WASHINGTON D.C., April 27, 2021 – Microsoft, through its Microsoft 4Afrika initiative, and the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) have signed a memorandum of understanding to support women entrepreneurs and women-led small and medium enterprises (W-SMEs) with the development of the digital skills and data savvy necessary to grow and scale their businesses.
A study by the Sustainable Development Goals Fund shows that women entrepreneurs face significant challenges to become SME owners, including cultural barriers in some parts of Africa, lack of access to valuable information and technology, data, and business-related training and support, limited access to credit, absence of effective social networks, and problems associated with economic infrastructure.
Yet, according to the International Finance Corporation, women start businesses at a higher rate than men; and when women participate in the economy and own and run businesses, the benefits extend to their children and families, their communities and to economies at large. By providing training and support to women who are starting and developing these SMEs, this investment can progress toward economic equity and support inclusive economic growth.
With a shared common goal of supporting women entrepreneurs and W-SMEs to increase the profitability of their businesses through increased access to, and understanding of, data and digital technologies, Microsoft and MCC have joined forces to establish a Women’s Data Lab and Network (WDLN) in Côte d’Ivoire.
“Digital skills are essential for any organization to grow, and we want to encourage technology and data science adoption and skills development for every woman entrepreneur and W-SME. Microsoft believes that we must work with intent to help W-SMEs overcome the challenges they face. In doing so, levels of inequality and income disparity for women in business across Africa can be reduced,” said Soromfe Uzomah, Head: Strategic Partnerships at Microsoft 4Afrika.
MCC’s mission is to reduce poverty through economic growth, based on the principle that aid is most effective when it reinforces good governance, economic freedom, and investments in people. Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft strives to create local opportunity, growth and impact in every country around the world.
“In order to achieve equitable and inclusive growth, countries around the world must invest in women, said Fatema Z. Sumar, Vice President of Department of Compact Operations, MCC. “This initiative will reduce some key barriers that stand in the way of women in meeting their full potential. Their success will role model the power of women’s leadership for future generations of girls—and boys—while bringing income, prosperity, and equality to their families and their communities. MCC’s partnership with Microsoft will help provide the technological and data skills needed for women to thrive in our 21st century digital world.”
As e-services, data and digital tools permeate every sector, and with the COVID-19 pandemic creating a volatile market environment, women entrepreneurs and W-SMEs owners need digital and data science skills and tools that will help them access market information, training, business development support and the capital to build resilience and scale their businesses. The WDLN— funded by USAID’s global fund on women’s economic empowerment—represents a first-of-its-kind partnership between MCC, Microsoft, and other partners to grow an e-community of W-SMEs to build data skills and digital literacy, bringing meaningful results for business performance, technology enablement, job creation and global competitiveness.
This e-community of W-SMEs will participate in Microsoft 4Afrika’s SME-focused program, which provides a suite of tested and locally relevant training, tools, knowledge, resources and solutions to build business and digital skills and enhance the growth of W-SMEs. The WDLN will also complement other U.S. government development programs that are focused on W-SME enablement. The WDLN will be initially developed in Côte d’Ivoire, with the intention to replicate and scale the WDLN in other African countries.
About Microsoft 4Afrika
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
The 4Afrika Initiative is Microsoft’s business and market development engine in Africa. Launched in 2013, it aims to unlock and accelerate Africa’s potential to create technology not only for the continent, but for the world.
In seven years, the 4Afrika initiative has reached 1.7 million small and medium businesses, supported more than 300 startups, 12 accelerator partnerships, upskilled 108,000 Africans in Microsoft Cloud Society, placed 926 interns with 176 partners with an 85 percent retention rate, and produced 2,073 graduates from 19 Skills Labs, with an 85 percent employment rate. The initiative has been recognized by the International Finance Corporation as a best practice example of developing skills in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (@MCCgov) is an innovative and independent U.S. foreign assistance agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty. Created by the U.S. Congress in January 2004 with strong bipartisan support, MCC has changed the conversation on how best to deliver smart U.S. foreign assistance by focusing on good policies, country ownership, and results. MCC provides time-limited grants to promote economic growth, reduce poverty, and strengthen institutions.
Increasingly through partnerships and other MCC data and digital development activities, MCC is seeking to address the growing global digital divide. Building local data expertise, digital savvy and civic technology is critical to ensure that our partners countries have the tools they need to drive their own evidence-based development decisions and track progress towards their goals.
MCC has invested more than $13 billion across the globe towards programs that are benefitting around 175 million people. MCC projects tackle some of the most pressing challenges people face in developing countries, like supplying electricity so businesses can operate, and students can study after dark; providing clean drinking water so women don’t have to walk long distances—sometimes at great personal risk—to get water for their families; and building roads so farmers can get their goods to market and children can get to school.