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August 2004
Microsoft Philippines has extended the reach of the Unlimited Potential Program, an outreach effort to increase worldwide computer literacy and reduce the global digital divide in technology skills, to include Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Dubbed "Tulay," the initiative is implemented in partnership with the Department of Labor and Employment, the Filipino Workers Resource Center in Malaysia, and the Filipino Overseas Workers in Singapore. Tulay aims to provide IT training to more than three thousand OFWs and their families this year. The project further provides OFW families access to technology that will enable them to communicate via the Internet.

Microsoft has donated more than Php 4 million in cash and more than Php 3 million worth of software and training (estimated retail value) for the first year of the project.

Unlimited Potential is a global initiative focused on providing technology skills for underserved individuals. Recipients of UP grants are public centers where people can gain IT skills and training to help themselves and their communities.

Through Tulay, OFWs and their families and dependents will receive training on basic computer applications such as Word, Excel (for simple accounting and budgeting), and email/web functionalities. Those already armed with the basic computing skills will be given advanced courses. The community technology centers will also have facilities where OFWs and their families can communicate via e-mail, video conferencing, and instant messaging.

The Community Technology Learning Centers are located at the office of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Pasay, the Bayanihan Center in Singapore, and the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) will provide the initial training for trainors in the project in the Philippines.

According to Microsoft Philippines Managing Director Antonio "TJ" Javier, "OFWs are one of the sectors that we would like to prioritize helping through citizenship. They're a big contributor to the economy and yet they are impoverished. There is a real need to help them get better training and education and enable them to find better opportunities in life."

Overseas Filipino Workers are hailed as the "new heroes of the Philippine economy" with their significant contribution, in the form of regular remittances to the country, of an average of $ 8 billion per year. Today, there are 7.4 million OFWs around the world. An estimated 2,500 Filipinos leave daily to work abroad. These are according to data from the National Statistics Office.

A large percentage of these workers face discrimination and abuse in the countries where they work. OFWs also risk the disintegration of the family and breakdown of marital ties due to physical separation from their loved ones for prolonged periods.
"UP Tulay is part of Microsoft's commitment to bridge the digital divide for OFWs. The program helps OFWs to extend their skills through IT training, while at the same time pursue a healthy, productive family life," Javier added.

According to Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas, "We are confident that OFWs will appreciate this opportunity to experience the power of technology as it helps them become better workers while keeping them in touch with their families in a more meaningful way. It is also gives them the chance to find better job opportunities either locally or overseas. This program will definitely boost their self-esteem, encouraging them to do their best. We appreciate Microsoft's participation in the government's goal to uplift a very significant sector of Philippine society."

Another local Unlimited Potential grant is Pag-asa where more than 8,000 Amerasians in Subic and Clark are given basic IT training that will improve their economic opportunities. Microsoft has partnered with the Learn.Ph Foundation for this project that was launched June 2004.

"It is an honor for us to be working with the Department of Labor and Employment, TESDA and OWWA, as well as the organizations in Singapore and Malaysia," said Sanjay Mirchandani, Microsoft's President for Asia Pacific. "For us, the key to success of Unlimited Potential is strong partnership. Our partner organizations bring their own distinctive strengths and experience to the projects, while we contribute our technology and our expertise in skills development. This is how we ensure that Unlimited Potential programs effectively make technology truly meaningful for the beneficiaries."

Microsoft has made a five-year commitment to Unlimited Potential and other programs to bridge the digital divide. Nearly $50 million in cash and software has been distributed since the program was initiated in May 2003. The recipients of this program span more than 45 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America.

UP grants provide community technology learning centers with funding to launch or sustain IT skills training programs, including hiring and training technology instructors, expanding course offerings, and reaching a broader base of underserved community members. Microsoft has developed UP curriculum that emphasizes real-world technology applications and will initially be available in English, French, Spanish and German. In the near future, Microsoft will work with partners to launch a global support network to deliver technology research, tools and services to training centers worldwide.
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