Microsoft has become a leader in the UAE in the field of corporate social responsibility – giving Dh6 million last year to social programmes in the Emirates, in addition to another Dh5.25m in the form of donated working hours.
The contribution made up more than two per cent of the company’s total revenue – not just the profit – said Zaki Khoury, Gulf Citizenship Lead, Microsoft.
“We do not focus on the magnitude of the amount we wish to spend on CSR initiatives but rather on our outreach and impact. The firm aims to inspire ideas, stimulate participation, instill sustainable change and help people in the UAE and the Gulf to realise their full potential,” he said.
More than a generous benefactor, Microsoft officials said they see themselves as global citizens with rights and obligations.
“Our right is to continue operating as long as we are serving the world’s citizens. And our obligation is to educate the five billion people – the vast majority of the world’s population – who still have no access to technology and the opportunities it offers,” said Khoury.
To maximise its impact, Microsoft has designed its CSR programmes in the Gulf around three areas: innovation, online safety and youth empowerment.
The company has been collaborating with universities and research institutions in the region to drive technology solutions, computing advances, industry opportunities and scientific breakthroughs. “We have a centre in Kuwait for developing graduate-level IT skills in areas of higher education, entrepreneurship and local government. A similar centre will be set in Dubai in 2008.”
In the UAE, Microsoft has worked with both the private and public sector. “We have offered free consultations to the government, for example, to develop e-applications. We have also organised training sessions to eradicate digital illiteracy among elderly to encourage them use technology, and to protect workers who might be at risk when transacting online. Children and families were also targeted,” Khoury added.
“The company has also created the Unlimited Potential programme, which is designed to enable sustained economic activity and to empower young men and women – including people with special needs.”
Salwa Abdulla Al Shaba, head of IT Department and Project Manager for Unlimited Potential by Microsoft at the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, said the project was launched in 2005 to encourage computer literacy and enable participants to find fulfiling jobs.
So far, the project has trained hearing-impaired people, however, there are plans to expand it to include those with mental handicaps. Microsoft donated Dh172,600 to the project and trained 72 people with hearing problems over the past two years. Of the graduates, 44 were students and the rest were adults, Al Shaba said.
In a cautionary note, one administrator for charitable organisation said CSR is great when it is consistent, but too often the support dries up when profits slip.
Mariam Othman, director of Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre, a private institution totally run on donations, said: “Our annual operating costs reach up to Dh5m. The service we are providing is costly taking into consideration the facilities and the need for experienced staff. We are always desperately looking for supporters. One year they may help us and in the following year they might be involved in some other activities. Some firms’ allocation depends on their annual profits, so the amount differs from year to year. Whereas other companies do not have a pre-planned and consistent CSR programme.”
OVERCOMING THE ODDS
ISRAA’ MOHAMMED ABBAS, a 17-year-old, who is hearing impaired, said she wants to become an engineer like her father after mastering computer applications in the Microsoft-funded programme.
“I always watch my father making designs on the computer and I want to be like him in the future,” she said in sign language.
The seventh grader used to express her feelings by drawing, but now she is utilising PowerPoint and other computer applications to chronicle her emotions. Her computer teacher Hanan Zaki said Abbas may very well become a successful designer someday.
AHMAD ABDUL SAMEI’ SHAUBAIR, 23, a Palestinian, was born with impaired hearing. After participating in computer training courses at the Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS) he said he began to rethink his future.
Now attending classes to obtain a UAE General Secondary Certificate by next June, Shubair said he will look for a job that utilises his new computer skills.
“After receiving the training with the SCHS, I feel I can professionally perform any assignment. Before that, I didn’t have this confidence because my knowledge was very limited,” said Ahmad.