After I finished speaking on stage at the Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley earlier this week, I found myself reflecting on both the number of innovative and passionate people dedicated to changing our world for the better and the role technology is playing to drive these changes within our global society. At Skype, we’ve always believed in the power of technology to bring the world closer together by enabling people everywhere to share experiences. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way Skype is playing a social transformation role in a number of areas – education, peace efforts and humanitarian aid. As the year comes to a close, let me share some highlights of the social innovations we’re currently involved with in these areas:
Our pinnacle achievement this year has been the expansion and continued growth of Skype in the classroom, our free and easy to use online resource that enables teachers around the world to connect their students with other students and guest speakers, and to create amazing learning experiences. Launched almost 18 months ago, Skype in the classroom now has more than 44,000 teachers registered – more than double where we were a year ago – and thousands of teacher-created lessons for classes to participate in. This resource is truly global, with a presence in more than 200 countries around the world and classroom lessons available in 66 languages. We estimate that this initiative has already impacted over 1 million students around the globe.
To make the learning made possible by this community even more effective, we’ve worked hard this year to forge relationships with key organizations to provide interesting Skype in the classroom projects that teachers could share with their students. To date, 13 notable organizations around the globe, including NASA’s Digital Learning Network™, The National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Victory, Education through Expedition and Penguin Group, have come on board to deliver more than 40 unique experiences or field trips that utilize Skype video calling.
The diversity of the projects that teachers are conducting through the Skype in the classroom community is extraordinary. They range from simple lessons in a foreign language and cultural exchange between classes in two different countries to video calls with a Yellowstone National Park Ranger giving students the opportunity to learn more about geology, ecology and cultural history or a NASA representative discussing the living and working environment of astronauts and the effect on the human body of a prolonged stay in space.
Skype in the classroom works because it removes the social, cultural and technological barriers to communications and allows teachers to connect their students with the world beyond the walls of the classroom. Think of it as “the ultimate field trip.” Through the shared learning made possible by Skype in the classroom, we believe that young people everywhere can receive a better education and gain a better understanding of our world and its most pressing issues.
Our greatest reward is hearing stories from teachers about how they are using Skype in their classrooms and the reactions they see from their students. Allison Holland, an eLearning coach at an intermediate school in Plymouth, Indiana recently told us: “Using Skype, the kids get really excited! When the call comes in and they can see people’s faces, everyone just yells…but after that, they always stay quiet in absolute wonderment. To get a full room of grade school kids completely silent and engaged…it’s incredible.”
Running parallel to our Skype in the classroom initiative is our long-standing collaboration with Peace One Day. As our head of Social Good Andy Schmidt recently said, “Skype has been a proud partner of Peace One Day, an organization devoted to saving lives by promoting worldwide peace, for over three years. Since first joining forces, our collaboration has evolved to focus on raising awareness of Peace Day, September 21st, an annual day of non-violence around the globe.”
Working together with Peace One Day founder Jeremy Gilley, Peace One Day created a free Global Education Resource for teachers featuring 15 interactive lesson plans which teach that peace, non-violence and anti-bullying are absolutely paramount. The resource is currently being used by classrooms in 193 countries. Skype recently showed our continued commitment to Peace One Day’s mission to world peace and understanding by announcing a $100,000 gift on #GivingTuesday (November 27, 2012) to help underwrite the expansion of Peace One Day’s Global Education Resource with the goal of eventually making it available to every classroom around the world.
In addition, Jeremy regular schedules Skype video calls with students in classrooms around the world with the goal of mobilizing a generation of young people in support of Peace Day. Already, he’s spoken with students in more than 50 countries, including Lesotho, Venezuela, China and Ukraine, among many others.
As I alluded to earlier, Skype’s mission has always been about enabling people to stay in touch with those they care about most – especially when they are apart. It is the unfortunate nature of conflict and natural disasters that they often cause the displacement and separation of loved ones. Whether trying to locate family members following an earthquake or staying in contact with friends during a hurricane, we take pride in helping people who are unable to help themselves keep in touch due to their dire situations.
It’s in this area where we first began our social good efforts about three years ago, when we forged a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to help them overcome one of the greatest staff welfare challenges they faced – how to keep their humanitarian aid workers connected with their loved ones that are often thousands of miles away. While we were happy to help, when we took a closer look at the situation, we realized that internet connectivity was a major issue in the hardship locations where their staff was deployed for months at a time. So we developed a low-bandwidth version of Skype that is now used in all UNHCR hardship locations. The feedback from aid workers who now get to stay much more closely connected to their loved ones – sometimes even seeing their children take their first steps – has just been overwhelmingly rewarding to us all at Skype.
Earlier this year, in April, we expanded our efforts in this area by becoming a technical partner of emergency.lu, a global public private partnership that is supported by the government of Luxembourg. Typically, in the first few hours after a large-scale disaster, communication is often a major problem. Emergency.lu was designed and developed to serve as a rapid response solution that would restore communications within hours – not days. This ensures that disaster relief and humanitarian aid organizations are able to coordinate their efforts to save lives and rescue those who may be in need of assistance. As part of this free global public good available to the international community, Skype helps emergency.lu bridge the communication gap during times of crisis.
With a new year just over the horizon, we remain committed to these efforts. We are strongly focused on enriching learning experiences around the world with Skype in the classroom, and we’ll continue our commitment to Peace One Day and Skype’s support of humanitarian efforts worldwide. We have always believed that communications brings people together and has the power to change the world. We’re seeing tremendous life-changing results in these three areas and are excited to see what’s next in the world of social innovation.