Microsoft Goes to Baghdad

A new certified training center, courtesy of a collaboration with the Pentagon, will help accelerate economic growth and stability in Iraq—and make sure the country is Microsoft-ready.

The first Microsoft-certified training center is opening in Baghdad. While independent local businesses have long been training Iraqis in the use of Microsoft products, this is the first time an officially certified outfit has ever operated in the country. And in a country that is short 300,000 people with IT and related skills, it’s a small but important step in helping get the Iraqi economy stable and functioning again.

The new center is the product of a Pentagon initiative to help reduce violence by getting the Iraqi and Afghan economies back on their feet — the premise being that people with jobs are less likely to support their families by working for insurgents. The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which was set up in 2006, has led delegations of foreign businesses to both Iraq and Afghanistan, including the Google and YouTube trip to Iraq last month. The Task Force was also the organization behind the study that reported earlier this year that Afghanistan has almost $1 trillion in mineral deposits.

The Iraq training center is the product of three Microsoft trips to Iraq under the Task Force. The center, which is owned and operated by a local business, Legend Lands-LLS Group, has four classrooms and can train 80 to 100 people at a time. Rajai el-Khadem, the Microsoft executive responsible for business development in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza, told Fast Company the center can graduate 300 people a month or about 3,000 a year.

Though small, the training center will play a role in accelerating growth in Iraq. Imagine trying to run a modern business without anyone who knows their way around Microsoft Office. Or trying to run a government ministry without anyone who can get a Windows server up and running. Or trying to get a banking sector functioning in the absence of workers with basic computer skills.

Until now, Iraqis had to travel to Jordan or Lebanon for Microsoft certification. The cost of such trips put them out of reach for most aspiring system admins. With a learning center in Baghdad, all that changes. "It’s a small thing," said Stan Lumish, a former JDS Uniphase engineering executive who leads the Task Force’s science and technology program. "But it’s a big thing for the country."

[Image via Flickr user The U.S. Army]

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