Global search giant Google will invest Sh110 billion in Africa’s innovation journey over the next five years, chief executive Sundar Pichai has announced.
During this year’s Google4Africa event held Wednesday virtually, Mr Pichai said the funds would be utilised to make technology accessible to more users in the continent.
“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade, but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African,” he said.
Africa remains at the bottom of the global digital economy value chain despite commanding a market of 1.2 billion people due to the high cost of mobile and fixed Internet as expensive smartphones lock more than half of the population out of web services.
Google said the investment would focus to bridge this gap by offering faster Internet to more people at lower connectivity costs. A new subsea cable Equiano is planned to run through South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena and connect the continent with Europe.
This will add to the already existing 40,000-kilometre 4G and 5G subsea cable by the 2Africa consortium, that connects 19 African countries to Europe and the Middle East.
In efforts to help make smartphones more affordable to Africans, Google has partnered with Safaricom in a device financing plan to make Android devices more accessible.
The company is moving the initiative to partners like Airtel, MTN, Orange, Transsion Holdings and Vodacom to help “millions of first-time smartphone users gain access to quality, affordable Android smartphones”.
The company also announced Plus Codes on Google Maps, a free and open-source addressing system to provide online addresses for millions of people without physical addresses. It is already working in the Gambia, but plans are underway to launch it in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
Through what it calls a ‘Black Founders Fund’, Google said it will invest in African-led startups by providing cash awards and hands-on support, in addition to the already existing Google for Startups Accelerator programme, which has helped “more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years”.
Nitin Gajria, managing director for Google in Africa said during the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been more need for investment rounds in tech startups than ever before.
“I am of the firm belief that no one is better placed to solve Africa’s biggest problems than Africa’s young developers and startup founders. We look forward to deepening our partnership with, and support for, Africa’s innovators and entrepreneurs,” he said.
Through the Africa Investment Fund, the company said it would invest Sh5 billion in startups and provide them with access to Google employees, networks, and technologies to help them build products for their communities.
Small businesses in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa will also benefit from the company, with Sh1 billion set aside to afford them low-interest loans.
To date, Google said it has trained more than six million people across 25 African countries, with over 60 percent of participants experiencing growth in their business.