Cisco puts weight behind skills, jobs drive in Africa

Read time 3min 50sec

US-based networking giant Cisco has taken "a conscious decision" to do more to help grow economies in Africa, and plans two initiatives that will educate and create jobs for potential partners.

One will be a series of incubation centres where small ICT companies can work with Cisco engineers to develop solutions for clients. The other will be a chain of repair centres which will employ small businesses and freshly-trained youngsters to repair or repurpose old Cisco equipment.

"We have taken a conscious decision that we need to do something different in Africa and put the full weight of the company behind it," said David Meads, Cisco VP for Middle East and Africa.

"Some of that is self-serving because it makes good business sense. With Africa's demographics it's going to be a bigger marketplace than it is today and we want to be participating in that as a market leader. To do that, we have to bring our support and our knowledge and our best practices here."

Meads was speaking this week at the Cisco Connect 2019 conference in Sun City, where almost 1 000 partners and customers have gathered from across Sub-Saharan Africa to hear the company's latest plans and technology roadmaps.

The African Partner Repair Centres will see Cisco train selected distributors to repair and restore Cisco hardware then resell it to local companies for perhaps 20-40% of the price of new equipment. Items that cannot be repaired will be recycled or disposed of responsibly.

Meads said it would be six to 12 months before Cisco could announce where the first repair centres will be based, although they are pushing to open them more quickly.

The initiative has multiple benefits, noted Ehrika Gladden, VP and GM for Cisco Refresh. "Our responsibility around the world is tied to the recovery of assets for a sustainable economy and the proper use of the Earth's resources. We want to ensure the brand of Cisco is sustainable."

As well as being eco-friendly, the project will allow small businesses to buy vital equipment at discounted prices. It will also create jobs for the companies selected to run the centres, and will expand and create new jobs for graduates trained by Cisco's Networking Academies.

Expanding EDGE centres

A second initiative is to expand the existing EDGE centres that Cisco is slowly establishing. EDGE centres (an acronym for Experience, Design, Go to Market and Earn) are incubation hubs where small businesses are trained in technical and business skills.

The idea was first hatched by Clayton Naidoo, GM of Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa. "In Africa, unemployment is a common theme. We need to create jobs, and one of the methods to do that is by focusing on small businesses," he said.

Small ICT companies will be chosen for the programme after due diligence, then given access to a working space with state-of-the-art facilities and training sessions for an incubation period of 90 days.

"They will be trained in sales and technology and also in how to write a proposal or a business plan and how to pitch to customers, so it's not only the technology side but all aspects of business," Naidoo said.

After their initial training they can bring customers in for workshops to design and demonstrate technology solutions, he added.

The first Edge Centre opened in the Tshwane Innovation Hub in Pretoria in November 2018 and 30 companies have been involved. Some of them have taken an exhibition stand at the Cisco Connect conference to demonstrate their capabilities.

Another EDGE centre is opening in Dube Trade Port near Durban and a third is being launched at the University of Nairobi. Mead said Cisco is working to establish other centres in Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria, and more in South Africa. Those are likely to be based at the East London Industrial Development Zone and Tshimologong Precinct of Wits University in Johannesburg.

"Ultimately, the objective is to create jobs and drive an inclusive economy," Meads said.

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