Bridging the Digital Divide Worldwide

SEATTLE, Wash., Oct. 18, 2000 — In a keynote today to business and technology leaders from non-governmental organizations and international agencies, and innovators from emerging markets and environmental industries, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates emphasized the importance of continuing society’s efforts to bridge the digital divide.

Gates was at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center to address the Digital Dividends Conference, which was organized by the World Resources Institute and sponsored by Microsoft and other technology companies such as Compaq, 3Com, iGeneration, Lucent, Ericsson, Weyerhaeuser, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, WorldCom, Motorola and Nokia. The conference featured keynote addresses from international agencies, and emerging market and business leaders; case studies of innovative business models that apply digital technologies to unconventional markets; and small focus-group sessions that explore practical solutions as well as new business opportunities.

Participation in the Digital Dividends Conference represents just one of the many ways Microsoft has demonstrated its awareness of the need to provide technology access to people who have the least opportunity to obtain it themselves — those disadvantaged by geographic location, economic status or physical disabilities.

“Amazing things happen when you give people the resources they need,” said Bruce Brooks, Microsoft’s director of Community Affairs. “Technology can enable people and organizations to do great things. Our role at Microsoft is to provide the tools and resources people need to achieve the goals that they’ve set for themselves.”

In the United States, Microsoft has donated $26 million in cash and $187 million in software to nearly 5,000 nonprofit organizations. But while Microsoft’s involvement in community outreach within the United States is common knowledge, the company’s efforts to help disadvantaged communities worldwide is not as well-known.

In fiscal year 2000, Microsoft contributed over $21 million through the company’s International Community Affairs program, funding over 95 local, community-based projects in 67 countries outside the United States. These projects support four primary areas of giving: enabling learning through effective use of technology; providing access to information technology (IT) skills training with particular focus on providing opportunities for employment; improving the effectiveness and productivity of nongovernmental, charitable organizations through the provision of software and technical assistance; and providing support for disaster relief efforts.

“We work collaboratively with indigenous nonprofits to develop local solutions that really help people discover the opportunities within themselves,” said Joanna Demirian, Microsoft program manager for International Community Affairs. “We don’t go in assuming that we know everything. We work with these nonprofit agencies to develop solutions that will really enhance opportunities for people.”

Education benefits people of all ages, and through a number of collaborations with local nonprofit organizations, Microsoft has helped enable learning opportunities for underprivileged youth and senior citizens. In the Philippines, a donation of $65,025 funded the second round of the Extending and Enhancing the Connected Learning Community project. Three schools in economically challenged communities on the islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao received a seven-computer classroom with Internet access, video-conference equipment, software and teacher training.

Similarly, Microsoft donated $46,158 to Project Hope in China to fund the creation of five computer labs, or “Cyberschools,” in rural schools to provide disadvantaged youth with computer skills and Internet access to the best teachers and curricula in China. Microsoft is also supporting IT education and training initiatives in schools for children with disabilities in Bulgaria, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Lebanon, Portugal, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Vietnam, and the Netherlands. In Hong Kong, Malaysia and Bolivia, children whose parents have died or have abandoned them are given opportunities to develop a normal life.

“I like to send email to friends, write about my hobbies and draw,” said Serena, a 7-year-old girl who lives in one of the 26 orphanages in Malaysia that received an influx of PC hardware and software from a recent Microsoft grant.

In Taiwan, the company donated $50,000 to fund the creation of the “Seniors’ Computer Class,” which will train and benefit approximately 750 senior citizens. As younger generations embrace new technologies and the Internet, older generations are being left behind, due to economic restraints that limit senior citizens’ access to computers and their inherent apprehension of new technologies. The objective of the project is to bridge the increasing divide in communication between the generations.

Children with illnesses such as cancer are able to play, continue their studies and communicate with teachers and friends at school through programs such as “Education Is Not a Privilege” in Slovenia, and similar programs in Canada, Italy and the Czech Republic.

Such IT opportunities provide these children with the ability to “keep up” with their more advantaged counterparts. However, there is more to providing support than donating software and equipment. The only way to “permanently” solve the problem of disadvantaged people is to help them succeed — through increased training and employment opportunities.

In countries such as Spain, Chile, Russia and El Salvador, Microsoft has worked with local nonprofit organizations that assist children disadvantaged by economic status or disabilities in developing skills to enhance their education and their chances for employment. Funds have been established to offer resources such as online libraries, training for instructors, and technology centers with access to the Internet as well as educational and business software.

In many disadvantaged communities around the world, stealing and other criminal activities are a way of life, and children often have little recourse but to follow in the footsteps of their parents. Microsoft is trying to help by providing positive alternatives for children who are just beginning to make life choices. In Costa Rica, for example, Microsoft donated $50,000 to Pura Vida Coffee to establish four technology centers in four troubled neighborhoods that struggle with prostitution, drugs and poverty. Microsoft has established IT skills centers — training facilities with PCs, Internet access, study rooms and consulting rooms — to help correctional facilities in countries such as Peru, Puerto Rico and Korea offer teenage lawbreakers and at-risk youth opportunities to gain technical and occupational skills that will help them build new lives.

Various Scholar Programs throughout Microsoft subsidiaries provide IT skills and industry-recognized certification to unemployed people to assist in getting those people gainful employment. In just six years, the
“European Scholar Program”
has benefited more than 10,000 people from 12 European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Over 90 percent of the graduates of the program have secured well-paid jobs. Likewise, in an effort to initiate a development community and IT industry in Panama, Microsoft helped fund the “Building the Canal for Panama Developers” project that will offer low-income students hands-on training as well as job placement assistance.

Grants of cash and software have been made to the
“Movement of the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS),”
which offers training, education, employment and welfare services to adults with intellectual disabilities in Singapore. Organizations in the Czech Republic have received various donations in cash, technical assistance and software to provide IT skills training and rehabilitation, and employment counseling for people with disabilities.

In Croatia, Microsoft is teaming up with the United Nations Commission for Refugees and others to launch an IT skills training program for refugees and people displaced by the recent conflicts in the region. The program will provide participants with basic IT skills that will help them find a job in the new economy.

Earlier this year, Deputy High Commissioner Frederick Barton of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees praised Microsoft for the company’s efforts in the Kosovo crisis last year. In a three-month period in 1999, more than 50 Microsoft employees donated the equivalent of 12 person-years to the original Refugee Field Kit, which provided displaced people with identification cards. The refugees said that the cards gave them back their identities; technology reconnected them to their lives.

Microsoft is in the business of providing people with the resources they need to achieve their goals. The company’s international community affairs program is a natural extension of that philosophy, and it is producing amazing results worldwide.

Related Posts