February, 2013

  • 50 New Zealand NGOs to Benefit from Tech Initiative

    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.

  • New Collaboration to Enhance Opportunities for Sri Lankan Youth

    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.

    Microsoft collaborates with Lafarge Mahaweli Cement and Sarodaya to improve ICT skills among Sri Lankan youth in the Gampaha district

    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

  • Helping Blind and Partially Sighted People Access Visual Information

    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.

    Auckland University of Technology (AUT) students In-Hwan Kim, Aakash Polra and Jade Tan (left to right) of Team Mobile Eye, at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals 2012 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

  • New Youth Empowerment Portal to Fuel the Dreams of Young Thais

    With the recent launch of the global Give for Youth Micro-Giving portal, Microsoft Thailand aims to encourage Thai donors to support specific youth projects initiated by nonprofit and social enterprises. Starting from a minimum donation amount of 300 baht (US$10), the new portal enables donors to fund and follow the dreams of young people both in Thailand and other parts of the world. 

    One of the micro-projects supported by the Give for Youth programme is the School Poverty Eradication Farm venture, which trains Thai youth to operate a four-acre farm

    The Give for Youth website currently lists hundreds of micro-projects — limited to a budget of US$250 to US$10,000 — around the world. The objective is to support young people in their quest to obtain the tools and resources they need to find a job, continue their education and training, or start a business or social venture. 

    An example of a current micro-project in Thailand is the training of Thai youth to operate a four-acre School Poverty Eradication Farm in Buriram province under the supervision of The Population and Community Development Association

    The training, with the aim of eradicating poverty among young Thais in the rural provinces, will enable young people to acquire the agricultural skills and experience to start similar activities with their own families. Profits from the farming activities will be reinvested, donated to charitable causes and used to pay for operating expenses. The success of the School Poverty Eradication Farm venture will also help establish a sustainable basis for securing future funding or loans for the expansion of farming operations. 

    “The Give for Youth Micro-Giving website is a great example of Microsoft’s commitment to improve the lives of our youth, in line with our ‘We Make 70 Million Lives Better’ mission. We encourage the people of Thailand to donate and help fulfil the dreams of young people,” said Supahrat Juramongkol, Microsoft Citizenship Thailand. 

    Give for Youth is a Microsoft YouthSpark programme, a companywide initiative aimed at creating education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for 300 million youth around the world over the next three years.

    “The Give for Youth Micro Giving website is a great example of Microsoft’s commitment to improve the lives of young people in Thailand.”

    - Supahrat Juramongkol, Microsoft Citizenship Thailand, Microsoft (Thailand) Limited

    For more information, please visit, www.GiveforYouth.org

  • Microsoft Launches Youth Training and Innovation Centre in Hanoi

    Microsoft Vietnam launched on 19 September the Youth Training and Innovation Centre located at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST). The centre aims to support youth in poor and rural areas who are lacking access to information and communication technology (ICT) facilities and kills training.

    The launch of the Youth Training and Innovation Centre at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST) in September is aimed at support disadvantaged youth in poor and rural areas

    Through the centre, Microsoft Vietnam and its partners aim to help facilitate ICT training for disadvantaged students, raise awareness of the role of ICT in education, as well as to build capacity and broaden employment opportunities among youth. Sponsored by Microsoft and Sony, the project implemented by the School of Information and Communication Technology at HUST includes up to 36 training courses — it is expected that around 400 students will be trained at the centre by February 2014. 

    The new centre will be equipped with 26 high-quality computers and Microsoft’s latest software. Key activities of the project include providing both basic and advanced ICT training sessions, as well as business management skills training. 

    Vu Minh Tri, Country Manager, Microsoft Vietnam, said, “Our goal is to help people realise their full potential through technology and we truly hope to support Vietnamese youth, especially persons who have difficult circumstances, in developing relevant skills to start up their careers. The centre is also expected to create an environment that nurtures and promotes their innovative ideas for success in the future.”

    HUST Principal Nguyen Trong Giang added, “To fulfil our mission of fostering research and innovation in science and technology, HUST is very proud to have been chosen to implement this project. We are hopeful that this project will promote innovation, build suitable training models for youth and expand the concept and impact of this project to other training institutions.” 

    Microsoft will work closely with its partners to help the trained youth secure employment or start up their own businesses within six months after graduation. The project is also aligned with the Vietnamese government’s plans to harness the power of technology to create job opportunities, enhance educational standards and foster a culture of innovation.

    “Microsoft’s goal is to help people realise their full potential through technology and we truly hope to support Vietnamese youth in developing relevant skills to start up their careers.”

    - Vu Minh Tri, Country Manager, Microsoft Vietnam

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