By Lisa Labath, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
Last September, Microsoft C.E.O. Steve Ballmer announced a new major initiative to combat youth unemployment and stimulate economic opportunities: Microsoft YouthSpark. In the next three years, the software company aims to create opportunities for 300 million young people in more than 100 countries worldwide. The goal is to address some of the major challenges that young people face in the worldwide reality of economic crises and austerity measures.
Although the unfortunate outcome is the same for all, the economic challenges for the youth are very different depending on the region they are from. While Latin America lacks highly educated people to fill the growing amount of positions on the labour market, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is of an entirely different kind. The amount of people that are highly skilled is on the rise, but the reality of the job market leaves these countries with a youth unemployment rate of more than 25 per cent. Sub Saharan Africa knows one of the most dire situations with a youth unemployment rate of more than 70 per cent, with the youth community presenting more ten 60 per cent of the continent’s population. Central and Eastern Europe on the other hand face a problem of a decline in working population due to emigration and poor health. Western Europe and North America, where educational opportunities are accessible to many, the amount of young people unemployed or uneducated is growing, creating an increasing cost for society. In Asia, there exists another contrast, where we see an increasing amount of working poor, particularly in rural environments and of people facing a lack of better opportunities.
Comparable to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Africa is the main focus of the project. Microsoft recognises the problems the continent faces as well as the huge potential it possesses. “It is a sad reality that while young Africans are more literate than their parents, more of them remain unemployed,” said Djam Bakhshandegi, CSI Program Manager at Microsoft in Africa. At the core of the YouthSpark initiative is the belief that relevant innovation offers the main solution to the challenges this region faces.
Bakhshandegi concluded by saying that, “through our partnerships with governments, non-profit organizations and businesses, Microsoft YouthSpark aims to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential. We are committed to using our technology, talent, time and money to help create sustainable growth across the African continent.”
The company embraces the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) principle, and offers a range of other initiatives in order to try and improve the life of millions. YouthSpark initiatives include: Partners in Learning Network, Microsoft IT Academy, Students to Business, Bizspark, and many others. One example is DreamSpeak, which is offering free access to Microsoft designer and developer tools for students and educators, helping advance key technical skills during the high school and college years, a critical time in the student’s development.
“Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we will help empower youth to change their world…to reverse those daunting statistics, and to carve a new path for their future and ours”, concludes Lori Harnick, General Manager of Citizenship & Public Affairs.
Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy