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Ecobank and Microsoft want to prepare more African SMEs to be digital businesses

In Africa, two things are expediting the adoption of online business models; the covid-19 effect and the mobile phone penetration. 

Extended lockdowns disrupted business supply chains, constraining demand and supply and revenue streams. Adopting digital alternatives for offline business processes became necessary for survival. 

By 2025, there will be 614 million unique mobile subscribers in Africa, according to GSMA, up from 477 million in 2019. Smartphone adoption is projected to reach 65%. 

But how many Africa businesses, especially SMEs, have the right skills and resources to compete in this digital business landscape? Ecobank, through its Commercial Banking department, is joining the effort to address such a concern.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has turbocharged the shift towards digital. It is essential that businesses adapt so that they are able to compete effectively in today’s rapidly changing landscape,” said Josephine Anan-Ankomah, the Group Executive for Commercial Banking at Ecobank.

Ecobank is partnering with Microsoft, which has already consorted with LinkedIn and Github in a similar effort, to power Ecobank Academy to equip SMEs with required digital skills across sub-Saharan Africa. 

This partnership is similar to that of Digify Africa and Facebook which provide graduates with free digital skill training and that of Google and Coursera, but free.

“Ecobank’s Commercial Banking is committed to supporting SMEs across our pan-African footprint. Through this partnership with Microsoft, LinkedIn, GitHub and Ecobank Academy we are offering training to equip business owners and their employees with the digital skills that they need to stay connected to their customers. We are intent on ensuring that our SME customers remain relevant, grow and succeed in the post-COVID-19 era.” Josephine concluded.

Prior to the pandemic, there have been a number of incentives to build digital talents in Africa. 

In 2016, Livity Africa now Digify Africa joined forces with Google to build one million digital talents in Africa, the relationship didn’t go well and Digify Africa later moved in with Facebook. Similarly, over two million Africans have taken a course or two with Google Digital Garage – a free online digital skill course that issues shareable micro-certificates. 

These and many similar programs have played a major role in building digital capacity across the African continent but there is still a huge digital gap begging to be filled. 

The program will cover 10 skill sets: Customer Services; Digital Marketing; Financial Analysis; Graphic Design; IT Support/Help Desk; Project Management; Sales; Data Analysis; IT Administration; And Software Development. 

According to LinkedIn, these are some of the most demanded skills in the market, especially software development, project management, data analysis and financial analysis.

The programme is scheduled to run until the 31st of December 2021. Participants can enrol and complete courses at their own pace and at times that work best for them. 

For Microsoft, the partnership aligns with its process and commitment to building digital talent pipelines to support the workforce of the future.

“Beyond the future workforce, digital talent will also support more local innovation, as developers and entrepreneurs are empowered to create locally relevant solutions that best address the challenges and needs of African countries,” said Ibrahim Youssry, regional general manager at Microsoft.

With the rise of remote work and increased demand for tech talent, digital training could help fill gaps especially in emerging economies like Africa which have a young population.

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