MSD, Microsoft bankroll quake-hit non-profits | A walk through the bombsite CBD (PHOTOS)

TOP RIGHT: The Christchurch CBD from the air as the two-year anniversary of the February 22, 2011 quake approaches (photo courtesy @VaughnDavis).

BOTTOM RIGHT: L-R - Microsoft NZ managing director Paul Muckleston, Project Lyttelton chairwoman Margaret Jefferies, Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Murray Edridge, Infoxchange Australia chief executive Peter Walton.

Scroll down for Christchurch CBD pics. 

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Microsoft and the Ministry of Social Development have teamed on an initiative to help 50 Christchurch non-profit groups get more tech savvy.

Many of the 50 non-government organisations (NGOs) were either badly hit by the quakes themselves, or are helping others to cope – or both.

Under the scheme an Australian charitable consultancy outfit called Infoxchange (slogan: "Technology for Social Justice") will visit each of the 50 non-profits for a free two-day consultancy to help them improve their technology and communications.

Microsoft is chipping in $60,000 toward the cost of the project and MSD $102,000.

So far 26 of the 50 places have been allocated, with the balance still up for grabs.

When NBR ONLINE tweeted from the announcement in Christchurch this morning, one open source advocate was quick to tweet back "The cynic in me says they'll be setting things up so the not-for-profits end up being tied into giving MS cash later".

NBR put the comment to Microsoft NZ managing director Paul Muckleston, who said his company's money went toward Infoxchange's two-day consultation. Infoxchange was independent and offered technology solutions from different companies.

Infoxchange's Melbourne-based chief executive Peter Walton – who was on hand for the launch – says his organisation will provide neutral advice, but also let NGOs know that Microsoft was offering discounted and free software under a separate initiative. 

Microsoft's profitable commercial business allowed it to help out cash-strapped non-profit community groups, Mr Muckleston says.

Public-private showcase
MSD deputy chief executive Murray Edridge told the audience, "the government is not known for partnerships, can be more effective if do things together and this process [with Microsoft] is part of that".

And although the sums discussed today are modest, they could help position NGOs for bigger things. Mr Edridge told NBR ONLINE the MSD has $31.65 million earmarked for community projects over the next four years.

Any initiatives that sprung from the 50 non-profits going through the Microsoft-MSD programme announced today would be eligible for a slice of that money.

IT second highet priority after quake
Information technology needs were identified by community groups last year as a high priority in the aftermath of the earthquakes – second only to office premises, Mr Edridge said.

Mr Muckleston drew a link Microsoft's philanthropic work workwide, and that carried out by its co-founder Bill Gates.

“The earthquakes caused a significant loss of ICT infrastructure and capability for a number of companies and not-for-profits within the region, dramatically affecting their ability to deliver critical social services,” he said.

Community sustainability is a key focus of Project Lyttelton, one of the groups involved in a pilot of the initiative last year. Other participating organisations include Family Help Trust, Christchurch Budget Service, Battered Women’s Trust, Sexual Abuse as Survivors Trust, Supergrans and Te Puna Oranga.

Project Lyttelton chairwoman Margaret Jefferies says the Infoxchange team gained a “real flavour” of the organisation. Project Lyttelton’s IT requirements include a database for a Timebank which trades skills in the community.

“They understood our needs and the not-for-profit environment we work in. Ensuring greater IT experience on the project board is one of the valuable recommendations that we have already implemented,” Ms Jefferies says.

At the launch of the initiative today, other NGOs were encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity for a free assessment and plan.

Organisations can apply online at: www.infoxchange.org.nz/apply-now. Applications are considered by an Advisory Group consisting of individuals from the Ministry of Social Development, Microsoft, Infoxchange, Parry Field Charitable Foundation and the University of Canterbury.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz


POSTSCRIPT: I had a little while before my flight back to Auckland, so had a walk around the CBD and took a few photos (click any to zoom).

The state of things is no news to Cantabrians, of course. I watched as locals walked through their CBD, which looks like post-apolcalpse movie set, as if it were normal - which I guess it is nearly two years after the largest quake.

In many places, there's simply nothing to photograph, with buildings turmed into temporary parking looks, but the destitution of other areas is quite takes you back (though only if you're a little short on quake experience; local software developer Layton Duncan told me via twitter: take a trip east of the central city. Avonside Drive, and River Road… CBD is in good shape compared to out there.")

Two years, on the focus seems to be still heavily on demolition over reconstruction. One day the CBD will be flooded with skilled workers. At lunchtime today, it was all demo crews kicking back.

There was also a fair smattering of European and Asian tourists (or at least I took them to be tourists from their garb and cameras). Perhaps it's become the thing to take a couple of disaster pics before you head off to Queenstown.

And I'm afraid the cardboard cathedral looks pretty marginal to me. I guess the engineers know what they're doing, but as a layman I do wonder what will happen to the giant cardboard tubes in the rain. Still, whatever gets you through.

Much of the CBD remains behind barriers, but you can walk or drive through the middle of the Red Zone down Gloucester St.

Some of the shut-off areas seem only midly damaged from outward appearance.

Others look destitute.

@vaughndavis

Lastly, here's a higher resolution version of Vaughn's pic from the top of the story  (click to enlarge).

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Agree with the cynic. This is like parachuting pallets of bottled water to villagers who just need a well.

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I don't think that's fair. Microsoft isn't shoving free software at the 50 NGOs; it's paying for a two-day consult from an independent, non-profit outfit that specialises in helping community groups get their IT act together. It's a good thing. Teaching the man to fish, so to speak.

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You may be right, Chris. But do you think it's possible (nay likely) that a particular vendor's solutions will be mentioned and featured in case studies? Also, as Martyn mentions further down the comments, the high profile outfit makes a big splash, grabs the headlines and the kudos, and meanwhile the well drillers are out in the villages being steadfastly ignored. (Obligatory disclaimer: I spend a lot of volunteer time advising nonprofits and community groups on IT solutions, so will cop to having an axe to grind.)

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The cynic with an opportunistic mind puts in a calendar entry for 1 March 2016, when these organisations have been through their first project and 2 years of licence billing.

50 NGO customers ripe for the taking, thanks for the lead list.

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What licensing? By the way, I don't see and company from FOSS community pumping $60,000 towards anything like this ...

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As usual, the high profile organisations get the press. The little guys who just get on with it get missed. (My organisation, Software Education, gave away more than $150,000 worth of technical training to our Christchurch-based software development customers in the months following the devastating quake).

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Good on you Martyn. I agree, the bigger the profile the more press you get, which leaves guys like you disadvantaged - not that you want to make a big thing of it, chances are you are just getting on and doing it. As an "affected party" at the family level from the CHC quake, I applaud you for your efforts.

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It's good to see these guys patting themselves on the back. I agree with Martyn that most of the really useful support was given - without any expectation of recognition, fanfare, or marketing bonanza a long time ago by individuals and small companies in Christchurch and around NZ.

If any of this donation is handled by "TechSoup" then the result will almost certainly be foisting Microsoft software upon poor non-profits many of whom simply don't realise that there are better, lower cost (to operate) options available. Not entirely unlike giving poor starving farmers in India free patented Monsanto genetically engineered (to self-destruct after one generation) seeds and expecting their gratitude.

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Microsoft ($60K) and MSD ($102K) have made a cash donation to fund a consultation by Infoexchange, whose CEO told NBR he was independent and would recommend technology from whichever provider suited a non-profit.

Microsoft's Muckleston did also name-check TechSoup, but that's a separate initiative.

If anyone wants to praise the unsung tech heroes of the Chch recovery, go for your life in Comments below.

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Most of the real heroes in Chch will never be known, because they didn't leave any evidence of their kindness except perhaps quietly appreciative people who, as a result, could do what they wanted or needed to do.

In some cases, even those who were helped aren't aware of what was done on their behalf or by whom - they just experienced fewer hardships than they might otherwise have done. The only people who know they did good are those who did it, and that should be thanks enough. By my reckoning, that's real generosity.

That said, when I find out about any specific acts, I'll be sure to let you know.

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