BusinessDay

Africa’s digital transformation gets $1bn pledge from Google

… Multimillion-dollar funds for small businesses, NGOs highlighted

The first ever Google for Africa event, which held today, has seen a one billion dollar pledge from the company, to be invested over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation.

The announcement by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, notes that the investment would focus on enabling fast, affordable internet access for more Africans; building helpful products; supporting entrepreneurship and small business; and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa.

“We have made huge strides together over the past decade, but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African,” said Pinchai. “Today, I’m excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of $1 billion over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups.”

In enabling affordable internet access and building helpful products, it was stated that Google is building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. The subsea cable Equiano will run through South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena and connect the continent with Europe.

Noting that internet access is also hampered by the affordability of smartphones, a collaboration between Google and Kenya’s largest carrier Safaricom was also announced, to support the launch of the first “Device Financing” plan in Kenya. This initiative is to be expanded across Africa with partners like Airtel, MKOPA, MTN, Orange, Transsion Holdings and Vodacom.

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Investments in entrepreneurship and technology was also highlighted, through a Black Founders Fund that would see Google invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support. Google also announced the launch of an Africa Investment Fund. Through this fund, the company will invest $50 million in startups and provide them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.

Support for small businesses would also get a boost, as Google in collaboration with the non-profit organisation, Kiva, is providing $10 million 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.

For non-profits, Google.org is expanding its commitment to support them to improve lives across Africa, with a $40 million fund to help more partners who are responding to challenges they see firsthand in their communities.

The announcements, Google says expand its ongoing support for Africa’s digital transformation and entrepreneurship. In 2017, Google launched its Grow with Google initiative with a commitment to train 10 million young Africans and small businesses in digital skills. To date, Google has trained over 6 million people across 25 African countries, with over 60 percent of participants said to experience 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 through Android.

“In the last year we have seen more investment rounds into tech startups than ever before,” said Nitin Gajria, Managing Director for Google in Africa, “I am of the firm belief that no one is better placed to solve Africa’s biggest problems than Africa’s young developers and startup founders. We look forward to deepening our partnership with, and support for, Africa’s innovators and entrepreneurs.”

Google is also providing a platform for African cultural treasures and collections, which since 2012 has seen the Google Arts & Culture team partner with institutions across the continent to preserve and promote their collections, providing a free online platform, which anyone around the world can access. The result, the company says, is hundreds of expertly-curated stories about Africa by Africans.

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