Greetings from Miami, Florida, where I’m participating in the next installment of our ongoing Microsoft Government Leaders Forums (GLF) – GLF Americas. As I’ve mentioned before, GLFs are semi-annual events sponsored by Microsoft that gather top government and business leaders, focused on provoking dialogue on how representatives of the private sector can best work and partner with local, regional and central governments.
GLF Americas focuses on the Latin American and Caribbean region, and there’s tremendous progress to celebrate here. According to recent USAID data, Latin America is entering its 5th straight year of exports exceeding imports, the region overall has reduced external debt levels, and UN Human Development Index values have increased for every country in the region every decade for the past 3 decades.
I’m proud to say that Microsoft recently celebrated 20 years of doing business in the Latin American and Caribbean region. In fact, recent IDC data shows that Microsoft employs 1,300 people in the region, and Microsoft-related jobs account for another 849,000 people –nearly half of Latin America’s IT-related jobs. Built on our sense of responsibility to drive economic and social opportunity in the countries where we do business, we launched Microsoft Unlimited Potential, our commitment to connect the next five billion underserved people—over 400 million of them in Latin America—through the use of technology, training and partnerships. Today, I had the honor to speak at GLF Americas on some very important areas of focus for Unlimited Potential: our goal to deliver affordable computing to transform education, and our emphasis on forging strong partnerships with those in the public and private sector to achieve the scalability necessary to reach this and other goals—but back to that in a moment.
More importantly, we had the opportunity today to announce some significant new partnerships with some of our closest partners in the Latin American region to deliver a variety of educational and training opportunities that we’ll be jointly driving. This morning, Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), announced a USD$4M joint investment with Microsoft in an IT skills and job training program designed to help disabled and vulnerable groups: Partnership in Opportunities for Employment through Technology in the Americas (POETA). POETA is also supported in partnership with the Organization of American States (OAS), who initiated the program along with Microsoft in 2004.
POETA’s work is making progress against some very serious challenges for these groups in the region. People with disabilities represent more than 10% of the population in El Salvador, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru-- and more than 90% of people with disabilities in these countries are unemployed. POETA currently supports 50,000 people in 50 centers in 18 countries, offering access to technology and skills training, as well as job placement and micro-enterprise assistance. The investment announced today will help increase the involvement of the private sector and improve job placement rates for people with disabilities even more. In fact, by the end of 2011, it is expected that POETA’s job placement rate will be 40%, with an additional 10,000 persons with disabilities trained and ready to enter the workforce, and over 700 companies linked to the program.
We also announced another expanded partnership with Brazil’s Bradesco Foundation to create a School Technical Innovation Center (STIC). The Bradesco Foundation provides free basic education to youth and professional training to adults in Brazil by providing technology in schools in underserved areas. STIC, provided as an extension of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning program, works to use innovative technology tools and practices to develop relevant and affordable educational solutions. I had the opportunity to visit a Bradesco-funded school firsthand during a recent visit to Brazil, with students using Classmate PCs—high-quality and affordable laptops for classroom use—to support courses there. The impact of this technology on their classroom and for the students’ enthusiasm to learn was amazing to see.
This brings me back to the topic of my address today at GLF Americas. Innovations in affordable computing, educational services, applications, and content are positioned to enable transformations in education like never before. The concept of “low cost computing” crosses a spectrum of possibilities from multiple students simultaneously using the same PC - or even no PC - all the way to scenarios where each student has their own notebook computer. The possibilities are endless, and Microsoft is committed to continue to support a variety of solutions that will best support those in need of relevant, affordable, and accessible technology. Today, I had the privilege to bring onstage with me some inspiring real life examples of the transformative power of affordable computing to enhance human potential.
Regis Vinícius studied at a Bradesco Foundation School since he was 7 years old. After his graduation, he continued at the Foundation, taking a computer science technician course. In 2005, he moved on to join an internship program as a technical trainee, and in 2006, when Classmate PCs arrived at the Bradesco Foundation, he worked to help train teachers and students with the new technology. Last year, he developed a special training course for the Classmate based on his experience. Today, he is preparing a trip to Ireland to improve his English skills, as Regis now hopes to one day get a job with Microsoft.
The role of Microsoft and the Bradesco Foundation in Regis’ story—a young man whose experiences teaching and innovating with ICT have created measurable personal success in his life—illustrate the importance and necessity of strong public-private partnerships with government ministries, NGOs, and businesses to drive these kind of meaningful and tangible results.
For technology’s value to be maximized, it needs to deliver a human benefit that exceeds its cost. As the work of our partners like IADB, OAS, and the Bradesco Foundation as well as stories like Regis’ show us, creating these benefits is not about the sheer computing power we apply to the situation. Instead, it is about considering the specific needs of children, schools, and communities—and designing the right technology, delivering it at the right price and leveraging the right partnerships to drive our social and economic goal in a relevant, meaningful and sustainable way.