REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 25, 2008 — Cut global hunger in half. Reduce child mortality by two-thirds. Halt the spread of AIDS. Create more jobs and raise salaries in underdeveloped countries.
As ambitious as these goals may sound, they are just a few of the international development goals that 189 United Nations (UN) member states and at least 23 international organizations have committed to achieve by 2015. Microsoft was one of the first private companies to lend its support to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they were proposed in 2000 and was quick to sign the Business Call to Action, which rallied companies to formally support the MDGs in 2007.
Pamela Passman, corporate vice president, Global Corporate Affairs
Each of the eight development goals has specific progress targets. They include halving extreme poverty, providing decent jobs for all who seek them, ensuring that all children complete primary school, stopping the spread of AIDS, and making the benefits of new information and communications technologies available to even the poorest countries.
Today, the United Nations is holding a special session on the MDGs to review progress, identify shortfalls and commit to practical steps to bridge the gaps. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will address the meeting in his capacity as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
PressPass asked Pamela Passman, corporate vice president of Global Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, to discuss the company’s commitment to the MDGs and assess the company’s progress so far.
PressPass: How did Microsoft become involved with the MDGs?
Passman: Throughout its history, Microsoft has demonstrated a growing commitment to address the world’s social, economic, environmental and health problems, thanks in large part to Bill Gates’ vision and moral stance. We realize that we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to apply our technology expertise to helping people achieve their full potential, particularly through improved education and job creation in underserved communities. We’ve also used our technology to help nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) coordinate more effectively across a range of development issues, and disaster responders to communicate more efficiently in crises.
Given this vital role that information and communication technologies can play in delivering the MDGs, we welcomed the chance to contribute when the UN called on industry to support the MDG framework.
PressPass: And by “contribute,” you mean both financially and in kind?
Passman: Yes. In its last fiscal year, Microsoft donated US$122 million in cash to nonprofit organizations worldwide. In fact, since 1983, Microsoft and its employees have given more than $3.4 billion in cash, services and software to nonprofits around the world through localized, company-sponsored giving and volunteer campaigns.
But that only tells part of the story. The greater value Microsoft brings to community development and public welfare efforts is the application of our core competencies — our technology and our expertise — to humanitarian goals.
Microsoft began with the dream of a PC on every desk and in every home. Thirty years ago, this seemed impossible. But sure enough, information technology has profoundly changed the lives of the more than a billion people who have access to it. More than 5 billion people, however, still don’t have access to the technology and to the new opportunities to learn, connect, create and prosper that it provides. Now we’ve identified the next dream of bringing the benefits of technology to the next 1 billion by 2015.
PressPass: How much of what Microsoft is doing in this area is because of the MDGs?
Passman: The MDG framework has been an important influence on our strategy and activities because of the emphasis on global and local partnerships to realize practical impacts that change lives, and the clarity provided by a focus on achieving real measures of human development within defined timeframes.
PressPass: We’re a little more than halfway through this 15-year program. How would you assess the progress that’s been made?
Passman: The hundreds of government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs and private corporations working toward the MDGs have made progress, but there is more progress to be made. Compared with the year 2000, 3 million more children now survive each year, an additional 2 million people receive treatment for AIDS, and 41 million more children are in school.
But many countries still face serious challenges in improving nutrition and achieving certain other goals. There are 72 million children who are still not in school, and many who are receive a very poor quality education. Nearly a billion people still live on less than $1 a day. And half of the developing world still lacks basic sanitation.
The challenge of meeting the MDGs is also being compounded in the short term by the recent rise in food prices and the slowing world economy, which threaten to undo the gains achieved so far in fighting hunger and malnutrition.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up. Like Bill Gates, I’m optimistic and believe these challenges can and must be overcome. Now more than ever, companies need to step up and do their part — in partnership with governments and NGOs.
PressPass: And what progress has Microsoft made so far?
Passman: I’m proud of what this company has achieved in this area over the past few years. The complete list of our accomplishments is too long to cover here, but let me give you a few examples.
Microsoft Unlimited Potential (UP) is the company’s commitment to make information and communications technologies more affordable and relevant to people at the middle and bottom of the economic pyramid. UP weaves together Microsoft’s technology innovations, business strategies and citizenship efforts with a global network of partnerships to help address three specific needs in underserved communities: transforming education, fostering local innovation, and enabling jobs and opportunities.
The Community Technology Skills Program, for example, has supported some 37,000 community training centers worldwide, which have provided an estimated 86 million people with IT education and skills training. This commitment includes cash grants, donated software, and digital literacy curricula and certification programs in 21 languages.
Setting an initial goal of reaching 1 billion people by 2015, the UP program is working with governments, industry partners, NGOs, educators, and academics to enable new avenues of social and economic empowerment for the underserved populations of the world.
Another area in which we think we’ve had a significant impact is helping disaster and humanitarian relief organizations improve the effectiveness of their activities following natural disasters. This year alone, Microsoft has responded to the Myanmar cyclone, the earthquake in China, and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
We’ve also provided technical assistance and donated $41 million in software and cash to NetHope and the Emergency Capacity Building Project, a collaborative effort of seven humanitarian agencies that are jointly tackling common problems in emergency response and preparedness.
PressPass: Education and income go hand in hand. What is Microsoft doing to improve education in underdeveloped nations?
Passman: A skilled work force can help communities create new jobs and attract investments that bolster sustained economic growth and global competitiveness. Microsoft’s business generates significant economic opportunity and creates jobs in every country where Microsoft operates. According to one study in 2007, almost 15 million jobs worldwide were attributable to Microsoft and its partners, suppliers, vendors, service providers and distributors.
Getting back to education, in 2003 we launched Partners in Learning, a Microsoft Unlimited Potential program, which works with governments and schools around the world to help teachers use technology in the classroom. Since then, the program has touched more than 100 million students and nearly 4 million teachers in 101 countries. There are many challenges to providing high-quality education, including a lack of consistent, effective and timely curriculum content; a shortage of trained, qualified teachers; and a lack of universal access to learning resources. Through Partners in Learning, Microsoft offers primary and secondary schools software and hardware, curricula, teacher training, access to a student helpdesk, and grants. Earlier this year, we expanded our investment in the program, bringing our total 10-year commitment to nearly $500 million and allowing us to triple the number of students we reach.
PressPass: Some of the UN goals are aimed at global health issues, such as AIDS, malaria and child mortality. Is Microsoft doing anything to address those issues?
Passman: Yes. Since 2003, Microsoft Research has been helping in the quest to develop a vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. Using Microsoft high-performance computing software, our researchers run simulations of how HIV responds to attacks by the immune system, based on a description of the virus’s ribonucleic acid (RNA). The goal is to find correlations between the viral RNA and the human immune type, which would help medical researchers develop an effective immunogen — the part of a vaccine that triggers an immune response. The Microsoft researchers are doing this work in conjunction with several leading universities and research facilities, including Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Oxford.
PressPass: The seventh development goal is to ensure environmental sustainability. What is Microsoft doing in this area?
Passman: Like many companies, Microsoft is reducing the environmental impact of its own operations. But more importantly, we aim to foster environmental action and responsibility globally. In addition to helping increase the energy efficiency of computing, we are working with the United Nations, leading environmental groups and government environment agencies to apply our technology to addressing environmental issues around the world.
And what may ultimately have the greatest impact on the environment is the work Microsoft Research is leading to develop technology solutions to some of the most challenging environmental issues of the day, from promoting sustainable agriculture in India to developing the latest generation of climate change and environmental modeling.
PressPass: Microsoft has certainly taken on a great many commitments. Can one company really do everything you’ve been talking about?
Passman: No, and we aren’t attempting to do all this ourselves. Almost everything I’ve been describing has been done in conjunction with partners. Microsoft has been working with intergovernmental agencies such as the UN Development Programme, the UN Industrial Development Organization, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Organization of American States; with NGOs such as NetHope and Mercy Corps; and with other industry leaders such as Cisco and Intel, to name just a few of our many invaluable partners.
An important point of the MDGs is that the UN recognizes that these are enormous global problems that can’t be solved by governments, NGOs or private corporations working in isolation. But by working collaboratively, sharing resources and ideas among partners in all three sectors, we just might be able to achieve the goals.