Last fall I had the opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting in New York. In my opinion, CGI is one of the most important global initiatives today, helping bring together an international community of leaders with the charge of solving some of our world’s biggest challenges. I’m proud to share that at this year’s session, Microsoft pledged a three-year program to provide digital access at home to 1,000,000 students from low-income families. During the same session, we also gave an update on one of our prior commitments, which I’d like to share with you today.
In 2009 the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Microsoft and our technology partner Inveneo were on stage at CGI committing to expand a pilot program that provides refugees with access to information and communication technology (ICT) and job skills training. The program is called Community Technology Access, or CTA for short. Since that time, the CTA program has expanded to 31 centers in 13 countries, with further rollouts expected in 2012. Today, the program is helping thousands of refugees in the UNHCR’s camps around the world gain the skills needed to succeed in a 21st century workplace. The growth of the program is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all partners involved, as well as the vital need that refugees have for such centers. Watch the CTA program video here.
CTA originally came out of a growing request from the refugees themselves, many of whom had lived in camps for years. UNHCR wanted to build a program which would help refugees rebuild their lives, reconnect with friends and family while learning and developing ICT skills to better their livelihoods. Beyond its mandate of providing immediate relief for refugees in humanitarian crises, UNHCR also has to answer the question: "What’s next?" In other words, what do these refugees need in order to begin to rebuild their lives and move forward?
In 2003 we began working with UNHCR through a public-private partnership to support Community Technology Centers. As the program evolved, UNHCR saw a longing from refugees to have a connection with the outside world and a chance to acquire education and skills to help them rebuild their lives. The centers needed to go one step further and offer ICT training and job readiness skills.
In 2008 we embarked on the CTA program with three pilot projects – two in Bangladesh and one in Rwanda – to build and support comprehensive ICT centers providing computer access and ICT training. As its primary goal, the CTA program seeks to promote and enhance education and livelihood opportunities for refugees and other displaced people through access to technology, computer literacy, and vocational training.
Many of UNHCR’s camps are in remote locations with no Internet connectivity and are often off the electricity grid, which requires innovative solutions to both connect and power the centers. For example, Microsoft’s MultiPoint Server is being used throughout the CTA centers to create a low-power solution and enable multiple computers to run and be connected with minimal electricity.
We at Microsoft commend UNHCR on their vision and the work they’ve done to help one of the world’s most underserved populations. And as we celebrate the two years since our initial CGI commitment, we are proud and honored to have partnered with UNHCR to advance the education, employment, and empowerment of refugees. I am personally excited to see how far this program can go and how many refugees will be able to reap its benefits.