria and Ghana, and will eventually expand into 21 Middle Eastern and African countries.

According to Microsoft Middle East and Africa’s corporate vice president Ali Faramawy, employment opportunities for poor communities will have to be realized by helping to establish business-friendly climates and specialized training for higher-level students.

“Part of the unemployment problem is caused by a lack of economic opportunity as well as the fact that graduates from secondary and tertiary institutions lack the skills required by employers,” she said. “But there is no shortage of determination and even in a country like Iraq that has been faced with some dire situations, our platform has helped put 30,000 youths into jobs in the past 14 months.”

Microsoft has launched a number of initiatives aimed at providing grant funding, leadership mentoring and specialized training to a wide range of civilians, from motivated students at the secondary levels of education to already-established startups looking for financial backing.

One such initiative is known as EmployMentor, a Microsoft program that aims to provide female tech and business graduates with job opportunities and entrepreneurial guidance throughout Africa. Over the course of the weeklong training program, participants engage in mock interviews, business case studies and financial-modeling training aimed at providing them experience with real-world business scenarios.

Another initiative has provided innovation grants to seven African startup companies, a program that was announced at Microsoft’s 4Afrika Advisory Council meeting in Nairobi in November 2014. Through the program, seven startups received funding, technical support and mentorship to stimulate their growth.

According to Microsoft’s general manager of Africa Initiatives Fernando de Sousa, Microsoft’s business grants largely go to startups that focus on sustainable and wide-reaching solutions.

“We’re supporting startups that have developed their solutions beyond the idea stage. They are either in the process of acquiring their first batch of clients or well under way in expanding their existing portfolio of clients,” he said. “All startups have created solutions that are addressing key sectors fuelling growth across the continent.”

With its employment and entrepreneurial training initiatives in Africa, Microsoft is setting an example for American companies looking to help those in poor and developing countries while simultaneously creating opportunities for themselves to tap into new and emerging markets. When companies invest in the lives of those living in poor communities, they are helping to create business-friendly conditions in emerging markets, and are creating opportunities for both American companies and African students in ways that are more direct and involved than vaguely directed aid contributions.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: African Business Review, Microsoft, , Naija 247 News
Photo: Flickr

economic growth
Developing countries around the world face the tremendous challenge of promoting sustainable growth while also reducing poverty and increasing the living standards of their populations.

Around the world, conventional wisdom holds that by focusing development policy on economic growth, inequality will be reduced and incomes of every segment of society will increase–a rising tide lifts all boats.

While poverty has been reduced dramatically all around the world (700 million fewer people live in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990), big challenges still exist to further reducing this number. One of these challenges is rising inequality within and between nations.

Listed below are three reasons why income inequality must be addressed in both the developed and developing world in order to ensure long-term economic growth benefits for everyone and not just a select few.

1. Economic growth is not always equal

China, one of the countries where poverty reduction has been dramatic, is astoundingly tolerant of large gaps in inequality in exchange for growth. Deng Xiaoping, a top Communist Party leader from 1978 to 1992 who initiated economic reforms, is thought to have acknowledged, “It is good for some people to get rich first.”

While this may be true in some cases or at the beginning of market reforms, recent studies undertaken in Indonesia, South Africa, India and China reveal an increase in the gap between the rich and poor. This gap in income inequality can not only prevent further reduction in poverty, but it also has long term implications in the ability of large parts of the population of each country to be able to contribute to the country’s economy and growth.

2. Education, health, and job creation policies must be pursued simultaneously with growth policies

In order for a country’s population to contribute to and participate in the country’s economy, individuals must have the skills. Pursuing policies only focused on increasing GDP may improve growth outlook in the short run. However, in the long run, without education initiatives to match, a large segment of the population will remain poor.

In the 1990s, Brazil pursued a pro-equity growth policy in which it provided grants to help boost education. Average years of school for the poor shot up and when growth hit; they too were able to take advantage of the better jobs.

Just as an overall boost in education and health is important, so is robust job creation. People must have the opportunity to input the skills they have learned back into the economy.

For this reason, inequality cannot be solved without government involvement. The market left as is does not ensure that growth is shared equally. A combination of strong government programs and a strong private sector ensures better opportunities for more people.

3. Positive GDP growth can hide underlying inequality

The main measure of inequality within a given country is through the gini coefficient. The gini coefficient is a variable that measures how equal a country’s income is with zero representing an instance where everyone’s income is exactly equal, and one representing an instance in which one person has all of the income and the rest have none.

In South Africa, while the government is vocally committed to fighting poverty and inequality, between 2003 and 2008 overall income inequality increased. During this period, South Africa’s gini coefficient rose from an already high .66 to .70 – one of the highest in the world. So despite an average GDP growth rate of 3.2 percent (1994-2012), steps still need to be taken to ensure that the bottom segment of society is able to contribute and benefit from that growth.

Today, nearly 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 per day and over 3 billion live on less than $2.50. High levels of inequality exacerbate problems of poverty and reduce opportunities for the poor to move beyond their circumstances. Fewer opportunities for children to rise up economically means that inequality becomes more exaggerated over time and can affect the social structure of a country – leading to unrest, crime and violence.

Developed and developing countries alike all face the challenge of reducing their gini coefficient while also promoting growth. While each country faces unique challenges, this is one problem that can benefit from collaboration at the international level. From the information above, it becomes clear that poverty cannot be fully eliminated without measures in place that simultaneously address income inequality.

Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Science Mag, Global Issues, Global Issues 2, Politics of Poverty, United Nations, South Africa, Hvistendahl, M. (2014). While emerging economies boom, equality goes bust. Science,344(6186), 832-835.
Photo: PBS

Recently, Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala gave a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies outlining the steps that need to be taken to improve economic development in Africa by creating jobs and reducing unemployment. Here are the five steps Okonjo-Iweala outlined for creating economic growth in Africa and developing jobs for young people across the continent.

    1. Develop critical infrastructure. The lack of modern infrastructure in Africa costs the continent “at least 2% in GDP growth annually.” Among the systems that Africa needs to develop are an expansive electrical grid, roads, railways, and communications. These systems allow for more efficient production and transportation of goods, allowing for an increased economic output. Additionally, the continent needs to work on establishing clean water and sanitation systems, which will result in improved public health.
    2. Develop human capital. Africa must invest in the skills of its people in order to advance their standard of living. Currently, “33 million primary school-aged children in Sub Saharan Africa do not go to school,” and “40% of Africans over the age of 15 and 50% of women above the age of 25 are illiterate.” Africans need improved access to education in order to work in skilled trades and earn higher wages.
    3. Build safety nets. Throughout Africa, there are few systems that are established to help citizens who are living in poverty or have been negatively impacted by natural disasters. Okonio-Iweala states that Africa must work to establish tax systems to collect revenue for providing assistance to those in need throughout the continent.
    4. Address a growing population. In 2010, Africa was home to more than 1 billion people. The population of Africa is expected to double to 2 billion people by the year 2050. In order to help alleviate poverty in the continent, a focus should be placed on family planning. By reducing the number of births per woman in Africa, the overall GDP per capita will increase, resulting in a higher standard of living for Africans.
    5. Embrace Africa’s youthful population. Africa’s youth represents the future of the continent. By establishing programs that focus on the intellectual development and health improvement of young Africans, the continent will make an investment in its future. Africa has true potential for future economic growth if the continent’s nations invest in its young population, providing them with the tools they need to be successful in a global economy.

– Jordan Kline

Sources: Visualizing, The Guardian, Achieve in Africa
Photo: UN

There are many disputing ideas on whether or not America should continue to invest in foreign aid, especially while in the throes of an economic recession. While spending US funds to support countries and people that most citizens will probably never visit or meet may seem counter-intuitive, foreign aid will be a factor in pulling America out of its recession. Lifting developing countries out of poverty creates more customers to buy American products, which in turn creates jobs in America.

Foreign aid job creation is not merely speculation. Currently almost half of US exports go to developing countries and this number can be expected to increase as these new, developing markets continue to open. This will greatly improve the US economy since one in five American jobs, like cell phone chips and food production, are export-based. American businesses recognize the opportunity to grow by alleviating world poverty. In 2012, over 50 US corporations delivered a letter to Congress in support of continuing funding for foreign investment. These corporations included Google, Cisco, Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Caterpillar.

These corporations are aware of the huge potential payoffs of foreign investment. For example, the US has given Mexico $1.7 billion in aid over the past 45 years and now exports $16.3 billion in goods to their neighbor every year. The US has also seen its investment in Brazil offer an enormous return. America exports $35.4 billion annually to Brazil after giving $2.8 billion in aid from 1960-2005. Given that a majority of the United States’ top trading partners had previously accepted aid from the US, it is obvious that foreign aid is a good investment.

Foreign aid does not have to be strictly a question of moral obligation; it is also financially and developmentally smart. Many Congressmen are now referring to foreign aid as investment for this very reason. It may take many years until US citizens see the financial benefits of foreign investments but the eventually, revenues from these new markets will be well worth the wait. Foreign aid is less than 1% of United States’ budget and has the potential to create jobs to bring the US out of rough economic times. Contact your Congressional representatives and ask them to support funding for foreign aid.

– Mary Penn

Source: Orange County Register
Photo: Soda Head

Oh, Canada
Oh, Canada; the United States’ warmhearted, comfortable neighbor to the north. Quebec’s separatist movement has been gaining support inconsistently over multiple decades. Interesting fact: no Quebecois representative has ever signed the 1982 Canadian Constitution Act. The increasingly popular yet still divisive issue has brought about a tangential debate. Should Quebec give its own foreign aid separate from the rest of Canada?

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is based in the national capital in Ottawa and the Prime Minister has no intention of allowing the formation of a new department. The Quebec International Relations Minister claimed that CIDA no longer represents Quebecois ideals and is t0o closely related to the advancement of Canadian economic development.

The issue here begs the question of whether or not foreign aid should be given strictly in order to grow the donor nation’s economy, or should aid be allocated with rigid conditions and no regard to benefiting the donor? Ideally, everyone should benefit from aid, which is a real and possible result. By providing even strictly need-based aid, the donor country still receives a benefit.

Aid money can strengthen a middle class, start businesses and educate scholars, even on the donor side of the equation. Aid then creates a consumer base for advanced products produced in the donor country, opens market access and brings new innovations and future political stability.

To learn more about how giving helps the United States economy and job market, check out Poverty and U.S. Jobs. So, through giving aid we can and do benefit not only through altruism but through economic growth as well. This dispute between Quebecois separatists and the Canadian International Development Agency probably won’t bring about the creation of a new donor organization but the conversation itself carries the advantage of making us reflect upon why and how we grant foreign aid.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: CTV