November, 2013

  • Developing Apps to Help Develop the Economy

    Landlocked by two of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India and China, Nepal strikes a sharp contrast to its neighbours as it ranks among the poorest nations in the world. Agriculture remains the country’s predominant economic activity, providing employment to 80 percent of the population, yet it contributes to only a third of Nepal’s gross domestic product.

    As part of its initiative to stimulate the local information technology (IT) sector, Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC) Nepal teamed up with Neoteric, the Nokia distributor in Nepal, and its software partner, IT Nepal, to conduct a Windows Phone 8 application (app) development camp. This event was held from 10 June to 24 July 2013 at MIC Nepal, and comprised multiple five-day workshops for students to learn how to develop apps for Windows Phone 8.

    Allen Bailochan Tuladhar, Country Director of MIC Nepal, said, “We want to develop their interest in IT as well as their capabilities—to inspire them to play an active role in Nepal’s IT sector and bring innovation to it.”

    Participants spent the first two days mastering the essentials of app development, then worked on their own app ideas and pitched them on the final day of the camp. To further encourage students’ creativity and learning process, the programme offered incentives to those who submitted their apps that week: they will receive 50 percent of their course fees if their app is successfully published in the Windows Phone Store, and the participant whose app has the highest number of downloads would be awarded a Windows Phone 8.

    Twenty-seven apps were eventually published in the Windows Phone Store, with a cumulative download of more than 95,000 times; the winning app, KiLL THEM!!! accounted for a whopping 85 percent of total downloads.

    KiLL THEM!!! is a simple and fun shooting game created by Arjan Maharjan, a computer engineering student from Kathmandu Engineering College. Arjan could not believe the popularity of his app when he was announced the winner of the new Windows Phone 8, and attributed his success to the knowledge he gained from the five-day workshop.

    Screenshot of the winning app KILL THEM!!!

    According to Arjan, the Windows Phone 8 app development camp was interesting as well as informative. “I learned a lot of logic related to programming. It has definitely helped me upgrade my programming skills. I would highly recommend the workshop to anyone who takes an interest in app developing and programming,” he added.

    Fired up by his app’s success, Arjan is looking to develop more apps in the future and hopes to participate in advanced app development courses to further his skills.

  • Making a Difference through IT: Belinda Gorman

    This is part of a series of articles highlighting the valuable work that Microsoft’s Community Affairs Managers are doing in Asia.

    Belinda Gorman’s long development career has taken her around the world, from championing children’s rights in Mongolia, to supporting the delivery of clean water and sanitation projects in Lao People's Democratic Republic and other countries. Her journey has circled back to her home country New Zealand, where she is Microsoft’s Community Affairs Manager as well as local representative for environmental sustainability projects.

    Belinda enthused over working annually with hundreds of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and her sense of pride was palpable while discussing how the strong and diverse nonprofit sector represents the very fabric of New Zealand’s society.

     

    But she noted wryly, “I had little interest in technology before joining Microsoft six years ago.” Now a passionate advocate for digital inclusion, Belinda explained, “Using the latest technologies everyday has converted me!”

    She continued, “Exponential technological advances have altered the structures of societies, economies and governance. The amazing possibilities of technology can be a double-edged sword if we are not on the right side of the digital divide.”

    The former development worker is all too familiar with entrenched poverty traps as she previously witnessed firsthand in developing countries.

    Though New Zealand enjoys a Very High Human Development Index, there are underserved communities with a lack of access to or knowledge about ICT.

    Belinda stresses that the gap is not a black-and-white problem or an issue of the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have-nots’, but one of various complexities. Mere access to technology is insufficient. Having the skills and the confidence to use technology meaningfully are just as crucial, and this knowledge is reflected in the projects she drives.

     
    Belinda (second from right) with colleagues at Asia Pacific Tech4Good Summitin Bintan, Indonesia

    In a multi-partner project called Computers in Homes, which provides computers and training to underserved families, Belinda supported the expansion of ICT training for the participants. She also helmed a partnership with the High Tech Youth Network, which supports youth in using technology for animation, design, production and robotics.

    The 2011 Christchurch earthquakes exposed issues with local NGOs’ ability to deliver services and access information in crises, thus Belinda initiated a project with social enterprise Infoxchange and the Ministry of Social Development to review the ICT environment of 44 NGOs. The individual audits make specific recommendations for practical plans toward improvement.

    One of the most rewarding partnerships for her is with Plunket, the country’s largest provider of developmental, health and wellbeing services for children under five. She worked with the organisation on the PlunketPlus project, “the world’s first electronic health records system where nurses can share key health data with other health professionals and social services in real time.”

    Energetic and dedicated, she still manages to find time for her duties as a Trustee of ECPAT New Zealand (an international organisation working to protect children from sexual exploitation), and continues to work on her vision for Microsoft, saying, “The communities and NGOs we support are full of so much potential — much of it realised, and even more to be realised soon!”

  • Wheelchair Users in Bangkok Can Go Places with Augmented Reality App

    Not everyone in Bangkok gets to fully enjoy its stylish malls, sprawling markets and magnificent temples. The city faces a severe lack of basic facilities to serve persons with disabilities. While Bangkok has yet to catch up with the needs of wheelchair users, some young innovators have decided to do something about this.

    A group of graduate students, and a team of student participants receiving advanced IT training from Microsoft, recently launched a smartphone application that provides information about accessibility and wheelchair facilities in Bangkok and surrounding areas, including at government agency offices and attractions. Unlike other navigation apps in the marketplace, it uses augmented reality to integrate a live, physical environment with real-time informational searches and displays.

    Kriangkrai Pipatvilaikul, who is managing the Microsoft Student Partners (MSP) programme at Microsoft Thailand, said, “By actually labelling the real world through a camera, it makes navigation much easier and more accessible for anyone to understand.” The app, which germinated from a course project that Lipa Jarutian undertook with her fellow students at Thammasat University, allows users to make comments and share information, and even suggest itineraries for short trips.

    Having witnessed the difficulties one of her relatives faces as a wheelchair user, Lipa had suggested focusing on tackling that issue for the project. The group found that most wheelchair users lack information about accessible and wheelchair-friendly places. “This forces many wheelchair users to stick to the same places, which effectively makes large parts of the city out of bounds for them,” Lipa explained.

     
    The Wheel-go-round smartphone app uses augmented reality, a technology that integrates a live, real-world environment into the search and display of information useful for wheelchair users, such as ramps, and designated restrooms and parking spaces.

    The group then joined Microsoft’s Innovate for Good programme to work with the MSP team to develop Wheel-go-round. Coding was the least of the worries for the MSP participants who have been receiving weekly training in augmented reality, Windows Azure and other advanced programming software, Kriangkrai said. She quipped, “To quote Mozart, all the notes are already there, we just need to place them in the right order.”

    Nunthida Chitpukdeerat, one of the app testers and a wheelchair user, said, “The students were very hardworking, and kept coming back to us with new, improved designs for the app’s user interface. The final UI is just splendid. It’s easy to use, and has so much useful information. I’m less scared of venturing out of my home now, and plan to visit Bangkok Art and Culture Centre soon!”

    Siriporn Pajharawat, Developer and Platform Strategy Director at Microsoft Thailand, said, “Microsoft is delighted to be able to support the Wheel-go-round team and their very worthwhile initiative which helps improve the lives of wheelchair users. This project shows that Innovate for Good is successfully enabling Thai youth to collaborate, and use technology to improve their communities and society.” Wheel-Go-Round was one of five finalists of the Innovation Challenge, one of the key contests run within the Innovate for Good online community, and received seed funding to support this project.

    Manager of Thai Health Promotion Foundation, Dr. Krissada Raungarreerat feels that the app will help to promote inclusivity by “[removing] barriers so that wheelchair users are able to fulfil their potential and be fully participating members of society”.

    Wheels-go-round (www.wheelgoround.in.th) will be available for download from the Windows Store in mid-October 2013. There are plans to add a Thai-language function to it, make it available on other smartphone platforms and include other major cities in Thailand.

    Siriporn Pajharawat (left), Developer and Platform Strategy Director at Microsoft Thailand, alongside university students from the Microsoft Student Partners programme announcing the launch of the Wheel-go-round initiative 

  • Windows 8.1 Now Available for Nonprofits

    This story, by Jane Meseck, Director of Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft, was first posted 5 November on Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship Blog.

    Today, we’re excited to announce the availability of Windows 8.1 for nonprofits.

    Thanks to many of you, we received a tremendous response from the nonprofit community around the world with the launch Windows 8. Windows 8.1 is an evolution of the Windows 8 vision, bringing together powerful productivity apps and a range of ways to ensure your team can reach the resources they need from any device or location.

    Now is a great time to make the move to Windows 8.1. Eligible nonprofit organizations and public libraries can request Windows 8.1 through Microsoft’s software donation program. Get started today.

    Windows 8.1 introduces a fully customizable Start screen, new search experience, upgraded app store and improved multi-tasking features.

    Windows brings together everything you do – wherever you are, wherever you go.


    If you’re ready to get started with Windows 8.1, here are a few steps you can take to learn more: 

    1. Request Windows 8.1 for your nonprofit. Or, if you’re already on Windows 8, you can simply upgrade your PCs to Windows 8.1 through the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC).
    2. Register for the Windows 8.1 webinar on Thursday, November 14, 11:00 A.M. Pacific Time, hosted by TechSoup. Todd Rutherford, senior product marketing manager–Windows Consumer, Microsoft, will provide a demo of Windows 8.1.
    3. Tell your favorite nonprofit about Microsoft’s software donation programme and encourage them to visit www.Microsoft.com/nonprofit
  • It is the Small Businesses that Make a Big Difference

    Asia is the world’s fastest growing economic region, and one of the key contributors that drive this is the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, which also serves as the backbone for developing Asian economies.

    The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) recently held the APEC SME Ministerial Meeting 2013 at Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, from 2 to 7 September to facilitate discussions about developing the entrepreneurship environment and enhancing global competitiveness among SMEs across the region.

    Indonesia itself exemplifies the issues. According to Access to Trade and Growth of Women’s SMEs in APEC Developing Economies: Evaluating the Business Environment in Indonesia by The Asian Foundation, SMEs account for approximately 57 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and over 96 percent of Indonesia’s workforce.

    Microsoft Indonesia was invited by Indonesia’s Ministry of Cooperatives and SME to be part of the event, which was comprised of seminars, workshops and training on the use of information and communication technology (ICT). Microsoft’s General Manager for Small and Medium Solutions and Partners in Asia Pacific, Stanimira Koleva, and Asia Citizenship Lead, Clair Deevy, spoke at the sessions ‘Challenges Faced in ASEAN SMEs’ and ‘Doing Business the SME Way’ respectively. Director of Legal and Corporate Affairs for Southeast Asia Astrid Tuminez spoke on the topic ‘Women and Entrepreneurship in ASEAN’, an issue of high priority at this year’s meeting, which later issued the first joint statement on empowering women-run SMEs.

    The meeting also provided Microsoft Indonesia a platform to promote YouthSpark, an initiative that equips youth with the ICT and entrepreneurial skills needed to lead successful start-ups, and be agents of change bridging the opportunity divide in their communities.


    “Both Microsoft and the Ministry of Cooperatives and SME share the same concern about entrepreneurship development for young people,” said Clair Deevy. “With YouthSpark receiving tremendous support from the government, we want to continue reaching out to youth — enabling them to gain access to technology and the benefits they would otherwise not have.”

    To help SMEs understand the latest and future changes in the technology landscape that would impact their connectivity and competitiveness, the Microsoft team conducted a four-day Office 365 training for more than 360 local SMEs. It demonstrated the features and benefits of the cloud-based software in enhancing work productivity, transforming work processes and collaboration on a whole new level, and also showcased the latest Windows 8 devices and Windows phones.

    Indonesian Deputy Minister for SME and Cooperatives Wayan Dipta recognises the contributions made by Microsoft in enabling local SMEs, naming them “the MNC partner that constantly supported [the Ministry] in technology.”

    “We have been working closely with Microsoft for the past two years,” he added, “And they proved to be a strategic partner in delivering innovative solutions to enable SMEs in Indonesia to go a step further into the global market.”

     

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