DAVOS, Switzerland -- Microsoft chairman Bill Gates announced a partnership Friday with the United Nations to bring computer technology and literacy to developing countries. Drawing on a $1 billion Microsoft fund, the U.S. software giant will work with the U.N. Development Program to provide software, computer training and cash to establish computer centers in poor communities, starting with pilot projects in Egypt, Mozambique and Morocco. At a news conference at the World Economic Forum, Gates said the centers would not have to use only Microsoft products.
Egypt's minister of communication and information technology, Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif, welcomed the help, noting that about 500 to 600 centers have already been set up in Egypt.
"The problem is, it's not just the computers and the phone lines that you need," he said. "It's what's behind that."
Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. program, said he hoped the investment would provide poor communities access to information and services and "shortcuts to bypass corrupt governments."
He said he also hoped Microsoft and other big information technology companies would learn to treat the developing world as "real markets," partnering with local companies to develop "innovative products and services that are affordable ... for so-called bottom of the pyramid consumers."
Microsoft and UNDP already have collaborated on a project to provide computer access and training at 16 regional centers in Afghanistan. They hope to train some 12,000 Afghans every year.
The new program is part of Microsoft Unlimited Potential, launched last year to provide $1 billion in cash, software, training and assistance over the next five years.
Since May, the company has already made grants of cash and software totaling nearly $50 million to 45 countries.
Gates said he hoped to "ramp it up" to $200 million a year through the new partnership.