It was an honour for Microsoft to bear witness to Sri Lanka’s historic hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the city of Hambantota, and participate alongside political leaders, civil society, youth, the business community and others in the summit’s vision of serving the world better.At the 10 November inauguration ceremony of the 9th Commonwealth Youth Forum, which was held in parallel with the CHOGM, Sri Lanka President Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa made a powerful statement that for a long time, Sri Lankan children and youth have been robbed of their childhood and opportunities. Their ability to now participate in a Forum dedicated to them, with youth delegates from across the world, is significant for the country. He emphasised the country’s need to close opportunity gaps and inequalities, a message also highlighted by the Youth Forum’s theme ‘Inclusive Development—Stronger Together’.The rich multi-stakeholder discussions that followed brought up the needs, aspirations and challenges that young people in Commonwealth countries face. Clair Deevy, Citizenship Lead of Microsoft Asia Pacific, spoke at a panel discussion, ‘Well-being and Economic Growth’, alongside other panellists, including Dr Palitha Kohana, the Sri Lankan Representative to the United Nations in New York.
Namal Rajapaksa (a Member of Parliament and founder of the youth organisation, Tharunayata Hetak) and Clair Deevy meeting at the 9th Commonwealth Youth Forum in Hambantota
During the forum, which saw a turnout of 500 locals and over 200 youth from 54 countries, Clair made an impactful presentation on the need for the private sector to be actively involved in youth empowerment to help future generations become more skilled and employable. She underscored this with the proven success of several Microsoft YouthSpark programmes that are already freely accessible to Sri Lankan youth. She also fielded questions on these programmes, such as the Digital Literacy Curriculum, which have provided essential computing skills.Clair pointed out, “Today’s youth face an opportunity gap; some have access to the necessary skills and training needed to succeed today, but some do not. With more than 75 million unemployed young people around the world, we aim to work with youth organisations and local governments to close this gap, so that the future of our youth—and our global economy—can be secured.”In addition to the panel discussion, Microsoft Sri Lanka also hosted a YouthSpark booth and two side-events—‘Speedgeek’ and ‘Ask Me Anything’—run by student ambassadors from around the country. These events were very well received by the attendees, who asked many questions on technology and how it has addressed the challenges faced by today’s youth.After the event, Imran Vilcassim, Country Manager of Microsoft Sri Lanka and the Maldives, enthused, “The summit is a landmark event for Sri Lanka, and the Youth Forum has shown that our country wants to place young people at the centre of its development strategy. Microsoft YouthSpark has many opportunities to engender and facilitate youth empowerment in the move towards Sri Lanka’s vision, and we are excited about the prospects.”
Every day, students push themselves to develop their skills and build their futures. Through Imagine Cup contests students are not just inspired – they are driven to compete, to learn, to master.Our Imagine Cup Grant programme, managed by Microsoft YouthSpark, awards cash, software and access to resources to a select number of Imagine Cup World Finalists who are ready to take the next step and bring their project to market. We choose projects that are poised to make a difference in the world by addressing a social problem in areas such as health, the environment and human rights.
All 2013 World Finalist teams who competed in St. Petersburg, Russia, with a project that focused on social good were invited to apply for this year’s grant programme. A panel of external judges have selected the following Imagine Cup 2013 Grant Winners:Grand Prize Winner - $100,000: Team OHS, Taiwan Team OHS created Omni Hearing Solution, a Windows Phone application that is affordable, easy-to-set-up and effective, ensuring everyone access to full hearing ability. OHS detects which sounds are out of one's hearing range, and modifies them for one to hear, allowing them to reconnect with the world. OHS can work with any earphone so users do not have to acquire any customized device. All they have to do is download the app and go through a set of simple hearing tests on the phone. Through this simple test, OHS helps users identify what their hearing difficulties are and creates customized settings to modify sounds that are out of hearing range to improve sound quality.$50,000 Winner: Team Confufish, Australia Team Confufish is changing the way Australia distributes food to those in need. Through Foodbank Local, a multiplatform mobile application, this team created a way to match local supply to local demand. This helps connect those individuals and businesses making donations with the groups in need, ensuring leftover food can be donated efficiently and without going to waste.$50,000 Winner: Team RUOK, Ireland This team from Ireland created RUOK, an engaging TV application that provides support to elderly people living independently. By connecting RUOK to the TV, users can interact with others through Skype, access exercise programmes and receive important notifications from their home alarm systems, heart rate monitors, medication reminders and more.$50,000 Winner: Team Dora, Slovenia Eliminating the need for surgeons to leave a sterile operating room mid-procedure, Team Dora created an interactive physician’s assistant that provides patient information before and during a surgical procedure. Ultimately, this team’s solution can increase efficiencies by reducing both cost and anesthesia time for a patient while under a surgeon’s care.Congratulations to the Imagine Cup 2013 Grant winners! Your ideas and success are an inspiration!
By Esther K Sianipar, Community Affairs Manager, Microsoft IndonesiaFor its strong economic growth, even during the 2008 financial crisis, Indonesia is referred to as Southeast Asia’s economic giant. But, not even a giant can escape the so-called ‘Generation Jobless’. In 2011, the country had 5.3 million unemployed young people.The USD117,000 grant awarded to YCAB (Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa) by the Microsoft YouthSpark programme, comes at an opportune time, for YCAB intends to use it to provide practical ways to help our underprivileged youth to be social entrepreneurs and to get them ready for the workforce. The grant will be used to reach 2,000 youth over the next year, and provide training and resources for 200 young people each year to realize their full potential. Youth will be trained in the latest Microsoft technology such as Office 365 and Azure, so they can be empowered with the knowledge to create jobs and other opportunities for themselves. There are also plans for an event to help young people understand how Microsoft, its YouthSpark programme and technology can help them achieve their future career goals.We are privileged to work with YCAB (which means ‘Loving the Nation’s Children Foundation’), an NGO that is well respected for its youth development programmes. YouthSpark training will continue to reach youth from different geographic locations, namely: Jakarta, Jambi (Sumatra) and Manado (North Sulawesi).Our confidence in the programme was reinforced by the support our partners, the Government of Indonesia and YCAB, have shown. Abdul Kadir Damanik, Specialist Staff from Ministry of Cooperatives and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises), said, “The YouthSpark Programme receives the full support from the government, and I believe this programme will produce new young and innovative entrepreneurs.”Our office held the announcement event on 30 October, and saw a turnout of 2,000 underprivileged young people, as well as teachers and government officials from the Ministry of Cooperatives and SMEs.
The announcement event was attended by 2,000 youth, teachers and government officials
Though it was complex managing such a large event, it was well worth the effort. I particularly enjoyed the inspiring presentations by well-known local talk show host Mohammad Farhan and successful online entrepreneur Ken Dean Lawadinata who is behind Indonesia’s largest online community KasKus. Following these, as a precursor to the training that will be implemented, YCAB Head of Information System Development I, Wayan Linggawa, and our own Office 365 Integration Specialist, Albert Sigit, introduced how cloud computing and Office 365 can help entrepreneurs build more lucrative and efficient business models.
Chief Executive Officer and Founder of YCAB Veronica Colondam, Specialist Staff of Ministry Cooperatives and SMEs Abdul Kadir Damanik, and Microsoft Asia Citizenship Lead Clair Deevy signed a certificate in demonstration of their organisations’ commitment to the YouthSpark programme
The next day, we had a meaningful small-group discussion led by Clair Deevy, Microsoft Asia’s Citizenship Lead, and Imam Gunawan, Vice Deputy of Youth Empowerment from the Ministry of Sports. In attendance were 12 young people (16 to 24 years old) who were selected to represent views from as wide a cross-section of society as the scale of the discussion could allow. Some came from underprivileged backgrounds, some already have a small business going and others are still in college. The team leader of the first Indonesia team to win a coveted Imagine Cup Final, Ghalib, also joined us via Skype.The intimate discussion allowed for a free flow of honest feedback on the opportunities and challenges the youth experience. Likewise, Mr Gunawan and Clair had the space to discuss their plans and provide advice.
Clair Deevy, Microsoft’s Asia Citizenship Lead, and Imam Gunawan, Vice Deputy of Youth Empowerment from the Ministry of Sports, led a discussion with a group of youth in the office of Microsoft Indonesia
Mr Gunawan was impressed by the quality of exchange, and said he would pass on the issues identified to other ministry offices. Some of the issues discussed included the need to improve IT infrastructure and connectivity; the need to promote an environment that encourages innovation; and the need to nurture technopreneurs in state universities.I am looking forward to updating this space with the activities that will be implemented, thanks to the YouthSpark grant, over the next two years!
By Karrie Ilagan, Country General Manager, Microsoft PhilippinesGrowing up in the Philippines makes you acutely aware of earthquakes and the monsoon and typhoon seasons; of the rain, wind and sheer power of nature. I have weathered my share of disasters, however, nothing could prepare me for the impact that was Typhoon Yolanda.
When this disaster struck it was different, the impact was breathtaking. I, however, found myself in a unique situation. As the General Manager for Microsoft Philippines I have access to technology and skills which can be harnessed to help those in need. I can provide support to NGOs for relief and the government to support the critical work in the impacted areas. I also work with an amazing team of capable individuals who genuinely care about their community. They generously give their time and heart to those affected and to the conduits for relief assistance.The breadth of ways technology can be used is staggering, but at first the choices are overwhelming. There is so much we could do; where do we start?What I now appreciate is the power of partnerships. By working with our long term NGO partners such as NetHope and Gawad Kalinga, I grew to learn what was really needed on the ground and could then take that knowledge to my Microsoft colleagues around the world to access technology best practices. I learned what we could deploy quickly and what we can invest for the long term rebuilding efforts and future preparedness. It is amazing to see how the various communities we have nurtured for many years – the start-ups, developers and partner organizations – have joined with us to help unconditionally.
Many people don’t know that by providing Skype credits to families in need we were able to reunite lost loved ones. Or, how our pilot for market innovations with TV WhiteSpaces, which was deployed with a satellite-based telecommunications platform, provided high-speed voice and data connectivity with Ericsson Response and the World Food Programme, to support humanitarian responders.But I do. I also know of the Microsoft team around the globe that came together, every morning at first, to assess the requests we were getting for help and how we could support them; the people who rallied the troops globally to source more than $500,000 in fundraising and matching gifts for my compatriots; and the people across my team who volunteered their time to pack relief kits.I want to say my thanks to all those colleagues, partners and NGOs who have humanized our technology and helped countless families. To each of you, and on behalf of my countrymen – Maraming, Maraming Salamat!To be Filipino is to accept adversity, embrace life and somehow find happiness. To be a Microsoft Filipino is to be all of those things and then add a sprinkle of technological know-how to hopefully help those most in need to get from adversity to happiness that little bit quicker.
Back in May 2013, four projects won funding in a South Asia Regional Grant competition, ‘Youth Solutions! Technology for Skills and Employment’, to implement ICT projects that can reduce youth unemployment. We catch up with the Bangladesh category winner to hear about their progress on the project.
A teenage boy with disabilities lies on a pavement in Dhaka, hoping that the kindness of passers-by will help him through another day. Sadly, this is not an uncommon sight in Bangladesh, where people with disabilities face severe social and economic disadvantages. According to the United Nations, although Bangladesh is making major strides in human development, the plight of people with disabilities remains acute. This is worrying, considering that half of the 20 million people with disabilities in the country are unable to afford the healthcare they need, and many do not receive necessary medical rehabilitation or aid. Children with disabilities are also less likely to attend schools compared to their peers.
Many people with disabilities are stigmatised and socially excluded from their communities. Most live in extreme poverty and have to beg on the streets. The lack of awareness of their capabilities as well as the prejudice these youth face further limit their access to mainstream institutions for employment.Established in 1985, Dhaka-based nonprofit Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) works to support, empower, promote and protect the rights of socially marginalised groups in Bangladesh. We caught up with YPSA to find out the progress it has been making on its proposal, ‘Empowering Youth Disabilities through Market-Driven Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Skills’, which has received a grant of USD19,400 to provide ICT training and job search support to youth with disabilities who are living in highly-industrialised Chittagong.Vashkar Bhattarcharjee, Programme Manager at the YPSA ICT and Resource Centre, said, “YPSA has successfully completed ICT training for the first batch of 20 youth trainees who are now interning in various professional institutions. We are also developing digital content using Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY), to make information and knowledge accessible for them.”Each participant undergoes individual training in software commonly used in offices, with training conducted according to the needs of each person. The trainees are also taught English.
Youth with disabilities undergoing training in a past YPSA activity
Physically disabled participant Geshan-E-Ferdoush said that her newly-acquired ICT knowledge and better English language skills has helped her acquire more confidence about landing a job that is aligned with her capabilities and her dream of being a teacher. A Master’s degree holder, she had been unable to find a job before the training programme, and attributed this to inaccessibility in the city and the lack of confidence employers have about hiring workers with disabilities. Second-year sociology student Umme Tanjila Chowdhry is from a single-income household where she and her three sisters are all visually impaired. Despite their tertiary qualifications, the sisters have remained unemployed, and Umme hopes to motivate her sisters in their job search by way of example. She is so inspired by her training that she wants to train other people in turn.Training will soon commence for the second batch of 20 youth.The programme also seeks to raise awareness about the capabilities of youth with disabilities among employers. This will be done through conversations with potential employers, distribution of communication materials on this subject and lobbying. YPSA also plans to organise a job fair and to continue its advocacy.Md Arifur Rahman, Chief Executive of YPSA, said, “We are glad to support the young people in accessing employment opportunities they would otherwise be deprived of, and we hope to continue and expand this programme. There is a huge group that needs help, so we welcome other NPOs to start similar projects.”
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