Just over a month after it set up its fourteenth AppFactory at USIU-A in Nairobi, Microsoft through its 4Afrika initiative, has opened a similar at Mawingu Networks premises in Nanyuki town.
The AppFactory – or Apprenticeship Factory for Developers – launched on March 23, 2018, is meant to develop the digital skills, coding capabilities and employability of young graduates living in Nanyuki. Apprentices will spend up to six months working with senior software technicians, developing essential workplace skills and the ability to design and implement modern software solutions. After graduating from the programme, apprentices will have access to jobs, both at Mawingu Networks and within its network of small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs).
(TOP: Tim Hobbs, Director and CEO of Mawingu Networks – left – looks at the audience as Lutz Ziob, Dean of the 4Afrika Academy, – with microphone – explains the features of the AppFactory during the formal opening at Mawingu Networks offices).
“The AppFactory will turn young people into highly competent, in-demand ICT professionals. Local companies, including ourselves, need more of this talent, especially in an increasingly digital world,” said Tim Hobbs, Director and CEO of Mawingu Networks.
The first round of apprentices for the AppFactory are currently being selected, following an application process.
“Through our WiFi hotspots, we have connected over 600 SMEsin and around Nanyuki to the internet. This has helped them to digitally transform and reach new markets. Byproviding these SMEs with access to more local ICT professionals, we can support their transformation even further and help them enhance their offerings. As a start-up in a small town ourselves, we know how difficult and expensive it can be to hire the right talent, but sometimes that option is not even available to us and we end up having to outsource to other countries”
Located nearly 200km from the city of Nairobi, Nanyuki is a small market town with a population of only 50,000. Since 2013, Mawingu Networks, has been providing the town’s residents with affordable and reliable WiFi, using low-cost wireless technology and solar power.
The AppFactory at Mawingu Networks is the sixteenth such facility to be opened in Africa, with others in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mauritius, Uganda and Rwanda. Other implementing partners include Ethiopian Airlines, USIU-A, UNHCR, Ceridian and the Tulane International University Centre for Global Equity.
In 2017, over 500 developers graduated from the Africa AppFactories, with 85% securing full-time jobs within three months after graduating.
“A lot of skills development programmes happen in and around big cities, benefitting largely urban youth,” said Lutz Ziob, Dean of the 4Afrika Academy. “By working with an innovative, local company in Nanyuki, we are demonstrating our commitment to extending the reach of opportunities to youth and small businesses across the country. This is in line with our global mission to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. It also supports Kenya’s 2030 vision, which aims to become a middle-income country and provide a higher quality of life to all its citizens.”
Mawingu’s history with Microsoft 4Afrika extends back to 2013, when they piloted TV white spaces technology to deliver high-speed, low-cost connectivity in last-mile areas. The potential of Mawingu’s business model was soon recognised by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), who in 2016 committed a US $4.1 million loan to help Mawingu commercially expand their operations into rural communities. With support and funding from both Microsoft and OPIC, Mawingu has grown from 15 to 1,100 WiFi hotspots across Nyeri, Laikipia and Meru counties.
In 2017, Mawingu was also selected as one of the first partners to pilot Microsoft Kaizala. Built for emerging markets, Kaizala is a mobile app that facilitates large group communication and work management. Because Mawingu’s field staff install and manage hotspots in outlying areas, Kaizala has helped the office-based team better monitor installations, collect real-time sales information and customer feedback, and save time through automated reporting.
“Kaizala has improved our internal communications and greatly enhanced our operations. Through the AppFactory, we hope to scale our use of Kaizala even further. Apprentices will be tasked with building custom Kaizala Action Cards and extending the platform via an application programming interface,” added Tim.
With internet access packages from as little as Kshs 10 for 50MB, consumers can access Mawingu WiFi via hotspots located across the Mt Kenya region.
Mawingu also delivers broadband standard high-speed WiFi to homes and businesses located in the same regions, with speeds ranging from 2MBPS to 30MBPS.