Gates announces Africa initiatives

At the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum Africa on Tuesday,Microsoft Corp. announced a number of initiatives in cooperationwith local and global organizations that are aimed in part atboosting tourism in Africa as a way to spur economic development onthe continent.

A partnership between Microsoft and the United Nations WorldTourism Organization (UNWTO) plans to use technology to introducenew services that can improve tourist access to information andoffer distance training. As part of the cooperation, Microsoft willsupport UNWTO’s collaboration with the New Partnership for Africa’sDevelopment to create a portal called Windows on Africa.

The portal will combine pan-African tourism content on one Website. The site will also link to information from visitor centers,museums and libraries. The organizations hope ultimately to makethe information available on mobile devices. The portal will alsofeature a tourism industry and skills curriculum to help localpeople learn more about the tourism industry.

Speaking during the conference, Bill Gates, chairman and chiefsoftware architect at Microsoft, said that the goal of many suchMicrosoft initiatives in Africa is to help build localknowledge-based economies in order to generate new jobs and growthopportunities, the company said.

Microsoft also said that, along with UNWTO, it will also buildan emergency-response system to support information sharing andmessaging throughout the tourism industry during natural orman-made catastrophes. The system will combine existing networks inindustries such as hotel, airline and cruise ships that alreadyprovide disaster communication. The first application for thesystem will be to offer support for bird flu preparedness.

On Monday, Microsoft announced other new initiatives includingone with the United Nations Industrial Development Organizationthat will offer skills training and resources to help small andmedium sized businesses in Africa use technology.

Microsoft also said it will continue to develop support in itssoftware products for additional African languages.

The Microsoft Government Leaders Forum took place on Monday andTuesday in Cape Town. In addition to Gates, former U.S. PresidentBill Clinton spoke. The purpose of the conference was to bringtogether government and business leaders to discuss Africa’s globalcompetitiveness.

Gates recently said he plans to leave his daily role atMicrosoft in order to devote more time to the Bill and MelindaGates Foundation, a charity organization he started with his wife.The foundation is well-known for the health and educationinitiatives it has spearheaded in Africa.

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