December, 2011

  • Two stories from Asia: how education is changing

    Over a thousand miles and close to forty years separate Khun Mechai Viravaidya and Raj Ridwan Singh yet they have so much in common.

    Khun Mechai is a world renowned development expert who founded Population and Community Development Association (PDA) which has become the largest nonprofit in Thailand. Khun Mechai is affectionately known as Mr. Condom since he launched the drive to raise awareness around population control and HIV AIDS. He has been both a minister and a senator and has played a significant role in reducing the average number of children in Thai families from 7 to 1.5. Khun Mechai has taken his extensive star power and development expertise and set up a unique learning facility called the Mechai Pattana School – the Bamboo School.

    Raj Singh is one of the founders of SOLS24/7.  He is a young social entrepreneur who together with his father and brother are tackling the issue of education for underserved communities in Southeast Asia. I first met Raj in Kuala Lumpur in 2007 when he pitched me his approach to providing training to the underserved youth in an intensive two year effort which aimed to get them into well-paying jobs. He believed that his social venture would become financially viable and sustainable. He wanted to start this effort in East Timor which had just gained its independence. Microsoft took a leap of faith and invested in his effort. I met him again two weeks ago while I was in Kuala Lumpur and had a chance to visit the school he has set up there.

    SOLS 24/7 – Science for Life ( is a nontraditional teaching environment. Founded in 2000, in Cambodia, SOLS 24/7 is educating 75,000 youth in 4 countries in South East Asia. This is a youth run program that offers a comprehensive two-year training and boarding program on life-skills education for disadvantaged and at-risk youths from poor communities. Providing equal opportunities for boys and girls, the program has made it a policy to accept the same number of male and female students. In the recent graduation, 52 percent of those who received their diplomas/certificates are girls.

    SOLS 24/7 builds its programs from the grassroots level. It partners with local NGOs to ensure its sustainability and smooth management transition. It advocates the Science of Life systems, learning modules developed and successfully proven to improve the lives of the youth-participants. English is compulsory and through their approach of rapid learning youth gets English fluency (speaking) in as little as 3 months. Each school or community center as they are called teaches English, Computing, Mathematics, Leadership and character skills to both full time boarding students and part time day students.

    These training facilities sustain themselves by giving the youths responsibility in the preparation of meals and board requirements. These centers also contribute to the community by becoming involved in the delivery of basic social services such as medicines, food (food in cans), clothes, and carry out public awareness programs. SOLS 24/7 helps the youths and the local communities establish a network of social services. To keep the endeavor financially viable they have a tiered pricing model where English students from developed countries help subsidize the cost of educating underprivileged students.


    Improving cognitive ability by a counting beans exercise at SOLS 24/7

    By providing non-formal education and holistic life-skills education to youth who become SOLS Smart; underprivileged youth are now skilled, responsible, dynamic, disciplined and socially conscious individuals, many of them come back to teach and mentor other kids at the center. One key factor to their success is to provide relevant training so these youth can get into jobs or start their own business.

    What both Khun Mechai and Raj Singh are doing is turning the concept of education for underserved youth on its head. Both have approached learning as a hybrid between formal learning and experiential learning. At the Bamboo School they follow a regular Thai school curriculum so kids can graduate from school with a diploma. However, the school is also teaching them new ideas and creativity skills that lead to earning opportunities. The schools serve as a center for life-long learning for the entire community; a hub for economic and social advancement with micro-loans available for families with kids in the school; and a teacher training facility; where teachers from rural areas can come to enhance their teaching skills.

    One of the more innovative aspects of the learning experience at the Bamboo School is that students are in charge of the decision making process. They are given the responsibility of participating in the teacher selection and evaluation process; and the responsibility for selecting the incoming Grade 7 students, which promotes leadership at an early age. Students operate businesses that have a positive impact within their community, with some of the profits going towards primary student scholarships in government schools. Students participate in the purchasing committee, which enables them to learn budgeting, planning, transparency, and negotiation skills. In lieu of fees the students and their families promise to plant 365 trees and provide 365 hours of community service.


    Aerial View of the Mechai Pattana School

    I asked Raj what his biggest challenge was and he said “youth leave after one year as many of them are qualified and they get employed, and then they are under pressure from their families to contribute to their livelihoods”; many of them return back to complete their training as they believe this will prepare them for getting a better job. This is a true measure of success.

    As I left my meeting with Khun Mechai I asked him to connect with Raj as I felt collaboration between the two of them would be mutually beneficial. As I returned a got a note for Raj that he was driving to Thailand to visit the Bamboo School and explore partnerships.

    We need many more such innovative approaches to bring education to youth that gets them into jobs and creates livelihood opportunities.

  • Social Innovation in China

    By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft

    On my recent trip to China I visited the Non Profit Incubator (NPI) which is a nonprofit that promotes social innovation and cultivates social entrepreneurs in China by providing crucial support to start-up and small to medium sized grassroots NGOs and Social Enterprises. I was very impressed that in China now we have a nonprofit incubator and an incubation park that is focused on strengthening the nonprofit and social enterprise sector.

    The founders of NPI are taking the lessons from the rapid evolution of the private sector in China and integrating ideas and resources they have learned from business and applying it to the development and strengthening of Civil Society. I have seen over the last few years an increasing number of business leaders bringing their knowledge and resources and applying it to the nonprofit and social enterprise sector – Fuping Development Institute (FDI) in Beijing being one of them.

    In 2007 NPI introduced the concept of Venture Philanthropy and today the Venture Philanthropy funds exceed RMB 50 million and support more than 300 nonprofits and social enterprises. In 2010 NPI designed and operated the Shanghai Social Innovation Park which I had the opportunity to visit and meet with a number of social enterprises that are pushing the envelope of creativity.

    One social enterprise called the World of Art Brut Culture (WABC) was started by a young entrepreneur to focus on people with autism and other disabilities. He gets them to express themselves through their art and then sells this art reproduced on posters, T-shirts, mugs, etc. providing a meaningful economic opportunity for those who otherwise have limited opportunities. Since its inception, the SIP has hosted numerous large-scale events, including the China NGO Projects Exhibition, which have earned widespread recognition. NPI also hosted the Microsoft NGO Connection Day in March and November 2011 with over 200 NGO representatives and together with Microsoft China NPI launched the first China NGO IT Application Survey Report.

    The NPI isn’t slowing down, in fact it is now embarking on its most ambitious effort: The NEST Shanghai: A Nexus of Social Innovation and Community Development. This is a multi-million dollar effort on the site of the old Shanghai Municipal Orphanage which was first started by Chinese philanthropist Mr. Lu Bo Hong as a home for Shanghai’s orphaned and destitute. Funded in part by the Shanghai Ministry of Civil Affairs, this ambitious project includes restoration of heritage buildings, such as the stone gateway, the terraced dormitories, and the art deco red building which will house a museum celebrating the public service achievements in China’s history, to create a unique incubation and social innovation center that will draw in people from all over Shanghai, and eventually become a globally important center for social innovation.

    I had the opportunity to visit to this large site comprising over is 24,000 square meters and the team got me to imagine what the place would look like once completed. Shanghai is full of ultra-modern buildings but has also taken care to protect some of its traditional buildings. as the restoration continues, I can only imagine how this center will be full of energy and become a hub of partnership and innovation between government, the third sector and businesses. The NEST is an effort to build on a rich tradition of charitable service and philanthropy by revitalizing and transforming a heritage site. In doing so it will become a beacon for other such efforts to move traditional charitable endeavors into the 21st century approach of Venture Philanthropy and Social Enterprise.

  • Empowering Women to Foster Rebuilding Activities after Disasters

    By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft

    In Tokyo last week I met with Sakurai San who heads the National Council of Women’s Centers in Japan.  We were discussing how they were coping after the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami that many of their members had to endure last March. Rebuilding after such devastation according to Sakurai San was particularly challenging and especially difficult for women. This was particularly true in Japan where the gender gap is quite high given the GDP of the country. This became very evident during the disaster when most of the resources where focused on physical clean-up and reconstruction – male dominated activities - and little support was provided for care-givers in shelters that were looking after the displaced - a more women dominated activity. How can we create policies to ensure that resources allocation especially in such challenging times is much more equitable?

    Our partnership with the National Council of Women’s Centers proved to be particularly beneficial in the Tohoku area which was most impacted by the disaster. In the Iwate prefecture, the most northern area impacted by the disaster I heard an inspiring story. Training was provided to local women through our Microsoft Unlimited Potential program by the Morioka Women’s Center before the disaster hit.  It helped women in the area start a small business to serve other women who were impacted by the disaster. Supplies were being sent to all of the affected areas and in most cases the supplies were one size but unfortunately one size does not fit all. As I learnt many women were unable to ask the men, who were mostly managing the relief centers and the distribution of supplies, that they needed special sizes to fit their needs from undergarments to other other sanitary supplies. The Morioka Women’s center helped women from the area set up a business to supply ‘Delivery Care’. This was only possible because they had been empowered the training and support they received. The women sourced appropriate supplies and provided them to the women directly which not only provided a much needed service but also created an income for themselves. These caregivers became in great demand and their services have continued to grow.

    All over the Tohoku area we are seeing that the Women’s Centers that Microsoft has supported are now able to get funds from the government to manage reconstruction projects. The lesson to be learned here is after nine months much still needs to be done. Those of us that are in the business of supporting the rebuilding in Tohoku should not forget that women play a very important role in the rebuilding efforts and we should continue to focus special attention on their needs. By doing so we can help create a far more sustainable approach to development. Building the organizational capacity of Women’s organizations is important as they can then play a central and key role during a disaster and also in the rebuilding and reconstruction phase.

    Staff talk with a resident 1

    Staff from Delivery Care not only deliver products but also talk with residents in temporary housing and check their wellbeing

    As we ended our conversation Sakurai San left me with a message – “continue to support disadvantaged women as we are not only able to build their self-esteem, we are able to put them on a path of financial independence and more importantly we have created a path for women to be included in society -- this key to reducing the gender gap in Japan or in any other part of the world”.

  • Making Santa accessible in Seattle this weekend

    There is a special holiday event taking place in Seattle this Sunday, December 18th from 11am to 3pm. 

    The Microsoft Store
    in the University Village in Seattle is hosting a visit by a special signing Santa.

    The event starts 11am when Santa will arrive with his American Sign Language (ASL) elves handing out gifts and signing a very big Ho-Ho-Ho!

    You don’t need to know sign language to come along, there’s an open invitation for everyone, bring the kids and enjoy the fun.  There will be snacks for everyone and the opportunity to play the latest Kinect games.

    All the wonderful elves are volunteers from the local nonprofit Hearing Speech and Deafness Center and the Seattle Community College Interpreting School.

    The Microsoft Store is located at:  2624 NE University Village Street, Seattle, WA 98105.  You can find directions here.

    The event is being sponsored by Microsoft Store and the Microsoft Employee Disability Group.

    Microsoft Store

  • Announcing the Imagine Cup social entrepreneurs short list

    Today we’re announcing the 15 teams that have made the shortlist for the inaugural Imagine Cup grants program. The program, which is a three-year, $3 million competitive grant program, aims to help Imagine Cup participants take their projects to market as the next step in solving the world’s toughest problems.

    This initiative builds on the Imagine Cup which challenges students around the world to combine technology and their creativity to solve some of the world’s toughest problems as defined by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Over 350,000 students from 100 countries competed in this year’s competition. It’s part of our commitment to create opportunities for youth through technology, training, and experiences that empower them to imagine and realize their full potential.

    The winning teams will be named in January 2012 and awarded with a grant package in the form of cash, software, resources and other on the ground support to help them establish a nonprofit or for-profit organizations to bring their idea to market.

    Today, we are also announcing the distinguished panel of judges who will have the tough task of selecting our grant winners. Our panel of judges is comprised of leading industry experts who will use their knowledge of the startup culture, technology, the nonprofit sector, software development and venture capitalism to select the Imagine Cup Grants winning teams. There are four main criteria that the judges will consider- the two biggest being the impact and viability of their solutions as well as their team’s quality and motivation. It’s pivotal that the winning teams can have a real impact on the issue they have chosen to address.

    We’re including brief biographies of the judges below, but first of all here are the 15 teams that have made the final judging round.

    Imagine Cup Grant Finalists

    Team Apptenders – Croatia

    KiDnect is a Kinect-based solution for on-premise and remote physical therapy for children. This software has the ability to monitor a child’s exercises to ensure they are being completed correctly, and then provides statistical analysis to the therapist. Team Apptenders hopes to add multilingual interfaces in order to integrate additional sensors for limb rotation monitoring and advanced data analysis.

    Team Co2ncerned – Turkey

    Co2ncerned created a system where individuals and corporations calculate their CO2 emissions and balance it by donating to environmental projects. CO2ncerned is a common platform for environmental sustainability and social responsibility.  Team Co2ncerned hopes to use support from Imagine Cup Grants to help with international connections and the licensing cost for the system requirements.

    Team CodeRaiders – Poland

    LifeCircle+ is a modern system solving the problems that blood centers, the people needing blood, and potential donors face on a daily basis. Using Windows Azure and Windows Phone, this platform minimizes the problem of shortages in blood centers by ensuring adequate amounts in times of emergency, and promotes the cause of blood donation via social networks. Team CodeRaiders plans to use cash prize for the further development and deployment of the LifeCircle+ solution on a global scale.

    Team Cyan Girls – Senegal

    PAGEL is a cloud platform designed to provide infrastructure and ecommerce support for rural farmers and fishermen. With software as a service (SAAS) combined with Windows Azure, these individuals and small businesses can better set pricing, identify markets to sell their goods and gain worldwide visibility through an online marketplace. Team Cyan Girls hopes for the opportunity to set up a company that prioritizes creativity, innovation and good results.

    Team Dragon – United States

    Team Dragon’s project utilizes both Windows Phone 7 and a spirometer to enable a game called Azmo the Dragon, which helps children learn about and manage their asthma by having their breath be that of a dragon that destroys civilizations. The team expanded their scope into asthma care plans: prescribed regimens for families, given by doctors to help them care for asthma and respond to different situations. Team Dragon hopes to use the entirety of the grant funding for research and development, including pilot testing, prototyping and code development.

    Team Falcon Dev – Ecuador

    Skillbox is an affordable solution to help children who are hearing impaired by translating all the speaking audio received from a teacher in a classroom into sign language. A wireless headset captures the sound, sends it to the computer and SkillBox then shows the corresponding sign for the word or phrase. Team Falcon Dev hopes to make their product market-ready through support from Imagine Cup Grants.

    Team Gatotkaca – Indonesia

    Childhood is an early alert system that helps mothers prevent malnourishment in their children. It uses personal cell phones to educate mothers about healthy diets for their children as well as child development milestones. It connects mothers with pediatricians who can suggest proper action in the instance of unusual child growth or development. Team Falcon Dev plans to invest the money to build larger infrastructure for their product.

    Team Geekologic – France

    People around the world often don’t realize the consequences that their negative actions have on the environment. Brainergy is a Windows Phone 7 Puzzle Game in which the player has to solve different challenges based on renewable energy. From the beginning of the adventure, players are confronted by a polluted world and will need to use renewable energy to clean it.  Team Geekologic would like to use support from Imagine Cup Grants to add viral and social networking functionalities, and make it compatible with a number of different platforms.

    Team Hawk – Iraq

    Team Hawk developed a Windows Phone 7 application, the Refugee Application Form, that provides an instant and secure system for registering refugees and their welfare needs. It helps monitor health care and education, as well as facilitating aid distribution. The solution provides a mobile means for staff and users with minimal training to enter data relevant to the welfare and educational needs of the refugees. The data stored using Windows Azure can be accessed by the NGOs through any computing device. Team Hawk will use the entirety of the funding on the continued development of their application to make it more adaptable to various scenarios.

    Team Lifelens – United States

    Lifelens is an innovative point-of-care tool to diagnose malaria using an augmented Windows Phone 7 application. The project addresses the unacceptably high child mortality rates caused by the lack of detection and availability of treatment of malarial diseases. Team Lifelens is committed to using Grants support to develop their project for launch. They will use the investment for distribution of their devices, subsidizing the phones and field testing.

    Team majiRanger – Germany

    With majiSolutions, a three-fold product, the current workflow of waterpointmapping is automated as far as possible and optimized in quality. With a Windows Phone 7 application, majiMobile, the data regarding water resources is captured on the spot. It is then sent directly to a server where it is processed and analyzed by the majiFramework. Finally, a Silverlight application called majiWeb, provides various visualizations and possibilities for analysis, thus, being a base for important decisions. Team majiRanger hopes to use the cash prize to carry out two piloting projects, which will help them earn their first customers, and take majiSolutions from project to product level.

    Team Nerds Inc. – Nigeria

    Medicare is a web-based solution that enables interaction between health workers and doctors. Through Medicare, medical details of a patient can be sent to the doctor and the resulting diagnosis and prescription are then sent back to the health workers. It educates health workers on the latest medical trends from global health organizations and government parastatals, and provides an Azure-based platform for healthcare delivery, diagnosis and prescription to remote locations. Team Nerds plans to use the cash prize to pay for cloud computing and deploy the solution in all the medical health centers in Ondo State.

    Team Note-Taker – United States

    The Note-Taker is a portable Windows 7-based hardware + software solution that provides low-vision students with simultaneous, magnified views of their notes and a distant board. It consists of a zoom camera attached to a laptop or tablet. Students take handwritten or typed notes in a split-screen interface on the computer and control the camera through pen and multitouch gestures. After class, students can review their notes and see any audio and video that was recorded at the time they took a particular note. If Team Note-Taker wins an Imagine Cup Grant, the cash prize will be vested into Seymour Research, LLC, for use in the design, manufacture, and marketing of the device.

    Team OaSys – Jordan

    Horizon is a software and hardware system that allows people who do not have use of their hands/arms to use a computer. Specifically, it tracks head movements and translates these movements into mouse movements. Users get full control of a computer and a cellphone, browse the internet, type and connect with ease and at a low cost. Team OaSys hopes to improve the software stack by optimizing and adding features, pilot client lab preparations and hire sub-contractors.

    Team Signum Games – Brazil

    In UCan, players create strategies to find the best way to help solve issues in their city like health, education and the environment. Players must manage their resources smartly by planting trees, training volunteers, helping others, and successfully avoiding obstacles.  Team Signum Games plans to use funding from Imagine Cup Grants to pay their team to develop their solution, pay for marketing and purchase licenses.


    As you can see the teams are taking innovative approaches to addressing some tough social challenges.  The difficult task to choosing the final grant recipients will fall to our esteemed panel of judges.


    Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Global Community Affairs, Microsoft Corporation

    Ahktar administers Microsoft’s global community investment and employee programs. He is a Board Member of United Way of King County, the Global Knowledge Partnership, Council on Foundations, Youth Employment Summit Inc., and is the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center. Akhtar is an architect by training, a doctoral graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the former president of the Lambda Alpha International, New Jersey Chapter.

    Peter Cowhey, Dean: Qualcomm Endowed Chair in Communications and Technology Policy, School of International Relations and Pacific Studies: University of California, San Diego

    Cowhey can provide commentary on U.S. trade policy, foreign policy, the future of communications and information technology markets and policy, the internet, biological threats, international corporate strategy, and the microfinance industry to alleviate poverty.

    Tim Draper, Founder and Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson

    Tim launched the DFJ Global Network, an international network of early-stage venture capital funds with offices in over 30 cities around the globe. As an advocate for entrepreneurs and free markets, Tim is regularly featured as a keynote speaker in entrepreneurial conferences throughout the world, has been recognized as a leader in his field through numerous awards and honors, and has frequent TV, radio, and headline appearances.

    Debra Dunn, Advisor to Social Ventures, Skoll Foundation

    As a member of the faculty at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (aka at Stanford University Debra is spearheading classroom and project work in Design for Sustainable Abundance. She also works as an advisor to business start-ups and social ventures around the world.

    Edward G. Happ, Global Chief Information Officer of International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Chairman of NetHope

    Edward’s thirty plus years of professional experience include all facets of managing information services and high technology businesses, including general management with P&L responsibility, operations, product management, sales, marketing, customer service, human resources management, technical consulting, manufacturing, and both software and hardware development. Read his blog here.

    Zeev Klein, General Partner, Landmark Ventures

    Zeev Klein is part of the founding team of Landmark Ventures and responsible for business development, investment banking and venture capital investments working with a portfolio of early-stage technology companies.

    Dan’l Lewin, Corporate Vice President: Strategic and Emerging Business Development, Microsoft Corporation

    Dan'l Lewin, is responsible for leading Microsoft's global engagement with startups and venture capitalists and business relationships with strategic industry partners. Lewin's teams focus on supporting the startup and entrepreneur ecosystem developing on the Microsoft platform while helping foster local software economies worldwide.

    Jeff Raikes, Chief Executive Officer, Gates Foundation

    Jeff Raikes leads the foundation's efforts to promote equity for all people around the world. He sets strategic priorities, monitors results, and facilitates relationships with key partners for all three Gates Foundation program groups.

    Ann Winblad, Managing Director, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners

    Ann is the co-founder and a Managing Director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners. She is a well-known and respected software industry entrepreneur and technology leader.

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