Google at the African Union
From sustainability efforts to mobile health and payments, Africa is increasingly at the forefront of innovations that spread globally – and it is a central part of Google’s own engagement with the world. This past February, our CEO Sundar Pichai addressed the African Union and shared Google’s commitment to encourage and enable innovation and entrepreneurship across the continent in support of African aspirations for digital transformation to fuel economic growth.
Since 2017, we’ve trained 6 million young Africans and businesses in digital skills. We’ve supported more than 50 African nonprofits with over $16 million in grants, and helped 100 million more people access internet services for the first time through Android. And we have committed to investing $1 billion in support of Africa’s digital transformation over the next five years.
Africa is currently home to 1.3 billion people, or 16% of the global population. It has the world’s youngest, fastest-growing, and increasingly urbanized workforce. Our work in Africa has never been more important, and that’s why we recently created a one-of-a-kind position to connect directly with stakeholders across the continent through pan-African institutions such as the African Union Commission, UN Economic Commission for Africa, and African Development Bank.
Stepping into the role is Pren-Tsilya Boa-Guehe, a former U.S. diplomat most recently working at the U.S. Mission to the African Union. She brings a wealth of policy and NGO experience in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Morocco, Geneva, and Washington, D.C. We caught up with her to talk about the role:
Pren-Tsilya, tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to since starting at Google.
The last few months have been a whirlwind – moving to Kenya during the pandemic, starting in a new office while working from home, and settling in my role. It’s still surreal to me that I’m working here. And, of course, there’s been all of my work to build out an agenda for Google with the African Union (AU) and for our CEO to participate in the AU Summit. Pan-African institutions like the AU are critical partners because they enable African leaders to shape the continent’s priorities. It’s a privilege to work with them to amplify our impact in the region. My first objective was to develop a comprehensive policy portfolio in partnership with colleagues at Google, reflecting the investments we have made and the needs of stakeholders across the African continent. These include:
- Supporting Africa’s COVID response through economic recovery. Technology has been a lifeline for many people throughout the pandemic. As we head into year three of the pandemic, I’m looking to develop a partnership with pan-African institutions focused on the economic recovery through digital skills, training, and tools for small and medium businesses for women and youth entrepreneurs across the continent. Through Kiva, Google is providing $10M in low-interest loans to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa get through the economic hardship created by COVID-19. Google is also investing directly in African start-ups through a dedicated $50 million Africa Investment Fund and our global Black Founders Fund
- Enabling internet access and facilitating digital trade for Africa’s economic growth. The internet economy in Africa has the potential to grow to $180 billion by 2025, but there are some regulatory and infrastructure challenges that must be addressed to reach this goal. Our Digital Sprinters report informs our activities and policy priorities around Africa’s digital transformation. The AU’s continent-wide policy initiatives can help to accelerate Africa’s digital transformation through the AU’s Digital Transformation Strategy and the African Continental Free Trade Area. These initiatives will help to position Africa to leapfrog by using technology as a driver of economic growth. On the infrastructure front, Google is bringing really innovative solutions to expand affordable and reliable internet access. Our Equiano subsea will run through Togo, South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena and Project Taara uses invisible beams of light to deliver high-speed connectivity to rural areas in Africa.
- Advancing climate protections in advance of the first African COP. COP-27, the global climate summit, will be held in Egypt later this year – marking the first time the conference has been held on the continent. As Africa is especially vulnerable in our current climate crisis, Google will be working directly with African leadership and international organizations ahead of the conference to address this problem.
- Providing a platform for African cultural treasures and collections. Africa has such rich cultures and traditions. Since 2012, Google Arts & Culture has partnered with institutions across the continent to preserve art and culture, providing a free online platform which anyone around the world can access. The result is hundreds of expertly-curated stories about Africa by Africans. This includes Mali Magic, a project that shines a light on Mali’s vibrant culture through its manuscripts and Street View of at-risk mausoleums and mosques. There is also Cradle of Creativity, a project dedicated to the creative history and heritage of Africa. I’m eager to partner with the AU to share more of Africa’s magic with the world.
What does your day-to-day look like?
To implement these top priorities, my day-to-day involves lots of meetings. I see myself as a bridge between Google and African institutions, so I’m constantly meeting key stakeholders across the continent that are part of the ecosystem– African government regulators, leaders of African institutions, corporate leaders, NGO leaders, think tank representatives, and people on the ground who use and are impacted by Google products daily. I try to understand their policy priorities and challenges and strategize with Google teams to see how we can be helpful. We are doing a lot in Africa, but I’m passionate about seeing how we can do even more.
Pren-Tsilya and Government Affairs Director for Africa Charles Murito meeting with AU Commissioner Albert Muchanga and AU Special Advisor Jean Bertrand Azapmo to discuss partnerships for small and medium businesses, women’s entrepreneurship, and digital trade.
Another important part of my work is participating in policy discussions, publications, and forums to exchange ideas and share Google’s thought leadership on issues we care about. For example, I share our views about the kinds of policies that can truly transform Africa’s digital economy. And, I’m excited to start traveling again to attend conferences in person when it is safe to do so. One of my first trips this year was in March to Mombasa for a policy discussion on the AfCFTA. Companies like Google need to be on the ground for these discussions to see how we can meaningfully contribute to African-led solutions to African and global problems.
Pren-Tsilya meeting in Mombasa with representatives from the African Union Commission, AfCFTA Secretariat, UN Economic Commission for Africa, private sector, and think tanks.
Why is this job important to you?
The AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, Amani Abou-Zeid, once said, “technology is not a luxury in Africa, it’s a necessity.” I really believe that and I believe I can be a part of that change through Google. And this job is personal to me because, although I’m an American, my roots are from Cote d’Ivoire. I have found that my multicultural background has helped me to relate to my counterparts at the AU and its diverse 55 member states.
My family is proud that I’m contributing to Africa’s digital transformation. I’m humbled to be working with such historic institutions and with an incredible company to improve the lives of Africans via technology.
How can folks keep up with your work?
Feel free to keep up with Google in Africa on Twitter and our blog.
Posted by Melike Yetken Krilla, Head of International Organizations