Microsoft’s Cloud Bet. For Global Good

9 lawyers and an ICT Policy guy walked into Building 34 on Microsoft’s expansive campus in Redmond. It was going to be a week-long workshop to launch the Microsoft Outside Counsel Network for the Middle East and Africa region but it turned out to be much more. New knowledge, exposure to hidden – but existing and important – information, meetings with top executives, visits to experience/visioning/cybercrime centres, virtual tour of data centre, and maybe most importantly, energetic discussions with some of the smartest on the meeting point between Digital Transformation and Law in the region, describe how last week went for me.

From the interactions, discussions on Microsoft’s high-level – and demonstrated – commitment to trust and privacy got me pretty excited. What else do you expect from someone focused on Digital Rights on a continent that appears desperate to scale up violation of the same? Hello, Cameroon! In Paradigm Initiative‘s 2016 Digital Rights in Africa report, we identified 11 countries that shut down the Internet in 2016 and highlighted violations – or policies that allow such – in 30 African countries.

The report also highlighted the role that corporate organisations can play in reducing such violations in the countries where they work, so each time a global technology company emphasises Digital Rights, I want to do the DR dance! I’ve argued that human – including digital – rights is good for business, so it’s great to see companies like Microsoft (and Google, Facebook, etc) commit to rights as a central part of their business model. It could be as invisible as metrics that determine where to do business with governments or as out-there as winning a tough legal battle against a national security agency. Anything that enforces or encourages the rights of consumers – citizens in various countries – has my attention. Microsoft’s commitment to Cloud for Global Good sure has my attention and admiration.

The week in Redmond wasn’t just about rights, it also allowed the 10 of us join the Microsoft team (that did an awesome job at hosting us) to take a peep into tomorrow. Our Microsoft Visioning Centre and Digital Cybercrime Unit visits demonstrated the cutting-edge actions being taken today and what we’ll see in a few years. Any country that is smart knows to embrace the cloud and the many opportunities it offers for digital transformation. I recommend Microsoft’s new book, Cloud for Global Good, to public officials who will surely find relevant opportunities in the 78 recommendations (in 15 policy categories) the book offers. For many African countries, the possibilities that the cloud offers in education and youth employment are not what any sane State should ignore.

It is not just governments that must move with the cloud, the social sector must also align itself with what is now popularly described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our social investment, choice of beneficiaries, evaluation and decision indices must be based on data – which we potentially generate a lot of but don’t do a great job at analysing. At Paradigm Initiative, our digital inclusion work is only able to grow because of the way we gather, process, manage and interpret data from our training centres and program touch points. For our digital rights work, we are only able to respond better because of data management. So, my excitement at Microsoft’s bet on cloud for social good is not just for the fantasy of what nations can do but also the immediate application to the social investments that Paradigm Initiative and other social sector organisations make.

Last week provided me the opportunity to see how Microsoft – and others – are shaping the future of work, life and play through cloud services and I look forward to working with other members of the Outside Counsel Network to influence the delivery of the dividends of a trusted, responsive and inclusive cloud for Africa.