Microsoft and UNESCO – Improving the education of ‘Starfish’ Girls and Women

Microsoft has entered a new partnership with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This initiative is aimed at improving the education of girls and women worldwide. The program has two main aims: firstly, the improvement of female adult literacy, and secondly, the improvement of secondary education for girls.

I do think that education, starting with literacy, should be improved for everyone regardless of sex. However, the figures for girls are particularly alarming, and I can understand the focus on females. The Microsoft article rightly says that two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate adults are women. In addition, in many parts of the world, illiteracy rates for women are well over 50 per cent, according to the CIA World Fact Book. As part of the initiative, mobile technology will be used in order to allow girls access to the education that is the right of everyone.

The focus on the Microsoft-UNESCO articles is on the need for improvement in female education. The word ‘Education’ itself is from the Latin ‘ducere’, which means ‘to lead’. By prefixing the ‘e’, it becomes ‘to lead out’. For me, education is really about showing people the way to a better life, and giving people opportunities to have better lives. Although this new initative is focused on girls’ education, I see it in a wider context of improving the lives of girls and women who need it most.

What the articles don’t tell you:


·        women in South Africa are more likely to be raped than learn to read, as reported in the Guardian newspaper last year.
·        70 million girls a year are deprived of a basic education (‘Equals’ video starring Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig)
·        a staggering 60 million girls a year are sexually assaulted on their way to school (‘Equals’ video starring Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig)

The sheer scale of the issue may seem insurmountable. It reminds me of the ‘Star Thrower’ story; there are variations of this story, and here’s my personal favourite. A man and a boy are walking along a beach, and they find many starfish stranded on the beach. The old man throws the starfish back into the sea. The boy comments that there are so many stranded, that they all can’t be put back into the sea, so why bother? The old man picks up another starfish, throws it back into the sea, and comments that ‘we made a difference for that one’.

I’m hoping that the Microsoft-UNESCO initiative will go some way to helping some girls’ and women’s lives by at least allowing them the ability to read. This means so much; they can start to get the help that they need, to get an education, and to even dare to hope and build for a way out, if that’s what’s right for them as individuals. Providing girls with an education means that they can have more opportunities to be ‘led out’. The mobile technology is particularly good, in my opinion, because it takes the technology to where the girls are.

If we can make a difference for even some girls and women, then we’ve got to at least try. So, for me, the Microsoft-UNESCO partnership is worthwhile and I look forward to seeing how it develops. We may never know the names of the ‘Starfish’ that we help, but we’ve got to try.

Collective Intelligence in the SQL Community

How does Collective Intelligence manifest itself in the SQL Server community? In case you are wondering, Collective intelligence is intelligence that emerges from the group, and shows itself in the collaboration and competition of many individuals. The way I look at it, this can be easily translated to the SQL Community which is a lively ecosystem, where the collaboration of many clever people accelerates the flow of knowledge and information for the good of everyone. If you’re interested in collective intelligence and new ways of thinking about this intelligence in an egoless environment, then I’d suggest that you take a look at Ledface.

In particular, the Ledface article on ‘Knowledge is not mine, not yours. Only the arrangement is ours’   is interesting, because we can see these concepts manifested in the SQL Server community. For me, Ledface make a very subtle point about helpers seeing an improvement in the overall domain in which they care about. I think that’s true in the SQL Community: I can see the passion where people really care about the next level for SQL Server, and pushing it forward for the benefit of SQL Server, its users, and the people who look after it. It’s about making it better for everyone else, as well as for individuals.

In order for this to work in a social environment, however, there needs to be minimal organisation with little or no rules. For example, if you use the Twitter hashtags incorrectly, then the community may sanction you by voicing this directly in a robust 140 character riposte, or by simply unfollowing you. If you’re really unlucky, you’d be blocked! For this to work, then I think that there is something in swarm intelligence to the SQL community; we organise ourselves, we help ourselves, and we sanction ourselves. The community is decentralised since we work all over the globe, which means that help is available 24 x 7 in a ‘follow the sun’ methodology.

In the SQL Community, we see examples of this helpfulness in many different ways.  For example, a newbie SQL novice contacted me recently to ask for links to T-SQL forums on the Internet, where they could post up some T-SQL questions. Here is a quick list of some useful resources:

SQL Server Central
In case you haven’t explored this site, it also has a dedicated scripts section which is a good place to look for scripts

Microsoft forums – This is a dedicated T-SQL forum, which is always useful

– I use Twitter in order to answer questions sometimes. I like doing this, because it means you are helping someone in ‘real time’ at the point at which they need it. The Twitter hashtag is #SQLHelp and if you need to know the very informal rules around asking these questions, a useful resource by Brent Ozar is here.  Although the help is ‘real time’, Jamie Thomson looked at this issue in his blog and I’d suggest you take a look.

Brent Ozar rightly points out that, as a courtesy, it’s nice to thank the Twitterati who have helped you via the #SQLHelp hashtag. I’d extend that courtesy out to the people on SSC and the Microsoft forums.

In my opinion, the SQL Community is stellar, partly because of our collective intelligence, but the ‘helping hand’ that we extend to one another. Long may it continue. I look forward to your comments.