Enabling New Opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean

Mayan pyramids were religious structures built so high that they were frequently used as landmarks, and also served as reminders to the Mayan people that the gods were ever present.

GUATEMALA CITY, March 16, 2007 – Opportunities in the town of Itajubá, nestled at the foot of the Brazilian Mantiqueira mountain Range, used to seem tantalizingly out of reach for teenagers like Michel Lincon Roque. A five-hour bus ride from Sao Paulo and an eight-hour bus ride from Rio, the city of 80,000 is home to many young people attending the local universities of Itajubá. However, there was little chance that 15-year old Roque could ever afford to become one of those university students. The teenager had a strong interest in information and communication technology (ICT), but as with many in the area, had no means to pay for private schooling, let alone extra curricular courses.

One day Roque stumbled across a flyer that changed his life. The flyer advertised free classes at the IT labs of the Digital Inclusion Center (DIC), located in the district of Piedade on the outskirts of town. The DIC is a result of the partnership between Microsoft and the Bradesco Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on promoting educational opportunities in the regions of Brazil that lack social and economic support. The 14 DICs in Brazil are all part of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential (UP) program, which supports IT training centers in low-income communities around the world. Students who pass the course earn a completion certificate and, like Roque, open up new opportunities that they never thought possible.

Roque has since gone on to become a monitor at a DIC, where he helps others learn to use computers. “The work as a monitor has changed a lot of things in my life, says Roque. “The experience should help me secure my first job in software development. Beyond that, in the future I want to help attract investment and generate jobs in Brazil.”

A Tradition of Innovation, From Ancient Math to the Knowledge Economy

Roque is only one of the millions of people across Latin America and the Caribbean who are looking for future opportunities through ICT. Geographically, the region is divided into over 40 independent countries. It is a diverse and varied culture steeped in a rich tradition of scientific and mathematical achievements beginning from ancient pre-Columbian civilizations – the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas.

Latin America continues to embrace these skills, and the knowledge economy has become one the region’s most important means of maintaining competitiveness, improving living standards and building for the future. In 2005, technology hardware, software and services generated tax revenues of US$8 billion for Latin America; this figure is expected to grow to $11.3 billion by 2009, according to IDC. To fully realize the benefits of ICT, communities are building out strong technology infrastructures, which make them more appealing for capital investments from businesses and micro-creditors, and ultimately lead to more job growth and personal achievement.

Microsoft in Latin America

Microsoft recently celebrated 20 years of doing business in Latin America and the Caribbean. In that time, the company has enabled millions of people and businesses in the region to realize their full potential, by working in close partnerships with local companies, industry leaders, governments and communities.

Eugenio Beaufrand, vice president of Microsoft Latin America, notes the importance of working with people and organizations at all levels. “Microsoft’s operating base consists of creating alliances with companies and the governments where we operate,” he says. “We have been contributing to the software industry in Latin America for the past two decades, and we work closely with many governments in the region. Even though Microsoft is a large global software company, we are also a local company and neighbor in every Latin American and Caribbean country and community where Microsoft employees live, work and do business.”

Microsoft’s contributions to the region’s economy in a variety of ways: The company employs 1,300 people, and Microsoft-related jobs account for another 849,000 people – or nearly half of Latin America’s IT-related jobs. Also, for every dollar Microsoft makes in Latin America, local vendors and consultants earn approximately $16. Microsoft also has a tradition of collaboration in the region, of which it is very proud. As of 2007 more than 40,000 members have joined Microsoft’s Partners Program, making it the largest services, solutions and value-added ecosystem in Latin America. In addition to being a local company that drives economic opportunity, Microsoft is also a neighbor, with employees who are committed to giving their time, expertise, and personal resources to ensure that all members of the community are being served by technology.

In emerging market countries – not just in Latin America and the Caribbean, but around the world – ICT plays a critical role in shaping the global economy of the 21st century. Yet the vast majority of people still do not have access to technology. Microsoft’s goal is to help create sustained economic opportunity that allows all citizens access to the power of technology and a chance to contribute to a broad knowledge economy. To achieve this vision, Microsoft is partnering with leaders in government, business and education, as well as its own partner network, to create technology and community advancements in three key areas: education, jobs and partnerships for business development. It is a multi-pronged approach to enabling the knowledge economies of Latin America and the Caribbean.

As senior vice president of Microsoft’s Emerging Segments Market Development Group, Orlando Ayala is charged with spearheading the company’s efforts in Latin America, and ensuring that Microsoft makes a real, positive difference in people’s lives. “At Microsoft, we believe that people are the world’s most important economic resources,” Ayala says. “In Latin America and in the Caribbean, the knowledge economy has become one of the region’s most important means of maintaining future competitiveness and improving living standards, yet the vast majority of people in this region are still underserved by technology. That’s why we are partnering with public and private sector organizations in a new way to use technology as an enabler for sustainable economic growth. We see this as both a corporate responsibility and a tremendous opportunity for the region.”

Education Efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean

Education is a critical component of economic growth, and the DIC that Roque attended is just one of the many programs Microsoft has contributed to as part of its efforts to provide skills training. This training is available for teachers, school children, the adult community, and underserved populations such as at-risk youth, senior citizens, and the disabled. Microsoft’s Partners in Learning (PIL) and UP are just two of the company’s program offerings for education that are making a practical difference in people’s lives. Jose, a 6th grader from Costa Rica, notes that “in Partners in Learning, I learned things that will matter when I look for a job.”

Programs such as PIL and UP are global in scope but local in implementation, helping people from all walks of life realize their potential through technology. For example, approximately 50 million Latin Americans and Caribbeans have disabilities, and of those people, 90 percent are unemployed. In 2005, the Trust for the Americas and UP officially launched the Partnership for Opportunities in Employment through Technology in the Americas (POETA) program. POETA now operates 29 centers in 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries where people with disabilities are learning to use technology.

The Imagine Cup is another program sponsored by Microsoft that gives students an outlet to use the technical skills they’ve learned so they can make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. Latin America and the Caribbean began competing in Imagine Cup in 2004, and in 2006, Brazil’s Trivial Team, from the Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, was one of six finalist teams chosen from more than 72 team entries. Now in 2007, more than 26,000 students from 18 countries in the Latin American region and Caribbean are participating.

In the words of Prof. Javier González Sánchez, Mcs., Computer Science Department, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Guadalajara, “Imagine Cup provides students an exciting opportunity to apply cutting-edge technology to solve real-world problems. It gives students real experience with teamwork, formal presentations, and professional evaluations in a business context.”

Microsoft’s Education programs include:

  • Partners in Learning
    advances the quality of education through innovative uses of technology, helping empower teachers and students to achieve their fullest potential. Between 2003 and 2007, Microsoft helped more than 30 million people in 19 Latin American and Caribbean countries, and awarded over $27 million in grants and software.

  • Fresh Start for Donated Computers program
    (Part of PIL) provides refurbishing and licensing of PCs worldwide, with one million PCs donated to date.

  • Unlimited Potential
    helps develop curriculum and provides grants for programs that increase technology skills in underserved communities. UP also supports grassroots telecenter networks and donates software and refurbished PCs. To date, Microsoft has committed more than $150 million to programs in 95 countries. Between 2003 and 2007, Microsoft awarded $88.5 million in grants and software to nonprofit organizations in 21 Latin American and Caribbean countries. These organizations have established more than 5,300 Computer Technology Learning Centers, benefiting more than five million people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

  • Imagine Cup
    encourages young people to apply their imagination, their passion and their creativity to technology innovations that can make a difference in the world. Now in its fifth year, the Imagine Cup is the world’s premier student technology competition. Last year, more than 65,000 students from 100 countries entered the competition.

Public Sector/Private Sector Partnerships for Jobs and Business Development

The fuel that feeds every flourishing economy is jobs and business development, in Latin America, the Caribbean and around the world. Partnerships between the private and public sector are essential for creating and sustaining such opportunities, and Microsoft is backing a number of successful collaboration projects. Since 2001, Microsoft and the Organization of American States (OAS) have collaborated on several technology and education initiatives. These include creating the Educational Portal of the Americas; accelerating eGovernment technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean; developing the OAS Engineering for the Americas Symposium; and forming the POETA.

Additionally, in 2006, Microsoft and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) entered into an agreement to make it easier for citizens and institutions across Latin America and the Caribbean to benefit from ICT. The agreement outlines six strategic areas of common interest to the IDB and Microsoft: eGovernment; ICT security for the public; technological and scientific capacity building; education; remittances and microfinance; and youth, technology, and social inclusion.

Other public/private –sector collaborative programs include:

  • Partnership for Technology Access delivers affordable PCs to underserved citizens and small business through creative financing programs supported by local governments.

  • The United Nations Development Programis a result of a 2004 agreement to create and implement ICT projects to assist developing countries achieve Millennium Development Goals.

Innovation in Products and Programs

New innovations also make ICT more accessible to the world’s underserved populations. Innovation is a core value at Microsoft, and in this case it translates directly to better connectivity for people, for governments and for business.

Of course, the core of that innovation is in Microsoft’s software. Products like Windows Vista Starter, Windows Vista Starter and SteadyState are aimed directly at bringing an affordable and simple introduction to personal computing to as many people and institutions as possible.

  • The Local Language Program encourages growth of the local IT economy by offering the tools and knowledge needed by local users to create their own language solutions for desktop computer software. In particular, with assistance from local communities, academics and language authorities, Microsoft has produced versions of both Windows XP and Office in Quechua and Mapuzungún – two native languages spoken by nearly 11 million people in seven Latin American and Caribbean countries.

  • Microsoft Research
    is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. Since 2002, Microsoft Research has supported 13 top-tier research universities in six Latin American and Caribbean countries. Between 2004 and 2007, Microsoft awarded more than $1 million to more than 30 research projects and established eight technology learning labs in area universities. Between 2005 and 2007, 21 students participated in Microsoft Research’s Internship & Fellowship program.

  • Windows XP Starter Edition
    and recently launched Windows Vista Starter provide first-time PC users in developing technology markets with an affordable and simple introduction to personal computing. Through ongoing collaborations with local governments on PC access programs, more than 1.5 million families in emerging markets have learned to use a PC through Windows XP Starter Edition.

  • SteadyState
    (formerly known as the Shared Access Toolkit) provides powerful new software tools for sharing computers in schools, libraries, Internet cafes, and other public places. SteadyState makes it easy to set up, safeguard, and manage reliable shared computers running genuine Windows XP.

  • Windows MultiPoint
    , formerly called MultiMouse, is simple, powerful technology that enables multiple users to share a single PC with multiple mice or other peripherals to learn 21st-century skills in the process. Windows MultiPoint extends the school’s investment in each PC, while also offering unique opportunities for active, collaborative learning. The technology is in the early stages and a software development kit (SDK) is available for education developers to create innovative new learning games and applications for kids all over the world.

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