11/20/2012 12:26 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2013

Microsoft Empowers Children Worldwide, Inspires 1 Million Facebook Likes

How the "Shape the Future" Initiative is Changing Education

The digital divide has arguably never been greater: only 25 percent of the world's inhabitants were online as of 2011, and even the U.K., the world's 12th most technologically advanced nation, 16 million people lack basic digital skills. Throughout the world, it's getting more difficult to effectively participate in one's own government without being technologically adept.

At the same time, technology plays an increasingly important role in education. School children use iPads in the classroom, laptops are ubiquitous on college campuses, and small businesses can hardly run anymore without mobile apps.

Microsoft's Shape the Future program partners with governments, schools, nonprofits, and NGOs to bring affordable technology to low-income children, entrepreneurs, and senior citizens, so that they can fully participate in the digital economy. The goal is to provide people with the tools to improve their lives, which ultimately will improve the world economy.

In November, Shape the Future launched an initiative in the U.K. to provide students there with access to laptops through a partnership with RM Education and Intel. The computers come fully loaded with software, so that schoolchildren gain the technology skills that will help them to achieve their full potential.

"'Shape the future' is about economic development, leveraging information and communication technology ("ICT") for lifelong learning," according to Joice Fernandes, Worldwide Senior Director, Shape the Future, Microsoft Corp.

The "Shape the Future" Facebook page includes a tab called "Get On" to support young people getting jobs through ICT. Shape the Future goes beyond education.

"It's about lifelong learning and the role of technology in helping people to learn," explains Fernandes, founder and worldwide leader for the program. "We could be talking about kids in primary and secondary school or senior citizens at home. By helping people to become more proficient in learning. Microsoft and the entire ecosystem of partners can make a huge difference in any country."

Lifelong learning is the overarching goal of the program. By equipping students to fully participate in the digital economy, Shape the Future will improve their lifetime earning potential, thereby boosting the economic outlook of entire nations.

The message clearly resonates with people the worldover: the program has brought affordable technology to people in 56 countries to date. The Shape the Future Facebook page racked up more than 1,000,000 likes since it launched in May 2011. "People connect with the program because we share the same purpose," explains Fernandes, "empower children around the world to shape their future.

"Shape the Future goes beyond the students. It impacts the teachers, parents: the entire society will get connected. Children on remote islands can have access to world's leading educators."

Those interested in partnering with Microsoft as part of Shape the Future can connect with them on Facebook. Families can get their first affordable computer at Get Online at Home.

I would love to see other technology companies create similar programs. If competitors went head to head to see who could help the most schoolchildren, everyone would win.

In the meantime, the response to the worldwide Shape the Future partnerships has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Fernandes. "We want to help children shape the future. Everyone says YES."