A Tale of Two Cities: Prepare, Respond, Rebuild

Posted by Orlando Ayala
Corporate Vice President, Chairman Emerging Markets

This week in Cartagena, Colombia, Microsoft along with the Colombian Government is hosting the first National Security Leaders Forum.  The event brings together leaders in the public and private sector to discuss helping transform multi-agency operational effectiveness, reduce costs, and improve collaboration and information-sharing to tackle the threats to public safety and national security.  Technology not only plays a key role in helping prepare and respond to a disaster, it also plays a key role in helping rebuild infrastructure after one.

On January 12, 2011, the world’s eyes will be fixed on Haiti at the anniversary of the quake that killed 300,000 and left 1.5 million people homeless.  4,000 schools – 90% of the educational institutions in Haiti – were destroyed.  Much of the media attention will focus on how little is being accomplished.  The people of Haiti deserve a better future. 

As terrible as this tragedy was, what stings most is the realization that much of this tragedy may have been averted if investments had been made in basic infrastructure – specifically in education.  In an op-ed in the Seattle Times this past March, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, states “most of the deaths would have been prevented — if Haiti hadn't been so very poor.”

Mr. Stearns points to a tale of two cities:

  1. Santiago, Chile. Population: 5.3 million.  GDP per capita: $14,000.  Literacy rate: 95%.
    • Earthquake death toll: <1,000
  2. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Population: 2.8 million.  GDP per capita: $1,200.  Literacy rate: 50%.
    • Earthquake death toll: 300,000

The article notes a striking statistic: “the earthquake that struck Chile was 500 times more powerful than the one that ravaged Haiti.”  So why was the Haitian tragedy 300 times more devastating? 

Orlando Ayala speaks at the National Security Leaders Forum

He notes that the country’s abject poverty is linked to a staggering skills gap: only half of Haitians over the age of 15 can read.  “The result,” he says, “is that countries like Haiti are more vulnerable to all forms of natural disaster, including hurricanes, floods, pandemics, famines and earthquakes.”

Microsoft recognizes that our investment must go far beyond essential relief and recovery efforts.  As noted in Anthony Salcito’s education blog, we must help provide local schools digital access so learning can continue.  For example, Haiti’s vision of “building back better” means our investments must be both scalable and sustainable.  We took our next step forward in September, through the Clinton Global Initiative, as Microsoft and a number of humanitarian organizations committed to a $1.5M Clinton Global Initiative commitment, with a focus on communications, technology, and capacity building for schools and NGOs. 

We have an opportunity to help build something spectacular in Haiti.  With so much devastation, we must seek out ways to architect infrastructure that leverages the ability to lay a new foundation that can reduce friction and enable education, innovation and economic prosperity.  Cloud computing, with its benefits of connectedness, transparency and scalability, offers a basis upon which the Haitian economy can be positioned for growth.

Our work in Haiti – and around the globe – is just beginning.  And we believe that as we share the power of holistic innovation to transform lives, we will inspire local partner innovation, by Haitians for Haitians, to build a better future for our children – one school at a time.

Every child has the right to quality education.  Not just in the United States – not just in Haiti – every child on the planet.   By providing our children with the skills they need to succeed in a 21st-century workforce, we help both the public and private sector prepare, respond, and rebuild after a disaster.  As we work together to strengthen education, we strengthen national security for all nations.

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