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High in the mountains of northern Colombia live the Arhuaco, an indigenous people renowned for their stewardship of their rugged environment and the close-knit nature of their society. These remote people have traditionally resisted intrusions from the outside world, so one would not expect them to embrace technology as a means of preserving their way of life. But that’s just what’s happening, thanks to a remarkable collaboration among the Arhuaco, the Colombian government, and Microsoft.
Two Arhuaco community leaders pictured with Tony Hey and Rick Rashid (Microsoft Research), Jaime Restrepo (former director of Colombian Council of Science and Technology), and Orlando Ayala (Microsoft) at the 2011 Latin American Faculty Summit
In an ambitious and inspirational long-term project that aligns with the government’s priority for preservation and environmental sustainability, Microsoft Colombia has implemented a cloud-based solution that helps the Arhuaco preserve their culture and environment. The solution, which is based on customer relationship management (CRM) models and is operated by the Arhuaco themselves, keeps records of the Arhuaco people, lands, and sacred places. The online solution not only maintains these records, which are vital to the preservation of the biodiversity and indigenous culture of the region, but it also provides for autonomy and oversight by indigenous authorities.
How did technology become a strategic tool for this remote place, balancing traditional culture while taking advantage of the Arhuaco’s thousand-year knowledge of their environment? It did so deliberately and respectfully, through a three-year dialogue that built trust among all parties.
The journey began in 2010, when a memorandum of understanding was signed in the Arhuaco’s mountain homeland. With this in place, Microsoft Colombia established an experimental lab for learning and exchange of experiences with the Arhuaco culture. Later in early 2011, they established a joint venture with Microsoft Research to develop a series of digital narratives about the Arhuaco’s traditional culture by using Rich Interactive Narratives technologies (RIN). Then, in 2012, Microsoft Colombia hired Ruperto, an Arhuaco member, to serve as a liaison between Microsoft Colombia and the indigenous community.
This three-year period of developing mutual understanding culminated in the online CRM solution, which was first envisioned during the 2011 Latin American Faculty Summit held in Cartagena, Colombia, where the Arhuaco RIN story was demoed to the President of Colombia. The solution was the result of cross-group collaboration among several Microsoft groups, including Microsoft Research Connections in Latin America, Microsoft Research India, and Microsoft Colombia.
We view Microsoft’s partnership with the Arhuaco as just the beginning; we hope to continue helping them strengthen the autonomous management of their government, and to call upon the partnership’s experiences to help initiate projects with indigenous communities around the world. Putting technology in the service of cultural and environmental preservation—what an inspiring blend of the old and the new!
—Jaime Puente, Director, Microsoft Research Connections, Latin America
The annual NCWIT Summit brings together committed and passionate minds across industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations, united by the goal of increasing the meaningful participation of women in computing. The 2013 event, which took place in Tucson, Arizona, in late May, was no exception, with insightful presentations, hands-on workshops, and great networking opportunities, all designed to foster women’s growing role in IT and computer science.
Microsoft was pleased to participate in the opening session of the summit, with Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, announcing the company’s commitment to four more years of sponsored partnership with NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology). Tony stressed that diversity, including gender diversity, helps drive innovation and is critical to advances in computing. He highlighted the very real and personal aspects of this topic through the story of Emily Peed-Brown, who received the benefit of NCWIT’s Aspirations in Computing Talent Development Initiative and is now utilizing her passion to help middle-school girls become involved in the computer sciences.
The NCWIT Academic Alliance supports female students, from their first studies in technology through their collegiate degrees.
During the general sessions and open receptions, attendees came together to learn from each other, showcase successes, discuss the latest research, and be inspired to make an even greater commitment to driving change through computer science. With the looming talent shortage for US technical jobs, the continued challenge of retaining and growing the number of women in technology leadership, and the low percentage of young women receiving computing and information sciences degrees (just 18 percent), there is work to be done.
The heart of the NCWIT organization resides in its learning communities, called Alliances. The K-12 and Academic Alliances, for example, support young female students, from their first studies in technology through their collegiate degrees, while the Workforce and Affinity Alliances focus on the retention and advancement of women in computing careers. Successes by these groups on both ends are cause for celebration. For example, the K-12 Alliance announced the launch of a Spanish-language microsite to bring the NCWIT message and resources to Spanish-speaking parents and influencers, and the Workforce Alliance launched the results of their last year’s efforts with the publication of Male Advocates and Allies: Promoting Gender Diversity in Technology Workplaces.
The NCWIT Pacesetters committed to a new project aimed at growing girls’ awareness of the many career opportunities in the computing and IT fields.
A subset of members, including Microsoft, participate in a special NCWIT program called Pacesetters, where participating technical companies and academic institutions commit to increasing the number of women in their organizations. In a cross-industry cohort, they also work together on a common project. The first cohort created and launched the successful and ongoing Sit With Me campaign, a national advocacy campaign that provides a platform for advancing NCWIT’s mission. At this year’s NCWIT Summit, the newly formed cohort committed to a new project aimed at growing girls’ awareness of the numerous career opportunities and benefits that are available in the computing and IT fields.
As informative and interesting as the general sessions were, and as much as we shared and learned in the Alliance meetings, nothing topped the Aspirations in Computing Awards ceremony. The spark in the eyes of the honored high school girls ignited something in all of us. These girls are now part of a strong community of thousands of young women who are ready to embark upon the work and use their keen minds to make their mark in information technology fields. They remind us all of the NCWIT mission. It is not just about the numbers—it’s about the next wave of technical innovators who will shape our world, and the importance of women being part of this future.
—Dalene King, Global Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Microsoft
On June 11, 2013, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) launched the Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab at the university’s new Science and Engineering Center in the heart of Brisbane. This exciting venture will enable students to create software solutions for real-world problems—through emerging projects, such as Glycogen (a learning environment built for the One Laptop per Child initiative); through hackathons built around the D3.js visualization libraries, making open data in biology and healthcare visible to all; and through global competitions such as QUT’s Change the World series and Microsoft Imagine Cup.
The new Science and Engineering Centre (left) on the QUT campus
The launch represents the culmination of hard work by QUT, along with support from Microsoft Research, the Microsoft Australian subsidiary, Red Hat Asia Pacific, and Technology One, a Brisbane-based enterprise software company. Each of these partners sees value in working cooperatively on open-source projects, understanding the model of community driven projects operating hand-in-hand with commercial services and products. The launch activities included a keynote address by Pia Waugh, a veteran of the Australian open-source community and now a leading figure in such open-government initiatives as GovHack.
The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab will take a leading role in the .NET Bio project, an open-source library of common bioinformatics functions that simplifies the creation of life-science applications for the Windows platform. In fact, QUT students are already authoring extensions to the library’s core algorithms and developing new pattern-matching components that will allow complex, structured searches across genomes. Other students are working to link .NET Bio parsing and search capabilities to open-visualization tools, allowing better understanding of the structure of genomes and their regulatory systems.
The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab is located in QUT’s state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Center.
In one key project under development, QUT students are building a new toolset on top of .NET Bio to simplify population studies in human disease. The new tools will support the analysis of samples from multiple individuals by using next-generation sequencing techniques. These approaches, a variant of restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (better known as RADseq), allow identification of subtle genomic differences that are important markers of diseases. The .NET Bio library will provide an integrated platform for these analyses, with the important additional benefit of allowing direct interaction with tools such as Microsoft Excel, enabling researchers to capture and further analyze results in a familiar environment.
Microsoft Research is pleased to support QUT’s exciting open-source venture, and we will be looking for great things to emerge from Down Under!
—Simon Mercer, Director, Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research Connections