OWWA and Microsoft to Provide Global Communication Services for OFW’s and their Families

FROM: http://www.microsoft.com/philippines/pressroom/0607_04.asp
Manila, Philippines – The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and Microsoft Corp. announce they are working together on Konek Ka D’yan 2 (Connect! 2), a pilot service that will soon allow Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to speak with their families utilizing some of the most cost-effective methods (WiFi and Mobile Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP) and to remit their earnings and digitally transfer them to their designated beneficiaries from a Windows Mobile 5.0 (WiFi/cellular enabled) device.

Hailed as the “new heroes of the Philippine economy” with their regular remittances to the country amounting to $10.7 billion in 2005 alone (or 10% of the Philippine annual gross domestic product), OFWs are sea- and land-based Filipino workers who struggle to maintain family connections while contributing to their economic well-being from around the world. Currently estimated at 8 million (15% of the working age population) and growing at a rate of 50,000 net new OFWs per month, these Filipinos can spend a significant portion of their earnings to stay in touch with family members while abroad, and are part of the reason that the Philippines is the text messaging capital of the world, sending an average of 200 million text messages a day, at a cost of around Php 0.90 per message.

“Some OFWs can spend as much as US$100 (Php 5,300) a month to simply stay connected,” said Marianito Roque, Administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. “This new service will significantly reduce those costs by utilizing available WiFi and VoIP services to turn an international call into a free or local call. For Filipino seamen, in particular, this is quite significant because many of their host ships are WiFi-enabled.”

Konek Ka D’yan 2 will provide global communication services to OFWs through low cost, long-term loans for purchase of Windows Mobile 5.0 (WiFi/Cellular enabled) phones to take with them and use in their country of employment. This is complementary to the Konek Ka D’yan! program launched in April by OWWA and Microsoft, wherein personal computers (PCs) with broadband service are being made available to OFW’s family homes through OWWA’s Family Assistance Loans (FAL). The first phase of this trial with OFWs is currently underway.

“We believe Konek Ka D’yan 2 will provide valuable support for our countrymen to strengthen their family ties through better communication and allow them more options for the management of their money,” said Antonio Javier Jr., Managing Director, Microsoft Philippines. The Konek Ka D’yan 2 pilot service will utilize Microsoft Office Live Communications Server (LCS) and a Microsoft Communicator-based User Interface (UI) through which OFWs can interact with their families via Instant Messaging, Presence (the ability to see the online availability and status of your contacts) and VoIP. Participating OFWs and their beneficiaries may be provided with debit bankcards and digital accounts powered by Microsoft Windows Live ID. The digital accounts are intended to allow OFWs to digitally transfer remitted funds directly to their designated recipients using either the Windows Mobile 5.0 phones or PCs, eliminating secondary remittance fees that are typically charged to send and receive funds today.

“Konek Ka D’yan shows how our software platform approach can bring revolutionary economics and intelligence to bear on communications, and make a real impact on people’s daily lives,” said Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Unified Communications Group. “This pilot is a powerful affirmation of our vision for unified communications.”

Stated Roque, “We are very, very pleased at how Microsoft – the first IT company to approach us with a vision of empowering OFWs through technology – continues to look out for better opportunities for OFW families to stay intact. Konek Ka D’yan 2 will definitely make a positive impact in the way our OFWs will be relating with their loved ones, it’s quite exciting how technology makes it all possible.”

Starting in 2004, OWWA and Microsoft have been working closely to enable OFWs maximize their full potential through technology. Tulay: An Unlimited Potential Program for Overseas Filipino Workers gives participants, mostly domestic helpers, access to both technology and technology training, in the hope that this will give them the skills to find better employment opportunities as well as help bridge the physical divide between them and their families in the Philippines.