Headed up by Ms Nunu Ntshingila, Facebook Africa stands firmly behind the growth of small women-owned businesses, and has availed its space for robust marketing opportunities, as well as first-hand connectivity to customers. Ahead of the ITU Telecom World taking place in South Africa for the first time this week, we sit down with the tech giant to discuss ICT and the role of business in the development of economies and societies.*Answers courtesy of Emilar Gandhi, Facebook Africa Public Policy Manager for SADC region.Matalane Ngobeni: Since 1994, great strides have been made to ensure women enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts in relation to education, employment, property, inheritance and justice. More however still needs to be done to ensure the full participation of women in the economy. What are the initiatives that Facebook has undertaken to promote gender equality and women empowerment in the workspace?Emilar Gandhi: Helping women to start and grow prosperous companies is a powerful way in which we can transform our society and create equal opportunities for all.Tools & TrainingsWe are always exploring ways that we can support women SMBs across Africa. This includes free training, which explores everything from building a business plan, through to using social media to market your products and services, as well as learning how to create engaging marketing campaigns etc. We have free business tools that are focused on helping to grow your business and have seen more than 80 million small businesses use Facebook to grow and create jobs. In South Africa for example, more than 57 million people from around the world are connected to a business in the country. This creates huge opportunity for Small to Medium Businesses (SMBs) to export their locally produced products to the world.MentorshipWe recently announced South Africa as one of the five countries in which we’re expanding Mentorship to Facebook Groups, making it easier for people who want help achieving their goals to connect with others in their community with the experience or expertise. Last year we piloted Mentorship, a product that connects people who may need support or advice, with the people who have the expertise or experience to help. We’re starting with selected groups focused on parenting, professional and personal development, with plans to expand to more categories in the coming months.More than 200 million people on Facebook are members of groups they consider meaningful. They turn to groups to build and foster supportive communities around topics that matter most to them. Now, Mentorship makes it easier for people in groups to connect and build even stronger one-on-one relationships through a guided program. Group administrators can now choose and create an online mentoring program, let members sign up and match mentor/mentee pairs.Matalane Ngobeni: Women are underrepresented in the ICT space. What role can businesses and government play in bridging the digital gender divide? How do we remove barriers, change norms and attitudes to create a more encouraging and enabling environment for women in the technology sector?Emilar Gandhi: To achieve full gender parity in Africa, countries need to address structural barriers that discriminate against women and girls in accessing education, employment and finance. In a study conducted by Development Economics on behalf of Facebook, it is estimated that businesses set up by women in South Africa over the next five years (by 2022), hold the key to unlocking over R175 billion a year for the economy, whilst creating 972,000 jobs. We know that helping women to start and grow prosperous companies is a powerful way to transform our society and create equal opportunities for all. Matalane Ngobeni: What are the current or ongoing initiatives supported by Facebook (in South Africa/Africa) to develop young people who have an interest in tech?Emilar Gandhi: Facebook invests in partnerships and initiatives with communities across South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, including start-ups, SMBs, developers etc. to create opportunities and drive economic impact. Examples include:Loeries Creative Week (South Africa)Our partnership with Loeries reinforces our commitment in nurturing young, creative and diverse talent. For the third year running, Facebook sponsored the annual Facebook Challenge as part of the Student Category at The Loerie Awards 2018. For this year’s student challenge, Facebook partnered with the International Federation of Red Cross where students were tasked with creating a mobile-first campaign, while our Creative Shop team was on hand to mentor and provide advice.Youth Online Safety Training (Sub-Saharan Africa)We work with NGO’s and youth groups such as JOX Africa and J Initiative across the continent to provide them with collateral focused on youth safetyIn South Africa we recently launched a Youth Online Safety Programme (Ilizwe Lam – a Xhosa word for My World) in partnership with Digify Africa. Aiming to train 1 000 South African young people between the ages of 13 to 18 across high schools and youth groups nationwide, the programme explores cyber security, provides practical tips and guides and created a number of youth ambassadors. NG_Hub in partnership with CC Hub (Nigeria)Launched in Nigeria in May 2018, this multi-faceted psychical space connects developers, start-ups and the wider community to collaborate, learn and exchange ideas. We also announced an initiative to train 50,000 people in vital digital skills across multiple cities and states in Nigeria in 2018, which includes:Digify Pro Nigeria – a two-month intensive boot camp, where aspiring digital professionals will find out what it takes to have a career in digital marketing. The programme is designed to fit the specific needs of the industry, covering a range of topics including community management, content and e-mail marketing, brand online reputation management, UX design and more.Boost Your Business – Made especially for micro, small and medium-sized business owners, the Boost Your Business training programme teaches digital marketing for business growth.#SheMeansBusiness – #SheMeansBusiness is a one-day training workshop and networking experience for female entrepreneurs, offering a mix of business and digital marketing training for female-led businesses, along with additional opportunities to network with fellow female entrepreneurs.FbStart Accelerator programme – a research and mentorship-driven programme aimed at empowering start-ups and students with technical & business support and funding to optimise their product for growth – focused on those building solutions using advanced technology, with a focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)Developer Circles (Sub-Saharan Africa)A community-driven initiative by Facebook that members join for free, allowing them to connect, share ideas, learn, and collaborate. Each circle is led by a volunteer who arranges offline meetups and discussions, and also manages their own dedicated Facebook Group where members can continue the conversation between meetups, share code and deepen their knowledge on topics like React and Bots in Messenger.Since its launch in 2017, there are now 30 Developer Circles and a growing community of over 37,000 members across 16 countries in Sub Saharan Africa.Partnership with AIMS (Sub-Saharan Africa)Facebook partnered with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) and Google to launch of a one-year intensive African Master’s in Machine Intelligence (AMMI).