Gates announces Africa initiatives

Microsoft announced a number of new initiatives in collaboration with organizations aimed at boosting economic development in Africa.

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

A partnership between Microsoft and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) plans to use technology to introduce new services that can improve tourist access to information and offer distance training. As part of the cooperation, Microsoft will support UNWTO's collaboration with the New Partnership for Africa's Development to create a portal called Windows on Africa.

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

Speaking during the conference, Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft, said that the goal of many such Microsoft initiatives in Africa is to help build local knowledge-based economies in order to generate new jobs and growth opportunities, the company said.

Microsoft also said that, along with UNWTO, it will also build an emergency-response system to support information sharing and messaging throughout the tourism industry during natural or man-made catastrophes. The system will combine existing networks in industries such as hotel, airline and cruise ships that already provide disaster communication. The first application for the system will be to offer support for bird flu preparedness.

On Monday, Microsoft announced other new initiatives including one with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization that will offer skills training and resources to help small and medium sized businesses in Africa use technology.

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

The Microsoft Government Leaders Forum took place on Monday and Tuesday in Cape Town. In addition to Gates, former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke. The purpose of the conference was to bring together government and business leaders to discuss Africa's global competitiveness.

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

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