Microsoft is reinforcing its commitment to developing tech talent in Africa with the announcement of two new offices for the African Development Center (ADC) in Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria, after three years of successful operation in both countries. Nairobi will also host a new research institute, the Microsoft Africa Research Institute (MARI), which is the first on the continent.
After three years of successful operation and hosting at Microsoft’s Lagos hub, the ADC has opened its own offices. The new offices are now based in its new ultra-modern state-of-the-art facility at the Kings Towers on Glover Road, Ikoyi – housing the product engineering, ecosystem development and innovation teams. The new facility is also home to the Microsoft Garage, a new entity launched as part of the ongoing efforts to scale innovation in the tech ecosystem.
“The facility will continue our efforts towards training, equipping and hiring engineering talent in Nigeria and West Africa as whole to contribute to the development of Microsoft products that are in use by over 1 billion devices and empowering millions of users and organizations across the world to do more.”Gafar Lawal, Managing Director, ADC West Africa
“Based on the great feedback we have received from engineering leads working with teams in Nigeria, we are definitely going to hire more engineering talent. We will continue to focus on student and community engagements, as well as investments in Microsoft programs, that will help us build a diverse team of talented men and women.”Joy Chik, Executive Sponsor, Africa Development Center
In Kenya, the ADC has relocated to its own offices in Nairobi, demonstrating the company’s commitment to the continent. The ADC is now based at Dunhill Towers along Waiyaki Way in its new ultra-modern state-of-the-art facility, the first of its kind serving the East African region. The facility will house the engineering, design, research and innovation teams, as well as the Microsoft Garage, an incubation hub launched as part of the ongoing efforts to scale tech innovation in the continent.
Since its inception in Nairobi in 2019, the ADC has grown to over 450 full-time employees working in areas such as software engineering, machine learning, data science, market research, infrastructure, and much more.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Joe Mucheru, the Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, praised the development, noting that it strengthens the country’s position as a leading regional digital innovation hub, putting Kenya on the path to achieving large-scale industrial technology status, as other countries such as China, India, and Israel.
The facility was built in a similar style to Microsoft’s global offices to optimize space utilization, air conditioning, and lighting adjustments as part of Microsoft’s global ambition to be net carbon negative by 2030. There are self-heating windows, a mini solar plant to power the facility, and a water treatment facility to recycle and purify the water, which are not yet available in other Microsoft offices but are available at the new ADC facility.
The Garage is structured as a freeform workspace where Microsoft employees, interns, schools, and community groups can find the tools and training they need to launch products and learn skills. Speaking about The Garage, Lydia Karanja, its lead for Kenya said: “The Garage in Kenya will help Microsoft employees, customers and developers tap into their creative prowess to come up with cutting edge technologies that will solve the problems we have in the world today. I can’t wait to see the next big thing coming out of Africa.’’
The Garage is meant to spread the values of openness and collaboration throughout the Microsoft ADC, where people come to The Garage to work with interdisciplinary teams on passion projects that sometimes make their way into Microsoft products – this should ultimately allow Microsoft ADC to become a more prominent shaper of Africa’s tech culture.
The Microsoft Africa Research Institute (MARI) will be at the forefront of inventing new technologies to advance scientific knowledge in the field of computer science. It will conduct cutting edge research in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Systems and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). MARI will forge new synergies between research, engineering, and product development to power globally relevant innovation.
The institute will collaborate closely with Microsoft East Africa and the ADC to forge strategic alliances and links with local academia to boost the country’s and region’s research capabilities in the tech sphere, with three focus areas on health, work, and society.
“Kenya is leading the way in the transformation of work. At MARI our mission is to understand, build and deploy innovative cloud and AI technologies which not only address core opportunities in Africa and help solve local challenges at scale, but which also contribute to creating a more productive future of work, health and society globally.”Dr. Jacki O’Neill, Founding Director, MARI
The MARI has already assembled a multidisciplinary team of Nairobi-based researchers, designers, data scientists, and software engineers. This team has completed its first scientific project on the digital transformation of African small and medium-sized businesses, examining how work practices in Africa have changed since COVID, and will soon release the findings.
Looking ahead, the institute is working on several projects, including Swahili (and Sheng) language technology, exploring how AI can extend healthcare beyond the clinic, and technology innovation to support digital transformation in the Covid era.
It also announced that three PhD fellowships have been awarded to African university students who will intern at MARI in 2022. The institute will offer a visiting researcher program, summer schools, and a venue for student projects.