Today Google hosted its first virtual ‘Google for Africa’ event. Typical past events allow Google to announce new, innovative ideas and transformative products as well as philanthropic plans.
This edition focused on highlighting all the actions from Google for Nigeria, Google for Kenya and Google for South Africa. The tech giant disclosed that the objective is to showcase plans and solutions that will unlock the benefits of the digital economy for everyone as part of its commitment to accelerating Africa’s digital transformation.
The first major event for day 1 is the keynote session which started at 10 am (WAT). In this post, I share key highlights from the session today:
A bit about the Jollof wars
As a start, Nitin Gajria, Google’s Managing Director for Sub-Saharan Africa welcomed attendees with an exciting recap of his family’s experience of Africa for about 2 years. I particularly enjoyed his reference to the beauty of Africa expressed in the landscape, languages, people and its food.
Nitin particularly spoke about his experience with the African Jollof but deftly rested the Jollof war: “Although I have come to enjoy a dish like Jollof rice, I won’t choose who makes the best Jollof rice be that from Ghana, Senegal or Nigeria.”
He spoke about Google’s commitment to being helpful to every African business, person or classroom especially in the area of investing in connectivity.
This include Google’s investment in Equiano (named after Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian-born writer and abolitionist), a subsea cable that will connect Africa with the rest of the world.
He announced that Google is already making progress with the construction of landing branches in Nigeria, Namibia, St. Helena and South Africa. Equiano will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity across countries in Africa.
It is expected that this will lead to a 21% drop in internet prices as well as 5 fold increase in Nigeria and almost triple in South Africa. Nitin also said that Equiano is expected to create 1.7 million jobs between 2022 and 2025 in Nigeria and South Africa through the expansion of its digital economies and peripheral sectors.
I particularly liked his reference to the impact businesses like Ahadi Movers is making in Kenya and Piggyvest is making in Nigeria. He spoke about Google’s role in he
Google is investing $1bn over 5 years
Nitin introduced the chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc., Sundar Pichai who went on to announce a plan to invest $1billion over 5 years to support Africa’s digital transformation.
According to Sundar, the investment will support the continent’s digital transformation in four key areas. These include a plan to enable individuals and businesses to access affordable internet access, building helpful products, invest in entrepreneurship and technology, empowering businesses to embark on their digital transformation and provide funding for nonprofits.
I am particularly excited by his reference to Tambua health, a health tech startup that uses machine learning to help doctors diagnose and treat diseases.
He also talked about Gidi mobile, a Nigerian Edtech startup that is helping low income students in Nigeria to access online learning.
He also mention Google’s AI research centre in Accra (founded in 2018) that focuses on solving challenges relevant to Africa like using AI to map buildings difficult to detect and adding 200,000 kilometres of road to Google map.
Connectivity, Products and devices
Just after the state of support by Hon. Minister Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Small Business Development, South Africa, Mariam Abdullahi, Google’s director for Android Platform Partnerships in Africa told us how Google is making internet affordable across Africa.
It was exciting to learn about Google’s Taara wireless optical communication system which allows Google to provide cheaper internet access to people in areas with difficult terrains for fibre laying and expensive data cost as a result. It uses a narrow invisible beams of light to deliver high speed connectivity without the need for laying physical cables.
I am particular excited by the example of its implementation over the Congo river to connect Kinshasa and Brasaville in just one day, in partnership with liquid telecoms.
Also, the company is leveraging partnerships to help millions of first-time smartphone users gain access to quality, affordable Android smartphones.
This includes Android’s development of a device locking technology as part of the Android platform that will enable partners to offer financed devices to ease affordability.
This was followed by a short feature on Google’s collaboration with Kenya’s largest carrier Safaricom to support the launch of the first “Device Financing” plan in Kenya to provide smartphones to users and allow them to pay over time (Lipa mdogo mdogo).
She also said that Google will expand this initiative across Africa with partners like Airtel, MTN, Orange, Transsion Holdings and Vodacom, and more.
Mariam Abdullahi also spoke about Google’s new exciting product, Plus Codes, a free and open source addressing system that provides unique identity for users across the continent even if they do not have street address.
She said that the government of The Gambia has adopted this in providing addresses for residents and businesses across the capital Banjul and are now scaling to the rest of the country.
And, Google has plans to expand Plus codes to South Africa, Kenya and other countries in partnership with governments and non-governmental organisations.
It will be interesting to see how this works out.
Culture and creativity plus $50m for startups
Juliet Ehimuan, Country Director for Google Nigeria shared some exciting updates about Google’s effort to promote the arts and culture of Africa.
We learned that the Google Arts & Culture team has partnered with institutions across the continent to preserve and promote their collections, providing a free online platform which anyone around the world can access since 2012.
The result is hundreds of expertly-curated stories about Africa by Africans. This includes a new project called ‘Cradle of Creativity’ dedicated to the creative history and heritage of Africa.
In collaboration with the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art in Nigeria and the Origins Centre in South Africa, people across the globe can explore more than five hundred high resolution images, sixty expertly-curated stories with audio narrations, as well as Street View virtual tours.
This uniquely positions Africa in Google’s Arts & Culture technologies that puts the treasures, stories and knowledge of over 2.000 cultural institutions from 80 countries at the fingertips of millions of users across the world.
Juliet Ehimuan announced Google’s plan to invest up to $50 million in African early and growth-stage startups via its Africa Investment Fund. Until now, Google has fulfilled this obligation through its Google for Startups Accelerator Africa program and the recently launched Black Founders Fund.
Google for Startups Accelerator Africa programme has accepted startups like Twiga, Paystack, and Piggyvest providing them with mentorship access to their network and funding opportunities.
Juliet told us that 50 startups have been selected to participate in the next cohort starting on October 13. Each will receive $100,000 in equity-free capital along with credits from Google Cloud, Google.org ads grants, and additional support. Of the fifty startups, 40% are women-led, representing 9 countries and 12 sectors.
The Black Founders Fund is a $5 million fund -launched in June- that gives dilutive cash awards to black-led startups in the U.S and Africa. A testimonial video from recent recipients punctuated the challenges faced by African founders to access funding was shown.
We also leaned that in collaboration with non-profit organisation, Kiva, Google is providing $10M in low-interest loans to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa get through the economic hardship created by COVID-19.
Renewed funding for nonprofits
Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Alphabet and Google, Ruth Porat collaboration with the non-profit organisation to reach out, improve lives and give back in Africa.
She told the audience that Google.org has provided more than 50 grants across the continent, especially for the empowerment of women and Children. The examples of the impact efforts of Ore Lesi of Nigeria (W.TEC), Cara Turner of South Africa (Codex) and Catherine Gwenjiri (ARIFU) are quite exciting.
It was amazing what these teams were doing to empower women especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ruth Porat mentioned the support grant of $3m to the Tony Elumelu foundation to support more than 5,000 women entrepreneurs through their annual entrepreneurship programme. She mentioned Googlee’s support to the Airqo team at Makerere University, who use AI and sensors to monitor poor air quality, a leading cause of premature death.
In 2017, Google launched its Grow with Google initiative with a commitment to train 10 million young Africans and small businesses in digital skills.
We learnt that to date, Google has trained over 6 million people across 25 African countries, with over 60% of participants experiencing growth in their career and/or business as a result.
Google has also supported more than 50 nonprofits across Africa with over $16million of investment, and enabled hundreds of millions of Africans to access internet services for the first time.
Closing Performance by Tiwa Salvage
Popular Nigerian musician, Tiwa Salvage gave a closing performance of ‘Somebody’s son’ that made the event still memorable. It is notable that the electrifying performance was accompanied by light instrumentals and without any voice backup.
Thats a wrap!
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