11 November 2008

Omani women empowered through IT

1163 Omani women certified IT graduates in only 18 months

A silent transformation has been taking place here in Oman pioneered by women, run by women for women. The Women in Technology (WIT) program organised by the Omani Women’s Association - Muscat (OWAM) along with Microsoft and the Institute of International Education (IIE) has graduated 60 more women in IT this week, reaching a number of 1163 certified IT graduates with 33 trainers at 11 centers.

The WIT program for MENA region is funded by the US Department of State and managed by IIE through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The MEPI aims to promote economic reforms and the empowerment of women in the region. WIT program aims to train 10,000 women by 2010 and induct them into mainstream workforce.

The program delivers IT training through Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) curriculum along with Professional Development workshops to improve women’s standard of living and quality of life by building their knowledge and skills and to eliminate illiteracy in information technology (IT).

Quoting Mrs. Shkour Al Ghamari, Chair Person-OWAM, "We aspire to set up Community Technology Learning Centers in each of our 43 branch across the Sultanate and till date about 11 centers have been set up. The program's success so far can be attributed to the support and contributions of sponsors: Microsoft, IIE and MEPI. We expect the graduates to cherish this gift and move forward with higher levels of IT literacy".

Apart from the major partners, Omani private sector organisations such as Oman International Bank (OIB), National Bank of Oman (NBO) and OTE (Oman Trading Establishment) have made their generous contributions for the program.

The WIT program currently operates in centers at Muscat, Musanna, Sohar, Ibra, Ibri, Taqa, Salalah, Rustaq, Saham, Buraimi and Khaburah. The UP runs for 112 hours with Personality Development workshops for another 30 hours. The trainees benefit from a soft skills training program comprising of Communication, Leadership, Management, Decision making, Team building and Problem Solving skills.

"Microsoft's Unlimited Potential (UP) is designed to help narrow the technology skills gap and aid global workforce development by providing access and training opportunities for communities underserved by technology including women", explained Mr. Abdullah Lootah, Country Manager - Oman, Microsoft Corporation.

In line with their mission to support non-profit organisations, Microsoft has contributed 90 computers through their Microsoft Authorised Refurbishment program to OWAM specially to equip the project centers with the right hardware. They have also donated the required software packages and cash assistance. Till date 33 women are trained by Microsoft as certified 'Trainers' to run the program.

On speaking to Ms. Abeer Al Mukhaini, Program Manager-WIT and Ms Khadija Al Ali, IT Coordinator-WIT, they explained that the program specifically addressed women's IT literacy requirements at their convenient locations in a socially comfortable environment. Empowerment of women with technology helps them to enter IT workforce that was hitherto considered exclusive for men, they added. The WIT program gives preference to young unemployed graduates and members of low-income families. Deserving students are also awarded scholarships.

The UP curriculum — teaches basic computer skills, such as how to use Windows operating system, surf the Internet and work with Microsoft Office. It also teaches fundamentals of Web design and digital media, including audio, video, and photography.

As pointed by Mrs. Al Ghamari, 'Women cannot do without using technology because even their children use computers to communicate and get latest information from the Internet. This training bridges this generation gap and in our community, when we educate a girl, we educate her whole family'.

Ms. Maryam Al Zadjali is one of the scholarship trainees of the program and it was her moment of pride when she received her certification accompanied by her child. She considers that there can be no future for anyone without learning how to use computers, email and Internet.
Women interested in the program as trainees or trainers can approach their nearest Omani Women's Association center and apply. On successful acceptance they are allocated to one of the centers for training lasting about three months. All successful trainees are awarded graduation certificates.

"We are proud of the success of the WIT program here in Oman where they have managed to graduate 1163 trainees as of today within a short period of 1 1/2 years since March 2007", lauded Naushad Hamza, Country Marketing Executive, Microsoft Corporation - Oman.
UN's Millennium Goals to 'End Poverty', 'Achieve Gender Equality', 'Universal education' and 'Global partnership for development' can be achieved not only by formal organisations working towards these but also by community groups as shown by the success of the WIT-MENA program deployed in the Sultanate of Oman. With many more academic institutions willing to establish centers in their campuses and more and more students willing to help their community by becoming trainers, the butterfly-effect is sure create a silent transformation - one that is powered by empowered women creating the digital society of Oman.

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