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“The time is now.” Why this Kenyan Googler is betting on Africa’s tech opportunity

Editor’s note: Jack Ngare is a Technical Director in Google Cloud’s Office of the CTO based in Nairobi, Kenya. A native of Kenya, he worked in telecommunications abroad for 12 years before returning home to work for a large African financial institution and a U.S. technology company. He joined Google Cloud last year with a mission to digitize and modernize Cloud’s global top customers, while simultaneously growing Africa’s entrepreneurial technology culture. 

What is the opportunity you see before you?

Working at Google Cloud, I’m able to bring people some of the world’s best software and hardware engineering. I also see the possibility of taking the capabilities that Google Cloud offers leading banks, retailers, telecommunications companies, and others in the developed world, and putting them in place in Africa. Not only would this create efficiency and end waste in a dramatic fashion, but it would also be an opportunity for Google Cloud to help advance Africa’s potential and inspire people with the creativity and drive within the organization.

African technology development is a two-way exchange. Google Cloud customers I have worked with across the globe have similar challenges and opportunities, including identifying how to improve efficiency, how to optimize data pipelines, and how to apply AI in productive, cost-effective ways. Common challenges are best addressed from diverse perspectives. In the past 30 years, we’ve seen how customers in China, India, and Africa, unhampered by maintaining legacy infrastructures, leapfrogged development in mobile and fiber optic technologies. 

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about Africa?

One of the most common misconceptions is thinking of Africa as one place. Sub-Saharan Africa has nearly 50 countries, with more than a billion people spread over millions of square miles. There are several different cultures, economies, customers, and opportunities. 

Africa shouldn’t be considered a place with nothing but needs. The region has a lot to give. There’s a young population that is very tech savvy. Many people are doing gig work in areas like coding, design, social media, and AI for large global companies. They understand those things very well, and are keen to do more.

Is it hard to know where to start?

In some ways, that is the hardest thing. There’s so much potential, and we need to show how Google Cloud can be a strong partner across all industries and business sizes — 70% of African businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises. 

Outside of my day job, I continue to help bring technology to Africa in several ways. I participate in creating a curriculum for kids here in grades K-12 to learn how to code, I work on getting companies to sponsor schools that need to be wired to high speed Internet, and I speak at universities.

Jack and his daughter with the senior class at Alliance Girls High school in Kenya, where Jack had taught some coding classes

What would you say is your biggest motivation?

My biggest motivation is urgency. Opportunity doesn’t hang around forever waiting for you. It wants to be understood and engaged with. This is an extraordinary time. On the one hand, the entrepreneurial drive was always here in Africa, but it had a hard time attaching itself to the larger world, or even connecting to good networks! The cloud, and good connectivity, can change that.

Take for example, Google’s recently commissioned report from Africa Practice, which is about the impact of its Equiano subsea cable. It’s estimated that it could cut data prices by up to a fifth, and help create 1.6 million jobs as a result of increased connectivity. Equiano will connect Europe with Togo, Nigeria, Namibia, and South Africa (and even, away from Africa). It’s a big step.

At the same time, we have to move fast, we have to move with knowledge. Two years ago, Google made a $1 billion commitment to develop business in Africa, and in October we gave an update: Our first data center in the region was built, support is in place for entrepreneurs, and Artificial Intelligence is being used to map buildings. However, history shows that it’s possible to spend $1 billion and make little impact. You have to take action and you must follow-up.

What makes you confident?

I’m a citizen of Kenya, an African who was fortunate enough to get the right breaks in education and the right opportunities. It has brought me so far. While I’m confident in myself, I’m even more confident that there could be 100 or 1,000 people like me who can succeed more than I have. I’m confident that we can give them that chance with Google Cloud, and if we get it right, the results will astonish the world. The time is now.

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