By: Simon Gammell, Director West Coast, British Council, Los Angeles

The closing keynote of the Microsoft PiL Global Forum, delivered Saturday night in Prague by Microsoft’s Vice President of World Wide Public Sector, Laura Ipsen, featured strongly Microsoft’s burgeoning partnership with the British Council. Since announcing our Education Alliance Agreement at last year’s forum in Washington DC, British Council and Microsoft have built and delivered the pioneering Badiliko project in Africa - which has seen 90 digital hubs built in schools, with 3000 teachers trained in how to make the best use of the equipment in the classroom. This has greatly improved the learning experience of over 100,000 African students, giving them access to ICT for the first time and helping them to acquire the 21st century skills they need. And now we are set to take the experience of that project and go to scale, in Africa and all round the world, working together with additional partners such as World Vision to transform education and create a digital future for all children. The ambition is great and the sky is the limit.

The next stage in our partnership is Spark A Child’s Digital Future, beginning in Kenya and scaling across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond over the next five years. In collaboration with World Vision and Intel, Microsoft and British Council will link underprivileged African youth with more than one million potential donors in the United States alone to help improve digital skills development and help children succeed while securing economic growth in a global world.

The British Council is a venerable British institution, a charity founded 80 years ago by Royal Charter with the mission to build trust and dialogue between the peoples of the world, and create opportunities for everyone to lead safer and more prosperous lives. We call this International Cultural Relations. We run programs in over 100 countries, in three verticals: Education, the Arts and English language teaching and learning . At first glance the British Council may look like a strange partner for an American high tech superbrand – Downton Abbey meets Batman perhaps - but a couple of years ago we found each other, worked out the synergy and now we get on famously.

Microsoft and British Council share a passionate belief in the urgent need for radical innovation in education to better provide all children with the skills they need for life and employment in our 21st Century global village - both technical skills such as competence with IT and ability to speak English, and soft skills such as creative thinking, collaboration and inter-cultural awareness. This transformation will be powered by the mainstreaming of IT in schools throughout the world - not only deploying devices, but also ensuring that teachers are trained to use IT to support innovative, student-centered learning . By combining our different business cultures, knowledge sets, resources and networks, we can support this vital change at far greater pace and scale than we could if operating alone.

We’re British, we’re actually quite cool, and we’re delighted to be working with the superheroes of Redmond to make the world a better place . It’s going to be an exhilarating ride over the next few years!