September, 2011

Posts
  • The Global Give Back Circle – A Cycle of Empowerment in Kenya

    Posted by Wanjira Kamwere
    Government Engagement Manager at Microsoft WECA

    Education is viewed by some people as a basic human right. I include myself in this group, however the reality is that education is a luxury for many people in the world and pockets of society often find it hard to access. Across Africa, I feel that the value of educating women in particular cannot be underestimated. Providing education and skills to African women offers them a brighter future and a way to support themselves and their communities in unprecedented ways. Happily, supporting young talent and local communities across Africa is a huge priority for Microsoft and I’m proud to be one of those responsible for driving initiatives in the WECA region, especially when I see firsthand the results it brings.

    I’m really proud of some work that I have been able to be a involved in as part of the Global Give Back Circle, which is in turn part of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and is committed to empower disadvantaged adolescent girls in Kenya. Through the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC), women at Microsoft, such as myself, mentor young local girls to help create opportunities and design a future path for them. The programme also addresses a critical challenge for all young people in Kenya – the unavoidable 21 month gap between high school and university. We help to bridge this gap by engaging young, women on a nine-month ICT course in specially built IT Labs in Kenya. This is complemented by an arranged internship, equipping the ‘mentees’ with critical e-Skills and experience of the working world before they embark on their chosen university courses.

    As the name suggests, this mentoring programme is also designed to promote the culture of giving back to the community. The young women who take part in the GGBC become mentors themselves, transferring knowledge to others by teaching computer skills. The cycle of local empowerment improves local community support, promotes independence and encourages private sector investment.

    The GGBC has helped many young women reach their full potential - three of the first GGBC class of 2009 are Clinton Scholars in the American University in Dubai, two were awarded scholarships to US universities and 25 are attending university throughout Kenya.

    This year I was excited to see the programme lead one young Kenyan girl to even greater horizons. Thanks to her commitment to the GGBC, 19-year-old Pauline Kachinja was selected as the spokesperson for the local Microsoft IT Lab during a live-stream of the facility at the 2010 CGI Session on Democratizing Education. This year she went on to win a place as the sole African female representative at the July leadership training summit in Washington DC. Pauline also had a rare opportunity to meet US congresswomen and has gained skills in project and financial management as well as on-camera interview experience. Back in Kenya, she will impart these skills to others, giving back to the community.

    Being part of the Global Give Back Circle is a great example of how Microsoft is helping young people worldwide to unlock their full potential, empowering them to expand their horizons, learn new skills and improve their chances of employment. In Kenya this takes on even greater significance as these opportunities offer young women greater independence and ultimately help themselves, and others, escape from poverty. Personally, I look forward to seeing this empowerment eventually come full circle as more highly-skilled young talent enters the business world and fuels our burgeoning local economy. But don’t take it from me, here’s Pauline’s own words on her GGBC experience…

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    My name is Pauline Kachinja – I’m a beneficiary of the Global Give Back Circle and an undergraduate student at Moi University, Kenya – and I was offered the precious chance to attend the IL2L International Girls’ Summit in Washington D.C. this summer. I was nervous before going, in case I didn’t represent Kenya as best I could. But I shouldn’t have worried – I met so many inspiring girls my age from all over the world, learnt a great deal and I was selected as one of the best two speakers at the summit! My prize was to be filmed in a TV studio talking about my background and my ICAN project, which was great.

    I also visited the Kenyan embassy and met His Excellency, Ambassador Elkanah Odembo, who gave me these words of encouragement: “Leadership is a long journey with numerous challenges but if you stay focused you will make it.” My whole stay in the United States was crowned by the graduation which was held at the Georgian embassy. I was joined by my new mentor and her family. All the participants received a certificate, it was a very emotional moment because of the bond that we had created amongst one another and now it was time to part. We are already planning a reunion in ten years so we can see how far we have all come.

    Being part of the GGBC and going to America has been a life-changing experience that I can never forget. I’m taking two very valuable lessons back to Kenya from it all:
    • You don’t have to be rich or to be so educated to make a change in this world; all you need is to believe in yourself. Women are a force of change in this world.
    • As a leader, try to find an opportunity in every challenge, and overcome any challenges in every opportunity, that comes your way.

     

    Pauline meets the Kenyan Ambassador in Washington D.C.

  • Making a difference in Malawi

    Guest post by John Nielsen
    GM, EMEA Customer Service and Support

    Earlier in September, I accompanied a ten-strong team of engineers from across Microsoft EMEA Customer Service & Support to the Blantyre area of Malawi. The team were there to install a brand new network that would connect four local schools. Working closely with teams from mobile network Access Communications and the charity Computers for Malawian Schools, we helped launch the Malawi Learning Partnership (MLP) – a community networking project using ICT tools to allow teachers, students and partners communicate and enhance education in Malawi.

    We’re extremely proud that, over the week, we helped these schools bridge the digital divide so that they can better harness the power of technology; giving teachers the IT tools that will help them create more dynamic lessons for their students. The network now in place will let schools integrate their work much more closely, widening their access to new learning tools and ideas.

    The visit wasn’t without its complications – we made slow progress on our first couple of days and had to deal with rolling power cuts every two nights, which meant that we had to complete a large portion of the networking by candlelight. In addition, using computers with 128MB RAM felt like a trip back in time for many of us. In spite of this, the team made it work and the partnership launch was a great success.

    In fact, upon my return to the office, I was delighted to take part in a Skype call with some of the students and my colleagues still in in Malawi at the time – something which would not have been possible a few days earlier.

    Late on in the trip, the team met some of the hardworking staff at the Jacaranda School for Orphans. Even though they were already behind with the schools they had initially agreed to network together, they were so impressed and humbled by their work that they insisted on including them within the MLP. Despite the set-backs due to the power-outages, they charged forward.

    Our work wasn’t limited to helping to launch the MLP. We also had the pleasure of meeting with several hundred local residents – including parents of children at participating schools, local business leaders and members of the community – at an evening event we hosted. During the session, I presented to the guests about our citizenship agenda, and the work we were doing in Malawi.

    The female members of the team were also fortunate enough to run a session as part of Microsoft’s DigiGirlz programme, which gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in IT and participate in hands-on computer workshops. Fifty girls from around Blantyre took part, and everyone was delighted to have seen this part of the project come to fruition. One participant told us the session had been “the best day of her life”, which is pretty amazing. Our hope now is that the participants have more confidence in their abilities and understand more about the possibilities of working in IT thanks to their involvement in the session.

    Technology aside, the visit was also a chance for us to see some of our fundraising for Against Malaria in action. We hand-delivered some of the 5,000 nets funded by our efforts – a simple but vital tool in helping Malawian families prevent spread of the disease. This was a great moment of the trip – seeing how our efforts will help to save lives.
    And although we’ve returned home, our work hasn’t ended. We have now formed a Technology Mentoring Network with the people of Malawi that will offer ongoing support and training to young Malawians starting new businesses.

    I think it’s safe to say that the visit to Malawi was one of the proudest moments of the team members’ careers. It was a hugely rewarding experience – it was fantastic to see benefits of our work immediately, and meet some amazing people. We’re excited to keep in touch with the team on the ground and hear more about the progress being made.

    I’d like to leave you with a short video showing some of the highlights from our trip.

  • Horn of Africa Crisis

    By Brad Smith, General Counsel and Executive Vice President, Legal and Corporate Affairs

    It has been over two months since famine was declared in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, leaving 12.4 million people in need of emergency aid. Every day over 1,500 famine-stricken Somalis arrive in the world’s largest refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya. According to the United Nations, the Dadaab Refugee camp designed for 90,000 people is now home to nearly half a million people.

    To put this crisis in perspective, the number of severely famine-stricken people is higher than the combined numbers affected by the South Asia tsunami and South Asia earthquakes of 2005 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

    On the Microsoft on the Issues blog for Africa we often focus on the many opportunities present in Africa, the amazing feats and accomplishments of the African people, and how technology is positively impacting the continent. But Africa, and the world community, face a humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about Microsoft’s commitment to help respond to the crisis.

    Our response

    Technology is our business and it also underpins how we try and contribute to the communities we serve. We are committed to using technology to help respond to this crisis. Yesterday in Nairobi, I announced that we are extending our disaster response efforts with a number of partner organizations working in the region. We are committing to deliver support to the value of more than $4 million including:

    -    Monetary donations to NGOs working in the relief zone.
    -    Donating technical solutions and support to lead response organizations to improve the effectiveness of aid flows and monitoring. Over the last 30 days we have been working with IGOs and NGOs in the region to develop a sustainable model for their disaster response mechanisms. Our efforts include:

    • Working with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to develop an IT system to assist their work with the refugees in the region. This is similar to the solution that was successfully implemented by Microsoft and the IOM in Egypt for their work with Libyan refugees
    • Supporting relief efforts of the NGOs and UN agencies working in the region by bringing broadband internet connectivity to the Dadaab refugee camp in a partnership with NetHope.
    • Collaborating with NetHope to donate software and IT training to the 32 NGO members operating in the region, with a focus on improving the effectiveness of their work.

    -    Providing access to technology, eduction and learning opportunities for refugees. Examples include:

    • Partnering with international NGOs in the zone, including UN refugee agency UNCHR, the Red Cross, Right to Play, and NetHope, to assist in the establishment of three UNHCR technology centers in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. This effort is intended to improve education and learning opportunities for young people in these camps.
    • Providing children and young people with access to sports and recreational facilities in partnership with the international NGO, Right to Play.

    We have an on-going commitment to Kenya and East Africa – and are not new to the challenges facing the region. These latest efforts combine our long-term commitment with the immediate disaster response needs of the communities at risk.

    There are so many positive developments across the continent and so much progress being made. But, collectively the world needs to respond to the crisis in the Horn of Africa and help address the terrible suffering of so many people. We are committed to playing our part.

    If you would like to help, we recommend working with, or donating to, one of the following organizations:

    •    Kenya Red Cross Society
    •    CARE
    •    NetHope
    •    Oxfam-America Inc.
    •    International Rescue Committee
    •    Save the Children American
    •    Red Cross World Vision
    •    Islamic relief