This is part of a series of articles highlighting the valuable work that Microsoft’s Community Affairs Managers are doing in Asia.
Belinda Gorman’s long development career has taken her around the world, from championing children’s rights in Mongolia, to supporting the delivery of clean water and sanitation projects in Lao People's Democratic Republic and other countries. Her journey has circled back to her home country New Zealand, where she is Microsoft’s Community Affairs Manager as well as local representative for environmental sustainability projects.
Belinda enthused over working annually with hundreds of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and her sense of pride was palpable while discussing how the strong and diverse nonprofit sector represents the very fabric of New Zealand’s society.
But she noted wryly, “I had little interest in technology before joining Microsoft six years ago.” Now a passionate advocate for digital inclusion, Belinda explained, “Using the latest technologies everyday has converted me!”
She continued, “Exponential technological advances have altered the structures of societies, economies and governance. The amazing possibilities of technology can be a double-edged sword if we are not on the right side of the digital divide.”
The former development worker is all too familiar with entrenched poverty traps as she previously witnessed firsthand in developing countries.
Though New Zealand enjoys a Very High Human Development Index, there are underserved communities with a lack of access to or knowledge about ICT.
Belinda stresses that the gap is not a black-and-white problem or an issue of the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have-nots’, but one of various complexities. Mere access to technology is insufficient. Having the skills and the confidence to use technology meaningfully are just as crucial, and this knowledge is reflected in the projects she drives.
In a multi-partner project called Computers in Homes, which provides computers and training to underserved families, Belinda supported the expansion of ICT training for the participants. She also helmed a partnership with the High Tech Youth Network, which supports youth in using technology for animation, design, production and robotics.
The 2011 Christchurch earthquakes exposed issues with local NGOs’ ability to deliver services and access information in crises, thus Belinda initiated a project with social enterprise Infoxchange and the Ministry of Social Development to review the ICT environment of 44 NGOs. The individual audits make specific recommendations for practical plans toward improvement.
One of the most rewarding partnerships for her is with Plunket, the country’s largest provider of developmental, health and wellbeing services for children under five. She worked with the organisation on the PlunketPlus project, “the world’s first electronic health records system where nurses can share key health data with other health professionals and social services in real time.”
Energetic and dedicated, she still manages to find time for her duties as a Trustee of ECPAT New Zealand (an international organisation working to protect children from sexual exploitation), and continues to work on her vision for Microsoft, saying, “The communities and NGOs we support are full of so much potential — much of it realised, and even more to be realised soon!”