Microsoft listens in at the Summit

Published in the Business Guardian on April 23, 2009.

Angela M Camacho, Associate General Counsel for Microsoft Latin America. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

As Air Force One was touching down at Piarco Airport, the delegation from Microsoft's Latin American offices was getting ready to board their flight out of the country, their mission done, the planning for the future just starting.
Microsoft's Vice President for Latin America, Hernan Rincon was a speaker at the pre-Summit Private Sector Forum just the day before, but the team's real mission was to listen and learn how to tailor their initiatives more effectively in the region.

"We believe in creating great products and jobs," noted Angela Camacho, Associate General Counsel for Microsoft Latin America, "but we have a social responsibility that we believe lies in the nexus between the private and public sectors and it is at juncture that we believe that we can begin moving beyond the economic crisis."
The Microsoft team left the country with was a deeper understanding of the potential of Trinidad and Tobago, officials noting its stated literacy rate of 98 per cent and the presence of 478 primary schools as a positive indicator.

Several key Microsoft initiatives are being considered for expansion in the region and in Trinidad and Tobago in particular, where Microsoft hopes to leverage that bedrock of learning.
The Partnership for Opportunities through Technology in the Americas, a programme mercifully better known as POETA, offers targeted training opportunities that's often adapted to suit the needs of different areas in the region.

Computer skills training
Principally a software and computing literacy initiative, POETA is Microsoft's mission to bring skills training to 250,000 people throughout the Latin American and Eastern Caribbean region by 2010. The project is organised in cooperation with the Trust of the Americas, an NGO affiliate of the OAS.

Established in 2004, POETA operates out of 52 community centres in 18 countries in the Latin America and the Eastern Caribbean and has trained 2,500 people.
There are currently 72 operations centres with ten of them in the Caribbean, but there is still to be a presence established in Trinidad and Tobago. Microsoft is still talking with potential partners about the establishment of the programme locally.
POETA's real strength is its flexibility. The programme taps into the huge Microsoft ecosystem of software as well as its Windows and Microsoft Office products to deliver solutions that address different regional and community level needs.

In some centres, POETA has focused on providing leverage for returning the disabled to productive work, in Colombia, the project has been designed to engage former soldiers in the armed conflict who are rejoining the civilian workforce. The Caribbean emphasis has been on bringing employment skills to youth considered to be 'at risk'.

After training, what's next?
"When we have the people prepared, software, math and computing are critical to differentiating and innovating," said Camacho. "Then we have to figure out how to get them jobs."
Microsoft is developing a solution there as well. Using existing software designed to manage customer relationships, the company is developing a global skills database that links the graduates of its training initiatives, now equipped with Microsoft certified skills, with business partners who are seeking potential employees.

Other Microsoft initiatives like the Imagine Cup encourage student involvement in software development and have attracted 40 percent of their competitive profile from Latin America and the Caribbean.
One million teachers worldwide are being trained to use computer skills in the classroom, and once a year, they have a chance to demonstrate their solutions at the Innovative Teacher's Forum. Last year's winner in the educator's choice category was Mariella Paz, a teacher from El Salvador who created her winning business simulator in an Excel file that used 14,000 formulae.

This week, Jaime Limon, External Research Director for Microsoft will be visiting Trinidad and Tobago to expand existing linkages between the company and local universities.
"ITC can bring greater opportunity, but we have to begin creating our own companies," said Angela Camacho. "We hope to work with governments in creating research centres and then on moving their ideas into the marketplace. This is a knowledge driver. It doesn't need huge infrastructure. It needs education, it needs development and it needs, intellectual property protection."
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