It’s been almost exactly six months since I helped introduce the expansion of Unlimited Potential in Beijing, China last April. There’s been a lot of amazing progress since then towards our goal to bring the benefits of technology to the five billion people who are currently underserved. Yet we’ve still just begun the journey. Orlando and I and the team have been busy travelling all over the world—introducing new products & programs, meeting with governments, NGOs, partners, and educators, and visiting the people and communities who are the ultimate focus of our work. This week I was proud to be in Hungary as we formally launched Unlimited Potential in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), following through on our commitment to help transform education, foster local innovation, and enable jobs and opportunity across the region.
One of the most valuable aspects of my travels has been the opportunity to see and meet with some of the people for whom we are working to create social and economic opportunity through Unlimited Potential. For in CEE as well as throughout the rest of the world, people are the most necessary and important economic resource—for both the knowledge economy and building global competitiveness.
While some areas and segments of CEE are enjoying great economic growth and prosperity, there’s an increasing gap between the top and the base of the economic pyramid. Countries like Greece and Ireland 20 years ago had an equal standard of living, but today Ireland is twice as rich.
To dimensionalize this in CEE: the rapidly growing middle class consists of about 210 million people across the region who are benefiting from the pace of economic development here. However, at the same time, there are still 163 million people with family incomes under $3000 a year, adjusted for purchasing power parity. By providing and creating better access to technology that is relevant, accessible, and affordable, we can help improve the potential of the middle income population to benefit even more from this economic growth, and for even those with the least means to participate and share in the region’s tremendous opportunity.
And this week, Microsoft unveiled a variety of new programs, partnerships, and announcements that will allow this potential to grow across CEE and underscore the impact that technology has already made in the region:
· In Romania, we have worked with local partners to pilot a new offer of a PC for Family Education, designed to provide affordable home PC access, and to support the whole family—from a child’s education needs to providing parents with tools to improve their IT skills. We are partnering with a variety of local Romanian partners, including software developer and content provider Siveco, system builder Proca, and education retailer Diverta to bring these low-cost PCs—loaded with 200 interactive lessons in 10 subjects—to the Romanian market. We and our partners are encouraged with the results to date, and we expect sales to grow as Proca, Diverta, and others step up efforts over the upcoming holiday season.
Here’s a picture of a family I met who stretched their budget to buy a PC for their son to help with his focus on math classes in school, and to help the mom work on her small business. Seeing the pride in Nicolae’s face as he described his decision to invest in his son’s education was quite moving.
· I was present in Moscow this past Monday, October 16th to open a new IDEA Center in collaboration with Project Harmony, a NGO that has extensive experience in supplying job skills training to underserved populations. This IDEA center will provide broad access to technology and training programs that will aid students and adults in developing valuable IT skills. More than 17,000 Russian citizens have already benefited from courses offered by about 50 IDEA Centers across the country—and almost half of these citizens are individuals with disabilities. (You can check out a video on the work that we are doing with Project Harmony here)
· Microsoft sees a clear link between our own growth and profitability and the sustained economic growth and opportunity of CEE. And yesterday, the global analysis firm IDC released data highlighting the significant economic impact that Microsoft and the IT industry have already had in the region:
o Microsoft-related IT employment in 2007 represents 42% of total IT employment worldwide.
o Overall growth in the CEE IT sector is very dynamic and will remain strong through 2011, with the software
segment showing an annual growth of 12.8%.
It’s very exciting to be here in the midst of so much activity and progress, even when it means braving an early snowfall and horrific traffic in Moscow.
We’re looking forward to continuing to partner with governments, NGOs, and others in CEE—helping them develop education systems, provide frameworks for better skills and adult learning, and develop local software and business communities for job creation. This will help economies grow in the region, attracting foreign direct investment and increasing global competitiveness. And only through these sorts of strong partnerships can we achieve the scale and scope of our goals through Unlimited Potential.
I look forward to checking in again in the near future as my travels continue to take me across the globe. In the meantime, check out a new blog—Inside UP—from my Unlimited Potential colleague James Utzschneider, who is on this trip as well, and is posting on his experiences on a regular basis.
Will Poole, Corporate Vice President, Unlimited Potential Group