Partnership story

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Microsoft signed an agreement with UNHCR to provide learning centres for refugees


Microsoft signed an agreement on 12 December 2003 with the UN refugee agency to establish two facilities, in Kenya and Russia, where refugees will be able to learn valuable computing and software skills.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers and Microsoft’s Chief Executive Officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Jean-Philippe Courtois, met in Geneva and signed a letter of understanding on Community Technology Learning Centres that Microsoft will fund to provide training and computer education for refugees.

The two centres planned under the pilot phase of the joint agreement will be fully funded by Microsoft. They will be located at Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, and in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Courtois said the projects are aimed at disadvantaged communities. “It’s about digital inclusion, social inclusion and economic inclusion,” he added.

In response to the enormous need for identification documents, Microsoft provided software and hardware and helped UNHCR to assemble kits to register and photograph refugees and produce simple ID cards.

Other IT firms also provided valuable assistance and components, and more than 100 registration kits were eventually deployed also to Africa and parts of Asia to help UNHCR improve its global refugee registration policies. Microsoft has also donated consulting services in support of a new global registration system UNHCR expects to launch in mid-2004.

“Our partnership began from the bottom up. It started with our people on the ground who wanted to become part of the solution, to make a difference,” Courtois said. “We wanted to help people in Kosovo recover their identity.”

From that early beginning in the midst of a refugee exodus, the two global players in software and humanitarian assistance have expanded their contacts to provide new, innovative services to refugees. This is expected to expand as the Community Technology Learning Centres move beyond the pilot phase.