BEIJING, April 19 /-/ -- Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) today unveiled a new commitment to help close the digital divide by creating new products and programs that will help bring social and economic opportunity to the estimated 5 billion people who are not yet realizing the benefits of technology.
Through the expansion of Microsoft(R) Unlimited Potential, the company is renewing and accelerating its long-term commitment to use technology, training and partnerships to transform education, foster local innovation, and enable jobs and opportunities to sustain a continuous cycle of social and economic growth for everyone.
"All human beings deserve a chance to achieve their full potential," said Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft. "Bringing the benefits of technology to the next 5 billion people will require new products that meet the needs of underserved communities; creative, new business approaches that make technology more relevant, accessible and affordable; and close collaboration between local governments, educational institutions and community organizations."
The expansion of Unlimited Potential will focus on three areas, Gates said: education, innovation, and jobs and economic opportunity.
"Computers and connectivity are still too expensive for private ownership by the poor, and applications as well as information resources that are appropriate to this group have been slow to emerge, in part because the poor themselves have not been involved in creating them," said C.K. Prahalad, author and professor at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. "In order to help create the applications and start the business dynamo that unleashes their potential, the people at the bottom of the pyramid need to have reliable, affordable access to technology and to learn computing skills."
To help expand education opportunities worldwide, Microsoft is partnering with government, intergovernmental organizations, academic and industry leaders to facilitate access to high-quality education through dynamic, learner-focused technologies and resources.
Microsoft recognizes that one of the best enhancements to any education system is to amplify the impact of high-quality teachers. The company's five-year, $250 million investment in its Partners in Learning program is already active in 101 countries, with training that has equipped 2.5 million teachers and reached more than 57 million students across these countries. In addition, through the Partners in Learning program, over 722,000 teachers and students have achieved certification on Microsoft technology. Microsoft also works with industry partners to help guide teachers with the integration of technology into lesson plans and curricula through programs including Intel Corporation's Teach to the Future and UNESCO's ICT Competency Standards for Teachers.
"UNESCO, which has a long-standing commitment to employing information and communication technologies to improve education at all levels, is pleased to work with Microsoft in the innovative use of technology. Information communication technology can significantly expand the access, quality and relevance of education. It can also help overcome the drastic shortage of trained teachers, which constitutes one of the major obstacles in achieving education for all," said Koichiro Matsuura, director general of UNESCO. "We welcome the opportunity to join forces with Microsoft and other private-sector partners committed to working toward this important goal."
Through the Partners in Learning program, Microsoft today announced the Microsoft Student Innovation Suite, an affordable and reliable software package for governments purchasing and giving Windows(R)-based PCs to primary and secondary students for their personal use at home and for schoolwork. The education suite includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Microsoft Math 3.0, Learning Essentials 2.0 for Microsoft Office, and Windows Live(TM) Mail desktop.
Microsoft will offer this suite in the second half of 2007 for $3 (U.S.) to qualifying governments that purchase and supply PCs directly to students. More information about the offer is available at http://www.microsoft.com/unlimitedpotential/MSIS .
"Given the immense challenge of bridging the digital divide, the industry will have to take a comprehensive approach to providing computing to the 'next billion' people," said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. "Strategies with the greatest potential will involve collaboration among many players, including governments, NGOs, commercial carriers, financing entities, local providers, services organizations, and hardware and software vendors. Microsoft's Student Innovation Suite is an important complement to programs that provide underserved students with refurbished PCs or low-cost devices, such as Intel's Classmate PC, AMD's 50x15 efforts in conjunction with its OEM partners, and VIA's pc-1."
Additional investments to empower students and teachers include a new set of education authoring tools that will enable publishers to create and assemble vibrant learning content adaptable to individual learning needs and enhance the role of digital technology in education.
Fostering Local Innovation
Microsoft also announced plans to extend its resource commitment to Microsoft Innovation Centers over the next two years and anticipates opening and supporting 200 centers in an additional 25 countries by 2009. The current network of 110 centers serves 100 communities in 60 nations by providing local software communities with a comprehensive set of programs and services to expand work-force skills, create jobs, strengthen innovation and improve competitiveness. In partnership with local governments, educational institutions and businesses, Microsoft's resource investments provide software development assistance, business skills training, employment training, employment programs for students, and market incubation for the local startup community.
Furthermore, the Imagine Cup, an annual technology competition, provides an outlet for students to explore technological and innovative interests outside the classroom. More than 65,000 students from 100 countries competed in last year's event. The Imagine Cup yields opportunities for the next generation of technology and business leaders to compare ideas, gain practical experience, and stretch the limits of their imagination in creating solutions that apply to the real world. Registrations are still being accepted for the 2007 competition; so far, more than 100,000 students have signed up.
Enabling Jobs and Opportunities
A key issue in economic development worldwide is the concern of business and industry leaders for the general level of preparedness of prospective entry-level employees. To help address this growing employability gap, Microsoft is working with government and industry to accelerate skill development and help employers find qualified candidates. Microsoft is modeling this approach in India through the creation of an employability portal that will aid the country's nearly 400,000 engineering students who graduate each year to improve their technology, business and communication skills through online training and verification.
The portal is scheduled to launch by the end of 2007. Based on the experience in India, the project could be broadened to more regions with the potential for including additional skills and competencies.
Through the portal, recent graduates will be able to identify the skills they need to acquire or improve, find and complete appropriate training, and verify their acquisition of new skills. Employers will have an expanded pool of qualified candidates and be able to search for prospective employees based not only on the information in their resumes but on the additional courses and certifications they have completed successfully. Training partners will use Microsoft's new set of education authoring tools and a robust e-commerce infrastructure to offer and deliver training opportunities.
Microsoft today also announced an alliance with the Asian Development Bank to work together to enhance the competitiveness and sustainable economic development of the Asia-Pacific region by supporting and building technological and innovation capacity; promoting the development of applied research and entrepreneurship; and improving the efficiency, transparency and accountability of public administration at the national and local levels. Additional areas of cooperation include improving the use of technology in the teaching and learning process; providing jobs and opportunities, with the aim of reducing the digital divide between and within countries; and improving systems and standards of trade and economic cooperation across the Asia- Pacific region.
"Information communication technology holds significant promise for poverty reduction, ADB's overarching goal," said Larry Greenwood, vice president of the Asian Development Bank. "The Asian Development Bank is pleased to partner with Microsoft to bridge the digital divide and help deliver on this promise."
Microsoft also announced five new Partnerships for Technology Access (PTAs) programs in Argentina, Botswana, Chile, China and Egypt. Each PTA program combines the know-how and resources of governments, technology companies, banks and nongovernmental organizations to help increase access to PCs and use technology to build economic and social opportunity within developing economies and other underserved parts of the world. These five new programs are a just a few of the 50 new PTA programs now in various stages worldwide.
In addition, Microsoft today launched the Telecentre Knowledge Network in cooperation with the Academy for Educational Development and telecentre.org. The collaborative effort has resulted in the publication of "Making the Connection: Scaling Telecenters for Development," a book for governments, entrepreneurs, and private-sector and community leaders that use technology to drive socioeconomic development. The Telecentre Knowledge Network Web site and book serve as a catalyst and coordination point for collective thought, discussion and action on the creation of scalable and sustainable approaches to providing information and resources to rural and underserved communities through shared access. More information is available at http://www.microsoft.com/unlimitedpotential/sharedaccess .
The Road to Sustained Opportunity
Offering a more in-depth look at these and other programs, Microsoft today released a white paper titled "Unlimited Potential: Enabling Sustained Social and Economic Opportunity for the Next 5 Billion People," which details the company's strategy for strengthening emerging segments. The white paper is available at http://www.microsoft.com/unlimitedpotential/upwhitepaper .
In addition to providing new programs, community-based solutions, and partnerships to help make possible sustained social and economic opportunity through the expansion of Unlimited Potential, Microsoft announced it has created new business groups that will be led by seasoned Microsoft executives Orlando Ayala and Will Poole to bring together development and marketing efforts to help create tailored solutions that are relevant, accessible and affordable for emerging segments.
Giving citizens everywhere access to the power of technology contributes to a broad knowledge economy and creates more opportunities for everyone. Microsoft is working with governments, educators and IT industry partners through Unlimited Potential to provide access to transformational technologies and has set the year 2015 as its first major milestone to reach the first billion of the 5 billion people who are not yet realizing the benefits of technology.
"The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is pleased with Microsoft's commitment to help meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by 2015," said Kim Hak-Su, under-secretary- general of the United Nations and executive secretary of UNESCAP. "Microsoft is embracing pro-poor public-private partnerships to enable the next billion people to access technology by 2015. We encourage governments from across the Asia Pacific to join with them." More information on Unlimited Potential and Microsoft's efforts in emerging segments is available at http://www.microsoft.com/unlimitedpotential .
About Unlimited Potential
Microsoft Unlimited Potential expands and accelerates Microsoft's commitment to facilitate sustained social and economic opportunity for the more than 5 billion people living in every country around the world who do not today benefit from technology.
Founded in 1975, Microsoft is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.
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