Recently, I learned about a young woman named Arabia Simeon from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up just a few miles away from United Nations Plaza, in a crowded three-bedroom apartment with 10 family members. Many people she knew there couldn’t find a job, pay for schooling, or take advantage of the opportunities available to those ‘plugged into’ an increasingly digital world.
Arabia considers herself lucky, though. She attended an all-girls school with a focus on STEM education. There, she learned coding through Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, which brings computer science into high schools with the help of volunteer teachers from the tech industry.
Arabia fell in love with creating art and solving problems through coding, and today she studies computer science and design at Smith College. She dreams of becoming a software engineer or animator, and says she will return to her roots. She plans to open a digital art studio where she grew up so young people will have the opportunity to create technology, art, music—and become innovators in their own right.
Arabia’s story illustrates the enormous opportunity that exists for people, globally, when they have access to one of the most critical currencies in today’s world. That currency is digital literacy, which is as vital today as learning how to read. We know that without digital literacy, the chance to secure meaningful, living wage work will continue to remain out of reach for far too many people. As technology continues to transform economies throughout the world, we — industry leaders, members of the public and private sectors, policymakers, and academics — must ensure people are not left behind.
That’s why I’m pleased to join global leaders at the United Nations’ Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Forum to engage with others committed to “eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world.” We share this goal at Microsoft Philanthropies, with a focus on ensuring technology is a force for economic inclusion.
Our work includes a three-year, $75 million commitment to expand digital literacy and digital skills for youth like Arabia, across the globe. We conduct this work in partnership with nonprofits, private and public sector partners, educators – and as such, it is one example of how we are aligned with and support eight of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including revitalizing global partnerships (SDG 17).
Additional examples include our commitment, in early 2016, of $1 billion in cloud services for nonprofits and researchers to support the public good. To date, we have donated more than $465 million to 71,000 organizations towards this effort. We are also delivering connectivity to remote schools, health clinics and community centers in 11 countries though the innovative use of ‘TV white spaces’. These are among our commitments to ensure people of all ages and backgrounds have equitable access to the education, training, skills, and technology required for economic inclusion in this increasingly digital era.
In addition to sharing more about this work next week, I am excited to hear how other innovators are working on issues such as alleviating poverty, improving health outcomes, and increasing gender equity through science, technology and innovation. These topics lie at the core of the UN SDGs. We know we can achieve much more when we reach for these goals together.
We have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to young people like Arabia around the world. And to acknowledge the uncertainty so many people are facing today. How can technology fuel sustainable economic growth? What can each of us do to extend the transformative potential of technology to underserved communities?
I ask these questions and look forward to attending the UN STI Forum with open ears—and an open heart. As global leaders committed to a better, healthier, more prosperous future, we must ensure the benefits of this digital age are universally accessible and equitably shared. We can achieve more together.
So, I end with a final question: Will you join us?
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