Michelle Simmons, Microsoft Corporation's general manager of South East Asia-New Markets, was recently in Nepal to participate in Nepal Investment Summit 2017. She was a panelist in the plenary session on 'International Experience Sharing'. The global technology giant is present in Nepal for nearly 10 years through a partnership with Microsoft Innovation Center Nepal. In the immediate aftermath of 2016 earthquakes, Microsoft Corporation came to Nepal to provide technological helps to the government in earthquake recovery efforts. Sagar Ghimire of Republica met Simmons on the sideline of the summit to discuss about her observation and experience as well as the future plan of Microsoft Corporation in Nepal. Excerpts:
Could you please tell us what Microsoft has been doing in Nepal?
Microsoft has been doing business in Nepal for more than a decade. We work through with Microsoft Innovation Center, working with government and commercial customers, looking to see how we can actually help businesses to leverage technology in order to make Nepal more competitive in the global scale.
How has been the experiences working here in Nepal?
Over the last 10 years, we have been working closely to help youths in using technology.
Nepal has a fantastic asset in the form of youths. We have looked to see how we can enable youths whether through skills training or working through Innovation Center on helping them learn how to develop code, software and applications all of that to build a strong ICT ecosystem for Nepal. That is one of our big focuses for our 70 partners in Nepal. We are looking for our partners and others to build on top of our platform to help Nepal have a very rich ICT ecosystem. And, we see opportunity now with interest on bringing more investment. As industries grow in Nepal, there is a bigger role for technology.
You have been leading Microsoft Corporation for nine countries including Nepal. How do you compare Nepal with other eight countries in terms of ICT development?
There is some common theme across most of these countries. One is, focus on skill development from an ICT perspective. Every country is looking for how to enrich skill-based workforce. That's because of the rapid change happening in types of jobs that is being developed. It's changing over the next 10-20 years and technology is playing a role in so many industries. So, building skills by engaging with youths for employment is a very big challenge across all of Asia. By building skills, we help them also to how you address the unemployment. Then, education is a common theme as well. For Nepal, as I mentioned already, youth [population] is an asset because that's the future which should be tapped into for enhancing national competitiveness.
Microsoft is helping youth develop ICT skills and develop codes to leverage technology for business. Has that really helped entrepreneurship?
We are very much involved in programs that help youths in coding. Across the region, we have been looking on ways to help young people learn coding. Through Innovation Center, we have got good programs where people are learning and working on applications. They helped to develop some of the applications in response to the earthquake. One of the things that Microsoft did after earthquakes in Nepal was to bring our disaster response team in helping the government to address the challenges. We also had youths organized themselves and do a couple of things. One was getting mobile phones in front of individuals after earthquake who wanted to call their relatives outside the country. We have given free use of Skype. Youth, through the Innovation Center, worked with UNDP on debris management application. Microsoft has been helping on building phone applications to address the issues like that as well.
You met with government officials including the Minister for Industry. What has been the issue of discussions?
We talked about the Nepal Investment Summit and our participation in the summit, and about the works done by the government to attract investments in Nepal. The minister talked about the works that the government has been doing for entry, operation and exit of foreign investors. We discussed how Microsoft and our technology can enable businesses and industries to be more competitive and enable the economy of Nepal. We also touched on the topic of youths.
As ICT industry is still in a nascent stage in Nepal, Do you see a scope of business growth in this sector?
One of the things with cloud technology is that it allows governments and businesses in countries like Nepal, which doesn't have a large ICT infrastructure, to leapfrog and to jump ahead. That's where I am very optimistic for Nepal because the constraint of the past of investing a lot of money in ICT infrastructure is no longer there. You can leverage the cloud to actually get all of the value that today's technology has to offer. There are some simple things that can be first addressed like digitization. You are moving from paper-based to digitization system. We were discussing about digital signatures. Those are all good signs around leveraging the cloud to address infrastructure. You have been creating friendly-policy that encourages the use of technology, whether this is about intellectual property rights, the use of clouds, and privacy, among others.
You are here to participate in the investment summit. Any plan of scaling up operation in Nepal?
One of the things discussed in the investment summit is different type of investments.
One of the areas that we felt we can contribute very strongly is around human capital. We feel that by helping in skills development we can help Nepal to improve economy and attract investment. Companies do not want to come to a country if the process is too slow or if they are all paper-based. They won't be able to use the same technology that they are using from the country that they are coming. By investing in skill development, we think that's the way we can empower not just only the ICT industry, but other industries as well. As more investment comes into the country, we can enable that and we can grow together.
What are the challenges that you see in Nepal for ICT in general and for Microsoft in particular?
In general, from ICT perspective, one of the areas of policy would be enforcement of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property right is not just about bringing Microsoft, it's about developing a local ICT ecosystem. Developers must be aware that the applications they are developing are protected. Without that, they cannot grow their business here. The second would be around cloud policy for defining, using and encouraging cloud adoption in Nepal. Another important area to address is security in order to enable good investment and growth in Nepal. Asia actually has a very high risk.
We recently did our security intelligence report which we produce twice a year. Four of the five most at risk are the countries coming from Asia, and Nepal is in the fifth position.
And, that is due to number of PCs at risk from security perspective. That's the area with proper ICT adoption, adoption of software and solutions to address in order to have a thriving economy.