Tuminez points to the Seeing AI app, which is designed for the blind and low vision community. The app uses artificial intelligence and the phone’s camera to perform a number of useful functions including the reading of documents, identifying products at the supermarket, and recognizing people based on their faces.
“This technology gives the visually impaired hope, allowing them to work as professionals, or just to function in everyday life”, she adds.
The M-Powered platform, active in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, is another instance of technology being leveraged to empower the disabled and other marginalized groups. Through a partnership between the public and private sector, the M-Powered portal helps users pick up skills relevant to the digital economy and, eventually, qualify for jobs. Besides a range of e-learning modules, users will also get access to online and in-person mentoring and job listings. In Malaysia, where the government has a declared policy to have at least 1% of civil service jobs go to People with Disability (PWD), the M-Powered portal will help prepare a pool of potentially qualified workers that can fill the government’s need.
Microsoft has partnered with Genashtim, an online tech support business and a Certified B Corporation, to design, build and launch most of the M-Powered portals. Interestingly, 90% of Genashtim’s employees are disabled, including those who are blind, deaf or wheel-chair bound. They are part of its growing workforce. The brainchild of Thomas Ng, Genashtim proves that PWD, through their own strength, talent and persistence, can be successful professionals living full lives and contributing to their families and countries.
The LV Prasad Eye Institute in India is another example of technology, especially the cloud, being used for public good. The institute has treated over 20 million patients with cataracts, which is a leading cause of blindness. It uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform to both store and analyze data to drive clinical interventions for pre-emptive care. Through the digitization of medical records, information such as socio-economic data can be used to pinpoint the required procedures more effectively and improve patient outcomes.
The 4th Industrial Revolution has also cast a spotlight on technology’s role in the push for gender equality. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, the impact of the digital economy is likely to be disproportionately negative for women. Knowing this, Tuminez is passionate about ensuring women having equal access to opportunities.
“There is often a misconception that technology and careers related to science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are only for men and mainly involve engineering work. But this isn’t true,” Tuminez explains.
One of the first steps is to expose young girls and women to coding, and inspire them to pursue STEM education so that they develop confidence and interest in these subjects. They will then be more likely to pursue, or consider, a career in the science and tech industries, she believes. In Myanmar, for example, Microsoft works with the Myanmar Book Aid and Library Preservation Foundation to train young women, aged 16-20 and affiliated with libraries throughout the country, in digital literacy and technology. In Cambodia, Microsoft supports Passerelles Numeriques, which trains young women and men for two years in technology, English and values. When they graduate, they have a 100% employment rate.
Technology has the power not only to transform lives, but also give hope and even protect vulnerable populations.
In China, it is being used to help parents find their missing children, of which there are tens of thousands in the country. “We had a recent case, where a father nearly four years ago lost his then 14-year-old son, who had Down syndrome and was unable to speak. They were in a restaurant, the father went to use the bathroom, and, when he returned, his son had disappeared,” shares Tuminez.
It was an agonizing search for the father, who eventually turned to Baby Come Home, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to finding missing children. The NPO worked with Microsoft, which had developed an application called Photo Missing Children, or PhotoMC – powered by its publicly available facial recognition technology.
Baby Come Home used a photo the father provided to scan a government database of 13,000 images of children living in shelters across the country. Within seconds, a list of 20 possible matches were found, leading eventually to the happy reunion of father and son.
Tuminez believes there is a role for everyone to play in democratizing technology so that all communities can access its benefits and opportunities.
“Businesses, governments and non-profit organizations must come together with a shared vision, relentless passion, and pragmatic thinking to help improve the human condition. Only then will it be possible to drive more inclusive and truly shared growth in Asia,” Tuminez says.