Youth & Opportunity
Engineering , Math
By Tim Hopper, Responsible Outsourcing Manager, Microsoft Global Outsource
George Carlo Junior, a 21-year old laborer from the Philippines, didn’t know the first thing about computers until he decided to enroll in a Community Technology Center (CTC) program.
Sponsored by Sutherland Global Services, the Tarlac Provincial Government, and facilitated by Microsoft, the CTC program provided George training in basic computer skills and gave him the ability to earn a Microsoft Digital Literacy Certificate for free. After successfully passing the course, George was promoted to Office Warehouseman. He can now confidently perform his duties and responsibilities which include doing the workers’ payroll, inventory reports, daily activity reports, picture reports, and other related office tasks. George is grateful to the program for having the opportunity to improve his life by equipping him with skills to take on more advanced career opportunities.
In 2007, Microsoft developed the Supplier Community Technology Center program, which invites companies to join us by launching learning centers that provide digital literacy training to their employees, their families, and their communities. Since launching the program, it has trained tens of thousands of underserved learners in far-reaching corners of the globe, just like George.
And on May 4, Sutherland Global Services marked the training of the 10,000th participant with a celebration held in Tarlac, Philippines. Greg Sewell, Microsoft Global Outsourcing, Rene Yoakum, Microsoft Consumer Support, and Cheryll Ann Selda, Microsoft Citizenship, were in attendance to recognize Sutherland and their trainers for this significant milestone.
Greg Sewell of Microsoft (right) presents the award to Sutherland executive Dan Lang.
Rick Kerbs, Senior Director of Microsoft Global Outsourcing, said:
“This is a great achievement and on behalf of Microsoft, I wish to express our sincere appreciation to Sutherland Global Services for contribution to the CTC Program,” Microsoft’s mission and values are centered on helping people throughout the world reach their full potential, and by working together with Sutherland, we have helped thousands of individuals get to the right side of the opportunity divide.”
To learn more about the Supplier Community Technology Center program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In many countries, education for girls is still just a dream. In Sierra Leone, all children are legally required to attend primary and secondary school. However, the shortage of schools, teachers and basic educational tools make the implementation of the law close to impossible. An enhanced education, teaching essential computer skills and giving access to computers will broaden the horizons and prepare Sierra Leone’s youth for today’s computer-driven society. One of the micro-projects on Give for Youth will help 15 girls get access to 80 hours of computer training.
Girls remain woefully outnumbered in African schools. Facilities and modern learning resources are spare due to lack of funding. This project will help give adequate priority to the education of girls, giving them the computer training that will equip them for essential job-related skills.
A total of $480 is needed for Develop Africa, the nonprofit sponsor, to provide training for these 15 girls. If you donate today, your gift of education will be matched by Microsoft at 50 percent. Microsoft will donate 50 cents on every dollar, up to a total of $100,000, now through April 16th. Certain restrictions apply.
Check out the leaderboard to see all the organizations helping young people around the world that you can donate to on Give for Youth and receive a donation match from Microsoft.
I had a pleasure of moderating a discussion with Arunas A. Chesonis, the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of PAETEC, founded in 1998. I wanted to understand from him why he-as a CEO and business leader-invests in his community in the city of Rochester, New York, and why he has developed a culture of investing back into the community at PAETEC.
Arunas, an MIT graduate and an entrepreneur, is a visionary who thinks outside of the box regarding how to build a business and how to build a community around him. He told the audience at the BCLC Corporate Community Investment 2011 conference in Philadelphia that one of his company's four guiding principles is "caring culture," a concept in PAETEC's objectives and a metric for performance evaluation.
"If you have two managers and both are very good, but one is involved in the community," Chesonis said, "he'll drive more business and will build more relationships within the company, outside the company, and with clients. That's the manager who will get the promotion. People like that get to move up in the organization because they're the ones who do business better."
Community involvement at the individual employee level, he said, not only helps managers excel-their success helps to grow the business.
In our talk, he explained that PAETEC also uses the same criteria when considering procurement bids from his partners-with price being more or less equal, PAETEC wants to know how engaged potential business partners are in investing back in the community. He wants to know how you're investing in communities, how you're giving back, how you're making the country do better.
For Arunas, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a strategic weapon-an interesting choice of words-and he said that if you're not doing CSR, if you're not engaged in CSR, then you're not going to be as successful, you're not going to optimize your stock price, you're not going to optimize your performance, and you're not truly, fully engaged with all your team members. In short, it's better business to be engaged in CSR.
So how does Chesonis make sure engagement is constant and thorough?
First, he sees engagement in CSR as building an extended family among a range of stakeholders (even the name of the company stems from the first letter of the names of the Chesonis family). He said he came to Philadelphia for the BCLC conference to lend support to those who are in the CSR business. "Maybe," he said, "I'll give you some tricks that we've used to trick people within our ecosystem into seeing why this is important for all of us."
Second, engagement in CSR work should be decentralized. At PAETEC, Chesonis lets his community relations managers decide where to focus the company's CSR efforts instead of dictating what to do with a top-down approach.
"I feel like I'm the match.com for CSR at my company. It's my responsibility to connect my employees with our community," he said and noted that he wants connections to grow organically between his community relations managers and the local organizations.
Building your own community is important, and connecting your community to other communities in common goals is the next step in building capacity.
Arunas asked, "Wouldn't it be great if there were a BCLC in all communities?" Organizations that convene and connect, he said, are needed at the local Chamber level so that local corporate citizens and community leaders can come together, learn, and expand their capacity. Having a network of local BCLC-like organizations, he said, would encourage public-private partnerships.
"It's hard for SMEs to travel to national conferences and major events like this - that makes local collaboration level so much more needed," he said. "People could develop their own approaches at the local levels and decide what fits best with their communities and businesses."
While his community relations managers guide the company's strategy, the Chesonis family is building its own legacy in environment and energy research-the need for intense research in these fields is astounding, he said. With the belief that researchers should be allowed time to fail and experiment to find the best, most innovative solutions, Arunas and his family are funding long-term research spots for post-grad MIT students. Most Nobel Prize winners in science, he noted, made their discoveries at the age of 28. "We need to be funding young, energetic people who have time and inspiration to immerse themselves in their research 100 hours/week."
He ended the thought that corporate responsibility should be a strategic priority for all companies. "Don't be a 'dumb philanthropist' and just write checks," he said. "Work on the strategic piece-what's good for a company can be good for a community and vice versa."
For those in business still sitting on the fence, this is a good piece of advice.
For more on the relationship between MIT and Arunas and their partnership on alternative energy research: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/chesonis-0422.html
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.
Team Oasys, a team made up of Mohammad Azzam, Monir Abu-Hilal, Hani Abu-Huwaij from the German Jordanian University, in Jordan, also the third place winners in the Software Design category at Imagine Cup 2011, recently presented their technology solution at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Approximately 40 people from around the world gathered for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities where Hani AbuHuwaij gave a live demonstration of the cost effective assistive technology his team developed that allows people with severely limited mobility or quadriplegia to use a computer by moving their head.
Members of national delegations to the Conference of State Parties, government members, nonprofits and the Disabled Persons Organization watched as Hani demonstrated how his system allows people with quadriplegia to control the computer, move the mouse, and type by utilizing an infrared device and a Wii-mote. After seeing the demonstration, one attendee even expressed interest in deploying Project Horizon in her own country.
From the beginning, Hani and Team Oasys have been determined to create not only an exciting idea, but a practical solution that can be manufactured and distributed to individuals with quadriplegia. The team competed at Imagine Cup 2010 with a project that could detect the spread of deserts; they received feedback from the judges that they needed a stronger business plan. They spent the next year cultivating their business knowledge and a strong understanding of the assistive technology market they wished to enter through Project Horizon. Their hard work was acknowledged in New York this July when they visited the James J. Peters VA Medical Center and demonstrated their software to Patient Care Center Director, Edward McLaughlin, who said, “It’s the best system that we have for our patients.” The video below shows more from their visit.
When we caught up with Hani after his presentation he told us, “It was such an honor to be at the United Nations Headquarters to present our project to some of the world's biggest changers. The feedback I received for the project was amazing; lots of representatives were interested in learning more about Horizon. Presenting at the United Nations was an experience that I will remember for a long time from now, and I think that it was the perfect chance for us to let the world know about Horizon and its value.”
Hani and his colleagues haven’t lost any momentum since the Imagine Cup or their UN presentation; they are committed to turning Horizon into a real, implemented project that can change lives around the world. Currently, they’re spending time tweaking the technology behind their software to make it more user-friendly and cost effective.
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