Microsoft's Community Technology Skills Program began in 2003.  Since then, 170 million individuals have been touched by the program around the world - individuals who used the Community Technology Centers to brush up on their skills; others who took a more intensive training course and ultimately received their Digital Literacy certificate; those who learned at their own pace at home; and yet others whose more unique needs were met through a combination of assistive technology and skilled trainers.  There are truly 170 million stories out there, and I'd like to note just four that were recently highlighted in this article in the The Star, an English language newspaper in Malaysia. 

Lim Jin Sheng was injured in a car accident in 2006, impacting his vision, speech and other motor skills.  In the course of his rehabilitation he came across IT skills training through the Society for the Physically Disabled in Singapore (SPD).  Despite initial concerns about his ability to learn these new skills, he successfully completed the courses and is now employed as an administrative assistant - building his independence and confidence. 

Gerald Bartholomew, on the other hand, was born with severely impaired vision.  As part of his job search process he was able to take advantage of assistive technology (devices and applications to ease access and use of computers and technology for persons with disabilities) available at SPD and complete office productivity applications training (email, spreadsheets, word processing and presentations).  He then worked as a research assistant at SPD and ultimately moved on to another job as an administrator for a company in Singapore. Learn more about Microsoft and SPD here.

Lilibeth Masamloc nearly became a victim of sex trafficking in the Philippines.  After enduring years of abuse as an underpaid overworked domestic servant, at the age of 13 Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF) stepped in when the threat of being trafficked became very real.  Under a VFF program she was brought to a safe shelter and given the support needed to recover from her experience, which included IT skills training.  Afraid at first to even touch a computer, Lilibeth grew in confidence through her training and eventually completed a degree in social work.  She now speaks at international events on the topic of protecting domestic workers. Discover more on Step UP and VFF here.

A degenerative eye disease did not keep Kenny Johar from pursuing a career in Computer Science.  As the manager for architecture, innovation and accessible solutions at Vision Australia he not only benefits from assistive technology himself but has witnessed the broader value of technology to meet the needs of underserved populations.  He also has provides feedback on emerging technologies such as touch screens, which pose a particular challenge for the visually impaired, helping to improve subsequent versions of technology.

A critical sub-point here is the importance of partnerships in successfully helping bring technology access and skills to local communities.  Without the local knowledge and dedication of organizations like SPD, VFF and Vision Australia, the Microsoft contribution to these efforts would be largely meaningless.  In the context of partnership however, our resources of curriculum, software and cash can help extend and deepen programs that make an absolute difference in people's lives.  In the end it is all about the role of technology in empowering people to learn, create, communicate and do things that are relevant and meaningful to them.