Microsoft to Open UN Affairs Office This Summer

Microsoft Partners with UNICEF, WHO, and ITU to Deliver Digital Transformation

Microsoft announced that would be opening a UN Affairs Office last year, on January 17th. It started working officially on the 1st of March of 2020. While Microsoft already worked with the United Nations Secretariat, and the various UN specialized agencies, it had yet to have a dedicated office to engage directly with the international body.

Then the global health crisis threw everyone’s plans out the window. So they had to postpone opening the actual office and telework instead.

Microsoft UN Affairs office started its work, remotely, with teams in Geneva and Seattle, even enlarging its scope after the World Health Organisation Director-General, Dr. Tedros, asked a number of technology companies to step-up efforts to address the health crisis together.

Dr. Tedros reached out to Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President, to ask for assistance coping with increased demands on its digital infrastructure. Microsoft brought a technical team right away to help the WHO deal with the increased demands on its website for data management, and its privacy and security architecture.

The sheer number of simultaneous requests as the pandemic struck, the cybersecurity threats, and the need to keep the various regional offices and its clinical data gathering and analytics from collapsing required swift intervention by Microsoft and the WHO.

When one says “the UN” most people think of the tall rectangular shaped building on the East River, in New York City, but the UN has its second largest office in Geneva, Switzerland, followed by Nairobi, Vienna, Bonn, Dakar, and many other satellite offices throughout five continents, not to mention the peacekeeping operations currently underway. Plus the UN specialized agencies and funds: WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, IMO, the Refugees and Human Rights agencies, in Geneva, and its regional hubs in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America.

So when most people say “UN”, they have to be specific. Agency or Secretariat? Take a look at this chart and you will see what it is meant by when we say “the UN System”.

It is no wonder that Microsoft saw that there was a need for a dedicated office in order to fully engage with the digital transformation of the global organization and to support delivery of services and content for its headquarters and regional hubs. There is as well areas to contribute to in logistics, services, and programs during post-conflict, after natural disasters’ humanitarian interventions, and to play a wider role on peace-building efforts and education.

“Most of the challenges we face today require multi-stakeholder engagement, the issues that we are working on have global significance and we find ourselves operating as global companies engaging with governments locally but also realizing that a lot of the solutions to these global problems do involve multilateral solutions. That we as a company want to participate in addressing the climate crisis, we want to participate in advancing cybersecurity, we want to very much participate in how the world addresses the digital divide. So when we look at these big issues what we see is that the United Nations is increasingly a center of activity where business and governments can work to make each other more successful in achieving those goals”, said John Frank, Microsoft Vice-President for the UN Affairs office, “each of the UN Global Goals require partnerships between the governments, the UN, and technology companies.”

The UN Brief interviewed Frank to discuss the opening of the UN Affairs office, both in Geneva and New York (they are working from home since March 2020), they plan to open physical offices near the UN, sanitary guidelines permitting, this Summer.

John Frank became Microsoft’s Vice President, United Nations Affairs on the 1st of March 2020, to focus on deepening Microsoft’s engagements on issues related to the environment, skills training, human rights, and security. 

Previously he was Vice President, EU Affairs, based in Brussels, and Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, and Chief of Staff for Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, at Microsoft’s headquarters, in Redmond, Washington.

Frank also led Microsoft’s office in Paris, overseeing legal and regulatory issues for the launch of the Microsoft Network (MSN) in Europe. From 1996 to 2002, he led Microsoft’s Legal and Corporate Affairs group for Europe, Middle East and Africa, focusing on privacy, security, consumer protection, and antitrust matters.

Before joining Microsoft, he practiced law in San Francisco with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Frank received an AB degree from Princeton, and a JD from Columbia Law School.

We spoke about UN collaborations that are currently underway, including the UNICEF and Cambridge University initiative for Education in Emergencies (EiE), the digital education platform for school-age children in refugee camps, and internally displaced school-age children and adolescents in post-conflict zones, the Learning Passport.

The platform allows children to keep an electronic record of their schooling, so when they move, or are granted asylum in another country, or return to their country of origin, they can easily continue their education at the appropriate literacy-level.

According to the latest figures by the UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, over 79.5 million people are in forced migration worldwide today (that means refugees and internally displaced people, the latter mostly in sub-Saharan Africa), of which 30 million approximately are asylum seekers, meaning they cannot return home to their war-torn countries or in the aftermath of major extreme weather events.

About 35 million of these 79.5 million forced migrants are children and adolescents.

Picture this: new languages, cultural shock, temporary lodgings, trauma from fleeing conflict and/or natural disasters. What could help smooth these transitions and perhaps make a difference? A uniform curriculum. A way to keep track of skills acquired, basic literacy, that each child can take with her to be integrated to a new school, if and when needed.

This uniform curriculum is what Cambridge University is developing, in partnership with local governments and schools, UNICEF field offices, and with Microsoft as its technology partner.

Watch the interview in our YouTube channel, and don’t forget to subscribe!

Microsoft is focusing on 4 Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 4: Quality Education

Focus on computer science education and digital literacy skills thought Microsoft Philanthropies, the Learning Passport with UNICEF, through Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), Microsoft Learn resources, as a founding member with UNESCO of the Global Education Coalition for COVID-19 response, to name a few initiatives.

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

In 2019 Microsoft launched the African Development Center (ADC), the first-ever engineering offices in Africa with initial sites in Nairobi and Lagos. The Microsoft 4Africa Initiative invests in startups, partners, small-to-medium enterprises, governments, and youth. The Microsoft Leap Apprenticeship Program recruits and trains nontraditional talent for careers in the technology industry worldwide, is now operational in Africa.

SDG 13: Climate Action

These initiatives include new technologies to support farmers to produce food sustainably, use water efficiently, invest in clean energy and much more, including the Climate Innovation Fund.

SDG 16: Peace, Justice, Strong Institutions

Through its work with the UN Government Group of Experts, GGE and the Open Ended Working Group, OEWG, on Cybersecurity responsible norms of behavior in cyberspace by state and non-state actors, normative frameworks to ensure Peace and Security in Cyberspace.

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