“So, we are working with a number of non-government organizations to help build the skills of these youth, to build their digital skills. We know that today, about 50 percent of jobs require technology skills. Within the next three years, that’s going to jump to more than 75 percent. So we’re working to help build the skills that employers need to expand their companies.”
In Sri Lanka, decades of civil strife have now given way to sustained economic growth. In this period of calm and reconstruction, 24-year-old Prabhath Mannapperuma leads a team of techie volunteers teaching digital skills to rural and underprivileged children. They use the micro:bit, a tiny programmable device that makes coding fun. “Using a keyboard to type in code is not interesting for kids,” says Mannapperuma, an IT professional and tech-evangelist, who is determined to inspire a new generation.
Upskilling is also a priority in one of Asia’s poorest countries, Nepal. Here, Microsoft has launched an ambitious digital literacy training program that is transforming lives. Santosh Thapa lost his home and livelihood in a massive 2015 earthquake and struggled in its aftermath to start again in business. Things turned around after he graduated from a Microsoft-sponsored course that taught him some digital basics, which he now uses daily to serve his customers and stay ahead of his competitors.
Often women are the most disadvantaged in the skills race. For instance in Myanmar, only 35 percent of the workforce is female. Without wide educational opportunities, most women have been relegated to the home or the farm. But times are changing as the economy opens up after decades of isolation. “Women in Myanmar are at risk of not gaining the skills for the jobs of the future, and so we are helping to develop the skills of young women, and that’s been an exciting effort,” says Michelle.
The team at Microsoft Philanthropies has partnered with the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation in its Tech Age Girls program. It identifies promising female leaders, between the ages of 14 to 18, and provides them with essential leadership and computer science skills to be future-ready for the jobs of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
The goal is to create a network of 100 young women leaders in at least five locations throughout Myanmar with advanced capacity in high-demand technology skills. One of these future leaders is Thuza who is determined to forge a career in the digital space. “There seems to be a life path that girls are traditionally expected to take,” she says. “But I’m a Tech Age Girl and I’m on a different path.”
In Bangladesh, Microsoft and the national government have come together to teach thousands of women hardware and software skills. Many are now working at more than 5,000 state-run digital centers that encourage ordinary people to take up technology for the business, work, and studies. It is also hoped that many of the women graduates of the training program will become digital entrepreneurs themselves.
These examples are undeniably encouraging and even inspirational. But Michelle is clear on one point: Digital skills development is more than just meaningful and impactful philanthropic work. It is also a hard-headed, long-term business strategy and a big investment in human capital.
Microsoft wants its customers to grow and push ahead with digital transformation, she says. And to do that, they need digitally skilled workers. “This is about empowering individuals, and also about enabling businesses to fill gaps in order for them to actually compete globally … by developing the skills, we can develop the economy.”