|Program Fast Facts
The unemployed, the homeless, recent immigrants or asylum seekers often suffer from exclusion and lack of access to resources, such as skills training, needed to help them improve their situation.
Caritas and Microsoft are bringing access to ICT skills training, donated curriculum and software to boost employability, confidence and opportunities for underserved people throughout Europe.
• In Luxembourg: 7 centres are training approximately 400 people and benefiting 700 others each year.
• In Austria: 10 centres are training approximately 5,500 people each year and providing IT services to thousands more.
• In Germany: 50 centres reaching approximately 5,000 people in 2010.
• In Switzerland: 300 refurbished computers provided to training participants over 5 years and hundreds more people trained.
• Software donations to Caritas entities in Armenia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg.
In Europe, as in other regions of the world, unemployed and homeless people, as well as recent immigrants and asylum seekers, are often isolated and lack access to the resources and training that can help them escape poverty. In particular, basic digital literacy is increasingly essential to participate in the workforce, undertake formal education and find information about community groups and services. Yet for many people who need these opportunities, access to computers and the skills to use them is out of reach.
To address this challenge, Caritas Europa, the European network of 48 Caritas national organizations focused on social policies and social services, and Microsoft are partnering to bring information and communications technology (ICT) skills training to disadvantaged communities. The partnership with Caritas Europa, was formalized in 2008, and builds on joint work between Caritas in Europe and Microsoft since 2003.
In addition to Microsoft funding and technical support for the ICT training courses, eligible Caritas member organizations also have access to donated Microsoft software and curriculum, refurbished computers and expert knowledge to support their work with disadvantaged communities in their respective countries.
“e-Skills training is a way to broaden inclusion on all fronts, fight against poverty and support our job,” explains Marius Wanders, Secretary General of Caritas Europa. “The populations most at risk are caught in a spiral: they have no job, are isolated, lack a network of support and fall deeper into poverty. To escape exclusion, people need to build confidence in themselves and lifelong skills. Digital skills help them break that spiral.”
“There is also a need to raise awareness at the European and national level on the importance of digital inclusion, which is why we are also actively engaged in outreach and advocacy,” adds Marius Wanders.
Many of the training participants have never used a computer, so the courses start at the most basic level. Offered at local technology centers and in Caritas facilities, the training is based on donated copies of Microsoft Digital Literacy Curriculum and starts with basic computer functions before progressing to applications such as e-mail and word processing.
In Luxembourg, Caritas is helping refugees gain access to employment and education, and to integrate into their new environment. The ICT training is further reinforced by job search workshops which together form a key part of this support. The project has proved so successful it is being expanded to help long-term unemployed people in Luxembourg to re-enter the workforce.
John, a 28 year-old Nigerian, came to Luxembourg three years ago to seek asylum from the civil conflict at home. At Caritas, he studied language and IT courses. “I gained important skills that I would have been deprived of in my country of origin. We simply do not have these kinds of courses in my country – and if they exist they are usually too expensive.” As a result of his training, John was able to show his certificates during interviews and to obtain a job as a waiter using computerized systems.
In Austria, the focus of the partnership since 2004 has been to help women who are considered to be in difficult situations. They either live in Caritas housing facilities, or they are in severe financial straits and at risk of homelessness. Many are immigrants who also face a language barrier, cultural separation and have little formal education.
The Caritas Austria training is called the “Computer ABC Programme.” For the women Caritas serves, the ICT training represents the prestige of accomplishment. Those who wish to gain further qualifications can also prepare for the European Computer Driver’s License (ECDL), a certification for basic ICT literacy recognized by employers to help access Austria’s Labor Market. As one of the project coordinators explains, the training “provides a step out of the exclusion: exclusion from family, exclusion from society, and exclusion from learning.”
“I no longer have inhibitions about switching on a computer and looking for something on the internet,” adds Sonja Grafl, a 26-year-old single mother who took the training. “Thanks to the training course, I have a much broader range of options now for finding a job, and I don’t need to rely on help from others.”
In Germany, Microsoft is supporting a Caritas network of 50 training centers in the Cologne area to provide marginalized job seekers with the necessary e-skills to reintegrate in the workforce. Through this collaboration Caritas and Microsoft are working to improve IT training facilities and infrastructure, upgrade software and PCs, train the trainers and provide training curriculum for all the centers.
This initiative is part of the national IT Fitness initiative launched in 2006 by, Microsoft and a wide range of industry partners to bring IT skills training to four million people of all ages who are not being reached through traditional education.
As Professor Georg Cremer, Secretary General of Caritas Germany, emphasizes, “Education is the key to fight poverty and exclusion. In particular, this is true for children and youth. Within today’s IT-society we must promote IT-skills, because young people will have very little chances of employment, without proficiency in modern technologies.”
In Switzerland, Caritas is a partner in the “Joker Card” project, an e- skills training program benefiting the unemployed, youth and migrants. In addition to taking courses in ICT, participants are eligible for a refurbished computer loan made possible through a Microsoft Community refurbisher program, giving them access to equipment to accelerate their skills acquisition and search for employment.
Caritas assists recipients with PC-setup at home – an essential support service for those who are just learning about ICT. In a five year period, more than 300 computers have been provided to training participants and hundreds more have been trained.
“Our Europe-wide partnership with Caritas is a strong example of how a public-private partnership can promote digital inclusion and address the needs of those who do not have access to the benefits of technology,” says Sylvie Laffarge, Microsoft’s Director Community Affairs for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Caritas is helping us understand the needs of the populations they serve while we provide access to technology resources to help individuals rebuild their lives.”
About Caritas Europa
Created in 1971, Caritas Europa brings together 48 organizations that are active in 44 European countries. Part of a global confederation of 164 Catholic relief organisations, Caritas Europa focuses its activities on issues related to poverty and social inequality, migration and asylum within all countries of Europe, humanitarian assistance and international development.
About Microsoft Community Technology Skills Program
Microsoft Unlimited Potential-Community Technology Skills program is a global community-based effort to extend IT skills and economic opportunities for young people and adults. The program, created to expand social and economic opportunities, provides cash grants, software and a specialized curriculum to community technology centers in 102 countries.