Rosalyn in Nairobi, Kenya is a 40 plus year old mother who has a business of manufacturing shoes from recycled tires which she sells over the web around the world. Ma Jianlu, a farmer in the remote Loess Plateau in China is selling eggplants online which he has grown on his small greenhouse. Since 2003 Microsoft through its Unlimited Potential Community Technology Skills Program has helped over 160 million people around the world to get access to basic and intermediary level IT training leading to both economic and social empowerment. Through over 1500 non-profit partners and 60,000 Community Technology Centers the program has supported, youth, women, the elderly and people with disabilities get training at no-cost or very low cost. In the United States we have reached over 23 million people through our programs to date. A good example is Michelle Hartman, unemployed at age 63, she had little or no computer skills, but needed to obtain those skills to meet the requirements of local employers. After successfully mastering several Microsoft Office applications, a prospective employer offered her $4 more an hour that they had planned to pay because of her upgraded skills.

In 2009, when the economic downturn began hitting it’s full stride, Microsoft launched Elevate America, incorporating a number of programs and resources that share a common focus; providing technology skills training, and resources to help people find employment. Through the Elevate America state voucher program, we distributed nearly 900,000 no cost Microsoft e-learning and certification vouchers for the unemployed and underemployed in partnership with 32 States, and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and American Samoa. In the words on of one the person who has participated in the state voucher program, Sandy Mills of Missouri, “I missed the computer wave...but now I’m catching it. And, it’s amazing what the general software programs can do now. I remember when it was all customized software, which was complicated and expensive. Now these more powerful programs are out there. Being able to learn them is a real excitement for me.” The aspiration of Elevate America is to help 2 million people over the next 3 years get IT training so that they are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century workforce.

In February 2010 we launched the Elevate America veterans initiative to support returning veterans and their spouses successfully transition to civilian jobs. In partnership with a coalition of veterans serving organizations including, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, United Service Organizations (USO), and the Wounded Warrior Project we announced a competitive Request for proposals (RFP) process that will fund eligible nonprofit organizations interested in contributing expertise, cash and in-kind resources to give U.S. veterans and their spouses the skills and resources they need to be successful in today's workforce. The response we received to this RFP has been very positive and we are in the final stages of the selection process. We are very excited with the number of organizations that are providing holistic services in support of our veterans and their successful transition to the civilian workforce.

Elevate America community initiative

Continuing our commitment to skills training and workforce development in the United States, last week we announced that we will invest $10 million ($4 million in cash and $6 million in software donations) in nonprofit organizations that truly embody Microsoft’s commitment to help people from communities gain the skills they need for success in the workforce. We are looking for innovative solutions to get people trained with the critical 21st century skills required to get back to work in long term, family wage employment. It is estimated that within 10 years, 77% of all jobs will require some level of IT proficiency. Through this RFP, it is our goal to open up opportunities for organizations and their partners who are providing proven, comprehensive and innovative training and job placement services to get people back into the workforce.

Through a competitive funding process, Microsoft will award cash, software and other resources to eligible IRS registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organizations and their partner organizations which may include: workforce agencies, community colleges, labor organizations, and other nonprofit organizations. Over the next two years, grant recipients will be funded to provide individuals with the support needed to help people find employment. Successful applications will include collaborative partnerships between two or more organizations in the nonprofit, workforce development, labor and education sectors. We are looking for organizations with a demonstrated track record of serving underserved communities especially women and young workers, in job training and job placement. The services provided by successful applicants to ensure a fully supportive experience for participants will include technology skills training, job placement and strong employer connections and may also include career counseling and other support services such as childcare, transportation and housing.

Microsoft has a long history in supporting IT skills training and we are committed to working with nonprofits that share our mission and zeal to improve through IT skills training the ability of the underserved community to get into the workforce. As Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire stated when Elevate America launched in the state, “This is an example of what we need to emerge stronger from this recession. When this downturn ends, we will need more skilled workers ready to enter the job market. Microsoft’s generosity will provide thousands of men and women the skills they need to work with the software that runs our businesses. This will help strengthen our economy and increase our state’s global competitiveness.”

Click here for more information on the Elevate America community initiative.