It is better to give than to receive

Why is Microsoft spending big money on IT literacy programmes in developing countries?

  • E-Mail
By  David Ingham Published  February 29, 2004

|~||~||~|The hyper-competitive, laser focused Microsoft that we have all come to know appears to be in the mood for giving. The corporation’s chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, is now the world’s most generous philanthropist, having donated around $4 billion of his own money to a multitude of worthy causes around the world. Now, with the recent emergence of its Unlimited Potential programme, it appears that the corporation as a whole is also in a giving mood. Under the flag of Unlimited Potential, Microsoft has pledged to spend $1 billion in cash, software and advice over the next five years to bring IT education to under privileged people. In late January, Microsoft’s first ever regional government leadership forum (GLF) provided the opportunity for the company to focus attention on some of its educational activities in the region. On January 15, Bahrain was named as one of the beneficiaries of a new round of Unlimited Potential (UP) grants. The island’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) and Microsoft are to collaborate on providing basic IT skills training to graduates. Outstanding performers will undertake certified training programmes. Egypt, the host country for January’s GLF event, has received nearly $600,000 worth of cash and software since 2000. Examples of projects in which Microsoft is involved there include The Future Generation Foundation (FGF), which aims to help under-privileged and unemployed female university graduates IT skills achieve Microsoft ‘.net’ certification. The company has also worked with various organisations to help establish technology centres in five towns and cities in Egypt. What is it that motivates a corporation like Microsoft, which continues to rake in enormous net profits, to come up with programmes like Unlimited Potential? Jean-Philippe Courtois, CEO of Microsoft Europe, Middle East & Africa admits that there is an element of self interest involved. "The motivation is clear. We’ve got to do it in the long run to keep being successful,” he says. “If, in the next five to ten years, because of some of the good things we’ve done, people are relating more to the company as a brand that cares about them, that could be a concrete advantage for us. We are not denying that.” The Egyptian Minister of Education describes his country’s work with Microsoft as a winning situation for both parties. “We believe collaboration between Microsoft and the government will benefit both sides,” says Dr Hussein Kamal. “Microsoft is benefiting because they build a consumption base for the future. It’s a win-win.” Microsoft isn’t the first company to discover corporate social responsibility (CSR) and its embrace of the idea isn’t entirely recent. In the post Enron world of the 21st century, big corporations are under massive pressure to ‘give something back’ to the communities from which they are benefiting. The possible drawback of ideas like Unlimited Potential is that companies are accused of being self serving. Having young children using computers may potentially help foster long term economic growth, but it is also helping to create a new user base. Another question is why put money into IT literacy programmes, when so many people don’t have running water? “When you look at the issues that developing countries have to tackle, it’s clear that basic human needs are critical,” says Courtois. “What we are saying is that if you want to prepare for the future you need to balance some long term investment against some short term tackling and blocking, which is critical.” What the Middle East is now seeing is a higher profile being given to programmes like Unlimited Potential as the idea of CSR inevitably spreads around the globe. Of course, there is always the likelihood that Microsoft and any other company embracing the idea of CSR will be accused of acting in their own self interest. Courtois, however, hopes that both parties benefit. “It’s not philanthropy at the end of the day,” he claims. “It’s about serving some good development causes where communities can win in the long term and we can win in the long turn, by helping them in the short term.”||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code