Kabelo Makwane, the Country Manager, Microsoft Nigeria’s thoughts on achieving the best and Microsoft’s focus on unlocking the economic opportunities of Africa reverberated throughout MobileWorld’s exclusive interview.
The seasoned technology professional and a long-standing member of the Microsoft family, South African born Makwane had prior to his role as country manager, served as Public Sector Director in the Microsoft South Africa subsidiary. There, he led the business to double digit growth and built an accomplished team, which continues to deliver high growth levels.
He has great plans for Nigeria too. The man whose passion and natural understanding of the business makes him the ideal candidate to take Microsoft to the greatest height in Nigeria shares on cloud adoption, CSR Initiatives, internet penetration, family and many more. Excerpts….
Microsoft has been at the forefront of pioneering internet penetration in Africa, and Nigeria is no exception, What has been the motivation behind this?
If you look at our strategy as a company, globally Microsoft continues to evolve and reinvent its self as a company and embrace the technology trends dictated by our user base. We pride ourselves in becoming a cloud first mobile first company and reinventing productivity for our customers.
When you look at how far we’ve come in our technology portfolio and our offering, I can truly say we are well on our way in achieving that vision. To enable people across the world wherever they are to be productive in the activities they value the most. In the African context, internet penetration and promoting access to technology has been the cornerstone of our strategy. One of the founding pillars in our 4Afrika strategy is access, the other two are skills and innovation.
Internet access is very critical to providing access to information through whatever mechanism, whether it be mobile smartphones, tablets or whatever smart device available. This is the bed rock of our strategy. We are democratizing technology, so that all sectors of society enjoy ubiquitous access to technology and leverage the platform for their economic advancement.
Tell us about cloud adoption, how its uptake has been in Nigeria and what Nigerians should expect from Microsoft?
Interestingly cloud has been around for a while, it is not a novel technology.For instance we all have free mail accounts, and a free mail account in itself is based on cloud technology. Cloud affords enterprises and businesses, consumers and individuals to consume technology on their own terms. It is like a pay as you go system, it is cost effective and affordable.
In Nigeria we have seen phenomenal growth of cloud technology adoption in the upper double digit. People are seeing the benefits and advantages of this technology across the board and there is huge appetite for cloud services.
Both in the consumer space driven by affordable mobile platforms – where apps are key drivers for users of tablets and mobile phones. Within the enterprise, there has also been significant adoption as well – a quantum leap in fact. With cloud offerings, the advantage is that of speed and the ability to be flexible real time in response to the changing market dynamics of businesses in the global economy.
What are some of the CSR initiatives you are carrying out?
We are patrons of a number of NGOs and also some orphanages. We have a lot of initiatives targeted at enabling the youth, particularly young women. One of our well-known CSR initiatives is DigiGirlz where we take young ladies from underprivileged public schools and help them bridge the gap with technology so they become more employable.
Another long running global initiative is Youth Spark. Through Youth Spark, we reach out to the different segments of the youth population through various organizations, schools, etc.
In the schools for instance, we offer our software for free to students where the school’s administrators and academic staff have procured our products or cloud services to enable them to be productive while doing their assignments and also learn skills and tools that enable them become more suitable for formal employment. We also grant software donations to NGO’s.
What are you doing about internet penetration in Nigeria?
Through Microsoft Research we developed a technology that leverages unused spectrum across the world. We have an offering that leverages TV whitespace – this is the spectrum within 40- 60 Mega Hertz frequency spectrum that was used by analogue broadcasters, and with digital broadcasting (or Digital Terrestrial Television – DTT) becoming mainstream this has spectrum has been left vacant and unused.
We are leveraging this spectrum which is low frequency but potentially high bandwidth and can cover large distances of over 100km and can deliver bandwidth speeds of up to 4 Megabits per second at a very low cost, which sometimes can be as low as $2.00 per Megabyte to deliver affordable broadband.
This is what we are focused on in terms of making internet access more affordable to a lot more people. We recently successfully launched TV White Space projects in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. We have seen great successes where we can offer very cheap broadband access.
What is your vision for Microsoft in Nigeria in the next three years?
Nigeria is blessed with so much potential and opportunities. With our 4Afrika vision premised on access, skills and innovation, we are aligning this vision to Nigeria through targeted high impact and focused initiatives. For instance, we want to make a difference in educating the youth, by providing them affordable access, and empowering them with the necessary skills to ultimately reverse youth unemployment.
The aim is to help people and youth in particular become more innovative and productive by empowering them with skills that either enhance their ability to innovate on existing technology or enable them to create solutions made by Africans to address African challenges. The second area is to enable people to be economically active and create economic empowerment. We want to ensure that the economically marginalized find economic opportunities, where they can start their own enterprises.
We want to help create a sustainable middle class, more entrepreneurs who create more employment opportunities for our youth with our focus on SME’s (small and medium enterprises). Lastly we want to enable government to be more efficient, transparent and more productive with our solutions.
What kind of a leader are you?
What defines me as a leader is my candidness, integrity and transparency. With this I am able to operate in an environment where we foster open dialogue, where everybody’s opinion is respected, and people are free to innovate and think out of the box. That’s my leadership mantra.
If you had three wishes what would they be?
To eliminate poverty, eradicate youth unemployment and see Nigeria claiming its rightful position on the world stage.
How do you balance work and family?
I believe in work life integration as opposed to work life balance. Work life balance eludes me because I cannot find that balance. Work life integration is what works for me and I think technology affords us that luxury. For instance, while I am relaxing at home I am able to attend to work from any of my devices and respond to demands without putting a stop to what I am currently doing, so I am able to achieve some dynamic balance. Therefore I can engage in extramural activities and be spending time with family and friends while at the same time staying connected with my work.