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Alphabet's African Training Program Is More Than Charity

By Andrew Tonner - Apr 19, 2016 at 6:40AM

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As Alphabet and Facebook help spread Internet access and skills around the world, it's important to remember that such efforts are ultimately one part philanthropy, and another part savvy business.


Source: Alphabet.

Africa is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Many political bodies and global businesses see the continent of Africa as one of the most intriguing potential growth stories for the 21st century.

To help encourage this development, tech companies like Alphabet (GOOG -1.29%) (GOOGL -1.34%) and Facebook (FB 1.18%) have created some ambitious plans in Africa. Case in point: Alphabet recently announced an impressive objective to bring digital job training to more than one million Africans.

Altruistic Alphabet
According to a company blog post, Alphabet has reached an agreement to fund a series of digital skills training programs for more than 1 million young people in sub-Saharan Africa in the next year alone. Internet penetration is expected to grow significantly through the end of the decade in Africa, and Alphabet sees this as an opportunity to create a new generation of online businesses and entrepreneurs. To do so, Alphabet has teamed up with non-profit Livity Africa, which will handle the actual administration of the training programs on a daily basis.

Per Google's blog post, Livity Africa's training activities will include both online and in-person formats. The in-person teaching will involve two distinct class types -- Digify Bytes and Digify Pro. Digify Bytes is a less-immersive one-to-two day training program designed to familiarize students with important online skills like digital marketing, web design, content marketing, digital strategy, and more.

Conversely, Digify Pro is a three-month immersive course that supplies students with technical training, professional networking skills, and job placement assistance at companies in need of these skills in Africa. Lastly, Livity has created the online education site digifyafrica.com, which includes a series of courses and information required in today's online business climate.

Who benefits?
These kinds of efforts deserve credit for helping foster growth on a continent long wracked by poverty and conflict. However, initiatives that help foster increased online activity also eventually benefit Internet companies like Alphabet and Facebook.

In this case, Alphabet taking steps to foster greater online activity, particularly business activity, can also be seen as the company making an investment in its own growth in the region. Alphabet still generates the bulk of its revenue from online advertising, either through its own search engine and online products, or its third-party ad network.

Alphabet and Facebook need businesses to come online in order to be in a position to spend money on either of their advertising platforms. In this sense, Alphabet's job-training program should be viewed as both a charitable endeavor, and a planting of the seed for its future growth in the space.

Facebook Internet-beaming drone. Source: Internet.org.

Similarly, Alphabet's and Facebook's highly publicized efforts to increase Internet availability around the world should be viewed as simultaneously philanthropic and commercial. Earlier this year, news of Facebook's long-term goal to reach 5 billion users online by 2030 became public. However, with only 3.2 billion people online today, Facebook will need to leverage new technologies to bring greater numbers of people online.

Both Facebook and Alphabet have experimented with various aerial approaches to beam wireless Internet across large areas. Facebook's efforts range from high-altitude drones to geosynchronous satellites as part of its Internet.org initiative. Alphabet appears more interested in either helium-filled balloons, or ground-based Internet beaming stations.

Helping to bring more of the world's population online is a laudable goal, and one that will enhance quality of life for many people. In that sense, Facebook and Alphabet indeed deserve credit. However, not to belabor the point, bringing more people online also creates more potential users and customers for each company. Facebook and Alphabet then become the eventual beneficiaries of their altruism, a fact that's always worth remembering when these kinds of stories arise.

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