CAIRO: Some of Microsoft’s top researchers spend their time thinking about complex software, algorithms, and security systems. Others think of ways to help the poorer segments of society realize their full potential.
On Tuesday, Microsoft launched its iCafe program in Egypt, offering five local community libraries free access to the latest software technology and training curriculum.
“This work is part of a global initiative Microsoft embarked upon known as Unlimited Potential which aims to spread technology more broadly into the society, particularly in emerging and under privileged economies, said Michael Rawding, vice president of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group. “This initiative focuses its energies in three key areas: transforming education, fostering local innovation and creating job opportunities.
Microsoft Unlimited Potential is described as a long-term global business and citizenship commitment that seeks to improve lives of individuals and communities in the middle and bottom of the economic pyramid by delivering affordable and accessible technology that can help transform education and foster a culture of innovation, thus enabling better jobs and opportunities.
To do so, Microsoft partners with governments, businesses and non-profit organizations to stretch the reach of IT skills and other market forces to the world’s inequities.
In Egypt, Microsoft chose the Integrated Care Society (ICS) as its arm to bring social and economic benefits of technology to more citizens. On Tuesday, both partners inaugurated the region’s first iCafe at the Maadi Library.
iCafe will offer a combination of technology resources such as digital literacy training for new PC users and toolkits for software developers on Microsoft’s latest programs.
“What we see around the world, is millions of people and their only access to technology and computers is through facilities like this shared community center, Rawding said.
“Here in Egypt, we have a unique set of circumstances. A society that recognizes the importance of IT, a committed government that realizes the role of IT in developing society, and partners like ICS that can pursue that, he added.
“We all work together – the government, international corporations and NGOs – to come up with new solutions and link them particularly to economic and social development.
Microsoft plans to roll out its newly launched iCafe program in five ICS libraries and community centers across Egypt.
A lot of these centers, Rawding said, provide a basic level of digital literacy to a good percentage of the population, both young and old. By equipping these centers with more sophisticated software technology, they can be used to build more advanced skills, such as software development skills, as well as attract first-time PC users.
He could not disclose the total amount of investments Microsoft is pouring into Egypt’s iCafes, but he said it provided “better value for the money than other competitive platforms.
“We view that this initiative – in the long run – can provide opportunities for us to extend our users and software sustainability, he pointed out. “It’s a long-term investment, and we plan to stick with it for multiple years.
I-Café is not Microsoft’s first CSR initiative in Egypt; other initiatives include a laptop for every home, a three-year initiative whereby Microsoft is partnering with the government to distribute 25,000 laptops per year at affordable prices. The initiative has now entered its second year.
Microsoft has also partnered with Mobinil and is currently negotiating with other mobile operators to deliver affordable laptops with broadband connectivity to households that would not have access otherwise.
Within the last year, Microsoft launched initiatives similar to iCafe across the Middle East and Africa region, China, India, Latin America, Southeast Asia, as well as Central and South America.
By 2015, Microsoft hopes to reach around one billion people who have limited access or are not yet realizing the benefits of technology.