As part of his keynote address at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum (GLF) Europe 2006, Microsoft Corp. Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced the company will expand its funding and support for its Unlimited Potential (UP) program by $25.2 million to a total of more than $152 million in cash and software for community technology centers (CTCs). CTCs provide basic technology skills and job training in underserved communities around the globe, and the latest round of Microsoft UP grants will support 126 nonprofit organizations that are expanding existing programs or opening new CTCs in 64 countries, bringing the number of centers to 36,000 and the estimated number of people who can benefit from the centers to more than 15 million.

"Access to training and technology skills is a key success factor in creating employment opportunities in underserved communities," Gates said. "Europe's unemployed are a major concern of governments we are working with, and our Unlimited Potential grants are supporting innovative partnerships that bring new skills to those who need them."

Through the UP program, Microsoft is working to help a quarter-billion people around the world gain access to the technology, learning curriculum and skills training necessary to support employability and foster economic development in communities where they live.

The new round of UP grants - the sixth since the program debuted in May 2003 - provide $25.2 million in cash and software for community technology training programs around the world. One example is the recently announced Technology, Innovation and Initiative (TII) program, a new project developed in conjunction with the Technological Centre for the Textile and Clothing Industries (CITEVE) of Portugal to provide workers in Portugal's textile industry with new skills and qualifications to enhance their long-term employability prospects. The TII project is a three-year initiative to train at least 3,000 workers from Portugal's textile sector, which is being significantly affected by increasing global competition, with an estimated 20,000 people in the sector already unemployed.

"Boosting employment and access to training and skills for older workers and the young unemployed is one of the European Union's key objectives," said Vladimir Spidla, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "The European Commission's growth and jobs strategy aims to equip 20 million Europeans with new skills for new and better jobs by 2010. It is vital that the members states and private companies work together to help make this happen. I'd like to commend CITEVE, Microsoft and the local and national government here in Portugal for this innovative partnership that creates a best-practice example for others."

Other examples of how the newest Microsoft UP grants will support the work of partner agencies to empower people around the world include the following:

  • France. Working with the Association pour le Droit a l'Initiative Economique throughout France, Microsoft supports a free three-day course that provides training and support to microentrepreuners to start small businesses. Microfinance enterprises are a proven way to alleviate poverty.
  • Latin America. An expanded alliance with the Organization of American States' Trust for the Americas foundation will fund 11 additional CTCs and continue supporting existing centers in eight countries (Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela). This donation will empower people with disabilities throughout Latin America and will train an estimated 6,000 people each year.
  • Sri Lanka. Through a multistakeholder alliance among InfoShare, the government of Sri Lanka Vocational Training Authority (VTA), the U.S. Agency for International Development and Microsoft, 60 community technology centers in VTA facilities, including those in tsunami-affected areas, will be supported to improve the IT literacy and promote the employability of rural youth.
  • United States. The Chicago Lighthouse for the blind and visually impaired provides basic computer and IT skills training using adaptive technology, improving employment opportunities for the blind and visually impaired.

The centers will use the grants to help hire and train technology instructors, expand course offerings and reach a broader base of underserved community members. Centers can also request a basic IT skills curriculum that emphasizes real-world technology applications and is available in 15 languages. Microsoft, in alliance with the International Research and Development Centre and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, supported the creation of, a collaborative initiative that will strengthen the capacity of tens of thousands of CTCs.
Additionally, Microsoft announced the global expansion of the Fresh Start for Donated Computers Program to include Pentium III (PIII) systems. Owners of PIIIs enrolled in the program will receive a grant letter, license agreement and installation CDs for Microsoft Windows 98 or Windows 2000. The program's expansion offers significant benefits because it allows schools to take advantage of the Microsoft Volume Licensing agreement, which offers steep educational discounts to those who upgrade to Windows XP. The expansion of the Fresh Start for Donated Computers Program extends Microsoft's commitment to providing technology access and skills training, by 2010, to a quarter-billion people who have been underserved by technology.

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