Microsoft and Providing Free Internet Access and ICTs To One Billion People By 2015

Incubated by Microsoft, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for the past five years as, the new Foundation will be launched on March 3 as an independent NGO. “With 200 organizational partners in 70 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe, we are facilitating the telecommunications movement in remote rural communities around the world,” according to Basheerhamad Shadrach, Ph.D. in a private interview with me yesterday. Shadrach, Senior Program Officer at the organization, will become the CEO of the new Foundation on Wednesday.

Here’s the model: Telecentres are set up in remote rural areas, where people from the community come to be trained by telecentre managers to use information and communication technologies (ICTs)—computers, for the most part—to gain valuable information, such as new and better practices for farming and agriculture, thereby increasing their incomes. Additionally, people use the internet to communicate with doctors for diagnoses of glaucoma, cataracts, malaria, AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis, and other medical matters. Based on the patients’ needs, arrangements are made via nearby clinics or hospitals for medications, surgery, and so on. The costs of the medical care are actually covered by various charities and global inter-development aid organizations.

There’s more: Telecentre managers, called “rural knowledge workers” are trained at the Academy, which is hosted in 14 universities around the world. The curriculum is already translated into 20 languages, and also localized and adapted based on community needs. The telecentre managers not only staff the telecentres to promote skills development among community members, but the managers themselves gain opportunities to further advance themselves by moving on beyond their telecentre management certificates, to diplomas, and then to MBAs in social entrepreneurship.

Akhtar Badshah, Ph.D., Senior Director, Microsoft Global Community Affairs, explained to me why this NGO enterprise is the ideal partnership for Microsoft. “Through this corporate-NGO-government partnership, we ensure that every individual in the world who wants to can learn basic information technology skills to achieve economic and/or social empowerment.” Badshah says that he has “travelled around the world, meeting with people who use telecentres in remote locations. One community of families I met live in caves in Inner Mongolia; they used the internet to learn how to apply the use of terraces, greenhouse farming, and drip irrigation to grow a greater variety of plants and crops, thereby increasing their incomes, and making it possible for their children to go to school (rather than having to farm).” Badshah adds that the telecentres are available to all people including children, women, seniors, and people who are disabled.

Badshah explained that for CSR, companies need to ask themselves, “what’s the problem, and what’s the solution.” And then they need to figure out a digestible and ultimately scalable goal, using the company’s expertise and resources to help solve a problem. “Create a clear and measurable goal.” Foundation’s business plan is to train and deploy 1 million managers to staff as many number of telecentres by the year 2015.  Since each telecentre reaches about 1,000 people, the enterprise would bring the benefits of the Internet and ICTs to one billion people.  They started in 2005, and so far, they are right on schedule.

Microsoft’s CSR model has all the hallmarks of excellence:

  • stating a clear mission: “to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential;”
  • establishing a variety of nonprofit partnerships with excellent organizations that provide the company with complementary expertise as well as access to local communities in the U.S. and worldwide;
  • providing expertise, ICT products and resources, and grants and contributions;
  • engaging and supporting its employees in volunteering; and
  • providing leadership from the top.

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