Working together to ensure social justice for all

Over the past eight years, the date of February 20 has become strongly associated with social justice. On this date, which was established in 2007 by the UN General Assembly as World Day of Social Justice, organizations in the public and private sector join efforts to raise awareness and work toward a world where all people live with freedom, dignity, and equality. This year, in honor of World Day of Social Justice, I would like to share some of Microsoft’s programs and technologies that are helping to further these goals.

Aiding refugees

During the previous 12 months, international headlines have been dominated by news of the refugee crisis in Syria, and the topic was, and continues to be, on the agendas of global leaders worldwide. However, while the Syrian crisis is well publicized, it is just one of many examples of citizens fleeing war, persecution, or unstable conditions throughout the Middle East and Africa.

While they are temporary solutions to a larger problem, camps provide an interim home to thousands of refugees who seek sanctuary from the fighting and chaos. The international community can help these refugees by offering them housing, healthcare, and education services, as well as electricity and sanitation. Microsoft offers solutions to assist refugees and make these camps safe and welcoming harbors.

First, Microsoft assists with camp setup and management to create a stable and secure environment by establishing an infrastructure, allocating resources, and assisting safety and security personnel charged with overseeing new populations. Next, Microsoft assists with the registration and identification of new refugees, which includes fingerprinting and verifying of documentation or creating new documents.

We assist with settlement, helping plan and manage temporary housing and aiding refugees as they move their families and belongings into a new space—or relocate, as conditions dictate. We also help provide social services. Refugees moving into a temporary camp require education and schooling, employment, skills training, and often, culture awareness—such as the learning of another language. Microsoft is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international organizations to devote resources to improving the lives of these refugees and helping them to rebuild once again.

Combating human trafficking

World Day of Social Justice 2015 was dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking in all its forms. Throughout 2015, leaders of the world rallied to discuss solutions to this problem. Whether it be forced labor, sexual slavery, or exploitation of another person for commercial gain—the practice of human trafficking ensnares an estimated 25 million people worldwide, mostly women and girls. It is the third largest criminal activity globally, netting roughly $32 billion a year.

Human traffickers operate, often with impunity, within and between nations, using the latest technologies—such as gaming sites, Internet chat rooms, social media, and mobile devices—to maintain anonymity and reach more victims. They prey upon marginalized populations and offer false promises of a better life. These practices are deplorable and must be stopped.

At Microsoft, we believe that technology companies can play an important role in helping to disrupt this exploitation. We are working with our partners, law enforcement agencies, IGOs, NGOS, and in strong public-private partnerships (PPPs) to support human rights, address technology-facilitated crime, and advance efforts to halt human trafficking.

On June 23, 2015, Microsoft Asia joined seven UN agencies—including UNICEF, UN Women, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), and US Agency for International Development (USAID)—for the Regional Conference on Information Communication Technology to Combat Human Trafficking in Bangkok, Thailand. Attendees discussed issues and trends surrounding the use of technology to combat this societal ill. I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote address, during which I discussed Microsoft’s partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to launch 6degree.org, a cloud-based portal that uses crowdfunding to help victims of trafficking successfully and voluntarily reenter society.

Backed by the Microsoft Azure cloud-computing platform, 6degree.org is the first crowdfunding portal that meets the strict requirements of IOM’s victim protection and privacy standards. Because a survivor’s anonymity is their most important form of protection, 6degree.org was designed to modify information that could compromise their safety or chances of a normal life. Each survivor’s story is told through interactive story maps built on top of Microsoft Bing Maps, which strike a balance between protecting the victim’s identity and telling a compelling story to potential funders. By following these stories, the donor can understand the circumstances that led to the person being trafficked, appreciate the challenges faced during exploitation, learn how the person reclaimed their freedom, and discover what their dreams and ambitions are for the future.

In addition to programs like 6degree.org, Microsoft provides disruptive technology solutions, such as cloud and machine learning technologies, that can be formidable tools to help combat human trafficking. The same technologies can also be used to enhance public safety by reducing crime, exposing corruption, revealing inefficiencies, and providing citizen access to governmental services.

Microsoft PhotoDNA is an example of a disruptive technology in use to combat the sexual exploitation of children. Developed in partnership with Dartmouth College and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, PhotoDNA uses a mathematical algorithm to assign a unique signature to an image, which then can be used to locate other online copies of that same image. In response to global interest, Microsoft made PhotoDNA available to help law enforcement agencies around the world more quickly and accurately identify child victims and rescue them.

PhotoDNA is also a component of the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS), a Microsoft software-based solution developed in collaboration with Canadian law enforcement. CETS enables the management and linking of child protection cases worldwide across jurisdictional boundaries. It is currently administered by a loose partnership between Microsoft and law enforcement agencies in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Italy, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

In addition to making disruptive technologies available in the fight against trafficking, Microsoft is a member of the Global Business Coalition Against Trafficking and is also working with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as the United Nations, local police agencies, and other organizations on a variety of initiatives that address human trafficking in all its forms.

Toward a just future

In the coming year, the international community will join together to discuss the creation of environmentally sustainable economies and societies, the theme of the 2016 World Day of Social Justice. Microsoft will be a vocal participant in these discussions. We are already making progress in many areas and look forward to future advances as we work toward our mission of enabling every person on the planet to achieve more.

Partnering to transform teaching and learning in the classroom

Today, there are 1.4 billion students in the world, representing the young men and women who will become the doctors, engineers, teachers, and leaders of tomorrow. Ensuring they are prepared with the twenty-first century skills needed for these jobs—and those that don’t yet exist—is something we think a lot about at Microsoft as we work to empower and inspire students everywhere to follow their dreams.

On February 4, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and I had an opportunity to welcome 400 of our top education partners in Redmond, Washington, during our annual Global Education Partner Summit (GEPS).  This three-day event provides an opportunity for us to connect with many of our most trusted and valued partners to discuss opportunities for educational innovations—from revolutionizing teaching and learning in the classroom to providing real-time access to data-driven insights that can help school leaders better track individual student progress and needs.

The way teaching and learning happens is continually transforming with the rise of more personalized, evidence-based, and adaptive learning models. As we listen to and work hand-in-hand with educators and school leaders around the world, Microsoft understands and embraces this shift. Our company mission is to enable every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, and education is a core component of that mission. Our products and services are built with education in mind by using a platform approach that allows partners to add value and relevant expertise to local systems to ensure the greatest benefit for educators, students, parents and administrators alike.

Whether it’s leveraging, extending or integrating with Microsoft technology, or deploying, configuring and augmenting our platforms within customer infrastructures, our partners are critical in helping us improve educational opportunities for students worldwide.

Enriching the classroom experience

Learning styles can be as individual as the students themselves, but games and contests are a surefire hit in the classroom. Microsoft partner RedCritter kept this in mind as they created a unique gamification and achievement solution that can be used in any classroom around the world, regardless of curriculum. RedCritter uses a wide range of Microsoft technologies—including Microsoft Azure, Windows 10, and Cortana—to enable teachers to create and award digital badges, skill points, and even give the students virtual currency for their classroom rewards store.

Regardless of subject, these game mechanics make it possible for teachers to create new and exciting learning experiences for their students. By using RedCritter and programs like Minecraft, educators can get a broader set of students interested in and excited about STEM subjects.

Other partners are building on and incorporating products such as Skype, Office 365, OneNote, Office Mix, Sway, and Windows 10 to provide new productivity experiences for students, teachers, and parents alike. In many cases they’re also using these products to connect to a variety of learning management systems (LMS).

Sri Chaitanya Schools and partner Mobiliya in India have developed a dashboard-based system that utilizes Office 365 and Power BI to facilitate communications between teachers, students, and parents and to streamline the delivery of learning management systems content. The school is also using Microsoft Azure to move to a 100 percent digital classroom format and provide a more personalized learning experience for its 12,000 students.

Machine learning and big data go to school

In the back office of education, the evolution of cloud and big data technology is enabling scenarios that are truly transforming the industry. You’ve heard me talk about the ways that Azure cloud technologies are being used to help Pierce Elementary School in Arlington, Massachusetts, realize significant energy savings with the Azure platform and partner Iconics. And more is happening. Partners are helping redefine the category of education services, often enabling new scenarios, such as automated security systems that use face recognition, or solutions that predict equipment failures before they happen by using IoT-based solutions—reducing facilities management expenses. The possibilities are endless.

In the realm of big data and machine learning, educational institutions are now able to take advantage of in-the-moment, data-driven insights that inform their policies and planning. Azure Machine Learning is being used by multiple institutions, including Tacoma Public Schools and Cleveland Municipal School District in Michigan, to assist with dropout prevention and performance forecasting. The latter is using PowerBI and Azure Machine Learning for Early Warning Indicator programs to prevent dropouts, raise student enrollment, and improve student and teacher performance.

In the past, such capabilities would have required the availability of server infrastructure and machine learning experts, restricting the benefits to those schools that could afford the associated costs. But today, it’s a lot easier to take advantage of these technologies, and even schools in the developing world can benefit.

Microsoft investments in education

At Microsoft, we believe that computational thinking and problem solving skills are relevant for every job in every sector in the twenty-first century, and are an important aspect of our educational systems today. The effective use of technology to support teachers can transform education, inspire learning anywhere, and unlock the potential of all young people. To promote this agenda, we take a multi-faceted approach to encouraging the study of STEM curriculum in schools and in helping students to develop computational thinking approaches.

Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we are investing $75M in community programs to increase access to computer science education for all youth, especially for those from under-represented backgrounds, and build greater diversity into the tech talent pipeline. This initiative includes programs like DigiGirlz, that help reduce the gender gap by giving high school girls a chance to learn about careers in technology and participate in technology workshops. Other programs, such as Microsoft Imagine and TEALS, give students around the world the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and participate in hands-on computer and technology activities.

Microsoft has a long history of enabling teachers and schools with resources, support, and skills to help prepare the next generation for the opportunities ahead. In addition, we provide professional development to government policymakers, school leaders, and educators around the world to take new approaches to teaching and learning, by using technology to develop twenty-first century skills.

All of this is possible thanks to the support from a wonderful ecosystem of partners whose specialization adds to the value we can bring to different education systems around the world.