Ana Escalante

Microsoft: Enabling Social and Economic Development in Digital Age

InfoWagonYesterday, I attended “Unlimited Potential: Connecting the Next Five Billion,” a presentation organized by SID-Washington’s Corporate Responsibility Workgroup, USAID’s Global Development Alliance, DAI and Georgetown University’s Mortara Center for International Studies. The presentation featured Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Group and was hosted at the Academy for Educational Development (AED). In short, it was a brief on Microsoft’s strategy for addressing the BoP and it was very insightful.

Michael Rawding, Vice President of MS’s Unlimited Potential Group, delivered the speech. He explained in detail about Microsoft’s BoP strategy. I found interesting that the Unlimited Potential group is not part of the company’s corporate social responsibility department, but rather a for profit division committed to delivering relevant, accessible and affordable software to the BoP. This is exactly what the BoP discourse is trying to do – get corporations to engage through their business units, not just CSR departments.Rawding discussed how Unlimited Potential is finding avenues to foster social and economic opportunity while at the same time bringing innovative technologies such as the Classroom Computer to people living in developing countries. He acknowledged the challenges of addressing BoP markets, especially since Microsoft historically has produced software and technology for the billion people at the top of the economic pyramid. He mentioned that they are trying to adapt these technologies to more people in the developing world, thus opening new markets and enabling them to get involved in the digital age.

The Unlimited Potential group focuses primarily on education and local innovation projects as well as in enabling jobs and opportunities within the BoP. Their goal is to create a cycle of sustained social and economic growth in developing countries and private sector-led development. Microsoft is partnering with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), educators, and academics to achieve its goals.

To exemplify their work, Rawding talked about some concrete things that Unlimited Potential is doing. For example, Microsoft InfoWagons operate in Guiyang, China–each with approximately 20 PCs on board. Although these ideas are not new and they have been around for a while – NGOs have done similar computers-on-vans projects before – I find interesting that as Rawding said, they?re not trying to re-invent the wheel. What they are focusing is on trying to come up with ideas and solutions that will help bring digital literacy for rural citizens in China and people in the BoP in general–thus building their customer base in new markets.

My take on this is that it’s exiting to see big corporations starting get involved and making a difference for the people living in the BoP. For so long, this market was virtually ignored, and good steps have been taken by large corporations such as Unilever, Cemex, Procter & Gamble and many banks as well. I hope this list keeps growing.