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Project Sangam: Enabling skilling at scale for a better tomorrow

By Anil Bhansali, Corporate Vice President, Cloud & AI, Microsoft India (R&D) Private Limited

anil Bhansali, Corporate Vice President, Cloud & AI, Microsoft India (R&D) Private Limited.It is a proud moment for me as the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) partnered with Microsoft to deploy e-learning modules through Project Sangam for the Indian government’s ‘Swachh Bharat Mission.’

Two-and-a-half years ago, Microsoft envisioned Project Sangam with the mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. We looked at how we could leverage our technologies and platforms for education and skilling to not only impact enterprises and organizations, but to assist individuals. Global governments are facing the key issues of a shortage in skilled resources and levels of unemployment – people need to be skilled so they become more marketable and employable.

We’ve seen how LinkedIn Learning offers a networking and learning platform for professionals. Project Sangam began with a desire to do the same for the non-professional, grey- or blue-collar sector. Project Sangam is a solution to enable skilling at scale in an accessible and convenient manner.

Traditional methods of classroom-based skilling doesn’t work at this scale. A majority of the first-line workforce members do not have access to PCs and smartphones, and even those who do are restricted in internet connectivity.

We set out to build a cloud-based learning and skilling platform enabling delivery of large-scale training programs from multiple partners across distributed communities and enterprises with high quality and efficiency. With Microsoft Azure data centre investments across the globe and in India, as well as with partnerships to connect customers with the broad ecosystem, we have the infrastructure, platform, reach and capability to empower an ecosystem that can reach more people.

Project Sangam leverages our core platform assets and components, such as Azure Media Services, to assist content providers and training partners in delivering high-definition video and training as a service on Azure. This system allows  for more people to be reached than is possible with a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom training model. The system also allows for the tracking of enrolments and progress.

For learners, the platform offers ease-of-use and flexibility to access the content on the device of their choice. They can also continue their quest to learn and skill themselves even if they are offline. Project Sangam enables anytime, anywhere learning on any device.

The Swachh Bharat e-Learning Portal, which is powered by Project Sangam, has helped train 110,000+ municipal functionaries across 4,000+ cities on best sanitation practices. The courses are simple videos that can be accessed on any device via web or Android app. The platform saw more than one million course enrollments!

In the second phase of the Swachh Bharat e-learning mission, the Ministry plans to roll out a ‘Citizen Training Program’ to train citizens of India on subjects like public toilets, waste management, household hygiene and sanitation best practices.

For the Indian handloom industry, the second-largest employment provider for the rural population in India with almost 43 lakh weavers, Project Sangam extended support to Project ReWeave, one of our philanthropic initiatives helping handloom weavers and their families revive the handloom weaving ecosystem in India. Project Sangam is helping skill the weaver community in critical aspects such as design, marketing and entrepreneurship.

The quest for mass skilling and employment is not unique to India. According to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey by Statistics South Africa, approximately 30 percent of South African youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed, not enrolled in the education system, and are not receiving training. This equates to more than three million young people who cannot find work because they are regarded as too unskilled and inexperienced by prospective employers.

We partnered with the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) to run Thint’iMillion, an online mass learning system deployed on the Sangam platform, as part of the Tshepo 1Million Digital Mass learning program at several public libraries in the Gauteng province. Through the wider Tshepo 1Million initiative, GPG aims to provide one million young jobseekers with the skills to make them more employable. The training will be provided to at least 400,000 youth by the middle of this year.

With increasing disruption and technological evolution, reskilling is imperative. It is happening in every market, every industry, and every geography. Having trialed the platform in various geographies, we are seeing that requirements are similar across markets.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve learned a lot. From enabling community-based training to addressing skilling needs for better employment opportunities, we’ve recognized the needs of individuals and organizations with distributed workforces. Today, as we understand the wide array of skilling and reskilling needs, we’re evolving and preparing for the future.

We’re preparing to leverage AI and AI-led insights to transition people from a reactive, pull approach to a proactive, push approach.  Additionally, we will recommend new skilling areas for people to stay relevant within their fields.

As we grow our efforts in this area, I am hopeful that the world will see how AI can become a force-multiplier. When effectively partnered with enterprises, governments and non-profit organizations, AI for skilling will address some of the broadest social needs and help us empower everyone to achieve more.