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Providing Access to Technology for SMEs in Africa

Company: Microsoft
Sector: Software & Computer Services
Headquarters: USA
Partners: UNIDO
Partnership location: Africa


Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in many developing countries face a significant challenge in accessing hardware and software to leverage the benefits of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The objective of the Microsoft/UNIDO partnership is to tackle the root causes of poverty by promoting innovative uses of ICT that support entrepreneurship and help create business opportunities, especially for SMEs in Africa.


Microsoft is committed to leveraging technology to help enable social and economic development. The company was interested in working with UNIDO because of the agency’s in-depth expertise on small-scale entrepreneurship programmes. Furthermore, UNIDO is in a unique position to act as a neutral broker by bringing together various stakeholders, including governments, the SME community and local development agencies. Both the expertise and the support of various stakeholders are needed to develop ICT-based solutions for SMEs in developing countries.

Under the UNIDO-Microsoft partnership framework agreement, the following initiatives are being implemented:

1) Investment Monitoring Platform: Microsoft has supported UNIDO through the development of a technology solution to enhance the effectiveness of the Africa Investment Promotion Agency Network (AfrIPANet) initiative. A key UNIDO programme, AfrIPANet helps policy-makers tailor their strategies to attract foreign direct investment and private decision-makers to make sound investment choices. Microsoft has applied its technology to enhance the analysis and tracking functionality of the network’s information platform for greater effectiveness. The solution increases transparency, information sharing and the articulation of strategies while creating synergies for the four categories of end users – companies, government agencies, development partners and civil society.

2) Rural Business Information Centers: UNIDO had already started a programme in Uganda to establish eight Business Information Centers in rural towns in Uganda, offering business advisory services, information access and training to small-scale entrepreneurs. Microsoft works with UNIDO to provide technology access, curriculum and training development and guidance on sustainability models to help support the centers.

3) UNIDO-Microsoft Refurbished Computer Initiative: This UNIDO-Microsoft programme addresses the widespread demand for access to affordable hardware. The aim of the initiative is to build a sustainable business model for refurbished computers in Africa, which focuses on SMEs as their primary clients. During the African sub-regional Forum on ICT Best Practices held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in June 2007, UNIDO and Microsoft officially launched the joint Refurbished Computer Initiative.

Benefits to Society

Within less than a year after signing the Partnership Agreement, both parties have initiated three solid co-operation projects. The partnership aims to support SMEs in developing countries by providing relevant software as well as access to affordable, quality hardware and training tools. Furthermore, the investment-monitoring platform provides greater transparency, thereby enhancing communication between governments and foreign investors. Through these achievements, the partnership hopes to strengthen entrepreneurship and business opportunities, attract more investment to the region and stimulate the growth of powerful new technologies.

Benefits to the Company

The partnership provides a platform to further expand Microsoft’s commitment to help enable new avenues of social and economic empowerment through access to technology. Collaborative programmes designed to bring the benefits of technology and related skills to entrepreneurs in SMEs in Africa promote jobs and opportunities, and help the company gain a better understanding of the needs of the emerging information technology markets in the region.

(Source: Joining Forces for Change: Demonstrating Innovation and Impact through UN-Business Partnerships, UN Global Compact Office 2007)

(Last update 5 January 2008)