Lifelong Learning Is Goal of Microsoft Commitment to Digital Inclusion

REDMOND, Wash., April 27, 2005 — Early this year, Reyna Estela Ramos de Valenzuela opened a business of her own — Cybercafé Compudiver, a cybercafé run out of her garage in Guatemala City, Guatemala that offers Internet access, graphic design solutions, printing and scanning assistance, and other services.

De Valenzuela, who suffers from a nervous disorder and a limited-mobility health condition, received technology and entrepreneurship training from the Community Technology Training Centers for the Disabled (CTTCD), sponsored by Microsoft and Trust for the Americas, a nonprofit institution of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Today at the Microsoft Government Leaders Conference for the Americas in Washington, D.C., Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced a partnership agreement with the OAS to provide technology and workforce skills training to Latin American youth and adults with disabilities. Through Microsoft’s digital inclusion program called Unlimited Potential, a total of US$423,000 will be donated to the OAS for the development of the Partnership in Opportunities for Employment through Technology (POET) program, which aims to provide people with disabilities or impairments the ability to learn about information and communications technology, use the Internet to further their education, explore careers and participate in community activities. Additionally, POET will help individuals by helping them seek job placements in the public and private sectors.

“I’ve heard stories that truly amaze me, and that motivate me to fight to reach my goals,” said Marlin Cifuentes, a 25-year-old student of psychology and a volunteer at the CTTCD in Mixco, Guatamala, who has polio in both of her legs. “I have the opportunity to help others that, like me, are also disabled, but they have not had the chance to free themselves from the confinement caused by ignorance and fear from what others may say or do to ridicule you.”

The mission of Trust for the Americas reflects the central goals of the OAS — mobilizing resources to confront extreme poverty; promote democracy through actions that are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable; and promote the development of disabled individuals in Latin America through educational programs that provide them with the necessary skills to obtain employment and become active members of society.

“Today, approximately 50 million people in Latin America are disabled, 80-90 percent are unemployed or outside the workforce, and 82 percent live in poverty,” said Eugenio Beaufrand, vice president of Microsoft Latin America and the Caribbean. “As an industry leader and responsible corporate citizen, we feel it is our duty to help all members of the population benefit socially and economically from the use of technology.”

Microsoft’s donation will be used to set up, launch, and provide administration for 12 community-based technology learning centers (CTLCs) in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina. Disabled individuals will gather to access and learn about technology at the centers, which will be fully equipped with Microsoft software and accessibility features for the visually, hearing and physically impaired.

Realizing Potential in the Classroom

Microsoft’s partnership with the OAS is part of a continuum of programs and partnerships created to achieve Microsoft’s goal of broadening digital inclusion — expanding global access to technology — and bringing the benefits of technology and technology skills to 250 million people by the year 2010.

Other efforts include the Partners in Learning initiative, through which the company is working with 92 national governments to increase access to technology and technology skills to schools and educators, providing software and helping to improve and expand teacher training. One of these projects is Innovative Teachers, available in 27 countries, which provides teachers with training in enhancing learning in the classroom using software and encourages them to create “communities of innovation” in their schools.

In Egypt, the Junior Developers project, which currently enrolls 3,000 students in a three-year summer program on programming skills, has been so well received that Microsoft is planning to expand the program.

In China, Microsoft has partnered with the government to distribute an IT skills curriculum, including lesson plans and materials, to spread computer literacy to the country’s 250 million primary and secondary students. Also, Microsoft is supporting the establishment of three computer labs in each of China’s 31 provinces, including networked PCs and high-speed Internet access.

Refurbished Computers Provide New Opportunities

In addition to Microsoft’s partnership agreement with OAS, the company today also announced the expansion of the Microsoft Authorized Refurbishment (MAR) program. Previously available only in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia, MAR is now being made available worldwide. The program authorizes computer refurbishers to reinstall the Microsoft Windows operating system onto donated used PCs destined for schools and nonprofit organizations. Commercial refurbishers will now be eligible to participate in the expanded program, which was previously open to nonprofit refurbishers only.

Each year, millions of computers are discarded by businesses and other organizations. The International Association of Electronics Recyclers estimates that by 2010, 1 billion units of computer equipment will have been decommissioned worldwide. According to the International Business Leaders Forum’s Digital Partnership survey, in the next three years, another 1 million computers will be retired by just 20 global corporations in the U.S. and Europe alone. On average, these PCs are only three years old, which makes PC refurbishment one of the best ways to provide computers to schools, charities and other nonprofit organizations.

To date, Microsoft has donated 103,000 licenses in North America through MAR programs, which were launched in 2002 in response to requests from the refurbishment, education and nonprofit communities. In April 2004, the program was expanded to include Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Organizations, both commercial and nonprofit, can join the MAR program (see Related Links, right).

Lifelong Learning

Microsoft launched the Unlimited Potential initiative in 2003 after consulting with governments and development agencies, which wanted public and private partnerships to help develop the workforce skills of adults — particularly those disadvantaged groups of adults who are outside of traditional school settings. Microsoft now partners with 445 organizations in 89 countries to set up and support thousands of community centers where people learn IT skills.

The Unlimited Potential learning centers are tailored to each of the countries in which they operate. In India, the focus is on developing the workforce skills of women; in Southern Africa, Microsoft is working with the UN Development Program to explore innovative ways that technology can best support those HIV/AIDS ravaged countries.

Since May 2003, Microsoft has invested $42.9 million in cash and $75.1 million in software (a total of $118 million) in Unlimited Potential programs operating in 89 countries, with additional grants still being approved.

“Microsoft will continue to work to create innovative technology solutions to broaden digital inclusion,” said Pamela Passman, vice president of global corporate affairs at Microsoft. “By partnering with others in supporting technology education, skills and access, we can create opportunities for those who are underserved by technology and help raise the living standards for people around the world.”

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