Cheick Diarra, Microsoft’s chairman for Africa
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sept. 23, 2008 – It’s easy to forget that the vast majority of the world’s population — some five billion people — still lack access to even basic information and communication technology (ICT). Many of those who are underserved by technology live in countries that can’t yet provide all their citizens with the basic necessities of food, clean water, sanitation and health care. Experts agree that technology can be an essential component in addressing these issues and raising a country’s population out of poverty by creating sustainable economic growth and development.
Microsoft, through its Unlimited Potential effort, is committed to using its technology and resources to help address the world’s social, economic and health problems. On Sept. 22 and 23 in Washington, D.C., the company is hosting its second annual ICT for Development Conference, a gathering of leaders from government development agencies, inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The focus this year is on the importance of public-private partnerships in addressing development issues.
The ICT for Development conference is just one of the ways Microsoft is focusing on global development this week:
On Sept. 23-26, the 2008 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting will be held in New York City. Microsoft is a co-sponsor of this gathering of current and former heads of state, CEOs, philanthropists and NGO leaders. This meeting has been held annually since 2005 and this year’s agenda addresses critical global challenges, like the food and energy crises, climate change, global health and poverty alleviation.
On Sept. 25, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, in his capacity as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will address a special session of the United Nations (UN) on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of ambitious international development goals that UN member states, international organizations, and Microsoft and other private companies have committed to trying to achieve by the year 2015.
Cheick Diarra, Microsoft’s chairman for Africa, will attend both the ICT for Development conference and the UN MDG conference, where he will address how ICT investment can help boost economic and social development in African countries, stimulate growth and increase innovation.
Diarra will discuss four areas Microsoft feels are critical for governments, NGOs, IGOs and global corporations to collectively address in Africa:
Building human capacity through education and technology training,
Developing an infrastructure by creating business consortia and using innovative financing,
Strengthening the business environment by enforcing intellectual property and other laws, and
Fostering local innovation and content.
“We are at the cusp of a transformation here in Africa,” says Diarra, who is responsible for Microsoft’s citizenship, education and developmental activities on the African continent. “We are witnessing how investment, development and technology are helping to harness Africa’s abundant human capital, and helping create an environment in which rural and urban communities can realize their potential.
“But to realize the potential of the broad range of technologies – mobile phones, computers, software and the Internet – resources must be matched by resourcefulness,” Diarra added. “The most constructive applications of technology will be the ones that are combined with initiatives by government leaders, educators and entrepreneurs.”
ICT for Development
Organizations represented at the ICT for Development event include the European Commission, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, NetHope, the Peace Corps, Save the Children, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other UN agencies, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank and several universities. These global leaders will discuss how education, environmental sustainability, disaster preparedness, financial services and healthcare delivery can be revolutionized through technology.
“Companies like Microsoft have a unique opportunity and responsibility to apply our technology and expertise to help people in the developing world,” said Michael Rawding, vice president of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group,. “But we realize that we can’t solve the world’s problems alone. We’re most effective when we partner with other companies, international organizations and government agencies.”
Partnerships for Development
An example of such a partnership is Microsoft’s partnership with USAID, the U.S. government organization responsible for most non-military foreign aid. Although Microsoft has been collaborating with the agency for about five years, the company formalized that relationship by signing an official global partnership agreement in October 2007.
On Sept. 22, Microsoft, USAID and the Ministry of Education and Sports of Uganda announced an alliance to decentralize Uganda’s Education Management Information System to the district level, which will allow the Ministry to collect, manage and communicate all the data needed by decision makers to plan and administer education systems more efficiently and effectively.
“USAID believes that bringing the public and private sector together encourages innovative approaches, more effective problem-solving and deeper development impact,” says Juan Belt, director of the USAID Office of Infrastructure and Engineering. “Development issues are complex issues, with no single-actor solutions. When we work with Microsoft, for example, it provides the technology and business expertise, and we bring an in-depth knowledge of development and local issues, a rich network of international aid organizations and access to national and local government representatives.”
USAID has also partnered with Microsoft in Kenya to train teachers how to integrate technology into their curricula. The goal is to give all 8.5 million primary school students in Kenya technology skills that will allow them to compete in the global knowledge economy.
Another collaboration involved setting up 64 Community Technology Learning Centers (CTLCs) and more than 400 affiliate centers in Vietnam during 2006 and 2007. The Vietnamese-language course curriculum provided user-oriented ICT training and skill building.
In addition to education initiatives, Microsoft and USAID have worked together to implement e-Government in several countries. E-government (short for electronic government) refers to the use of internet technology as a platform for exchanging information, providing services and transacting with citizens, businesses and other arms of government. The benefits of e-Government include improved efficiency, convenience and accessibility of public services.
“Effectively implementing e-Government in a country involves much more than just dropping in some new hardware and software,” says Belt. “You need to provide training and change management to overcome long-standing bureaucracies, traditions and customs.”
In 2004, Microsoft became the first private company to sign a global cooperation agreement with UNESCO. “Some public/private partnerships are all about governments getting free equipment, software or program sponsorships,” says Tarek Shawki, director of UNESCO’s regional bureau for science and technology in Cairo, Egypt. “We approach things differently. We compare our objectives to those of the corporate partner and look for areas of mutual interest. We also begin by looking at the problems we’d like to solve in a particular country or region and how they can best be addressed, rather than jumping right to a discussion of how to spend a corporation’s money.”
One result of this partnership is the Innovative Teachers Program in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe. As part of the program, UNESCO, local educational authorities and Microsoft are developing projects for the inclusion of information technologies in teachers’ training. In addition, regional Innovative Teachers Forums are held regularly in different countries, bringing together teachers from the region – selected through national competitions – to share best practices and build a global network.
Microsoft has also worked with UNESCO and several other IT companies to identify the core ICT skills that teachers all over the world should possess in order to best integrate ICT in the classroom. Fifteen such skill sets have been identified, forming the ICT Competency Framework for Teachers, and a mechanism for certifying teacher-training curricula is currently being created. “This is an example of a global standard-setting effort we worked on with our partners that wasn’t about grants or donations,” says Shawki. “We were after their expertise and know-how, not their money.”