The women of Taiwan remind me of the magic of technology

I had many truly wonderful experiences in Taiwan, the team there; Hope Ong and Angela Yao; have done an amazing job pioneering the Women Unlimited Potential (UP) program. They have chosen to focus their work on women, an underserved community in Taiwan in terms of training and access to technology. Over the years the program has grown however the success of the initial grants is evident with many centres continuing to use the UP Curriculum and offering courses after the initial Microsoft Grant had finished. This is in part thanks to our dedicated partner Electronic Commerce Business Association (ECBA) and also to the Taiwanese Government that has stepped in after seeing the success of the program with additional funding and support.

On this trip my site visits were in Taiching city. A city famed for its night market, sensational food and a Taiwanese special called stinky tofu (yes for the record I tried it and yes for the record the smell is worse than even I could have imagined). In Taiching I met with members from Taiwan *** Cancer Association (TBCA).  This centre is one of the mobile class rooms with classes held in a multi-function community center for women and senior activities. The mobile nature of the training means the reach can be much greater as the trainers and computers move from city to city throughout the week.

These brave and enthusiastic ladies shared how learning to use computers was opening up their world connecting them with fellow survivors from around the world and empowering them to learn more themselves. They valued the time with each other and many saw this not only as a way to network but also to allow them to improve their job prospects when they returned to work. There was one lady in particular who was still undergoing chemotherapy yet made the 50 minute drive on her motorcycle once per week to come to the class. To her, learning to use this technology gave her hope and she was determined to make each and every class.

My other stop in Taiching was the Tai Chung Women’s Prison. I found out as I arrived that our local team had gone to a huge amount of effort to make this visit possible. I was to be the first foreign woman allowed inside and it had required sign off from many levels within the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). I was honored and humbled merely at being given the opportunity however nothing prepared me for the impact of meeting face-to-face the female prison trainees.

They told me of their happiness, inspirations and appreciation of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential (UP) program and the hard work of our hardware partner ASUS to bring this opportunity to them. I heard some amazing stories about what they had experienced in their lives and how they truly believed these skills would assist them on release. Many were keen to start their own online stores and all that I spoke to really believed that IT skills were going to give them an advantage when they were released.

This training facility is a pioneer project for Microsoft, conducted in collaboration with three government legal control institutions (under the Ministry of Justice ). The aim of these UP classes is offer soon to be released women with the IT skills and e-commerce training to assist them to be able to support themselves after getting out of jail. The course is only offered to a limited number of students at this stage and is often oversubscribed.

Tai Chung Women’s Prison is an institution that focuses on how to set up the women for success. Launching this course required a lot of dedication, firstly they wanted to be able to simulate the way technology works out side of the prison, search engines, auctions site, social networking, however for security reasons there is no internal access available to the women. The team worked to customize the curriculum for the women and to make it not only relevant but also inspiring and they even went to the effort of creating a mini internet experience for the women to improve their learning and give them a greater understanding of how all these tools now work.

These women have left a lasting impression on me. They value what we often take for granted and had a passion and fire for life that technology was igniting in them. I have looked back over the photos I have taken many times and they do not cease to bring a smile to my face – so to the women of Taiwan THANK YOU!