Microsoft-U.N. deal aims to wire poor nations

The software giant partners with the United Nations Development Programme to improve IT and communications in disadvantaged countries.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
2 min read
Software giant Microsoft announced a partnership with the United Nations Development Programme on Friday to back information technology and communications improvement projects in disadvantaged countries.

Under the agreement, the Redmond, Wash.-based company will work alongside the UNDP to build IT-training facilities in developing nations, with a focus on establishing community education centers. The UNDP's goal is to provide IT resources and encourage the use of technology in addressing some of the developing world's largest problems, such as the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

The partnership was rolled out by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Mark Malloch Brown, the UNDP's administrator, at this week's meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The groups said the effort will draw on the resources of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential program, a corporate initiative to furnish computer literacy and job skills training in the world's underserved communities. Microsoft has had a community affairs program in place since 1983 and estimates that it donated $246.9 million in cash and software to IT skills improvement programs last year.

The Microsoft-UNDP endeavor is focused on achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, a set of worldwide living standards that includes the eradication of hunger and poverty, the establishment of universal primary education and the reduction of child mortality, among other objectives.

The partners also detailed plans to work together in support of the United Nations' Southern Africa Capacity Initiative, which focuses on technology improvements in the countries most adversely affected by HIV and AIDS. According to the United Nations' AIDS Epidemic Update, roughly 3 million people died from the disease in 2003, with well more than 2 million of those fatalities occurring in areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The Southern Africa Capacity Initiative targets development of IT and communications capacity, e-government programs and basic services delivery in those countries.

Gates, who has also donated millions of dollars to African immunization programs under his personal charitable effort, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted his company's commitment to using technology to bolster humanitarian projects.

"Technology is a powerful tool that can help transform lives, economies and societies," Gates said at the conference. "We're committed to working closely with the UNDP to develop solutions that enable people to achieve their goals and strengthen their communities."

The first step the partners will take is to explore opportunities that build on their existing developing nations programs and resources. UNDP and Microsoft said they are already researching pilot projects in Egypt, Mozambique and Morocco, with plans to expand into additional countries in the coming months. The two organizations have previously linked efforts to build community education centers in Afghanistan in the wake of that country's recent political and military upheaval.

"We know that information technology, used in the right way, can be harnessed to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals," Brown told forum attendees. "We look forward to exploring opportunities with Microsoft to see how technology can be made to deliver on its promise in development."