Posted by Linda Zecher
Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft

This week I was honored to represent Microsoft as we entered a new partnership with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Through this partnership we will endeavor to address the growing social and economic issue of unequal education opportunities and low literacy rates for women and girls across the world.

Education and empowering women are two issues I am personally passionate about – a passion also shared by many of my colleagues at Microsoft and across the technology industry.

On Thursday, I joined with other leaders, such as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Mali Prime Minister Cissé Mariam Kaidama Sidibé in helping UNESCO launch the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education for improving literacy and the quality of education for girls and women. The partnership was launched at an event that included speeches by global and corporate leaders as a way to bring renewed awareness to this critical issue and to redouble the commitment of both public and private sector organizations to develop innovative solutions to address the challenge.

The new initiative, also known as, “Better Life. Better Future,” focuses on improving secondary education and adult literacy for females across the globe by implementing programs that prevent the dropout rates of adolescent girls in transition from primary to secondary education and in lower secondary schools, as well as scaling up women’s literacy programs through stronger advocacy and partnerships.

New ways to reach these groups are sorely needed. According to UNESCO, two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate adults are women. In addition, in many parts of the world illiteracy rates for women are well over 50 percent, according to the CIA World Fact Book. A large portion of these groups are adolescent girls in developing countries across Asia and Africa.

To this point, Microsoft, will lead an effort around the use of mobile technologies for education, with a focus on girls and women. The flexibility and relative affordability of phones allows for easy distribution and use, providing distance learning across geographical barriers. One of the first projects we will be working on is how to bring literacy retention applications thru mobile devices to the underserved across the world.

We’re currently working on the development and implementation of these apps and look forward to sharing more information on this effort as soon as it’s available. Microsoft has made the commitment to do work that empowers girls and women because we know the impact which education can play and the positive ripples it brings to the quality of life and community. The work we do empowers these young women as the next generation of teachers, parents, entrepreneurs and business leaders who will carry our world forward.

Other examples of Microsoft programs aimed at improving access to education and skills training around the world include Partners in Learning, DigiGirlz and Imagine Cup.

Linda Zecher, corporate vice president worldwide public sector, Microsoft and Irina Bokova, director general, UNESCO at the “Better Life.Better Future” event, signing a renewed partnership agreement. More pictures from the event are also available.

Linda Zecher, corporate vice president worldwide public sector, Microsoft and Irina Bokova, director general, UNESCO at the “Better Life.Better Future” event, signing a renewed partnership agreement. More pictures from the event are also available.