Youth & Opportunity
Engineering , Math
Originally Posted on the Microsoft on the issues blog by Orlando AyalaCorporate Vice President, Chairman Emerging Markets
From the National Security Leaders Forum in Cartagena, Colombia. The event brings together leaders in the public and private sector to discuss helping transform multi-agency operational effectiveness, reduce costs, and improve collaboration and information-sharing to tackle the threats to public safety and national security. Technology not only plays a key role in helping prepare and respond to a disaster, it also plays a key role in helping rebuild infrastructure after one.
Pictured above: Orlando Ayala speaks at the National Security Leaders Forum
On January 12, 2011, the world’s eyes will be fixed on Haiti at the anniversary of the quake that killed 300,000 and left 1.5 million people homeless. 4,000 schools – 90% of the educational institutions in Haiti – were destroyed. Much of the media attention will focus on how little is being accomplished. The people of Haiti deserve a better future.
As terrible as this tragedy was, what stings most is the realization that much of this tragedy may have been averted if investments had been made in basic infrastructure – specifically in education. In an op-ed in the Seattle Times this past March, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, states “most of the deaths would have been prevented — if Haiti hadn't been so very poor.”
Mr. Stearns points to a tale of two cities:
The article notes a striking statistic: “the earthquake that struck Chile was 500 times more powerful than the one that ravaged Haiti.” So why was the Haitian tragedy 300 times more devastating?
He notes that the country’s abject poverty is linked to a staggering skills gap: only half of Haitians over the age of 15 can read. “The result,” he says, “is that countries like Haiti are more vulnerable to all forms of natural disaster, including hurricanes, floods, pandemics, famines and earthquakes.”
Microsoft recognizes that our investment must go far beyond essential relief and recovery efforts. As noted in Anthony Salcito’s education blog, we must help provide local schools digital access so learning can continue. For example, Haiti’s vision of “building back better” means our investments must be both scalable and sustainable. We took our next step forward in September, through the Clinton Global Initiative, as Microsoft and a number of humanitarian organizations committed to a $1.5M Clinton Global Initiative commitment, with a focus on communications, technology, and capacity building for schools and NGOs.
We have an opportunity to help build something spectacular in Haiti. With so much devastation, we must seek out ways to architect infrastructure that leverages the ability to lay a new foundation that can reduce friction and enable education, innovation and economic prosperity. Cloud computing, with its benefits of connectedness, transparency and scalability, offers a basis upon which the Haitian economy can be positioned for growth.
Our work in Haiti – and around the globe – is just beginning. And we believe that as we share the power of holistic innovation to transform lives, we will inspire local partner innovation, by Haitians for Haitians, to build a better future for our children – one school at a time.
Every child has the right to quality education. Not just in the United States – not just in Haiti – every child on the planet. By providing our children with the skills they need to succeed in a 21st-century workforce, we help both the public and private sector prepare, respond, and rebuild after a disaster. As we work together to strengthen education, we strengthen national security for all nations.
Pictured Above: Grameen Koota borrowers gather to repay their loans at a Kendra (Center) Meeting in Karnataka State
It was that awkward shuffle. I was standing in the aisle as our flight was loading. Despite repeated requests at the check-in desk, my wife and I did not get seats together, so I was faced with attempting to convince a fellow passenger to trade seats with me. I was optimistic as I had a highly-sought after aisle location to offer.
Attempt #1: failure. I could not overcome the language barrier with a shy Vietnamese woman. Attempt #2: Again, a failure. I approached the woman who had the seat assignment next to me. I offered the comfort of an aisle seat near the front but no deal. I was left with one final option: shuffling around all four seats in our row without displacing the first woman who had refused to move. My last hope strolled onto the jet, and I worked my best pitch. Just as they announced the closing of the cabin door, I got a gentleman on his way home to Bangalore, India to switch seats with me. An exhausting way to embark on the first of two nine-hour legs to New Delhi.
Vikrum, the kind gentleman who had switched his seat, and I struck up a conversation across the aisle. He asked the obligatory question, “What do you do?” – A simple question that often gives me pause. My job is not easily explained in a simple sentence, at least for me. I respond, “I am helping to solve world poverty.” He paused and replied, “Now that’s a grand goal. I work for a software company.”
We soon discovered that our careers were more aligned than we might have expected. Vikrum works in Marketing and Sales for Microsoft Azure, the software company’s cloud computing platform. An ironic synergy considering that I was headed to New Delhi for the Microfinance Leadership Summit, an event my organization – the Grameen Foundation – planned in partnership with Microsoft and Access Development Services, a local microfinance association. The Summit will help microfinance institutes (MFIs) understand how cloud computing and other technologies can help them accelerate growth and increase transparency. A serendipitous seat change indeed... We exchanged business cards and sat back as the plane took off.
Four hours into the flight, Vikrum invited me to join him to stretch our legs. Huddled in the corner of the plane, we discussed the tremendous upswing in the adoption of cloud computing. With more than 13 data centers worldwide, Microsoft is seeing businesses shifting to cloud computing on the basis of cost savings and convenience, among other reasons. Vikrum’s recent travel history serves a good indicator of the rising demand for this emerging computing approach.
Vikrum asked why we are holding the Summit in India, and I explained that the Grameen Foundation has spent more than a decade solidifying and accelerating microfinance in India. Providing loans to poor women has proven time and again to empower women to uplift themselves and their families to a better future. Yet less than 15% of the world’s poor have used microfinance due to inability to scale. Grameen Foundation understands that technology is key to unlocking the scale needed, a belief we share with Microsoft. (And also the very reason I’m on the plane having this chance meeting with Vikrum). Pictured above left: Grameen Koota client selling goods from her store, funded by micro-loans from Grameen Koota.
Technology is a hurdle for microfinance institutes. They attempt to develop their own custom solutions or indebt themselves by indulging in over-engineered banking platforms. There are too many failures, too many resources spent, and too much time wasted. I tell Vikrum that the market needs more cost-effective approaches that meet the needs of emerging NGOs and scale up to support those organizations serving millions of clients.
“Why not serve up technology in the cloud?” he asks. In fact, we are.
Grameen Foundation’s Technology Center has been working on IT solutions to help MFIs, including the Mifos Cloud solution now available in India. In addition, we have been working with Microsoft to ensure MFIs can access donated or low-cost resources that the company makes available to NGOs, and holding events like the Microfinance Leadership Summit to make sure they have the know-how and support to strategically invest in technology. Mifos Cloud is a hosted management information service delivered for a subscription fee from the Grameen Foundation. It increases operational efficiency for MFIs while providing more transparent financial and social performance reporting. The Summit will also highlight Windows Live and Office Web Apps cloud computing applications. For many of the MFIs that attend, access to these online tools will help them avoid costly IT infrastructure investments and focus on what matters most – bringing microfinance to more of those living in poverty.
Cloud computing means less upfront, capital expense and reduced IT overhead. It removes the burden from the MFI to manage the servers and systems themselves, allowing them to focus on mission instead. As an operating cost, MFIs can more appropriately budget a cloud-based technology investment as a percentage of ongoing operations. According to Vikrum, this is also the premier selling point for the commercial sector to shift to cloud computing!
Along with diminished costs comes the ability to add value as each institution scales. Innovation is created once, then shared by many. Cloud-based access provides transparency across an organization and with outside stakeholders. This provides insight not only into operation and financial data, but also social measurement. It is hoped that this clarity will unlock the ideal sources of capital to fuel MFIs to continue their valuable work in serving the poor.
We both agreed, at an altitude of 30,000 feet, that cloud solutions hold a silver lining in the fight against poverty. I invited him to become involved with our community and join us in helping to bring microfinance to more of the poor in India. Our spontaneous collaboration reinvigorates me for our event with Microsoft to bring IT resources to MFIs, and makes all the seat changing antics at the start of a long flight well worth the effort.
Matt Duncan is the Director of Market Development, Technology for Microfinance Initiative for Grameen Foundation’s Technology Center based in Seattle, Washington. He has been collaborating with Microsoft Community Affairs to plan the Microfinance Leadership Summit in India, where microfinance institutes will learn about cloud solutions and other technology tools that will help them serve more people in poverty.
By Andrew Coughlan
Note: This post is part of a weeklong celebration of U.S. military veterans. You can find more stories and resources at the Microsoft Citizenship website.
On July 19, 2004, I didn’t die. I can talk now about what happened that day, but it’s enough to know that I lost friends in a mortar attack in Baghdad. PFC Charles Persing, who had pushed me away and took the brunt of the blast from the mortar, and Sgt Dale Lloyd, my team leader who had run to help, both died that day. Two other friends, Sgt Mike Ramirez and Spc James O’Leary and my team leader Ssg Keith Adams were injured.
Physically, I was unhurt, but I was living with the loss of my friends, recurring nightmares of the events of the day, and an overwhelming guilt for being alive. I’m not even really sure you could call it living. I felt worthless; and although I was newly married with a daughter, I thought about suicide.
I didn’t know what to call it then, but I was suffering from survivor guilt and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The only people I could listen to were those that had been there with me. Hearing from them that they cared for me, and that I could be proud of myself and my service, meant so much more somehow than hearing it from my family, who love you in spite of a turmoil they don’t understand. I had to get better not only to care for my family but to honor the friends we had lost by living full life.
I underwent treatment at the VA, which involved group therapy sessions, and meeting with counselors. But the thing that broke through more than any session, was talking one on one with veterans of the Vietnam War. Those guys put me on a personal mission. “Don’t let your generation become like ours” they told me. “Make your buddies aware, make the public aware”.
I could tell them things; one guy in particular. With all the doctors and social workers and other vets there, this big tough Vietnam vet chose me to share a story that though half a world and four decades apart, was a lot like mine, and as he was supposed to help me, I was helping him too.
“All those killed and I was never touched. I had survivor’s guilt, anger, and nightmares,” says Andrew of surviving an explosion that killed two of his friends.
This offered me a starting point. I didn’t have to open up completely then. But I could start, little by little, to unload the weight of my emotions and experiences. If this set me on an upward slope, I reached a peak at a combat stress retreat run through Wounded Warrior Project. I didn’t say as much as I could have, and I can’t really explain what that week meant to me. I learnt to look at things a different way and to process my feelings differently.
I won’t say that I was cured that week. There is no cure for Post Traumatic Stress or survivor guilt just as there is no way to bring Lloyd or Persing back. But I have fewer, less intense nightmares. When I have a flashback, I know how to ground myself back into my surrounding reality. I have learned to control my symptoms, rather than letting them control me.
A lot of combat veterans believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I will admit that I once felt the same. But reaching out saved my life. The help doesn’t need to come from a doctor. It can be another vet, or just someone you can trust. It can be hard to talk. But just take one thing out at a time, something small. You don’t have to dump it all out….just lighten your load, bit by bit, you’ll get there.
PTSD is a wound. Like any other wound, it will fester and spread if you don’t treat it. Just like you would with a wound to your arm or leg – you treat it, you stop the infection. It may not work quite as it did before, and you may have a scar, but you will start to heal and find strength and ability to do things you didn’t before.
I am pursuing my education now through the TRACK program, working out and loving my wife and daughter. I won’t waste the life that was spared on July 19, 2004 and I will honor the friends that I lost by living a better life.
Andrew Thompson on behalf of Wounded Warrior Project.
Find out more about the Wounded Warrior Project.
More veterans resources:
Going from sitting behind a .50 caliber gun in the dark, fighting Arabian Sea pirates to sitting at a desk in a classroom is quite a transition. Spencer Cockrell served in the Navy for six years, working as a SONAR operator, technician, and supervisor. On January 3, 2011 he will begin the next stage of his career pathway studying computer science at Bellevue College. “One of the very exciting things about transitioning to college is that you get to be your own person again. You control your own time, and you have the ability to explore and study ideas that are important to you. For me, this is part of the pursuit of happiness that we are all entitled to—it's something that every veteran has fought for.” Spencer talked with us about the new vet services that will be launched in the college’s Microsoft Elevate America Initiative, called Project Succeed. All the parts of the project sounded exciting to him, but especially the internship and job placement help. He noted that it’s been years since he’s had to develop a resume, so the more help on this – the better!
Julius Clemente, a student who is currently attending the college, served in the Navy for two terms, from 1998 to 2005. “I was a hospital corpsman pretty much the whole time. I was deployed to Iraq on two different occasions, and also spent a lot of time in Japan. Right now I’m taking classes to fulfill pre-requisites to get into a four-year physicians assistant program. Maybe at the U.W. Or in California. The UW also has a MEDEX program up at the University of Alaska Anchorage, so I’m looking at that too. But physician assistant programs are a good fit for me. Actually, the physicians’ assistant training programs were designed especially for returning hospital corpsmen back in the 1960s.”
He is particularly excited about the expanded technology training and internship opportunities that will be available through Project Succeed, especially since they expose students to 21st century skill requirements and often lead to permanent employment. “Internships are key. BCAV (Bellevue College Association of Veterans for which Julius is chapter president) has folks from all over the services in lots of different occupations. Some of those occupations have skills that transfer more easily to the civilian world, and some—well, it’s a tougher fit. But internships could help in a lot of different fields.”
One of the most active veterans on campus is Pete Smith (pictured below), who founded the Bellevue College Association of Veterans last year, and advocates for veterans across the region. Project Succeed will play a role in helping the chapter in their primary goal of establishing a strongly supportive community of veteran students and providing wrap-around services for who are transitioning from active duty. Pete noted, “It means a lot that Microsoft is supporting this veterans’ project, because it shows that they are looking to give back to those who have given so much for their country. This project can provide veterans with an environment at Bellevue College that expands critical mentoring, internship and job opportunities that we need to be productive in the workplace.”
Find out more about Bellevue College.
By Elaine Cooluris, Executive Director at Able-Disabled Advocacy
“I am extremely grateful for the assistance Able-Disabled Advocacy gave me,” Matthew B., a former US Army Combat Engineer related. “I felt like I was on the verge of living in my car, but now I'm at a new firm with great people, excellent benefits and exceptional compensation. I've regained my confidence and hope for the future.”
Matthew was unable to find work as a paralegal in San Diego, CA due to a requirement that all paralegals in the state of California must be licensed through an approved college level program. After enrolling in one of Able-Disabled Advocacy’s (A-DA) Veteran programs, he was eligible for a tuition payment to attend an accelerated paralegal program at the University of California, San Diego. While in training, Matthew was able to continue receiving his unemployment benefits and earn his California Paralegal Certificate in 12 weeks.
A-DA also helped Matthew improve his employability skills through comprehensive career assessment and counseling. He now works for Rutan & Tucker, LLP in Costa Mesa, CA earning $70,000 a year. He continues to keep in touch with A-DA’s Veteran Services staff.
With the turn of the 21st Century and the emerging need for Information Technology skills in the workplace, our vision for the Microsoft Elevate America Veteran’s Program named VetWORKS is to bridge the Digital Divide between Veteran job seekers and employers. We are working to accomplish this goal by creating partnerships to enhance and expand gainful employment opportunities through improved access to advanced education, training and technology certifications.
To better upgrade transferable military and other skills in the classroom, VetWORKS services will include:
The desired impact of our VetWORKS program is to provide customized services and training that enhance the job skills learned in the military, as well as assist Veterans/spouses to develop new skills for jobs in high growth/high wage technology related occupations.
Elaine Cooluris, Executive Director at Able-Disabled Advocacy
Founded in 1975 in San Diego, CA as a 501 (c)(3) corporation, A-DA’s mission is to “provide vocational skills training and educational advancement for youth, adults and Veterans with disabilities or other employability challenges and to assist them in finding employment and overcoming barriers to personal and financial self-sufficiency.”
The organization serves more than 600 individuals each year at our four training sites and since inception, we have placed almost 12,000 individuals with and without disabilities into San Diego’s workforce. Of those that have been placed and retained, approximately 3,600 (30%) have been Veterans. For more information on A-DA’s Veteran programs, please contact Denise Yoggerst at (619) 231-5990, ext. 307 or email@example.com.
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