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UNHCR And The Red Cross Partner With Microsoft In St. Petersburg To Open Community Technology Center For Refugees And Local People With Disabilities

Published 04-16-04

Submitted by Microsoft

St Petersburg, Russia - The Red Cross, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Microsoft today announced the opening of a community technology learning center in St. Petersburg, Russia, to provide IT access, skills training and education for refugees and asylum seekers from several countries and local citizens with disabilities.

"This is a unique and important initiative", said Dennis Blair, UNHCR Deputy Representative in the Russian Federation. "As the world's first such community learning center for refugees, it is a defining moment on the road to a truly inclusive information society, and in our five year partnership with Microsoft. Working with committed, passionate and innovative people from the business community is enabling UNHCR to really solve problems and provide modern, lasting solutions."

Tatiana Lineva, President of St. Petersburg Regional Branch of the Russian Red Cross added: "For local citizens with disabilities as well as for refugees, access to the Internet and professional IT training programs is a vital window to new skills and employment opportunities. Initiatives like this will help them today to build their confidence and have the chance to contribute socially and economically to a more inclusive and cohesive St. Petersburg."

The St. Petersburg Community Technology Learning Center is located in the Professional - Rehabilitation center of the Labor and Social Security Committee of St. Petersburg, and is one of more than 300 Community Technology Learning Centers (CTLC) that Microsoft has set up with local partners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa as part of Unlimited Potential (UP) - a global community investment program which to date has been launched in 45 countries around the world.

The St. Petersburg CTLC is equipped with PCs, a server, donated software and community staff trained by Microsoft employees to deliver an IT curriculum designed to provide students at the Center with basic and advanced IT skills, as well as provide support for self study and other community building activities.

"Education is the most significant and concrete area in which to support disadvantaged people and their genuine integration into local communities," said Olga Dergunova, Chairman of Microsoft Russia and CIS. "In this sense, Community Technology Learning Centers are unique hubs that provide important knowledge capital for people and enable them to improve their quality of life and to pursue lifelong learning."

Microsoft's partnership with UNHCR began in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis when a group of around 100 employees volunteered their time and knowledge to help UNHCR develop a portable refugee registration system, in partnership with HP, Compaq, Canon, Mitsubishi, Screen Check BV and Security UK Ltd., to register more than half a million refugees and provide replacement identification papers.

Since then Microsoft employees have assisted UNHCR with several projects in the field, including development of Project PROFILE, a standard platform for refugee registration data at UNHCR field operations. In December 2003, UNHCR and Microsoft signed a long-term partnership agreement to extend their cooperation, including joint development of pilot learning centers in refugee camps. Currently UNHCR and Microsoft are also conducting a feasibility study to establish 3 CTLCs in Dadaab camp, in Kenya.

"The UNHCR and Red Cross do vital work and make a real difference to the lives of millions of people in need," said Jean-Philippe Courtois, Chief Executive Officer Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa. "The St. Petersburg Learning Center marks another significant milestone in our long-term partnership with UNHCR, and the start of an exciting new partnership with the Red Cross. Our employees have a genuine passion and commitment for putting information technology to work to overcome big challenges and we are proud and honored to support them and our partners, here in St. Petersburg and around the world."

Notes for editors

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. As a humanitarian non-political organization, UNHCR has two basic and closely related aims - to protect refugees and to seek ways to help them restart their lives. UNHCR's main objective in the Russian Federation is to support the development of an asylum system that meets international standards. UNHCR's operations in the Russian Federation are aimed at protecting and assisting various categories of persons who have been forced to leave their homes: refugees, stateless persons and internally displaced persons. This assistance is provided through various governmental and non-governmental organizations. In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of around 5,000 people in more than 120 countries continues to help some 20 million persons.

For further information please visit the UNHCR websites: and

The Red Cross in Russia
The Russian Red Cross Society was founded in 1867, and joined the International Federation of Red Cross/ Red Crescent Societies in 1934. The Russian Red Cross has 89 regional and 1,321 district committees (branches) as well as 18,446 grass-roots organizations. Key activities of the Russian Red Cross include disaster relief and preparedness; winter emergency programs; medical and healthcare assistance to vulnerable groups, including visiting-nurse and home-care programs; first aid training; and youth volunteer programs.

The UNHCR-Microsoft partnership
The UNHCR-Microsoft partnership began in 1999 in Kosovo. Over the past 5 years the partners have worked together to deploy and develop technologies to assist UNHCR in its mission to serve the 20 million refugee and internally displaced persons worldwide. Since Kosovo, Microsoft employees have continued to help UNHCR develop the mobile registration system into the Refugee Field Kit 2000, including by serving as volunteer technical advisers on secondment to UNHCR field operations. The mobile system has been used today in more than twelve countries worldwide and has produced 50,000 refugee identity cards.

In December 2003 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to formalize the continuation of the partnership. As part of this, the partners agreed to conduct joint pilot projects to establish Community Technology Learning Centers for refugees, starting in St Petersburg, Russia and Dadaab, Kenya. Microsoft will also work with UNHCR to increase public awareness of the essential nature of UNHCR programs. And, a volunteer corps of Microsoft employees will join UNHCR staff in the field in 20 countries around the world over the next 12 months to assist with the roll-out of the beta-version of Project PROFILE (a standard platform for refugee registration data at UNHCR field operations which Microsoft employees have helped UNHCR to develop).

About Unlimited Potential
Microsoft Unlimited Potential is a global program that focuses on improving lifelong learning for underserved young people and adults by providing technology skills through community-based organizations around the world. Microsoft provides community centers with funding to launch or sustain IT skills training programs, including hiring and training technology instructors, and expanding course offerings to reach a broader base of community members. Microsoft has developed curricula that emphasize real-world technology applications which will be available in multiple languages. In the near future, Microsoft will work with partners to launch a global support network to deliver technology research, tools and services to training centers worldwide. Since May 2003, the company has made grants of cash and software totaling nearly $50 million to more than 150 programs in 45 countries.

More information can be found at

About Microsoft
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