higher education in Ukraine
The Russian invasion in 2022 has drastically impacted the Ukrainian education system; particularly higher education in Ukraine. Ukrainian universities attracted students from all over the world. There were students from Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Latin American countries. These universities were popular among foreign students as they offered quality education at lower costs than Western universities. Ukrainian universities offered a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Ukrainian and English fields.

In Ukraine, 83% of young adults between 18 and 24 were enrolled in higher education at the time of the Russian incursion in 2022. Many Ukrainian educational institutions closed down and educational resources and supplies went to support the war effort or the Russian military confiscated them. As a result, higher education in Ukraine faced high disruption.

The number of available learning opportunities and opportunities for students to access high-quality education decreased because of the Russian invasion. Many higher education institutions in Ukraine are closed or destroyed and need more resources and infrastructure. In addition, this further disrupts students’ coursework because of the cancelation and relocation of the courses.

Allies Offer Stop-Gap Measures

Ukraine’s allies who have provided a wide range of assistance in response to the Russian invasion include the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Australia and Japan. The European Union has also assisted Ukraine, including humanitarian aid and economic support. The United States has also provided military aid to Ukraine. Additionally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has set up a loan program and distributed $2.8 billion to help Ukraine recover from the economic damage of the crisis.

Plans for Rebuilding Higher Education in Ukraine

Ukraine continues to prioritize its higher academic institutions as it plans to rebuild investment efforts for when the Russian military incursion is over. Higher education in Ukraine collaborated with European higher education institutions to continue to fund and support student programs, according to the European University Association (EUA) briefing.

International cooperation from universities such as V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University and Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, along with initiatives such as the Twinning project Unity Initiative with 79 universities of the United Kingdom, has helped to foster international exchanges and support foreign students and teachers, according to European Associaton for International Education (EAIE). Through remote admission, flexible educational programs and the increasing range of educational programs taught in English, Ukraine’s institutions continue to strive for excellence despite the adversity. Ukraine is working in partnership with these institutions to ensure academic freedom and free speech and promote a safe and secure environment for learning.

Several universities and companies are supporting the Ukrainian government in its efforts to ensure academic freedom and free speech and promote a safe and secure learning environment. The EUA’s partnership with Ukrainian universities set in motion the following measures:

  • “Waiving EUA membership fees for all existing and new members during 2022,”
  • “Encouraging and expediting new membership applications from eligible Ukrainian institutions and organizations,”
  • “Providing access to services and events to non-member Ukrainian universities where appropriate,”
  • “Considering providing financial support for Ukrainian participation in EUA activities.”

More International Support

USAID, HP Inc., Microsoft and the Global Business Coalition for Education have partnered to provide 74,000 laptop devices to internally displaced Ukrainians and Ukrainian refugees in neighboring countries. HP Inc. has donated 5,000 laptops to support education for internally displaced Ukrainians, while Microsoft has donated software for the devices. The donation comes from USAID’s active engagement with the private sector to support Ukraine. Up to 2.8 million children have experienced displacement due to the war and a nationwide shortage of 175,000 laptops and 202,000 tablets. USAID’s Ukraine National Identity will distribute the laptops through Youth (UNITY) program in partnership with SpivDiia, a leading Ukrainian youth organization. While these laptops went to youth scholars, they provide remote learning and employment opportunities for the entire family.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) works with Ukraine and NGOs to implement recovery initiatives. The main focus of ICG’s work with Ukraine in 2022 has been to speed recovery efforts by providing a strategic framework for managing internally displaced persons (IDPs). This includes protecting the rights of Ukrainian citizens. Citizens of Ukraine and therefore, IDPs,  have a right to “pensions, medical care, social security and education, among other things.” They can also receive help finding jobs, locating free or subsidized housing, re-acquiring lost identity documents, reunifying their families and returning home.

Labster and AWS

The Ministry of Education & Science of Ukraine and Labster have partnered to provide free access to Labster’s award-winning virtual science simulations for an entire year to Ukrainian students and educators. This allows educators to integrate Labster into existing science courses and filter the more than 300 virtual lab simulations available by level of education, courses and topics for an efficient learning experience.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping millions of displaced students in Ukraine continue their education amid war and displacement through free cloud computing resources, training and other educational initiatives. With more than 3 million refugees fleeing their homes due to conflict, many educational institutions have turned to AWS to re-establish learning opportunities. AWS is offering cloud computing credits to 22 universities to enable them to quickly migrate critical educational resources to the cloud, helping to ensure remote learning can continue uninterrupted.

These initiatives’ future impact on Ukraine’s poverty will likely be significant. By equipping students and educators with the technology, resources and training they need to access quality education, these initiatives will help to bridge the gap between the affluent and the less privileged. This, in turn, could help reduce poverty levels and inequality. In addition, the initiatives could also help to cultivate a highly-skilled workforce that can help to drive economic growth and development. Finally, increased access to quality education can also help improve Ukrainian citizens’ health, and social and economic well-being.

– Jeannine Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Investments in India
Foreign direct investments in the only unpenetrated highly populace market have proven effective in improving the U.S. economy. With Microsoft and Google investments, India curtailed poverty and encouraged economic growth.

Microsoft and Google Investments

Since 1990, Microsoft has invested in various operations in India, including Intelligent Cloud and Artificial Intelligence to facilitate the quick delivery of digital transformation. More recent operations in 2021 entail Microsoft’s collaboration with Invest India to support the build-up of 11 technological start-ups. In 2022, Microsoft led the largest India data center region investment worth Rs 15,000 crore across a 15-year period.

Since 2004, Google has also invested in India to enhance the country’s digital economy. The tech giant’s most contemporary investment announced is a $10 billion investment in 2020, known as the “Google for India Digitization Fund” to fuel the digitization of India. In 2022, Google also publicized support to Airtel, India’s second major telecommunications operator, in a $1 billion investment, according to the Economic Times.

Impact on Reducing Poverty in India

Today, Microsoft operates in 11 different Indian cities with around 16,000 employees. The International Data Corporation estimates that Microsoft’s data center region contributed to economic gains worth $9.5 billion from 2016-2020 and unlocked 1.5 million employment opportunities, The Times of India reported.

Tech start-up companies generated around $6.5 billion in the second quarter of 2021, according to Business Today. This is indicating improved economic growth and poverty reduction, especially as start-ups represent a significant aspect of economic development.

Following Google’s $10 billion investment in 2020, the number of employees it holds doubled from early 2020 to late 2021, and over the following two years, projections show that the workforce is likely to double. This underlines Google’s impact on promoting economic growth through the reduction of unemployment on the national level, declining by 4.2% from 2020-2021.

Human Development Index (HDI) value in India rose from 0.429 in 1990 to 0.645 in 2019. GDP growth improved from 3.8% in 2000 to 8.9% in 2021 and extreme poverty declined by 12.3 percentage points between 2011-2019. This illustrated the overall impact digital technology has on encouraging equality and financial inclusion across India.


In 2019, estimates have stated that Indian trade accounted for 2.3% of total U.S. imported goods, standing at a worth of $57.7 billion. A U.S. government report confirms that service products such as telecommunication and research and development accounted for a large proportion of such imports and in 2019 it stood at $29.7 billion.

Acknowledging the role of imports in relieving U.S. households from increased good prices, this highlights how high-tech investments in India Improved the U.S. economy. As evidence of the latter, a 2021 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report has highlighted that with imports, the typical American household uplifted its purchasing power by $18,000 per year, thereby equating to greater value for money.


In 2019, exports from the U.S. to India accounted for transactions valued at $34.3 billion, corresponding to 2% of total U.S. exports in that same year, and 2020 World Bank data shows that exports contributed to 10.16% of U.S. GDP. Agricultural products captured a considerable share of exports, totaling $1.8 billion in 2019, and each $1 billion from agricultural exports in 2019 required around 7,784 full-time U.S. employees. This illustrates eminent economic activity in terms of productivity, efficiency and employment domestically.

Importance of Microsoft and Google to the US Economy

The 2021-20 fiscal year illustrated economic gains for Microsoft (India) in terms of revenue growth valued at 7%. For the 2021 financial year, it is also estimated that Google’s revenue from India improved by 38% in terms of profit.

Such financial profits equate to greater corporate security and enhanced growth prospects and considering the impact both tech giants have on the U.S. economy this illustrates an unprecedented gain for improved economic growth via repatriated profits. For instance, Microsoft paid $13 billion in tax to the U.S. economy from its overall overseas operations. Similarly, Google in a 2018 announcement publicized its $38 billion payment in tax on its foreign cash and confirmed its intentions to offer 20,000 new employment opportunities. Knowing that India accounts for a large sum of both corporations’ overseas operations, this signifies the importance of investments in India to the U.S. economy.

In an era of globalization, economic gains in one country would demonstrate financial benefits in another. Efforts such as those of Microsoft and Google show how India can build a stronger infrastructure that strengthens its position in tackling poverty, while also highlighting how high-tech investments in India improved the U.S. economy.

–  Noor Al-Zubi
Photo: Flickr

Helps Farmers
The Awareness Company develops information technology by using satellites, sensors, trackers, fusion engines and camera traps to improve and structure businesses globally. This technology can also help farmers be successful, subsequently improving food security and reducing food shortages globally.

What is Agritech?

Agritech is the use of technology while farming, most commonly to ensure proper growth and efficient profit for the farmers involved. People mostly use the umbrella term Agritech to refer to agriculture ranging from weather forecasting, photography by satellite, irrigation and heat and light control.

What is The Awareness Company?

The Awareness Company started in 2018 with co-founders Praiaash Ramadeen, Estelle Lubbe and Shazia Vawda in Johannesburg, South Africa. Upon its start, the Awareness Company produces HYDRA Intelligent Places, Smart Mining, Agriculture and Conservation for global use. Ecological employees and businesses can use the programs about local security, safety awareness, maintenance and conservation to inform and educate community members.

The Awareness Company has four projects they are working on with the help of technology to improve agriculture globally including FarmSecurity, FarmAwareness, AgriOne and AgriInsights. The programs give real-time data management about livestock location, water and soil analysis and insights for selling products that are otherwise unavailable for farmers working without Agritech. The technology can ensure a proper harvest and indicate if plants need more attention or focus.

How Agriculture and Technology Can Reduce Global Poverty

Technology can help improve food security and help farmers protect their land, animals and communities. The assistance of satellites, drones and automatic equipment can drastically change the crop yield and sustainability of a farm. The global use of this equipment will provide more food for low-income countries whose communities would benefit from the additional food without the hassle of possible future mistakes that could lead to the destruction of a farm. Reduced prices, higher crop productivity and worker safety are all important parts of building a safe and healthy environment that ensures the growth of a country regarding its food supply for citizens.

Food security is essential for stopping global poverty. With the help of technology, agriculture receives more jobs and a boost in the economy. As a result, fewer people will starve and food shortages both locally and globally will decrease. According to the USDA, positive impacts include poverty reduction, trade and export opportunities, global security and improved citizen health and health care. The help of technology can strengthen and prevent any future disasters that may arise. By alerting the farmer with the knowledge of the new technologies and introducing the machinery/software, the farmer will be able to accomplish more knowing what was unavailable before is now available for the enrichment of their work.

The Future of Agritech with The Awareness Company

The Awareness Company won Microsoft’s AgriChallenge, where Microsoft announced and invited different technology companies to show what the companies could do in August 2020. After the investment from Microsoft in December 2021, The Awareness Company’s Co-Founder and CEO Praiaash Ramadeen said “That’s why Microsoft’s support and investment in helping us as a local, homegrown business to grow and develop solutions that focus on solving real-world problems is so meaningful… we have already done in the agricultural space to promote sustainable agriculture and food security through intelligent data.”

The Awareness Company can help farmers find reliable solutions to arising problems globally through the use of technology. With 2 to 4 million small farmers in South Africa, the use of artificial intelligence can provide a helpful boost in the daily lives of both farmers and consumers.

Kyle Swingle
Photo: Flickr


global health systemsThe COVID-19 pandemic has brought a variety of challenges to people in many global health systems worldwide. The pandemic has highlighted several barriers that have prevented people from trusting healthcare systems for years. Some solutions can potentially help global health systems make major improvements and increase the number of patients seeking guidance.

The Importance of Using Telehealth

One service that can be convenient for people who do not have access to transportation or cannot make appointments to see healthcare providers is telehealth. The number of patients using telehealth has increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. More people have been taking advantage of telehealth due to not being able to see doctors face-to-face. Using telehealth can expand a variety of services to patients around the world. With many patients wanting to continue accessing services through telehealth, improving its quality can help improve global health systems.

Teladoc and Microsoft to Develop Virtual Care Program

A new collaboration between Microsoft and Teladoc Health will focus on expanding virtual care. Their goal is to find ways to increase positive experiences and improve the circumstances of healthcare systems. With more healthcare providers using online services, one component of the collaboration includes working on methods that make it easier for employees to do their jobs efficiently. Certainly, this collaboration can help improve healthcare systems with the option of providing healthcare services virtually.

THRIVE to Help Improve Healthcare Systems

Franz Strategic Solutions recently created THRIVE, an initiative to provide healthcare to people who do not have access to different services. Further, many people would receive healthcare benefits from a variety of programs. One of the initiative’s main priorities is on improving healthcare systems. THRIVE plans to create solutions to issues within healthcare systems through components such as technology. Through its partnership with RDI Healthcare, THRIVE plans to focus on increasing positive outcomes for patients within healthcare systems.

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Healthcare Systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted various issues that potentially led to many people not trusting health care systems. One area that requires focus is the number of healthcare workers because many parts of the world struggle due to the lack of people working in healthcare systems. Having more healthcare workers can bring some benefits, such as increased patient care and lower health disparities. Increasing the amount of money for health-related purposes can help improve the quality of healthcare systems. Another thing that requires consideration is the healthcare system’s components. It is necessary to provide certain services such as outreach and child care.

Telehealth has been an important service within healthcare systems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Certainly, the collaboration between Teladoc Health and Microsoft is prioritizing virtual care options for healthcare systems. THRIVE is one initiative that can be beneficial to many healthcare systems. In conclusion, the number of healthcare workers and healthcare service options is essential to the quality of a healthcare system.

– Chloe Moody
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Africa's Digital Economy ContributesDigitalization is not new to the African economy. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to improve and expand Africa’s digital economy has become evident. With intentions to minimize the health and economic risks of the pandemic, African businesses are implementing strategies that will lead to the rise in digital transformation. Economic sectors such as banking, transportation, agriculture and telecommunication have already digitally evolved to adjust to the economic climate and health crisis. Most importantly, Africa’s digital economy contributes to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Developing Africa’s Digital Economy

The World Bank started the Digital Economy Initiative for Africa (DE4A) in mid-2019 to accelerate digital enabling achievements as part of the 2030 SDGs. As the COVID-19 pandemic transpired, the rise in digitalization laid expectations for more transformations in the coming years. With investments being made, Africa’s booming digital economy contributes greatly to the SDGs.

A digital economy would create more jobs, promote entrepreneurship and introduce new markets. Reaching DE4A’s targets would raise growth per capita by 1.5 percentage points annually and poverty would be reduced by 0.7 percentage points per year. In addition, this approach takes into account that only 27% of the African population has access to the internet. Increasing access to digital resources will be the focus of the five pillars of the DE4A. This includes digital infrastructure, digital public platforms, digital financial services, digital businesses and skills.

Growing the Economy by Promoting Digital Transformation

The African Union (AU) has launched the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030). The initiative strives for a collaborative digital single market, building on the recent trade initiative, Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This would facilitate the movement of digitized services and propel the expansion of internet access across the continent.

Notably, the initiative also promotes innovation and digital upskilling with development programs. The e-skills vocational program will reach 100 million Africans a year by 2021 and 300 million annually by 2025. This would not only integrate Africa into the digital era but create new opportunities for startup businesses.

An important tool to achieve the initiative’s objectives is collaboration with policymakers. The government plays an important role in the promotion of market transformation. As a result, the AU will propose actions to equip educational institutions with renovated technology, promote digital rights and security awareness.

Significant growth will occur when stable infrastructure is built for the 200 million people currently without internet access. Addressing this digital divide is how Africa’s digital economy contributes to the SDGs as it plans to build resilient infrastructure, create sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.

Investing in Digital Resources

There are many investment opportunities in Africa’s digital economy as a myriad of sectors start transitions. For example, banking in Africa is experiencing major changes. Mobile-based digital banks provide access to transaction activity, savings, loans and other financial services. Banking in Africa is expected to increase to $53 billion by 2022 so long as digitalization continues, contributing to the DE4A’s digital financial service objective.

Additionally, large international corporations have set foot in Africa, which will further increase investment flow. In 2019, Amazon Web Service launched its first data center in Africa. Likewise, Microsoft expanded its cloud services and opened its first data centers in South Africa. With two of the biggest players in the global digital economy in Africa, increased access to methods for digital transformation for businesses becomes more feasible. Digital transformation in Africa has the potential to significantly reduce poverty on the continent.

Malala Raharisoa Lin

GR for GRowth initiative in GreeceUnemployment in Greece has remained a concern among Greeks since the financial crisis that devastated the economy. During the financial crisis, the Greek economy experienced a 25% decline. While the economy has attempted to recover, the economy continues to experience the impact of the financial crisis, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to reduce the economy by another 8.2%. In July 2020, the unemployment rate in Greece reached 16.8%. While many Greeks fight to withstand the struggling economy, Microsoft is creating solutions through its GR for GRowth initiative in Greece. The Greek government anticipates that this initiative will rebalance the economy during the pandemic, shifting its heavy reliance from tourism to further developments in energy, tech and defense sectors.

GR for GRowth Initiative and the Economy

In October 2020, Microsoft announced an initiative in Greece that will create opportunities in technology. Microsoft’s ongoing investment is expected to reach approximately $1.17 billion. This will be the largest investment Microsoft has made over 28 years when it first began operations in Greece. The GR for GRowth initiative in Greece will build data centers in the country and develop resources in the economy that will promote growth opportunities that support the people of Greece, government and businesses. The leverage Greece will acquire through this initiative will attract other large corporations that will promote future investments in the Greek economy.

Currently, Microsoft operates data centers in 26 countries, including seven in the European Union. With this initiative, Microsoft will build new data centers that will create a Microsoft Cloud within the country that will provide Greece with a competitive edge as one of the world’s largest cloud infrastructures with access to effective and efficient cloud services. It is anticipated that by 2025, Microsoft will run all data centers on renewable energy sources.

Potential Impact of GR for GRowth

The GR for GRowth initiative in Greece will enhance cloud computing for local companies, startups and institutions. The services delivered through Microsoft Cloud will allow for more efficient networking, computing, intelligent business applications, cybersecurity, data residency and compliance standards. Microsoft has already implemented processes to increase user satisfaction and has collaborated with businesses in Greece for the development of cloud services. Alpha Bank, Eurobank, National Bank of Greece, OTE Group, Piraeus Bank and Public Power Corporation are anticipating the expansion of cloud services in Greece.

While the data center is Microsoft’s largest investment in Greece in 28 years, Microsoft has been paramount in building partnerships with over 3,000 businesses and customers throughout the years. The GR for GRowth initiative will stimulate innovation and growth within the Greek economy. Microsoft President, Brad Smith, believes this investment will positively influence the optimism about the future of Greece, government decisionmaking and economic recovery.

GR for GRowth and the Workforce

While unemployment has plagued the Greek economy, through this initiative, Microsoft will offer training opportunities that will equip more than 100,0000 people with skills in digital technologies by 2025. Over the next five years, Microsoft plans to invest in enhancing digital competencies across the public sector, among business and IT professionals, educators and students. The program will consist of online and in-person courses and workshops. Microsoft’s program objectives will focus on upskilling customers and partners, collaborating with public sector government entities and the expansion of the ReGeneration program that provides services to youth, unemployed and underserved communities.

According to the prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the GR for GRowth initiative in Greece gives hope to the people of Greece for rebuilding its workforce. While the economy in Greece continues to struggle, this initiative hopes to solve economic battles and create a sustainable and prosperous economy.

– Brandi Hale
Photo: Flickr

Microsoft's Global Skills InitiativeIn the wake of COVID-19, economies across the world have been hit hard. Countries alike have seen decreases across all economic sectors as quarantine and stay-at-home orders were mandated in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. People transitioned to working remotely, while millions of others lost their jobs entirely due to market crashes. In an effort to cushion the economic travesty that the pandemic has bought, Microsoft is launching a global initiative, partnering with LinkedIn and Github, to teach 25 million people across the world new digital skills. Microsoft’s global skills initiative aims to remedy the global economic impact that has come with COVID-19.

Digital Skills

Microsoft believes these newfound digital skills will give people the ability to take on jobs where digital skills are necessary in order to be successful. The initiative targets those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic, as well as minorities, women and others affected by poverty.

Recent statistics predict that over 250 million people globally may be unemployed by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. Microsoft found that in the U.S. alone, in May 2020, women had an unemployment rate of 14.4% compared to men who were at 12%. Additionally, Latinx populations had unemployment rates of 16.7%, which is much higher than other groups. These statistics indicate why the initiative particularly targets populations such as women and minorities.

By learning digital skills, those who are at an economic disadvantage will be able to take on jobs in the digital age and improve their economic status. Those who attain these newfound skills might even be able to teach others and distribute their knowledge to uplift an entire community.

Three-step Process

The three partnered companies have come up with a three-step process that they hope will encourage economic growth in communities across the globe. The first part relates to the Linkedin Economic Graph. The Economic Graph is a digital representation of the global economy based on more than 690 million professionals, 50 million companies, 11 million job listings, 36,000 defined skills and 90,000 schools. In short, it is data that shows available jobs and their required skills as well as global hiring rates. These insights will help create economic opportunities for the global workforce.

The second part consists of free tools, programs and content that people will be provided with, in order to learn the skills necessary for job applications. This initiative will give people free access to content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and the GitHub Learning Lab.

Thirdly, low-cost certifications and other cost-free job-seeking tools will be available to help people pursue new jobs with their newly developed skills.

Along with this digital skills initiative, Microsoft will be backing $20 million worth of cash grants that will be distributed across the globe to different nonprofit organizations. These grants will help nonprofits to combat the effects of the pandemic and allow the nonprofits to further extend reach in order to help more people.

Microsoft believes that global shutdowns and social distancing have accelerated the path to digitalization in all fields and economies. The company knows that digital tools are now necessary regardless of the field of work and will continue to be relevant far after the pandemic has passed. Microsoft’s global skills initiative may help the world’s economic recovery and may possibly uplift the entire globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

George Hashemi
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Abuse in South AfricaThis fall, Microsoft and other NGOs will host a hackathon aiming to create solutions for women and children facing domestic abuse in South Africa. The announcement came out during Women’s Month, with the hope to spread awareness about issues surrounding women in South Africa. South Africa has always had an alarming presence of domestic violence, and the coronavirus quarantine has increased abuse reports. Microsoft’s hackathon, however, might produce an app that has the capability to save countless women and children in South Africa from violent households.

Statistics about Domestic Abuse in South Africa

South Africa has the “highest statistics of gender-based violence in the world, including rape and domestic violence.” Domestic violence incidents were scarcely reported before the last three decades because it was considered a private affair to be sorted out among households. However, available data affirms the severity of domestic abuse in South Africa. A 1998 study by the South African Medical Council revealed that 50% out of almost 1,400 men “physically abused their female partners at their homes.”

The World Health Organization found that “60,000 women and children were victims of domestic abuse in South Africa” in 2012. On average, women in South Africa who face abuse are usually unemployed and have an almost non-existent educational background. Moreover, the same study found that the women who were victims of violent relationships were usually from rural areas. The latter piece of information is important because most help-centers or other valuable resources for abuse victims in South Africa are located in urban areas. With Microsoft’s new app, the goal is to disseminate the necessary resources and information regarding abuse to those victims who live outside of South African cities.

Domestic Abuse: The Second Pandemic

As the coronavirus runs rampant across the globe, South Africa faces a second pandemic: a massive increase in domestic violence. Following the country’s lockdown procedure in March, South Africa’s national helpline for victims doubled its usual volume, putting the number of calls from afflicted women and children over 120,000. With fewer places to seek refuge during the lockdown, women and children facing domestic violence are trapped at home. The Jones Safe House is a non-profit shelter group for abuse victims in South Africa. It has been overwhelmed by the increase in abuse cases. Every day they try to make room for another victim who managed to escape from his or her violent residence.

Microsoft’s Hackathon Against Domestic Violence

Microsoft’s [email protected] hackathon will run from September 22 to October 19. The objective is to create apps that help those who are in abusive relationships or face any form of gender-based violence. The organization will account for South Africa’s gender-based digital divide, which leaves many women with less access to certain technologies. Namely, the hackathon has a list of considerations that developers need to keep in mind:

  • “Many of those facing gender-based violence are using 3rd or 4th generation phones that are obsolete
  • Users may not have access to applications like Whatsapp or other one-touch SOS tools or applications
  • Data is expensive and not always readily available – especially in emergency situations
  • Regular load shedding means that cell towers are not always operational
  • Many women in South Africa have limited or no airtime to make calls or send SMSs
  • Many women and children do not have access to transport to find a place of safety”

Also, Microsoft has outlined some possible directions app developers can take, which include assistance, empowerment and recovery. At the end of the hackathon, the top three teams of developers will win monetary prizes. Additionally, Microsoft will grant the first-place team a contract in order to collaborate for the app’s further development.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the plight of South African abuse victims, but people have not given up hope. Those facing domestic abuse in South Africa have allies who will be working tirelessly toward virtual solutions. And by the end of the year, one might find an app online that can save thousands of lives. Microsoft’s initiative to develop an app-based solution to domestic violence is a step in the right direction, and their actions will hopefully spur other corporations to get involved.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Tea Farming in Sri LankaSri Lanka is a small island off the southeastern coast of India. The country is home to around 22 million people and to a long and vibrant history. Sri Lanka has gone from an early Buddhist settlement to a colony under the control of major European powers to, finally, its own independent republic in 1972. Throughout its secular history, tea farming in Sri Lanka has remained a constant activity and has played a massive role in the development of culture on the island.

Sri Lankan tea gained global prevalence after British colonial rulers transformed tea agriculture into a plantation-style economic powerhouse. With the economic success brought on by the explosion of tea farming in the country, the British began pushing peasants and subsistence farmers into producing tea to capitalize on the global interest in the beverage.

Tea Farming in Modern Sri Lanka

Plantation-style agriculture still makes up a notable volume of Sri Lanka’s economy, and tea is the “preeminent crop of the plantation sector” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The global demand for tea has not diminished in modern times and seemingly neither has Sri Lanka’s role in providing it. The country exports hundreds of millions of kilograms of tea every year. For example, from January 2020 to May 2020 Sri Lanka exported over 100 million kilograms of tea to its trading partners.

Therefore, much of the country’s agricultural workforce is devoted to tea farming. More specifically, two million Sri Lankan farmers rely on tea farming and tea production to provide for their families and households. With tea ingrained in so much of Sri Lanka’s culture and economy, modern solutions need to be embraced to soothe the working conditions of the many poor farmers who work to meet the global demand for tea.

How Microsoft is Improving Tea Farming in Sri Lanka

To do so, Sri Lanka has turned to technology and confided in companies to assist the government in finding these solutions. For Sri Lanka specifically, Microsoft has been a superb partner in this goal.

One broad way Microsoft has helped is via a survey conducted with local business leaders to determine if they have an interest in integrating artificial intelligence (or “AI”) as a business solution. The survey discovered that 80% of those business leaders surveyed found AI to be essential to maintain their business’s competitiveness. Acknowledging this, Microsoft is investing millions of dollars into enhancing tech skills for businesses in Sri Lanka, as well as starting programs and providing hardware to assist tech startups rising in the nation.

The implications of this initiative are massive. Considering the vital status of tea farming to Sri Lanka’s culture and economy, Microsoft’s assistance in pushing more technology into businesses can lead to more efficient farming. As a result, there will be more valuable data available to increase crop yields and more companies will engage in tea farming as their enterprise of choice. The introduction of these tools can also lead to an improvement in the lives of millions of tea farmers in Sri Lanka in both safety and economic terms.

The Colombo Tea Auction

Such efforts have already begun to take hold in Sri Lanka. One major example of Microsoft’s valuable assistance to tea farming in Sri Lanka can be found in the Colombo Tea Auction. The Colombo Tea Auction is a weekly event that takes place in the nation’s capital involving the sale and export of tea from farmers. The event is vital to the tea farming community’s success as it is a major method for how the country’s tea is prepped and sold for export around the world.

However, the auction tends to involve a lot of close-quarters contact between attendees; a reality that has proven impossible given the current global COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, with the help of Microsoft’s Azure team and their Azure cloud and AI products, a local tech company was able to develop an e-commerce platform that allowed sellers and buyers to trade tea from the safety of their own homes. This was developed with extreme speed, and it allowed the tea economy (and two million poor tea farmers) to avoid economic disaster and flourish amongst a dangerous pandemic.

Now that the benefits are starting to become more tangible, and economic success is within reach for Sri Lanka’s farmers, technology may become more and more prevalent in the Sri Lankan tea industry. With the success of the Colombo Tea Auction’s move to digital commerce, along with Microsoft’s continued efforts to support Sri Lanka’s growth in tech and economic fulfillment, the world may see a better-equipped, safer and more successful Sri Lanka in the near future, perhaps beginning with their high-quality tea.

– Domenic Scalora
Photo: Flickr

Companies Fighting for Women's Rights
Women around the globe are still fighting for a world in which they can receive equal treatment. In many developing countries, women are more vulnerable to human rights abuses and others often deny them opportunities to reach their full potential. Here are three technology companies fighting for women’s rights.

3 Tech Companies Fighting for Women’s Rights

  1. IBM: The multi-national technology company has celebrated the success of women throughout its history. IBM has had a female CEO since 2012 and has been strategic in empowering women throughout the company and around the globe. For International Women’s Day, IBM Systems Lab Services created a #BalanceforBetter campaign. The campaign engages employees around the world to advocate for women’s rights. IBM employees held up signs challenging stereotypes and biases, celebrating IBM women and supporting gender equality. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) gives women and girls across the globe the opportunity to thrive. Additionally, the organization supports organizations that serve women in 40 countries. These organizations support economic growth, health care and violence prevention among others. In Ghana, an IBM team paved the way for educating girls in rural communities. In Kenya, India and Mexico, IBM has supported organizations preventing violence against women. Additionally, in Peru, IBM supports initiatives increasing cervical cancer screenings. Through these efforts, IBM hopes to empower and protect women, while continuing to bridge the gap between women and STEM.
  2. Microsoft: For years, Microsoft has used its research technology for good to protect vulnerable populations. For example, the organization has partnered with WorldPop to count every person on Earth. By using Microsoft Azure, organizations can track the location and distribution of vulnerable populations. Microsoft hopes to aid in the creation of programs and policy changes that protect vulnerable populations and empower women. Microsoft researchers recognize that women are more vulnerable to poverty. However, they also recognize that pulling them out of poverty has exponential effects on their families and communities. In January 2020, Microsoft partnered with Care Egypt Foundation (CEF) and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) to launch a women empowerment campaign. Through this initiative, all organizations hope to empower women through the development of practical skills necessary for the workforce. Since 2014, Microsoft has also had an ongoing partnership with the Central Department for Community Development, aiming to tackle unemployment and economic issues through the empowerment of women in Egypt.
  3. Google: Another prominent tech titan among companies fighting for women’s rights is Google. The company equips young women with skills they need to thrive in the tech world and advocates for gender equality around the world. For example, Google’s partnership with Technovation Girls empowers young women around the globe to learn and develop technology that will impact their community. Technovation is a tech education nonprofit that empowers individuals to problem-solve, create and lead. Each year through its Technovation Girls program, the organization invites young women from all over the world and equips them to solve real-world problems through technology. Google is a platinum sponsor and has hosted these young innovators to pitch their apps at the company’s main campus in California for the chance to win scholarships. Additionally, in Google’s Arts and Culture section, the company has created a “Women in Culture” page, celebrating women in a variety of different fields. The page highlights women like Dolores Huerta, creator of the United Farm Workers, who advocated for the rights of impoverished farmers in Central America. It also features the unheard stories of women in India who have impacted Indian culture. Above all, the page champions women’s equality around the world, highlighting many unsung female heroes who have fought against injustice.

Why It Matters

An increase in women’s rights around the globe can have drastic effects on the global economy. According to U.N. Women, there is a very strong connection between empowered women and thriving economies. Providing women with job opportunities increases productivity and growth within economies. Supporting women through health care and education can also protect them from potential violence and discrimination. Large companies fighting for women’s rights have the potential to use their prominent platforms to advocate for women and to reflect these values within their own companies.

– Megan McKeough
Photo: Wikipedia Commons