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How micro-credentialing workers can help bridge the world’s digital skills gap

A new way of valuing workers’ skills could change the lives of millions in underserved communities

“Micro-credentialing” is a new way of recognizing the knowledge and expertise that workers acquire through on-the-job experience and training. And, it could be key to bridging massive digital skills gaps around the world.

It could also create unprecedented opportunities for millions of people who might otherwise be left behind by the 4th industrial revolution.

Micro-credentialing is an alternative method of understanding the value of skills as we move toward an inclusive future of work. It goes beyond the formal qualifications that someone may, or may not, hold – especially people in underserved communities where educational opportunities are few.

Kate Behncken, Vice President, Microsoft Philanthropies.
Kate Behncken, Vice President, Microsoft Philanthropies.

Kate Behncken leads Microsoft Philanthropies, which has a global mission of empowering communities and nonprofits to realize the promise and potential of technology. It seeks to advance a future where everyone has the skills, knowledge, and opportunity to participate and succeed in the digital economy.

The Philanthropies team enthusiastically advocates micro-credentialing through a wide range of programs and partnerships that are changing lives for the better across our region.

Micro-credentialing empowers employees to regularly upskill. That means they can meet new workplace demands that arise as organizations restructure and business models change with digital transformation.

It also gives job seekers, particularly from disadvantaged circumstances, a real chance to pursue rewarding careers. Others also get a leg-up, including mothers who want to return to work, along with anyone ready to re-train and make a new start.

Skill shortages often hold back economic growth and national development. And some big-picture research suggests micro-credentialing programs could ease a few structural headaches for governments.

For example, a recent Korn Ferry study predicts a labor shortage of almost 50 million workers in Asia by 2030, with an annual opportunity cost of more than US$4 trillion annually.

A recently published Microsoft Asia report foresees micro-credentialing coming into its own with the advent of artificial intelligence technologies in many sectors. And Behncken believes workers, enterprises, and governments can all benefit.

“We advocate for a focus on the skills and experience somebody has,” she says. “This enables more flexibility in the labor market, including more flexibility for people to re-train or re-enter the workforce.”

Careers are no longer ladders. They are more like vines in a rainforest. You can swing on one and then grab another.

In an interview during a recent visit to Singapore, Behncken pointed to changes in attitudes toward education and employment, such as a growing recognition that life-long learning is essential to work in the digital age.

“Traditionally, education has focused on infancy, early childhood, and young adults, followed by a long period of work when most people don’t get any additional formal education. It is important that this model shifts,” she says. “Why? Because the pace of technology is moving rapidly, people will constantly need to get new skills to keep their jobs or to get new ones.”

A micro-credentialing approach to education and training brings new flexibility to this reality.

ALSO READ: Grabbing opportunities for growth through reskilling in Asia Pacific

In the past, a worker might have regarded his or her career as akin to climbing a ladder. “But careers are no longer ladders. They are more like vines in a rainforest. You can swing on one and then grab another. People go in and out of roles. They switch jobs. Micro-credentialing allows for this sort of change to happen through someone’s working life.”

Governments and other authorities across the region are also starting to embrace change. For instance, Behncken is impressed by the success of Malaysia’s “Recognition of Prior Learningprogram. It issues ‘Malaysian Skills Certificates’ to workers who do not have formal educational qualifications but who have obtained relevant knowledge, experience, and skills in the workplace to enhance their career prospects.

A man in a hardhat types on a laptop next to some factory equipment.
Micro-credentialing helps workers change jobs as they acquire skills through the life of their careers.

“It is helping a lot of people without formal qualifications to get recognized credentials or certifications based on the work experience they’ve had, and the skills they’ve gained. Having that makes them so much more valuable in the market. And, it enhances their career prospects.”

To push change further, Microsoft Philanthropies has acted as “a testbed” for its own initiatives.

“For example, we worked with 1,000 women with low incomes from underserved communities in India attending Industrial Technology Institutes (ITIs). We helped them attain the Computer Operator and Programmer Associate certification, as well as the other essential skills that are needed to get a job today. It has been very successful. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in India is now looking at taking that on more broadly.”

In Japan, a Microsoft Philanthropies-piloted “Empowered Women” initiative saw 200 mothers gain the in-demand skills they needed to return to the workforce. The government is considering expanding it. “We ran this program and proved that it can be done,” Behncken says.

There are also efforts to help companies and organizations reform their long-held hiring practices and processes.

“We suggest employers think about how they recruit for roles and be more skills-focused,” she says. “They can do simple things like writing job descriptions in ways that are more inclusive so as to bring in a wider field of job candidates.”

Daiana Beitler, who leads Microsoft Asia Philanthropies, says her team “helps people from under-represented backgrounds get micro-credentials for the skills we know are in-demand in the region.

“We then encourage partners and customers in our Microsoft ecosystem to hire them. These employers are searching for talent. We let them know that we have a pool of people from under-represented backgrounds with the right skill-sets. We say: Come and recruit them but look at their micro-credentials rather than whether they have a formal four-year bachelor’s degree.” 

Behncken stresses that traditional diplomas and degrees remain valuable assets in many professions: “But we also know that micro-credentials can offer additional options for people across experiences. It is not a matter of having one or the other. Additional pathways for people to follow creates more opportunities.”

Sometimes gaining a set of micro-credentials can open the door to higher education.

“In the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia we are partnered with Passarelles Numeriques, which is an organization that works with underserved communities,” she says. “Its students earn certifications in various skills over two or so years. If they want, they can have these counted as credits towards a bachelor’s degree.

“Without microcredits, it is likely most would never have a chance of going to college or university.”

READ more about Microsoft Philanthropies Asia.

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Microsoft Philanthropies invests $1 million in support of TechSoup campaign to nearly double the nonprofits it serves

Microsoft investment will be leveraged to distribute an estimated $470 million of additional resources to the nonprofit sector

SAN FRANCISCO — Feb. 6, 2019 — TechSoup, the leading nonprofit network facilitating distribution of technology solutions to civil society organizations globally, today announced that it has received a $1 million impact investment from Microsoft Philanthropies to support an ambitious initiative to nearly double the number of nonprofit organizations it serves.

TechSoup logoMicrosoft is the lead impact investor in TechSoup’s newly launched $11.5 million direct public offering, a funding source that enables individuals and corporations to invest directly into the growth and mission of TechSoup. TechSoup’s DPO will be leveraged to distribute more than $5.4 billion of additional resources to the nonprofit sector.

As the DPO’s first corporate investor, Microsoft’s leadership will enable TechSoup to develop new offerings to help nonprofits utilize technology to amplify their mission and impact, and it will encourage investors of all stripes to support TechSoup’s growth initiative and catalyze the impact to the sector.

“TechSoup has been a critical partner in building a remarkable and robust societal ecosystem that brings the promise of technology to nonprofits serving on the frontlines, those trying to solve and address the world’s biggest challenges,” said Justin Spelhaug, General Manager, Microsoft Philanthropies Tech for Social Impact. “Microsoft’s investment in and collaborative partnership with TechSoup is building bridges to digital inclusion and empowerment to help the nonprofit sector realize all the benefits of cloud technologies.”

For more than 30 years, TechSoup has worked with over one million organizations in 236 countries and territories around the world, delivering the services and resources for people and nonprofits to come together to make an impact on the issues about which they care the most. Since inception, it has worked in partnership with 100+ corporations and 200+ foundations and facilitated distribution of more than $11.1 billion in technology products and grants.

“As one of our earliest, most innovative and longest-standing corporate partners, Microsoft has played a critical role in helping TechSoup bring the promise and potential of technology to people and organizations around the world,” said TechSoup CEO Rebecca Masisak. “This significant new investment will dramatically expand TechSoup’s services, financing five new initiatives to help NGOs, philanthropists and civil society around the world leverage technology to create, connect, activate and transform their organizations and communities.”

Microsoft and TechSoup are investing in the civil society infrastructure necessary to ensure that NGOs in all countries have access to Microsoft’s cloud solutions as well as the services, support and education that will enable them to realize the social impact of digital transformation.  According to Jane Meseck, Senior Director, Microsoft Philanthropies Tech for Social Impact, “Building capacity and digital skills for NGOs is vital to our strategy. Our investments in mission-based partnerships like TechSoup have enabled a scale of impact and a sustainable model that can now contribute significantly to our cloud adoption goals and ensure NGOs are ready for the future.”

The Microsoft Philanthropies investment was made through a Direct Public Offering (DPO) on SVX.US, a new investing platform offering debt and equity investment opportunities in high impact companies, organizations and funds that can deliver positive social and environmental impact alongside financial return. With investment minimums as low as $50, the DPO is uniquely structured to engage with TechSoup’s community, including the nonprofits they serve and the technology companies they partner with.

The Microsoft funding deepens and expands the longstanding Microsoft-TechSoup partnership, which started in 1996, and represents Microsoft’s growing commitment to a strong portfolio of partnerships to serve the global nonprofit sector. TechSoup estimates that Microsoft’s $1 million investment will be leveraged to distribute more than $470 million of additional resources to the nonprofit sector.

“The Nonprofit/NGO sector is under‐resourced and under‐represented in an increasingly digital world, but with support from Microsoft and our other investors, we will be able to increase the resources we distribute to organizations and nearly double the number of nonprofits we serve,” said Masisak. “By leveraging the emerging trends of online communities, the World Wide Web for information sharing, and e‐commerce marketplaces, we can help close the tech gap for more of the world’s frontline NGOs that serve billions of the most vulnerable people and help them more effectively address the world’s most critical problems.”

About Microsoft

Microsoft enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

About TechSoup

TechSoup provides the transformative technology solutions, the digital platforms, and the in-person experiences that enable people to work together toward a more equitable world.  With 70 partner NGOs around the world, TechSoup manages the only global philanthropy program that brings together more than 100 tech companies to provide technology donations to NGOs everywhere. TechSoup’s data and validation services enable companies, foundations, and governments to connect their philanthropic resources with vetted NGOs around the world. In the past 30 years, TechSoup has reached 1.06 million NGOs and facilitated distribution of technology products and grants valued at more than $11.1 billion.

Media Contacts

Annie Dizon

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft

(425) 638-7777

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Mary Snapp: Ensuring more Americans can benefit from the digital economy

Advancements in technology like cloud computing and artificial intelligence are transforming our economy and reshaping the future of work as profoundly as the Industrial Revolution did a century ago. Technology is creating a new digital economy, full of new economic opportunities, but for too many people, those opportunities remain out of reach because they lack the skills these jobs require. Earlier this year, an OECD report showed automation will have a major impact on nearly one out of every two jobs. According to the report, 1 in 10 jobs in the U.S. is at high risk of becoming automated, and approximately 28 percent of jobs will be significantly changed by automation.

Addressing this issue involves changing the way we educate and train people, while also changing the way companies hire and support their employees. We need to ensure all workers are empowered to gain relevant skills – both technical and foundational or “soft-skills” – for jobs in the new economy, no matter where they are in their careers. Most importantly, we need to increase the pathways to connect job-seekers to employers. We need to ensure the skills, knowledge and abilities individuals possess and those that employers need are demonstrated in new ways, whether it is a certificate, apprenticeship, or college degree, and must create better systems to validate these credentials. This new skills-based approach will create greater opportunity and equity for individuals and employers. We believe corporations like ours have a chance to make sure the future we’re building is for everyone.

Over the past year, Microsoft and LinkedIn partnered with the Markle Foundation to develop Skillful, a model involving key players across the labor market, so more Americans can benefit from the digital economy. Our work has focused on creating change to shift to a more skills-based labor market, ensuring people across all skill levels and geographies have greater access to opportunities and connections to employment as the economy evolves. In the first year of our partnership, we began our work in Colorado, where we have seen a significant impact, helping more than 3,000 individuals onto a better career pathway. Skillful not only helps individuals gain the skills necessary for jobs in in-demand industries like advanced manufacturing, healthcare and tech, but just as importantly, it enables employers to more quickly find the talent needed in a tight labor market by considering a new employment pool. Skillful’s success in Colorado provided us with a proof of concept, but we also know that every community is distinct and has unique needs.

This is why we are expanding our work. For example, over the next decade, Indiana will need one million skilled workers to fill open jobs and support economic growth. Today, with Governor Eric Holcomb, we expanded Skillful to the state where we are tailoring Skillful Indiana’s programs to its unique strengths and needs: employer programs for Indiana’s distinctive mix of large and small, and urban and rural employers; education initiatives tailored to Indiana’s innovative higher education system; and investment in career coaches as an important support for Hoosiers navigating educational and job opportunities.

As we sought to build on the program’s success and expand Skillful, we knew we needed to have local partners at the table. We have learned over the years that change, and more importantly, sustainable change is driven by developing trust and having the work owned by the local community and organizations who know the needs and assets of their communities most deeply. We are excited to have key Indiana partners like the Lumina Foundation and Purdue University join this important work and play a vital role in the program’s impact in the state.

As technology continues to evolve quickly, those of us who create AI, cloud, and other innovations know we must be intentional in our work to ensure the digital transformation creates economic opportunity for all. This requires partnering with government, academia, business, civil society, and other interested stakeholders to come together to help shape this future. Each of us has a responsibility to participate and ensure everyone is empowered with the digital skills they need to pursue the jobs of today and tomorrow.

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Digital transformation for nonprofits: The business of doing good with data

The fast pace of technology is changing how we live, work, and play. But can it also change how we give, donate, and help others?

Justin Spelhaug thinks so … it’s his mission. After years of working with commercial customers in the United States and Asia, he now leads Technology for Social Impact (TSI): a group within Microsoft that is resetting how nonprofit organizations – big and small – operate so they can thrive in a digital world.

“I like to think of myself as one of the chief social business advocates within Microsoft. I try to find ways to combine technology and commercial models, so they have a social impact,” he said in a recent interview during a visit to Singapore. “Both my parents worked in nonprofits and social services, so duty has always been in my DNA. I couldn’t be happier. This is exactly what I want to do.”

Justin Spelhaug (right) and Ng Herk Low, Assistant Chief Executive of SG Enable, at the Enabling Village in Singapore. Photo: Geoff Spencer

Spelhaug’s starting point is this: Digital transformation can boost the impact, performance, and viability of any organization – from major corporations to small and medium enterprises, to government departments, and even the leanest and most humble of nonprofits. And, while nonprofits are in the business of doing good, he says, innovating how they manage donors, volunteers and beneficiaries can unlock tremendous value and impact

The reality, though, is often different. Many nonprofits struggle to get by. They are revenue-stretched, and paper-bound – structurally and technologically. With limited capability to generate meaningful data, they lack a firm understanding of how they are performing or what their costs really are. They aren’t sure what programs are doing well and what could be done better. Security around record-keeping can be patchy and vulnerable. Arcane and laborious administrative tasks, as well as the pressure of constant fundraising, can tie up skilled specialists and volunteers – keeping them from focusing on their real mission: helping others.

This can mean that beneficiaries might not be getting the assistance they need, while many donors are too often left in the dark.

“In the commercial world, a company must keep their investors informed,” Spelhaug explains. “In the nonprofit world, donors are key stakeholders, and many are demanding greater optics before their commit funds to a cause.”

A significant part of the solution lies in digital transformation that is centered on data. “Just as the new currency in private enterprise is data, the new currency in the nonprofit industry is data.”

Moving from disorganized mountains of paperwork to streams of coordinated and secure data, not only transforms the inner workings of a nonprofit, it can save its reputation with donors and government agencies.

Thailand’s Social Innovation Foundation, for instance, helps people with disabilities to find jobs. But for years it struggled to meet their targets as its staff grappled with the challenges of collating thousands of paper documents and ensuring piles of forms were filled out accurately. Now they have moved ahead with digital transformation. Using Dynamics 365, they aim to scale from completing a few hundred cases annually to more than 10,000 in the future.

The power of data through digital transformation can also create new ways of doing things. In a company that might mean launching a new service or product line. In a nonprofit, it could lead to entirely new ways of delivering aid.

“Data is key to really understanding where you can have an impact. It tells you the cost per program of delivering that impact, and how can you scale that impact in completely different ways. With that, a nonprofit’s leadership team can adopt a different mindset on how they can innovate and produce new digital models within their social mission.”

Take, for example, Medical Teams International – a US-based global aid organization, which is currently working around the world, including in Asia on projects like the protracted Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

It began as a largely paper-based operation that provided basic medical services for displaced people. But once it started digitizing its patient and other records, it realized it had real-time data that, with advanced analytics on the cloud, could help identify disease trends.

“From the data they can see malaria starting to peak. From that, they can act and get ahead of an outbreak. They can go into a village or a camp and talk with the people about prevention – fogging, dumping stagnant water pools, supplying mosquito nets, and so on. They use data as a primary tool to drive their programming and data is saving lives.”

Justin Spelhaug (left) and Ng Herk Low, Assistant Chief Executive of SG Enable, at the Enabling Village in Singapore. Photo: Geoff Spencer

Meanwhile, new digital technologies are leading to the creation of practical and potentially life-changing solutions for the disadvantaged. During his Singapore visit, Spelhaug toured the city-state’s Enabling Village, which, among many things, is exploring how technology and new devices can empower people with disabilities and provide satisfying careers and more independent lifestyles. Recently, Microsoft volunteers helped “map” around 700 objects and features on its campus on a community-generated platform, called OpenStreetMap. It acts as a data source that feeds apps such as SoundScape, which makes it easier for the visually impaired to get around independently using 3D audio cues.

Digital transformation has also helped the Thai Red Cross Society become a more inclusive employer. After moving its operations to the cloud with help from Microsoft, it was able to take on 100 workers with disabilities. Also in Thailand, the Social Innovation Foundation is using digital technology to better help people with disabilities find jobs. Before they faced a massive paperwork challenge. Now they are using Microsoft Dynamics 365 which they expect will dramatically raise their case handling rates from a few hundred a year to more than 10,000.

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‘Digital Peace Now’ campaign launches this weekend

This Saturday, 60,000-plus people will be converging on New York’s Central Park for the seventh Global Citizen Festival, a marquee gathering for worldwide changemaking and social good.

Microsoft will be there, on stage, as a partner to Global Citizen. We’re excited to announce that this year’s festival is going to be the launchpad for Digital Peace Now, a campaign to encourage world leaders to achieve digital peace.

The world’s digital citizens, and the digital world in which we all participate, have to be protected.  You can help by joining the Digital Peace Now movement.

This is the time, this is the moment, when we must take action to protect the digital world where we live, work and learn. Last year, close to a billion people were victims of a cyberattack or digital crime. But if you haven’t fallen victim to a digital attack yet, you probably know a victim. New research, being announced today, shows people like you are concerned and want to take action.

We know that nation-states are behind the worst digital attacks against both innocent people and the infrastructure that underpins societies – energy, transportation, health care, food and water. A peaceful digital global society is something truly worth fighting to achieve. Not least because virtually every digital attack ripples beyond its intended target and harms the lives of innocent citizens.

For example, the 2017 “WannaCry” attack – a true wake-up call – tore through cyberspace, hijacking more than 300,000 computers across 150 countries, including computers used by families, hospitals, governments and businesses. WannaCry was followed closely by “NotPetya,” an attack estimated to have caused $10 billion in damage ranging far beyond the initial targets in Ukraine.

WannaCry and NotPetya were our wake-up moments; they raised an alarm: if we don’t act now, global cyberattacks will continue to inflict grave economic harm and risk human lives and well-being.

At Microsoft, we are fighting to prevent digital attacks. We are not alone; others in industry and government have joined us in this fight. Now we need to amplify the voice of the people who cherish all that the digital world has given us – the digital citizens – all of you – who can make a difference by acting now to tell those in power that we want and demand digital peace.

So, we invite you to join the Global Citizen webcast this Saturday for the annual Global Citizen Festival.

Digital Peace Now is going to be all about people – people banding together in one collective voice to tell their world leaders that the internet must be a peaceful, shared community. Not a battlefield.

Also on Saturday, we’ll be launching the Digital Peace Now Petition and urging everyone – including anybody reading this – to head to and sign the petition:

We, as Digital Citizens, will not stand by silently as governments weaponize our shared online community — endangering individuals, organizations, and entire countries. In our digital world we create, connect, express ourselves and improve our lives and the lives of others.  Our online community must not be a battlefield. We demand Digital Peace.

Together, we will use our voices and our votes to defend the global digital society on which we depend. Our world leaders must act now to protect us.

There is no peace without Digital Peace.

The effort to achieve Digital Peace cannot be done by any company acting alone. We’re proud to launch this initiative with the founding members of the Digital Peace Campaign Advisory Board – ICT4Peace, Civicus and Observer Research Foundation. Achieving digital peace also must involve a coalition of governments, nonprofits, industry leaders, civil-society entities and global organizations. But most importantly, we need people like you to stand against those that endanger digital peace.

We all are digital citizens. We demand digital peace. Join us.


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How AI for Humanitarian Action can empower a sustainable future

Two female refugees in Athens
Photo courtesy of Sara Hylton for Mercy Corps.

Last year, I had the opportunity to visit schools and youth community centers in refugee camps in Greece and Jordan. Here young people, who were forced to leave their homes and communities, were preparing for the next phase in their lives. They were attending school and learning, through nonprofit-run programs, technology and entrepreneurial skills. I was moved by their willingness to work hard under difficult circumstances, with smiles on their faces, and by their hopeful view of the future.

At Microsoft Philanthropies, we feel an obligation to ensure that the benefits of the digital economy are available to everyone. The young people I met, and the many who remain displaced, were a reminder of why that work is so important. It’s why we launched AI for Humanitarian Action earlier this week, to help nonprofits save more lives, alleviate suffering and restore human dignity. Through this new initiative, front-line relief organizations will be able to use technology to anticipate, predict and better target response efforts.

It’s also why this week, in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly session, we strengthened our commitment to sustainable development efforts through new digital skills partnerships with U.N. organizations. These partnerships focus on humanitarian initiatives in which we believe we can have the greatest global impact advancing education and employment, with an emphasis on preparing people with the skills they need in our global economy. We aim to help create meaningful livelihood opportunities for refugees and displaced youth, ensure more gender equality, promote accessibility, and overall, build stronger and more resilient communities.

With our partnership with UNICEF, for example, we are applying technology and expertise to ensure that the most vulnerable children on the move have access to education and protection. The first initiative will be a “learning passport,” being developed in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. It will be a digital, personalized, globally accredited learning platform aiming to enable children, who have had their learning disrupted, to keep learning – wherever they are.

We are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reach over 25,000 refugee young women and men by 2021 with access to accredited, quality and relevant digital learning and market-oriented training opportunities. The partnership will include training and knowledge sharing with UNHCR international teams and local partners, who will also help deliver the content. Microsoft also joined this week with the International Labor Organization (ILO) on the Decent Jobs for Youth global initiative to help equip young women and men with digital skills and improve youth employment. It’s a privilege for Microsoft to partner with the nongovernmental organizations and others working to solve global challenges. We’re inspired by their work and hope to contribute to it by providing technology tools and resources to help them serve even more people.

We recognize the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are addressing urgent and complex societal issues that are bigger than any one organization. That’s why we believe in partnering across public, private and nonprofit sectors to deepen and broaden our collective impact. The more we — as governments, nonprofit and private companies — can work together toward these shared goals, the greater and more lasting our impact will be toward building a sustainable future for all.

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