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Microsoft volunteers play key roles in community e-skills programs
04 February 2011

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Since its launch in 2003, Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential (UP) community technology skills program has reached more than 50,000 community organizations across the world in bringing technology access and skills training to more than 170 million individuals. 

Program Fast Facts

About Microsoft’s Employee Volunteer Program

  • Launched in 2007, the Employee Volunteer Program is a global Microsoft program to encourage Microsoft full-time employees to give time and expertise to community organizations and causes that inspire them. 
  • The program provides employees with up to 3 paid days per year for volunteer work on initiatives that help people all over the world to realize their full potential.
  • Since 2007, almost every Microsoft subsidiary in Europe has formally implemented the “3 days to make a difference” policy which has enabled an extensive portfolio of subsidiary and individually-driven initiatives.

Through UP, Microsoft provides monetary grants, software and curriculum donations, technology solutions and employee volunteer hours to support community technology centers (CTCs) at which people of all ages and abilities can learn about computers, use the Internet, explore new careers, further their education, participate in community activities, and develop job-related technology skills.

Employee volunteering is an important aspect of Microsoft’s overall approach to corporate citizenship and to investing in community technology skills; and Microsoft’s European Volunteering Awards reflect this. In 2010, the Microsoft Europe award for individual excellence in community skills training volunteering was made to Elena Jerez and Noelia Palacios Moreno of Microsoft Spain for their leadership as volunteers in the Conecta Ahora project; while the award for subsidiary-wide engagement in corporate citizenship was made to Microsoft Russia for the Tvoy kurs project which is now established in 20 regions of the country.

In Spain, Connecta Ahora (“Connect Now”) is a digital literacy initiative launched in 2005 by the Foundacion Esplai supported by Microsoft, together with local associations and NGOs, to help people take their first steps with computers and the Internet and gain vital workforce skills. Since 2005, the program has trained over 288,000 people and continues to expand to other cities and regions of Spain.

Elena Jerez and Noella Palacios have been involved in the Conecta Ahora initiative from the early years. They began by volunteering as trainers in IT classes for people of all ages with low skills, inspiring more colleagues to join the Conecta initiatives and playing a leading role in developing and presenting Online Safety tutorials for Conecta students.

Noella Palacios, a Microsoft Information Specialist, says she is confident in her IT knowledge and customer advice and training skills, but that being a volunteer IT trainer gave her added motivation and enjoyment. “Experience is not the most important thing to be a good trainer,” says Noella. “What you need most is to like people and to understand and support them. If you have these capacities, the skills and experience come too.” 

Noella also enjoys helping older people discover technology. “When I think of the future, I wonder if we will have new forms of transport we can’t imagine today. This is one of the reasons that I like to help senior people as I’m sure I will be in the same situation one day,” says Noella. Above all, the people I help to train remind me how wonderful technology is through magic moments such as showing a grandmother how to organize an internet video conference with her grandchildren. And so the most important lesson I learned thanks to the Microsoft Volunteer program is that it is possible to see through the eyes of a child, even when you are 80 years old!” 

Her colleague Elena Jerez, a Microsoft Technical Account Manager, agrees.

“In Spain we have some different and interesting citizenship programs and I have worked on some of them, but Conecta Ahora is a special one for me, especially helping senior people to learn IT.  I can’t explain the feeling when you see the smile on their face because they can send emails, use the internet and create documents. Most of them thought they were too old to learn something new, especially with computers. It’s what inspires me to continue as a volunteer -- the look in their eyes when you help them to succeed at something they thought impossible. In my experience, this is the power of volunteering whatever the program and I recommend it to others that have thought about doing it but have not had the time -- just try it! Your life will change and you will change a life.”

In Russia, the Tvoy kurs Digital Literacy project is part of a nationwide e-skills initiative launched in February 2010 by Microsoft and its NGO partner, PH International. The goal over three years is to enable 1 million people to gain and develop their e-skills through 100 digital literacy centers in all regions of Russia. Within the first 6 months of the initiative, the interest was so high that almost 120 digital literacy centers are already established in almost 80 cities across Russia, and almost 20,000 people have been trained. 

Microsoft Russia’s employees have played a key role in the speedy expansion of the initiative. Employee volunteers in almost 80 cities are already involved, including project managers, regional marketing managers, district managers and colleagues from Microsoft business groups working with their business customers and partners in the regions.

The major role of Microsoft employee volunteer teams in each location is to analyze the local societal environment, establish contacts with education institutions, NGOs, local administrations, look for potential Digital Literacy centers and negotiate with them, liaise between PH International and the local partners, disseminate information on the initiative among wide audiences, coordinate and participate in public events, and support the local project launches.

Some Microsoft employees have also volunteered as digital literacy trainers, supporting the existing resources of the digital literacy centers. In addition, Microsoft Russia’s President and General Manager, Nikolay Pryanishnikov, is very supportive of the initiative, attending many of the launches across Russia, and Microsoft Russia’s Public Sector Director, Pavel Ershov, contributes a lot of his time and energy to promoting Tvoy kurs with state and local authorities in the regions.

“This is a large initiative in a very large country,” says Microsoft’s Nikolay Pryanishnikov, “and it requires more than the efforts of our NGO partner PH International to engage so many organizations in different - and often very distant from Moscow - regions of Russia. Since the very beginning of the project Microsoft employees demonstrated huge interest in the new citizenship initiative of the company. And very soon this interest transformed into real passion and commitment to work with citizenship team and support Tvoy Kurs program development in their home cities all over Russia. As of today Microsoft employees located in Moscow as well as in many regional offices are the best and most effective supporters of Citizenship team. Thanks to their efforts, just eight months after the program started there are already 130 Digital Literacy centers working almost in all regions of the Russian Federation,” concludes Nikolay Pryanishnikov.