Saturday, July 3, 2010

Microsoft Citizenship Initiatives

Microsoft is here to focus primarily on our customers and partners – to help them do more with less, save money and improve efficiency; to identify innovative ways that technology can help them generate more revenue (or new revenue streams); and to ensure we work as a more integrated internal organisation so we can deliver value far more quickly.

But perhaps equally importantly, our Citizenship work needed to be integrated with and aligned to our business drivers. To that end, we’ve been working closely with our colleagues in the segments to understand how our efforts can not only transform education, foster innovation, and create jobs & opportunities – but also how they can generate business opportunities for the company. Stay tuned for the results in next quarter’s edition!

It’s through integration like this that we can make a bigger difference to the people of our country. And that’s a really important message considering that we’ll be celebrating Human Rights Day on 21 March. If we all acknowledge and understand our rights as they are enshrined in the Constitution, and we act accordingly, we can really help South Africa realise its full potential.


Citizenship Scorecard

The era of the scorecard is here, and citizenship is no different. Read more about our performance so far this year, and the ways in which we measure our impact.

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Citizenship Scorecard

As many of you may know, the era of the scorecard is here and, as a result, the segment, BG and initiative pillars of our business are evaluated and driven by a series of metrics. All these metrics roll up into an all-up subsidiary scorecard – owned by Mteto – and directly reflect the commitments that we’ve all made.

Citizenship is no different. We have a scorecard – marked by Community Technology Programme, PiL and Voices For Innovation (VFI) – and we’re all working hard to ensure those metrics are green. But more than pure numbers, the scorecard is just one component of our efforts to show the tangible results of our investments in citizenship projects. We also use other means to showcase the impact of our work – our top stories, videos, case studies, research, evaluation and interviews.

Of course, a scorecard is only as good as the work that is done to achieve the numbers and quality delivery. Therefore, a special thanks to the project managers who lead our citizenship efforts.


Citizenship strategy – building the framework for the next three years

We often say that citizenship is an integral part of what we do at Microsoft, but what does that actually mean?

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Citizenship strategy – building the framework for the next three years

We often say that citizenship is an integral part of what we do at Microsoft, but what does that actually mean? After all, we’re guided by the structures, programmes and priorities that Corp and MEA offer up – all of which are useful, but not always completely locally relevant.

That’s why we embarked on a journey to construct a strategy for citizenship in South Africa last year. Working with an external management consultancy, we gathered data, interviewed key colleagues from Corp, MEA and South Africa, ran focus groups with project and account managers, and conducted an analysis of the South African environment. And the result was six key strategic priorities for citizenship in South Africa.

1) Better alignment with government priorities

2) Increased focus on community activation – to close the gap between the 1st and 2nd economies

3) Enhanced focus on IT capacity-building

4) Building of smart partnerships

5) Effective stakeholder management within all levels of government

6) Effective stakeholder engagement with key influencers outside government

The first three priorities are designed to make a national impact in several different areas; the latter help us manage our reputation and relationships with key audiences. The overarching goal of all the priorities is to ensure Microsoft is seen as a champion of ICT for development and supportive of the socio-economic goals of South Africa.

These priorities will enable us to focus our implementation under the Unlimited Potential message and within the three pillars – support to education, skills for employment and innovation.


Microsoft helps expand technology access in rural Lesotho school

An affordable and sustainable approach to technology was unveiled in a rural school near Maseru recently.

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Microsoft helps expand technology access in rural Lesotho school

An affordable and sustainable approach to technology – that promises to transform teaching and learning in classrooms across Lesotho and Africa – was unveiled in a rural school near Maseru recently.

The project, a partnership between the Lesotho Ministry of Education & Training, Microsoft and several local technology companies, offers students the chance to experience technology in a collaborative and interactive way.

Using a rugged compujector (a device which combines a computer with a classroom projector) from AstraLab, students at the Piting Secondary School in the village of Ha-Tumo will have access to education content developed by Learnthings Africa, Mindset and Microsoft Encarta.

“This technology is going to change the way we teach forever,” said Mrs Marefiloe Moreke, the principal of the Piting Secondary School. “It has already created huge excitement among the students, and it is going to give them a lot more skills and opportunities.”

The compujector will be put to full use in the community, with public health outreach programmes conducted after school hours to raise awareness on such local health issues as HIV/AIDs. To develop as scalable a solution as possible, Microsoft is also testing the efficiency of using a generator and a low-cost solar power solution (designed by SolarMetrics Africa) suitable for rural schools without access to electricity.

Developed by the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group, this education solution for Lesotho has been guided by the company’s long-term commitment to provide relevant, accessible and affordable information and communication technology (ICT) to the estimated 5 billion people around the world who are not yet realising the benefits of technology.

“This project is an important part of the Lesotho government’s efforts to find a technology solution for our schools that is effective, sustainable and scaleable,” said Phillip Mapetla, the chief education officer for secondary education in the Lesotho Ministry of Education & Training.

Kevin Connolly, the business development manager for the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group in the Middle East & Africa, said Microsoft is constantly on the lookout for new ways to bring the benefits of technology to underserved classrooms in Africa.

“This innovative solution that our partners – AstraLab, Learnthings Africa and Mindset – have been able to create will transform these students’ learning experience and help people of all ages in this community learn valuable new skills,” said Connolly.


Sign language translator wins student technology competition

An innovative computer programme that allows deaf people to translate English into sign language puts two SA students in the final of a global technology competition.

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Sign language translator wins student technology competition

An innovative computer programme that allows deaf people to translate English into sign language – and vice versa – has won two students from the University of the Western Cape a place in the final of a global technology competition in Egypt next year.

Nathan Naidoo and Mehrdad Ghaziasgar beat off the challenge of computer programming students from across the country to win the South African leg of the Imagine Cup 2009, a Microsoft-sponsored technology competition which pits the world’s best student programmers against each other.

Naidoo and Ghaziasgar’s iSign application, which will ultimately allow deaf people to communicate with their hearing counterparts using a cell phone and other devices, was adjudged the best entry in the final of the competition at the Champagne Sports Resort in the Drakensberg earlier this month.

iSign is a research project that investigates how a hearing person is able to speak into a microphone attached to a computer, and a three-dimensional avatar translates what they said into sign language on the screen. By the same token, a hearing person can record sign language using a commercially available camera, and have it translated into English or the same avatar as above. Naidoo and Ghaziasgar are currently researching the applicability of implementing the system on standard cell phones equipped with cameras.

A Pretoria student, Morne Ausmeier of the Tshwane University of Technology, ended a close second with his Stroke Rehabilitation Glove application, which incorporates gaming environments into stroke rehabilitation exercises to motivate patients and speed their recovery.

Naidoo and Ghaziasgar, who are both Masters students at the UWC, will go on to represent South Africa at the global Imagine Cup finals in Egypt in July 2009.

Now in its seventh year, the Imagine Cup challenges the world’s best student programmers to create applications to solve real-world problems. More than 200 000 students from 100 countries entered the competition in 2008. In all, 213 competitors from 112 teams representing over 60 countries attended the worldwide finals in Paris, France in October 2008. The theme for the 2009 edition of the competition is "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems facing us today."

iSign is part of a bigger project at the UWC called SA Sign Language (SASL), which will ultimately be a full translation system for South African sign language – much of which is unique to this country.

“SA sign language is very much a language on its own, but it is largely undocumented,” said Naidoo. “We’re busy working closely with the deaf community to build up a greater base of knowledge, but in the meantime, we’re trying to break down the communication barriers that currently contribute to the marginalisation of the deaf community in society.”

For Naidoo, the award was all the sweeter after he ended second in last year’s regional finals. His entry was an application called Shark Spotta, which uses sophisticated pattern recognition technology linked to fixed cameras to detect shark activity in popular swimming areas, and alert lifeguards.

The head of Microsoft’s developer and platform team, Dave Ives, said the judges had been “blown away” by the high calibre of the projects and the levels of innovation displayed, with a clear potential for real-world impact.

“The creativity demonstrated by the competitors this year has shown that tomorrow’s technology leaders are ready to apply their solutions to real-world issues,” said Ives. “The Imagine Cup is a great opportunity for young developers to explore the entrepreneurial possibilities of their software solutions. We’ll be looking at various ways of helping them bring their ideas to fruition.”

At the worldwide finals, students will compete in nine categories, ranging from software design and games development to challenges involving algorithms and programming. Students’ work will reflect valuable solutions that give a helping hand to the world’s sustainable environmental issues while giving them the opportunity to compete for generous cash prizes.

Last year’s winners, University of Cape Town students Devin de Vries, Christopher King, Nabeel Nazeer and Nadeem Isaacs, went on to win an award at the worldwide finals of the competition in Paris in October for their “WhereIsMyShuttle?“ application, which uses satellite navigation devices to provide bus information directly to commuters by SMS.


SA entrepreneurs shine in local competition

South Africa’s largest business plan competition – the R50-million Enablis ‘Business Launchpad’ – gives several entrepreneurs welcome financial support.

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SA entrepreneurs shine in local competition

Several entrepreneurs from across the country received much-needed financial support as they became winners of South Africa’s largest business plan competition – the R50-million Enablis ‘Business Launchpad’.

The competition – run by Enablis, the Canadian-based not-for-profit organisation that specialises in supporting entrepreneurs in developing economies – saw over 6 000 entrants submit plans for an entrepreneurial venture across 10 different industries, including technology, tourism and agriculture.

These were evaluated by industry and academic experts (including Da Vinci Institute Professor Bernie van Zyl), whittled down to 92 finalists, and finally to the 20 winners.

Those winners are now under priority consideration for between R100,000 and R2.5m in tailored funding from Enablis. They also became part of the peer network that the organisation has created here in South Africa – a group of some 300 public and private sector companies that offers access to networking, contacts, training, online resources and mentorship.

The competition, now in its fourth year, received vast local support – including that of start-up loan provider FNB, technology partner Microsoft and regional support from SEDA, Free State Development Corporation and Gauteng Enterprise Propeller, as well as Business Times, Postnet, Telesystems, Spier Green Capital and Revlon.

“The thinking behind the competition is two-fold,” explained Paul Lamontagne, the CEO of Enablis in South Africa.

“Firstly, a simple injection of cash into an early-stage business, without any associated commitment, does little to promote sustainable growth – that’s why our funding mechanisms come with business support, advisory and mentoring services to reduce business risk. Secondly, with access to a broader set of support structures that help develop contacts and business potential, it’s more likely that entrepreneurs will be successful.

“This year’s competition was marked by two dominant trends: the realism with which the target markets were chosen, and the innovative thinking behind the business concepts themselves. The entrants showed sensitivity to servicing the needs of the emerging and the higher-end aspects of local and international markets,” said Lamontagne.

“We were impressed with the quality and the innovation this year, and we believe these emerging businesses have the potential to become the world-renowned business innovators of tomorrow.”

An independent study conducted by Research in Action in South Africa in 2008 found that 56% of Enablis’ members reported an increase in revenue in the past year and 66% of members increased their customer base. They also reported over 1 000 new full- and part-time jobs could be created in the last year.

“Learning the business lingo for success includes speaking accurately to your customers, service providers, investors and industry sectors. Looking at this year’s winners, entrepreneurship in SA is more competitive and more economically viable than ever,” added Lamontagne.

In the two categories of ‘start-up’ and ‘business expansion’ winners, the highlights included:

· In the agriculture sector, the vast range of soil-based projects entered included an exotic mushroom grower, a milled sorghum brewer and an indigenous tree grower. The start-up winner emerged as Free State dairy farmer, Kabelo Tsimatsima. Winner in the expansion category was banana fruit and juice producer Apollo Segawa.

· The “green” business category yielded a number of innovative recycling operations, suppliers of eco-friendly housing, as well as an entry featuring a ready-made organic vegetable tunnel. The winners were the operator of “green” cabs in Cape Town, Wilhelmina van der Merwe, in the start-up category, and in the expansion category Avena Jacklin of Badplaas, who is addressing the water crisis created by invasive wattles by harvesting the trees for compost and health food.

· The business expansion winner in the information and communication technology category, Musa Maphongwane, designed an innovative container-based digital gaming franchise to bring gaming to township kids for as little as R1 a game. And start-up winner, David Forbes – an auditor – designed an online business management software solution for his wife – an interior designer – that turned commercial.

· Manufacturing yielded a start-up winner from Oudtshoorn, Johan Eksteen, for his idea of compacting waste pellets to create renewable energy sources and combat wood and fuel shortages. Expansion winner, Luba Schotter from Durban, produces preservative-free low GI frozen snacks and meals.

· Business and professional services included an outsourcing specialist, a one-stop event shop, a mobile frozen yoghurt shop franchisor, a BEE ratings and staff provider, as well as a paintless dent remover for motor vehicles in government fleets and in townships. Start-up category winner, Roelof Delport – a quantity surveyor – has turned his hobby professional and now provides unique orchids to businesses and hotels year-round. Expansion winner, fireman Mark Ackers, provides fire, first aid, forklift and rigging training and facilitation in partnership with the Department of Labour.

· In construction, start-up winner Walter Blersch designed a new kind of concrete pump that delivers concrete to places ordinarily tough to reach in construction while expansion winner, Patla Sekgala, designs and installs electrical substations and power lines up to 132kV.


Refurbished PCs take computer ownership to the people

Pilot project makes computer ownership more affordable by making refurbished PCs available to all South Africans.

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Refurbished PCs take computer ownership to the people

Microsoft is expanding a pilot project that makes computer ownership more affordable for South Africans by making refurbished PCs available through new retail channels at highly-competitive prices.

Mteto Nyati, managing director of Microsoft South Africa, said the Secondary PC project will provide job creation opportunities for registered computer refurbishers. It will also increase access to technology for individuals, local businesses, non-governmental organisations, schools and underserved communities across the country.

“There is a significant market for refurbished PCs in schools, training centres, call centres and small businesses in South Africa,” said Nyati.

“We believe that by encouraging the availability and support of secondary PCs in South Africa, we can provide the technology resources that will ultimately improve the community’s ICT skills, create jobs and accelerate economic competitiveness.

“It is estimated that tens of millions of still-usable computers are discarded each year by businesses, individuals and organisations around the world. The reuse of computers through donation, refurbishment or resale offers tremendous promise for digital inclusion,” added Nyati.

Thirty local PC refurbishers and distributors have been invited to participate in the programme. They can now grow their businesses by selling a reliable, affordable PC solution that comes with a genuine Microsoft Windows XP operating system preinstalled.

The programme provides marketing support for partners, and access to tools that simplify Windows XP deployment on refurbished PCs, including software activation and meeting secure data standards. It also offers an after-sale service and a six month warranty on all PCs for customers.

Two local Secondary PC partnerships are already in place, and these refurbished computers are available to customers via and Both companies are upbeat about the programme’s expansion.

“Many customers are right to be concerned about the quality, reliability, support, and risk of counterfeit or unlicensed software when buying a used computer,” said Fady Gerges of registered refurbisher Device South Africa. “Our participation in the Microsoft Secondary PC programme assures our customers that the refurbished PCs we sell are genuine, high-quality and cost-effective alternatives to new computers.”

“The computer refurbishment industry in this country rises and falls based on customer service and price,” said Andrew Craig of Mico South Africa. “The tools and resources provided by the programme not only make my business more efficient, but also more competitive.”

In addition to the Secondary PC pilot, Microsoft is to offer a range of programmes that provide affordable access to high-quality technology, including the Community Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher and Microsoft Authorised Refurbisher programmes.

The Secondary PC programme is an initiative led by MEA Unlimited Potential Group. It aims to provide relevant, affordable and accessible computing solutions to end-users who cannot afford to buy a brand new PC.

By participating in the programme, refurbishers will be able to provide customers with full PC solutions at competitive prices. The solutions include genuine Microsoft software, access to software updates and downloads and the peace-of-mind that comes with a six-month warranty, after-sales support and a recycling option for the PCs when they reach the end of their useful life.

This is a major step in MEA Unlimited Potential Group’s efforts to pilot and build scalable business models that illustrate Microsoft’s long-term commitment to bringing social and economic development to millions of users.

For further information about MEA Unlimited Potential Group – please visit our website: http://infoweb2007/sites/MEAUPG/Pages/default.aspx


CareerBuild helps young adults choose, plan and build careers

Non-profit organisation gives South Africans an opportunity to make a difference to poverty, crime and unemployment.

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CareerBuild helps young adults choose, plan and build careers

CareerBuild is a non-profit organisation that empowers CareerBuilders (young adults between the ages of 17 and 25) to choose, plan and build careers based on knowledge of their God-given talents, abilities and life-purpose.

Most South Africans have a dream to make a difference, and CareerBuild provides an opportunity to make a difference to poverty, crime and unemployment in our country by:

· Positively influencing the life of a CareerBuilder by giving them vision and hope for a positive future

· Being a part of a programme that will positively influence crime, poverty and teenage pregnancy in townships over the long term by making a difference in individual’s lives which will impact their families and the communities in which they live

CareerBuild runs a number of programmes, centred around the core mentorship programme that is offered either as a six week mentor-assisted career-plan development or a schools-based facilitated programme. During these programmes the mentor or facilitator explains the relevance of purposed career choices and goal setting. The CareerBuilders are assisted in skills and personality aptitude tests and then receive guidance based on the current skills-shortages to choose a list of possible careers. CareerBuilders are directed to research these options further.

James Avenant, Senior VSTS at Microsoft, acts in his personal capacity as IT Director for the CareerBuild organisation as well as facilitating the monthly CareerBuild forums where CareerBuilders are invited to meet specific industry experts. These experts interact with the CareerBuilders to share real-world experiences from the field. They can also assist the CareerBuilders with education choices and internships. These sessions have great value in demystifying complex industries.

James’ personal drive for this initiative is based on a strong belief that South Africa is a country with great potential, yet unlocking this potential is the responsibility of each individual.

“I am in a privileged situation that I understand a number of industries well, yet I had to discover this myself and it would have been great to have the relevant information earlier in my life. I now have the opportunity to provide this to others,” says James.