The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Microsoft New Zealand today announced a joint project in Christchurch to strengthen the technology capability of 50 not-for-profit organisations – some badly affected by the Canterbury earthquakes.
MSD and Microsoft are co-funding the initiative, which includes assessing the technology capacity of 50 non-government organisations (NGOs) and providing practical plans for future improvements.
Left to right: Murray Edridge, Deputy Chief Executive, Family & Community Services of the Ministry of Social Development; Margaret Jefferies, Chair, Project Lyttelton; Peter Walton, Chief Executive, Infoxchange; and Paul Muckleston, Managing Director, Microsoft New Zealand
The assessments and plans will be developed by Infoxchange, a not-for-profit organisation with a mission to create social equality and opportunity by empowering people through access to information technology and enabling the exchange of information and ideas. Under the scheme Infoxchange will visit each of the 50 non-profits for a free two-day consultancy to help them improve their technology and communications.
IT needs were identified by community groups last year as a high priority in the aftermath of the earthquakes – second only to office premises, says Murray Edridge, Deputy Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development’s Family and Community Services division.
“This project is providing the impetus to ensure organisations are able to embrace technology to assist their post-quake recovery, as well as transform their effectiveness in delivering services,” says Mr Edridge.
Microsoft New Zealand Managing Director Paul Muckleston says supporting NGOs to build their IT capacity is part of Microsoft’s philanthropic outreach, globally.
“The earthquakes caused a significant loss of ICT infrastructure and capability for a number of companies and not-for-profits within the region – dramatically affecting their ability to deliver critical social services,” says Mr Muckleston.
Community sustainability is a key focus of Project Lyttelton, one of the groups involved in the early stage of the initiative – along with the Family Help Trust; Christchurch Budget Service; Battered Women’s Trust; Sexual Abuse Survivors Trust; Supergrans; and Te Puna Oranga.
Project Lyttelton Chairperson Margaret Jefferies says the Infoxchange team, during their two-day assessment, gained a “real flavour” of the organisation. Project Lyttelton’s IT requirements include a database for a Timebank which trades skills in the community.
“They understood our needs and the not-for-profit environment we work in. Ensuring greater IT experience on the project board is one of the valuable recommendations that we have already implemented,” says Ms Jefferies.
At the launch of the initiative today, other New Zealand NGOs were encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity for a free assessment and plan.
Organisations should apply online at www.infoxchange.org.nz/apply-now. Applications are considered by an Advisory Group consisting of individuals from the Ministry of Social Development, Microsoft, Infoxchange, Parry Field Charitable Foundation and the University of Canterbury.
Microsoft Sri Lanka recently teamed up with building materials firm Lafarge Mahaweli Cement and non-government organization Sarvodaya to build an information and communication technology (ICT) Centre in Gampaha, Sri Lanka.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed on 3 October to launch the project, which will aid towards the Sri Lankan government’s vision of establishing the country as one of the region’s leading IT hubs. Microsoft Sri Lanka will play a facilitating role in setting up the Centre. With its experience of being involved in several projects across the country that aim to bridge the digital divide, Microsoft is able to provide the expertise, support and software needed for this project.
Aimed at improving ICT skills among young people in the Gampaha district, the Centre will conduct comprehensive training and provide career guidance to students pursuing a career in the IT field. Sarvodaya-Fusion, the ICT education arm of Sarvodaya, would be handling the implementation of the project. Sarvodaya- Fusion will also provide the necessary administrative guidance, budgeting and project planning for the ICT Centre.
Gampaha was chosen as the location for the project because it is a district straddling both urban and rural areas that is adjacent to Colombo, the main commercial hub of Sri Lanka. Isura Silva, Manager of Sarvodaya-Fusion, explained that the enrolment process for the ICT Centre will be carried out in a manner that provides more opportunities for the less privileged youth in the Gampaha area.
Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, said, “It is important that technology is made accessible to rural youth, which will open new avenues for them. This project works towards that goal and therefore we are proud to be a part of it. Through this project, we can offer something of value to the rural population and help underprivileged youth improve their standard of living by leveraging the knowledge they gain for a better future.”
At the MOU signing, Jamie Harper, Microsoft (South East Asia) President, commented that the Lafarge-Microsoft partnership was not an unfamiliar one — the two companies having collaborated on a number of corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects in other parts of the world.
“Through this project, Microsoft can help underprivileged youth improve their standard of living by leveraging the knowledge they gain for a better future.”
- Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka and Bangladesh
At the Microsoft Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals 2012, held in Sydney in July, Team Mobile Eye of New Zealand presented an application that helps people who are visually impaired become more familiar with their surroundings. The prototype Mobile Eye app —which uses both artificial intelligence (AI) and crowd-sourcing technology that enable blind people to take photos and hear audio descriptions of the resulting images — greatly impressed the panel of international judges and helped the three Auckland University of Technology (AUT) students secure a top-six finish in the global competition.
Using the Mobile Eye app, a blind person takes a photo with their smartphone, which is routed through a server and subsequently recognised using either AI or human intelligence. The colour of an object, for example, can be identified by AI, while text can be converted into audio and played back to the user via optical recognition technology.
The app also leverages the power of social media platforms, namely Facebook: a photo can be sent out to the user's community, where a friend or family member can send back an answer explaining what's in the image, which is then described out loud to the user. Through social networking, any status update can be posted immediately to a helper's profile — this flexible, crowd-sourced element of the Mobile Eye app caught the attention of one of the Imagine Cup judges, who praised the team for not attempting to solve the entire problem with technology. And as a final fallback option for users, the Mobile Eye app incorporates a third-party commercial intelligent recognition service called IQ Engines.
Team Mobile Eye's Aakash Polra, Jade Tan and In-Hwan Kim said it was Neil Jarvis of the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind who inspired the concept, and the team worked closely with the Foundation to further develop their app.
The team hopes to continue developing the project with the aim of exporting the technology to help blind and partially sighted people around the globe — the architecture is globally scalable for a market of approximately 40 million blind people and 315 million who are visually impaired.
“We are so proud of Team Mobile Eye, who headed into this tough technology competition with an ingenious idea and managed to amaze the judges,” said Scott Wylie, Director of the Developer and Platform Group for Microsoft New Zealand. “They were fantastic representatives for the country, and have helped earmark New Zealand as one of the most innovative countries in the world by developing creative, cutting-edge solutions that receive recognition on the world stage.”
“Team Mobile Eye members have helped earmark New Zealand as one of the most innovative countries in the world by developing cutting-edge solutions that receive recognition on the world stage.”
- Scott Wylie, Director of the Developer and Platform Group, Microsoft New Zealand
Microsoft Thailand is committed to spearheading capacity building within the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) sector in Thailand by demonstrating how the company’s technology can help NGOs collaborate more efficiently and improve outreach to local communities.
The 8th NGO Connection Day, hosted in partnership with the Kenan Institute Asia, TechSoup Asia, the Asian Development Bank and Nokia Private Limited, was attended by more than a hundred representatives from 77 NGOs.
During the event, Microsoft and its partners illustrated how technology could suit the needs of different NGOs. Birathon Kasemsri Na Ayudhaya, past Managing Director, Microsoft Thailand, also shared with the audience its “We Make 70 Million Lives Better” vision. Microsoft aims to help Thai NGOs develop their skills in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in order to reach more beneficiaries effectively and cost efficiently.
Another highlight of the NGO Connection Day in Bangkok was the successful Thailand launch of TechSoup Asia, an organisation that delivers technology and other capacity development resources to NGOs. A total of 31 NGOs registered with TechSoup during the event, the highest number recorded in a single instance since TechSoup Asia’s launch in Southeast Asia.
“There were lots of useful demonstrations and opportunities during the event for NGOs to learn about Microsoft’s support and collaboration efforts,” said Manisa Piyasingh from the Distance Learning Foundation, Thailand, at the Bangkok NGO Connection Day.
Besides supporting NGOs in Bangkok, Microsoft has also held NGO Connection Day seminars in other provinces in Thailand. These events are aimed at highlighting the relevance and application of advanced technology to help NGO staff members improve their performance and work efficiency.
In September, Microsoft hosted 37 NGO participants in Khon Kaen, marking the first time the event has been held in one of the north-eastern provinces of Thailand. Organised in collaboration with Kenan Institute Asia, the NGO Connection Day in Khon Kaen brought together professionals and industry experts to share insights into the use of Microsoft® Office 365™ to create professional documentation, analyse and make sense of data and develop compelling presentations.
NGOs at the Khon Kaen event are each helping to improve the lives of Thai people in different ways, such as through providing more education opportunities to disadvantaged youth, conserving the environment and improving healthcare standards in underprivileged communities.
Nakarin Tuiduang, coordinator of Children’s Livelihood Development Programme for ChildLife, said, “In our daily work, we need to collect the information of HIV affected children in 30 sub-districts from five districts, in coordination with our network teams from different organisations. Previously we only knew how to write reports on paper or use basic computer programmes. After learning how to use Microsoft SharePoint®, we are able to share updated information within the network. And, in cases of emergency which require prompt responses, we can submit the case files of HIV affected children to related organisations and provide access to all relevant information instantly.”
“We have organised a number of successful NGO Connection Days in Bangkok to support good causes that benefit the people of Thailand. Extending the concept of NGO Connection Day to other provinces is a reflection of Microsoft’s continued commitment to the NGO and charity sector throughout the country,” concluded Supahrat Juramongkol, Microsoft Citizenship Thailand.
“There were lots of useful demonstrations and opportunities during the event for NGOs to learn about Microsoft’s support and collaboration efforts.”
- Manisa Piyasingh, Distance Learning Foundation, Thailand
For the third consecutive year, a leading educational institution from Vietnam has been selected for the Microsoft Innovative Pathfinder Schools programme, with Olympia Schools being selected to join the 2013 cohort of Pathfinder schools.
The Microsoft Innovative Pathfinder Schools Programme helps to transform education by enabling selected schools to benefit from deeper engagement, more in-depth access to resources and mentoring opportunities from education experts. Olympia Schools was selected on the basis of its innovative approaches to foster the talent, creativity and intellectual development of Vietnamese youth. Olympia also aims to provide practical education and skills training that will prepare its students for life outside the classroom.
“It is a great honour to be selected as a Pathfinder school in Microsoft’s Innovative Schools programme. We are looking forward to joining Microsoft’s cohort of Pathfinder Schools to continue helping our students ignite their natural desire to learn and prepare themselves for success in today’s evolving global economy,” said Nguyen Minh An, Vice Chairman of Olympia Schools.
“We are impressed by Olympia’s commitment and broad vision of catering to the unique needs of each of their students. We are confident that Olympia would use the Pathfinder programme as the platform to embrace more innovative approaches in education, as well as to influence other schools in Vietnam to transform education in a scalable, replicable manner,” said Pham Thi Thanh Huong, Education Lead, Microsoft Vietnam.
“Microsoft‘s Pathfinder programme will enable us to continue helping our students ignite their natural desire to learn and prepare themselves for success in today’s evolving global economy.”
- Nguyen Minh An, Vice Chairman, Olympia Schools
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