Web search giant, Google, is doling out $1 billion for multi-faceted investment in Africa, CEO Sundar Pichai announced Tuesday.
The fund will cover a range of initiatives; from improved connectivity to investments in startups for a period of five years. It will focus on four key areas; enabling affordable access and building products for every kind of African user, helping businesses with their digital transformation, investing in entrepreneurs to spur next-generation technologies and supporting nonprofits working to improve lives across Africa.
“There is so much momentum happening across Africa, and we’re excited to showcase it at our first Google for Africa event,” Pichai said. He explained that the fund will be utilized building on an existing foundation that Google has laid in Africa.
Google has enabled 100 million Africans to access the internet for the first time and empowered millions of businesses and creators with digital tools, including digital skills, since it opened offices in Africa.
“In 2017, we committed to help 10 million Africans get the digital skills they need to grow their careers and businesses. So far, we’ve trained six million people. We’ve also trained 80,000 developers from every country in Africa and supported more than 80 startups to raise global venture capital funding, creating thousands of jobs,” Pichai said.
Going beyond digital skills, the tech giant opened an artificial intelligence center in 2018, in Accra Ghana. It was the first AI center in Africa. Google said the focus of the AI center is solving challenges relevant to Africa and the world, like “using AI to map buildings that are hard to detect using traditional tools and adding 200,000 kilometers of roads on Google Maps.”
Google also plans to invest up to $50 million in African early and growth stage startups via African Investment Fund. So far, 50 startups have been selected to participate in the African program starting October 13. Each will receive up to $100,000 in equity-free capital along with credits from Google Cloud, Google.org ads grants and additional support.
Google said the 50 startups will be 40% women-led, representing nine countries and 12 sectors.
“There is a significant gap in terms of access to funding. Some groups do not have access to funding as much as other groups. We’ve seen that with lack and female-founded startups. And our effort with the Black Founders Fund is to help close that gap to some extent,” said Nitin Gajiria, the managing director of Sub-Saharan Africa, Google.
The pandemic exposed hidden digital opportunities in Africa, as people shifted and adapted rapidly to digital life. From edtech to ‘work from home,’ which has gradually become the new normal, online activities have opened digital skills opportunities like never before.
Google believes these opportunities abound more in Africa, a continent that has been greatly disadvantaged when it comes to using technology to solve problems.
“One thing we’ve seen is how technology can be a lifeline, whether you are a parent seeking information to keep your family healthy, a student learning virtually or an entrepreneur connecting with new customers and markets. Being helpful in these moments is at the core of our mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” Pichai said.
Pichai grew up without much access to technology, but witnessed the impact it could make on people’s lives. “Every new technology — from the rotary phone to the television — changed my family’s life for the better,” he said, adding that it’s the reason why he’s a technology optimist. “I believe in how people can harness it for good.”
With people like him everywhere in Africa, Pichai sees more innovation of African origin spreading throughout the world in the near future.
For example, people in Africa were among the first to access the internet through a phone rather than a computer. And mobile money was ubiquitous in Kenya before it was adopted by the world.
“This momentum will only increase as 300 million people come online in Africa over the next five years. Many of them are young, creative and entrepreneurial, and they’re ready to drive new innovation and opportunity across the region,” he said.