REDMOND, Wash., June 26, 2000 — A bright-eyed, 7-year-old girl from Kuala Lumpur was recently introduced to the wonders of the PC. Her reaction to the technology was not unlike that of millions of other children her age around the world.
"I like to send e-mail to friends, write about my hobbies and draw," said Serena, who lives in one of 26 orphanages in Malaysia that received an influx of PC hardware and software recently with the help of a Microsoft grant.
Every day in every region around the world, Microsoft demonstrates its commitment to producing great software that empowers people any time, any place, and on any device.
Microsoft has donated software and hardware to the Prague-based PCs Against Barriers (PAB) Foundation, providing IT training and rehabilitation services to people with disabilities.
The company's International Community Affairs organization backs that vision by funding and participating in projects that educate children through innovative uses of technology, and by providing information-technology (IT) training to help increase employment opportunities. The group also provides grants of technology and technical assistance to assist the significant work of nonprofit organizations and to support global disaster relief efforts.
Microsoft, which launched its formal corporate giving program in 1983, has always recognized that people who have access to technology and the training to use it can accomplish amazing things. So in many large and small ways, Microsoft and its employees around the world reach out to put technology's power into the hands of those who can benefit by it most.
For Serena and hundreds of other children in Malaysian orphanages, the Microsoft donation supports a computer training initiative called Cybercare -- a program coordinated by the Malaysian government, the private sector -- led by Microsoft -- and various community service organizations spearheaded by Lions Club International.
Computer instruction in Malaysia's public schools must be purchased. Sadly, however, the orphanages lack the funds to provide technology and training for their children. As a result, most of these economically underprivileged kids also suffer academically.
In the last eight months, Cybercare has installed computers and Internet connectivity in 26 facilities in and around Kuala Lumpur. More than 600 children benefit from the technology. Another 1,000 children will have direct access to PCs over the next year, as the project expands to 50 other orphanages -- some in outlying, remote villages.
The children, who range in age from 2 to 16, have embraced new and exciting ways to learn basic reading and math skills. The kids are also trained in the use of Microsoft and other software applications, which they use to express themselves through art and essays on Web sites designed especially for them.
With support from Microsoft, Cybercare also provides e-mail accounts, and an e-mentoring program has been established that allows children to chat with their friends and peers around the world, and with pre-screened mentors who electronically adopt them.
"It's really fulfilling for me to see them coming alive, getting interested in doing things that formerly they showed no interest in at all," said Jasmine Woon-Ooi, executive director of the Compassion Home orphanage.
Cybercare administrators plan to introduce the program in Singapore based on the successful Malaysian model.
"The kids are so thankful," said Microsoft's Tih-Tih Chin. "They always want us to visit so they can show us what they have learned, and how they can use the PC to do their work. We're very happy to see that."
Microsoft's work with Cybercare is a prime example of the company's employee commitment to giving, said Jeff Raikes, group vice president of sales and marketing. "We recognize how important it is to support the communities in which we live and work. This program provides an opportunity to contribute to our communities and one our employees are excited about."
Another example can be found in the Czech Republic, where a Microsoft grant is supporting an innovative re-training effort.
PC Technology Lifts Barriers
Before the communist regime in Czechoslovakia was overturned during the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the plight of many people with disabilities was largely ignored. Since then, these individuals have had a difficult time rejoining society.
To help address their needs, Microsoft has donated a significant amount of software and hardware to the Prague-based PCs Against Barriers (PAB) Foundation.
The 4-year-old non-profit provides IT training and rehabilitation services to people who are unable to walk following a traumatic injury such as an automobile accident, or as a result of diseases such as cerebral palsy.
Since its inception, the foundation has trained some 600 people.
Although PAB serves individuals aged 6 to 60, most are between the productive working ages of 18 and 30. Many have never used a computer.
"The Microsoft software shows that the computer is not their enemy, that it can dramatically improve their lives by offering new career opportunities," said PAB administrator Jan Nevrkla.
The foundation offers an innovative approach that combines physical activities such as swimming lessons with computer instruction -- including training courses in Windows 95, Excel, Word, and FrontPage. Nevrkla said access to the Microsoft technology is often the initial lure for new participants, who subsequently benefit from additional rehabilitative and support services PAB provides.
"Computers for physically challenged people are as essential as their wheelchairs," said Microsoft's Jozef Belvoncik. "While their wheelchairs provide physical mobility, technology access provides them intellectual mobility. It is a must for them."
The PAB foundation boasts a 98 percent employment rate among its initial graduates. Many are employed at home working in accounting. Other graduates go on to study university mathematics and physics, or enroll in vocational courses such as electronics, architecture, graphic arts or desktop publishing.
"With Microsoft's help, we are showing people that they can have a full, active life," Nevrkla said.
A significant part of the company's vision involves how people work, Raikes noted, but also "how we learn, how we entertain, how we connect with other people." A remote village in Ecuador incorporates all of these attributes, and is an excellent example of the power of technology to transform lives.
Equal Access in Ecuador
Deep in the heart of Ecuador's Amazon region, a small, technologically isolated village is being transformed with the help of a Microsoft international community affairs grant.
The grant supports 5- to 15-year-old children who are members of the indigenous Quichua Indian community in El Pano -- a town six hours from Quito, Ecuador's capital.
For the first time, students in that remote locale are receiving computer training at the village school, thanks to a Microsoft donation of six PCs and a collection of educational and productivity software.
"This has really enhanced the community's self-esteem, because they no longer fear technology," said Guillermo Travez, executive director of Rucu Sacha (Virgin Land) Foundation, the local organization that is implementing the grant. "The children will be trained to use state-of-the-art technology -- something that a year ago was impossible for anyone here."
In an area that harvests yucca, bananas and plantains, a lack of economic resources has forced the population to look for other ways to survive, and El Pano is turning to technology.
The foundation is using the Microsoft donation -- one of several the company has made in Ecuador recently -- to teach computer proficiency and to prepare students for future employment. Children are offered a variety of curricula, everything from technical engineering work (learning how to operate various machines) to bilingual secretarial work (translating between Spanish and the native Quichua language).
"With this [training] I can do whatever I like -- write official letters, memoranda -- a little bit of everything," said former student Sandra Andy, now a secretary in Quito.
Edmundo Cerda, a teacher in the Pano school noted that it did not take very long before some of his students, like Andy, were working in offices.
"Our satisfaction is that she now has the knowledge that allows her to be productive -- to herself and her family and to society," Cerda said. "We never dreamed that a gift of this nature could give the whole community such pride."
"The first big step we have made here is to take the computer to such a remote area," added Microsoft's Edwin Marchan. " This type of education is changing their whole environment. The word technology is no longer a taboo," he added. "They may not know exactly how it will affect them, but they know it's something good and positive for their community."
Quoting another of El Pano's teachers, Travez said: " Just like the machete is a tool that helps the people transform their environment in order to survive, the computer will help them survive in the new technological era.
"There are no words to express how grateful our community is for what Microsoft is doing," he added.
A Lifeline in a Time of Crisis
Of the hundreds of projects Microsoft supports around the world each year, none address more pressing, time-critical needs than the company's worldwide disaster response efforts.
Whether the goal is to provide funding for food and medical supplies to help victims of hurricanes, earthquakes and floods, or to spearhead a technology application that supports war refugees, Microsoft's ongoing dedication to these efforts is born of its humanitarian commitment -- a part of its corporate culture for 25 years.
Moreover, as a multinational company with employees in 60 countries, Microsoft is committed to supporting the locales in which it does business.
"Employees around the world are highly involved in their communities," said Joanna Demirian, an international program manager at Microsoft. "They feel that it is important that the company they work for is part of the solution when natural disasters or other crises occur -- even if employees themselves are not directly affected."
Microsoft could not agree more. Its subsidiary offices are budgeted with a pool of funds earmarked for local relief efforts. Recently, funding was allocated to nonprofit organizations that helped victims of earthquakes in Taiwan and Turkey, and for those suffering from the aftermath of cyclones in India.
Microsoft employees often get involved by raising funds for relief efforts -- which the company matches dollar-for-dollar -- or by rolling up their sleeves to participate directly in aid projects.
Two prominent examples of Microsoft's commitment to volunteerism include the company's work in Venezuela following 15 days of powerful floods and landslides in December 1999. The worst national disaster in Venezuela's history, the cataclysm killed more than 500 people and left 200,000 homeless.
In addition to donating their own funds, employees helped construct a Web site that collected money and relief supplies and assisted in the reunification of thousands of displaced people.
A large group of employees from around the world also joined forces to design a refugee registration kit, based partially on Microsoft technologies, for individuals who were displaced by the war in Kosovo.
Version 2 of that project is now being deployed in other war-torn regions, and the kit was recently named a laureate project by Computerworld and the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian has also entered the registration kit into its permanent research collection.
"If you talk to any of the people involved in the effort in Kosovo, or the creation of a technology-based school in South Africa, or what we have done with orphanages in Malaysia," Raikes said, "you get an incredible sense of pride in our company and how we are helping people."