Sharif Khan (Middle East) - Up-skilling Women in the Middle East Through Digital Literacy

There is a marked importance in IT and internet skills; for both the home and the work place. Sharif Khan, HR Direcot for Microsoft, highlights the efforts going into up-skilling (empowering) women in Asia.

Parts of the Middle East are in the midst of a huge cycle of social, economic and political change. But even without these changes, governments and organisations across the region must continue working to drive national productivity, and place renewed emphasis on up-skilling their people to create opportunities for trade and investment. At Microsoft we believe that one way to boost national competitiveness is to support the next generation of business leaders in the form of improved education. In the Middle East we have a particular commitment to empowering women to realise their full potential by improving eSkills and offering female-led training sessions.

Women should be empowered, both individually and collectively, to develop and enhance their commercial skills for the sake of the future economy in the Middle East. With more and more overlaps become evident between the digital and literal world, and strong ICT skills are in demand from employers, it is vital to ensure that Arab women are equipped with the 21st Century skills they need to take full advantage of employment opportunities. To instil sustainable change and bridge the ‘digital divide' in the Arab world.

In 2005, Microsoft partnered with Women in Technology (WIT) for the Middle East and North Africa, a programme funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) of the United States Department of State. WIT strives to empower women and increase their participation in the workforce by providing partner organisations, and the women they serve, with cutting-edge curricula and training in business planning, professional development and information technology. The Microsoft partnership enables WIT to offer free or low-cost access to high-quality IT training to women from all backgrounds. The training staff are all Microsoft certified female teachers, which drives further momentum within the program, enabling hundreds of women to find jobs or be promoted thanks to furthering their skillsets.

Microsoft also actively champions the achievements and talent of the women in its own workforce. Two female employees from the Middle East and Africa region were selected as winners for their significant achievements in the 2011 Microsoft Next internal competition, created to showcase employees' innovative work to help people and communities around the world. From hundreds of submissions, a panel of judges selected 30 winners, including two female competitors from Tunisia and Egypt.

Noha Labib, Academic Programs Manager at Microsoft Egypt, was selected as a winner thanks to her development of education programs for local communities across Egypt. By leading the local Microsoft Partners-in-Learning program - to drive digital literacy among Egyptians - Noha is a great advocate for OA individuals to build a brighter future. Leila Charfi, Innovation Centre Director at Microsoft Tunisia, also won thanks to her efforts to transform students' ideas into real business solutions, coaching over 300 local technology start-ups to become fully fledged businesses, selling services, software and solutions to Tunisia and its neighbouring countries. Take a look at their inspirational stories and more by going to the Microsoft Showcase website.

We believe that the sustained development and prosperity of the Middle East is dependent on women's full and equal participation in the economic, social and political sectors of society. Improving female digital literacy, stimulating participation and providing training to empower women in the region to realise their full potential are responsibilities taken very seriously by Microsoft. If you would like to learn more about the Women in IT program or sign up for training sessions, head to the Microsoft Women in IT Facebook page for more details and updates. Working to reduce the gender ‘digital divide' will have a huge impact for women in the region and indeed the region as a whole.

By Sharif Khan, HR Director, Middle East and Africa at Microsoft