Microsoft and the UNHCR unite for the greater good

We explore how the UNHCR and Microsoft Innovation Center Jordan are using technology to educate Syrian refugees and make the best out of the worst modern humanitarian crisis

Rebecca Gibson
Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson on 28 July 2017
Microsoft and the UNHCR unite for the greater good

This article first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of The Record.

More than six years after it began with anti-government protests in 2011, Syria’s civil war has created the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history. Half of the country’s pre-war population – more than 11 million people – have either been killed or forced to flee their homes. The United Nations (UN) estimates that a total of 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 6.3 million who are internally displaced within Syria, and 4.9 million who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Roughly 2.5 million of these refugees are under the age of 18.

Currently, around 655,404 Syrians are temporarily residing in camps in Jordan. Not only do these refugees urgently require shelter, food, water and clothing, but they also need an education so they can eventually regain their financial independence when it’s legal to do so. Driven by its mission to ‘empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more’, Microsoft aims to play a key role in empowering these refugees with the skills they need to eventually become valuable members of Jordan’s society and economic ecosystem.

Located at a facility owned by the Royal Scientific Society in Amman, Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC) Jordan has spent the past eight years helping Jordanian students, graduates and IT professionals gain the skills they need to secure jobs and develop new start-ups for Jordan’s software market. This year, MIC Jordan is building a new multi-stakeholder model to extend its reach to Syrian refugees and local Jordanians in refugee host communities.

“More than 5,000 local Jordanians have been involved in various programmes at MIC Jordan over the past eight years, which has led to them building new skills, becoming more employable, finding new jobs and creating their own businesses,” says Iman Naimi, Microsoft Innovation Center and Local Software Economy Lead. “Moving to a multi-stakeholder model will enable us to run market-ready skills programmes that support both Jordanians and refugees, while ensuring we meet local, regional and international commitments. We’ll also be able to share funding commitments across the private sector, academia and international organisations.”

MIC Jordan’s new multi-stakeholder model will focus on two key areas. First, it will extend its successful Microsoft Academic Accelerator initiative to university students and graduates – including refugees and Jordanians – who have a basic technology background and want to learn how to use new technologies, build apps and code to turn their innovations into business opportunities. Second, MIC Jordan will deliver a Digital Literacy and Internet Safety programme for leaders of Jordan’s refugee and community centres. Once they have completed the ‘train the trainer’ course at MIC Jordan, participants will be qualified to deliver the same training back at the centres with the help of a mentor.

“Our hub-and-spoke approach to build capacity in MIC Jordan’s ‘train the trainer’ programme will benefit both the refugees and their host communities by helping as many people as possible develop skills,” comments Kate Krukiel, director of Strategic Partnerships and International Organizations for the Worldwide Public Sector at Microsoft. “We’ll lay the foundation with the Digital Literacy course, then we’ll move on to other areas.”

One of the key partners for MIC Jordan’s Digital Literacy programme is the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR, which works with Jordan’s government, non-governmental organisations and academic partners to understand refugees’ needs and develop initiatives to help them.

The UNHCR, which runs two Syrian refugee camps and 10-12 community centres in Jordan, began working with Microsoft in 2016 after the two organisations made a joint visit to the country. It quickly became clear that the UNHCR could leverage the assets of Microsoft’s global organisation to carry out its humanitarian work in Jordan.

“Microsoft’s mission clearly maps to the aims of the UNHCR – protect and empower every refugee to achieve more – particularly because it offers successful educational programmes that enable people to gain digital skills and formal qualifications that are recognised worldwide,” says Kamel Deriche, chief of the business relationship management service section at UNHCR.

“We need partners who can help us to establish a model that puts refugees at the centre, but also offers benefits to their host communities, and beyond,” adds Deriche. “We saw an immediate fit with MIC Jordan because it could give us the network to build our capacity to achieve this goal in a sustainable manner. Together, we’re building a network of refugee and Jordanian teachers in our various centres to empower community members with critical skills, such as digital literacy.”

In addition to promoting the programmes to the different communities, the UNHCR is also responsible for selecting the participants, and managing the logistics and transport.

“Working with the UNHCR will help us to deliver the post-training programme to ensure we consistently build capacity,” says Naimi. “Meanwhile, Microsoft partner Hewlett-Packard (HP) will provide the devices and other hardware that will be used during the training sessions. In future, we’ll look to align other areas of refugee education with HP’s Learning Studios.”

Both MIC Jordan and the UNHCR are keen to urge other organisations to join their mission to drive much-needed change for Syria’s refugees.

“Providing local Jordanians and Syrian refugees with the skills they need to succeed is an ever-important topic and priority for Microsoft, so we’re always open for discussions with new partners that have mutual goals,” says Krukiel.

“Working with MIC Jordan has helped the UNHCR to develop new innovative ideas and ways of providing better services and mechanisms to educate and provide the best skills to those who need it,” says Deriche. “Although refugees are not yet permitted to work in Jordan, teaching them these skills is fundamental to ensuring they retain their dignity and become actively engaged in their host communities. I’d highly recommend that other organisations join this effort and help to build a better economy, while creating a force for greater social good.”

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