Tech skills as a way out of poverty
Computer science training can empower the underserved, while also filling skills gaps.
48% of tech employers in Asia had difficulties filling vacancies in 2015, compared to 28% in 2006, says Dr. Daiana Beitler, Philanthropies Lead for Microsoft Asia. Digital literacy is becoming vital, no matter where in the world you are, and Microsoft sees a “huge opportunity” to help train underserved people to fill these tech roles.
“Technology is an incredibly huge force for good, but it also widens inequality very significantly,” Beitler tells GovInsider. Microsoft hopes to solve this problem of “developing competencies for young people in inclusive ways”.
“Technology is an incredibly huge force for good, but it also widens inequality very significantly.”
The biggest challenge that governments are facing today, says Beitler is that “children are not being educated for the jobs of the future”. The time is now, she says, for education ministries to think about the kind of qualities and skills that young people graduating the system will need.
“68% of children who enter primary school today would work in a completely new job that does not currently exist by the time they are adults,” Beitler notes. “How do you prepare young people for these jobs of the future that you don't even know what they are gonna look like?”
Microsoft Philanthropies hopes to provide access to technology and digital skills to disadvantaged young women, ethnic minorities, and remote communities in the region. The outfit is partnering with 49 non-profits in Asia Pacific to provide computer science education and training through the YouthSpark programme. These partners are the local experts, with knowledge and understanding on how to reach out to such groups, explains Beitler.
Tech in the developing world
The programme creates opportunities for individuals to develop a career for themselves in technology, which translates into a better income than before - in some cases, doubling it, she continues. “We try to link as much as possible this training to actual employment opportunities, or with avenues for them to start their own business.”
These trainings have drastically changed the lives of people for whom the opportunities were previously out of reach. “Their lives have been transformed through this new economic income, and through this income that they now create, they transform their families,” Beitler declares.
She shares the story of Thuzar, a girl in a remote area of Myanmar, who happened to walk into a library which was running a digital skills training: “She is now employed at the training centre, teaching others.” Thuzar could put her new digital skills to good use, helping inform police through social media of the situation on the ground during a recent flood, says Beitler.
Partner and conquer
This success story was made possible through a partnership with the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation. “They were the ones who told us, if you really want to get reach, there is a network of 96 libraries across the whole country where the community gathers,” Beitler says.
Here is how it works: in each country, Microsoft Philanthropies identifies organisations that have the capabilities and outreach to deliver computer science trainings, and then provides support so that they can “create economic opportunities locally”.
“We work backward; we look at our strategy, what are the goals we try to achieve in the country, and then try to identify the player that is working in this area and has geographical coverage,” Beitler explains.
To ensure that these training and education partners are fully equipped and empowered to help people, Microsoft donates resources through the Technology for Social Impact programme. This includes anything from Office 365 to cloud computing capabilities, Beitler says.
“There are more than 7,000 non-profit organisations in Asia that are using cloud computing to serve their beneficiaries in new, innovative ways, including those that are providing skills training,” she adds.
“There are more than 7,000 non-profit organisations in Asia that are using cloud computing to serve their beneficiaries in new, innovative ways.”In the ten years since the YouthSpark programme started, it has benefited 20 million young women across the world.
People with disabilities may also be excluded from enjoying the benefits and opportunities that technology brings, and this is another key area of focus for Microsoft Philanthropies, Beitler explains.
Microsoft’s tech products are “inclusive by design”, with features such as screen readers or speech-to-text recognition, and “we really do leverage that for training these communities and making sure that we provide them pathways to employment”, she shares.
Beitler notes how “if you do not make a conscious effort to make sure that you are inclusive, the inequality will continue to widen”. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has a new mission to “empower every person and organisation on the planet to do more”, and Beitler’s job is to “make sure that I achieve that ‘every person’ part of our mission, which means people that the market doesn’t reach”.
The overarching theme of inclusivity permeates everything that Microsoft Philanthropies does. The message is clear: “We want to be the company that doesn’t leave people behind, and that really means equipping people with the skills they need to operate in the digital economy.”