Microsoft, NetHope Kick Off Pilot Program in Nairobi for IT Skills Training

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 6, 2007 – Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) Carnegie Johnson has delivered training for over 20 years – from serving as troop leader for the Boy Scouts of America to providing consulting services to the American Red Cross. Recently, Johnson was asked by Microsoft to travel to Nairobi and help launch an information and communications technology (ICT) training program for humanitarian relief workers. Increasing the accessibility of ICT training worldwide is one of the fundamental goals of Microsoft Unlimited Potential, an ongoing commitment to help bridge the digital divide that builds on the company’s technology expertise and private-public partnerships around the globe.

“I’m thrilled and delighted to be traveling to Africa as a Microsoft Certified Trainer, ” Johnson says. “As an African-American male, it’s a great opportunity for me to contribute to African growth and connect directly with the people.” Given his experience working with the American Red Cross, Johnson is quite familiar with the devastation caused by natural disasters, in which survivors are left in need of all of life’s basic necessities, as well as long-term help to rebuild their lives and communities.

Today, delivering such support – even in the remotest regions of the world – requires many of the accoutrements found in a typical business IT environment. And just as businesses require efficient operations, so do non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which take on the most important relief response efforts in the hours, days and weeks following an emergency.

Joining Forces to Increase Response Capacity

For this reason, Johnson will help represent the community of more than 11,000 MCTs in 140 countries as he works with Microsoft to help build the skills of relief workers and IT staff on behalf of NetHope, a consortium of 19 NGO agencies. Through partnerships with NGOs like NetHope, Microsoft Unlimited Potential aims to bring the benefits of relevant, accessible and affordable technology to every person on the planet, reaching the next one billion people underserved by technology by 2015. Pamela Passman, Microsoft vice president of Global Corporate Affairs, underscores the importance of this work. “We believe that by empowering and connecting the communities of the world through technology, we can give everyone an opportunity to achieve their unlimited potential,” she says.

Bill Brindley, CEO of NetHope, emphasizes that regardless of the scenario – whether logistics staff members are monitoring supplies, medical personnel are tracking the spread of disease, or security personnel are locating family members – responding to a disaster requires tracking and sharing information via e-mail, databases and software applications.

This reality is central to the founding of NetHope. As Brindley puts it, “the primary reason for NetHope’s existence is to help CIOs and directors of information and communications technology pool their resources, share best practices and learn new skills to address the challenges they face – all so they can support humanitarian relief efforts in the developing world.”

Microsoft has a long-standing commitment to partnering with humanitarian organizations – because technology can make a difference in the effectiveness of disaster response. Last year, Microsoft announced a donation of US$41 million in cash and software to NetHope and the Interagency Working Group on Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB), intended to enable efficient and rapid communication among NGOs during times of crisis.

Assessing Areas for Improvement

Towards this end, seven NetHope member agencies conducted a technology assessment of their capabilities. According to Paul Currion, an independent consultant who conducted the assessment, the findings revealed that regardless of their level of technical training, relief workers have no understanding of how to effectively communicate in a business environment. And because the turnover rate of relief workers is extremely high, agencies often lose the knowledge stored in a worker’s e-mail when they leave an agency.

More importantly, the assessment found that many relief workers have had limited exposure to, and experience with, technology applications – even one as common as Microsoft Word. In Currion’s words, “When [NGOs] staff up to respond to an emergency, they’re predominantly hiring in country from local populations, where levels of IT education may not be as high as they are in Europe or America.”

Japheth Ngoya, international IT coordinator for the Africa Region of Actionaid International, agrees with Currion. “We have many of the tools that we need; it’s the skills that we are lacking in some cases,” he says.  “We are very happy that NetHope is bringing ICT skills training to East Africa because it will go a long way towards making us more efficient.”

Making Technology Training Accessible

Leading the training efforts for Microsoft will be Ken Rosen, worldwide manager of the MCT program for Microsoft Learning. During their time on the ground in Nairobi, Rosen, Johnson, Brindley and others will deliver training about how to use Microsoft Office more proficiently, and will also provide instruction on general business communications and project management. In addition, they will provide ICT professionals with training they need to achieve Microsoft certifications that help validate the professionals’ readiness to design, deploy, and support an IT infrastructure; these certifications also help ensure that the NGOs receive a high return from their technology investment. Classroom training sessions in Nairobi are the first of several being held around the globe for the benefit of NGOs. Other sessions will be held later this year in New Delhi, Guatemala City, Bangkok and Jakarta.

The overall goal for the pilot program, which ends in December of this year, is to help 1,000 relief workers and IT staff to do their jobs more effectively. Training and certification courses will be available through a variety of outlets, including classroom learning, mentoring relationships and live online learning. To make that possible, roughly 100 MCTs have volunteered their time to take part.

According to Rosen, the level of enthusiasm for this opportunity has been rather amazing. “What really resonated for me was that you can always contribute money, time and talent, but this is such a specific need for trainers that only Microsoft Learning and the community of MCTs could meet. When I heard about the opportunity, I had the same reaction that I know a lot of MCTs had, which was ‘Sign me up.’”

The availability of multiple learning approaches will accommodate different levels of Internet connectivity and the inability of workers to leave the field for more than a few days of classroom training. Examples of this include self-paced Microsoft e-learning courses and training kits from Microsoft Press, both of which will supplement the instructor-led training and enable learning to continue beyond the classroom. Upon completion of the pilot program, NetHope and Microsoft plan to extend the course offerings to the more than 50,000 humanitarian workers in the field.

One key component is Microsoft Official Distance Learning (MODL), an alternative that blends the convenience of an e-learning solution with the dynamic interaction of an actual classroom environment. “MODL enables some of our best trainers to deliver their expertise without traveling half-way around the world, or negotiating the relief workers’ schedules to get them in the same room,” Rosen says. “And trainers and students who have used MODL feel that the online hosted labs and hundreds of interactive activities with fellow students have been great experiences that don’t compromise the fidelity of a traditional classroom experience.”

Remote learning models such as MODL matter a great deal to NetHope’s Brindley, as well. “Whether dealing with an AIDS or medical relief worker on the border of Sudan and Uganda, or someone in Tanzania with the World Wildlife Conservation Society tracking avian flu in migratory birds, anything that can be done to make their life easier and make them more proficient is goodness,” he says. “What’s so exciting about the ICT pilot program is that it addresses the areas of greatest need – the skill-level of the folks on the ground – and provides a variety of easily accessible training methods.”

Getting Ahead of the Technology Innovation Curve

The pilot program will continue to evolve based on discussions with the NGO community about their needs. Currion is helping manage the discussions and building the skills of relief workers. “One of the things NGOs do quite well is to improvise and respond to changing conditions. But in the past they’ve constantly been playing catch up,” he says. “Now, they are realizing how information and communications technology can help them do their jobs better.” With this realization, Currion hopes the humanitarian community will finally get ahead of the curve.

He’s already seeing glimmers of hope that this is the case: Currion is convinced Web-based applications and software plus services will be important to the future success of NGOs because most developing countries are investing more money in cellular and wireless networks than they are in land lines. Perhaps in anticipation of this, relief workers at some NGOs have started using their smart phones and Web-based geo-spatial applications to send assessment information on the severity of local emergencies to country offices.

Currion is a strong believer that seeing such innovations through to reality will require continued training investments from companies such as Microsoft. “To invest in technology training isn’t just an expedient move,” he says. “It’s an effort that companies are obliged to take because it not only helps build the capacity of NGOs to respond to emergencies. It also adds to capacity of the country as a whole.”

Not only must the investments continue in technology, but also in the national staff of each country, so they can increase their knowledge and develop best practices for responding to emergencies. Or as Carnegie Johnson says, “It’s very important to convey that the MCT community has a vested interest, and desire, to help African countries prosper and compete globally. Therefore, I would be deeply gratified if I could positively encourage many other MCTs to volunteer their time and help NGOs bridge the IT skills gap. ”

Through NGO investments such as these, Microsoft is partnering at the local, regional and global level to create the scale necessary to achieve the goals of Unlimited Potential. These partnerships also allow organizations like NetHope to continue providing fundamental tools for technology training and access—in Africa and throughout the world.

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