Microsoft’s YouthSpark initiative to tackle youth unemployment in Africa

 Developers at iHub in Nairobi: Microsoft's YouthSpark is based on the belief that relevant innovation holds the key to unlocking the answers to the most pressing challenges in Africa.Microsoft has launched the YouthSpark programme, a global initiative that aims to create opportunities for 300 million youth in more than 100 countries during the next three years.

The company-wide initiative includes Corporate Social Investment (CSI) and other company programs — both new and enhanced — empowering youth to imagine and realise their full potential by connecting them with greater opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurship.

The YouthSpark initiative is a response to the fact that unemployment remains rife on the African continent. With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa today, the youth community represents more than 60 per cent of the continent’s total population and accounts for 45 per cent of its growing labour force. However, the imbalance between the demands of the labour market and the supply of appropriately skilled workers in Africa is reaching its breaking point.

“It is a sad reality that while young Africans are more literate than their parents, more of them remain unemployed. At the core of our YouthSpark and other CSI activities is our belief that relevant innovation holds the key to unlocking the answers to our most pressing challenges in the region,” said Djam Bakhshandegi, CSI Program Manager at Microsoft in Africa.

Through YouthSpark’s activities in sub-Saharan Africa alone, over half a million young people have been impacted and $1.1 million worth of software donations to non-Government-organisations (NGOs) made. In addition, the initiative has trained almost 30, 000 teachers Microsoft’s Partners In Learning tools as well as equipping hundreds of small & medium businesses with relevant start up skills.

YouthSpark falls under Microsoft’s recently launched 4Afrika project through which the software giant aims to actively engage in Africa’s economic development to improve its global competitiveness. By 2016, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative plans to help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, up-skill 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop skills for employability, 75 percent of which Microsoft will help place in jobs.

“YouthSpark forms part of this 4Afrika vision and through YouthSpark, we are paying specific attention to the next generation of our ecosystem through our work with schools, students, start-ups and the developer community to drive skills and ICT integration which will in turn trigger growth,” says Bakhshandegi. “Through our partnerships with governments, non-profit organizations and businesses, Microsoft YouthSpark aims to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential.”

Microsoft YouthSpark goes beyond philanthropy and brings together a range of global programs that empower young people with access to technology and a better education and inspire them to imagine the opportunities they have to realise their potential, including Office 365 for education, free technology tools for all teachers and students to power learning and collaboration, and Skype in the classroom, a free global community for teachers to connect their students with others around the world.

YouthSpark initiatives include: Partners in Learning Network ; Microsoft IT Academy ; DreamSpark and Imagine Cup. Others are Students to Business;  BizSpark and Employability Portals – an all-inclusive platform that links users with customized resources, counselors, mentors and jobs. The other is Microsoft’s Build Your Business programme.