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I have seen and met some truly inspiring individuals in my life as part of various jobs I have held throughout my career however the last two weeks were very special. Last week I had the privilege to meet some amazing individuals who are veterans and whose sacrifices have allowed us to live our lives in freedom. This week it was all about change-makers, individuals and organizations who take it upon themselves to bring about lasting and systemic changes around the world and help those that are in need.
The week started with the Global Washington Conference (more on that in a later post) which we at Microsoft were privileged to host. We heard from amazing individuals and organizations including two very young people that are making a difference by their sheer will and tenacity. But Monday started with an inspiring conversation with Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the State Department. Ambassador Verveer has devoted most of her life in pursuit of women’s empowerment and giving a voice to women, especially those that are the most in need, through her organization Vital Voices. On Wednesday and Thursday I was privileged to spend time with one of my personal heroes, Bill Drayton, who is the father of the ‘social entrepreneur’ movement and coined the term change-makers.
Last night was truly special. I attended the second Microsoft Alumni Foundation celebration in downtown Seattle (I had missed the opening gala last year). The theme of the celebration was “We Changed the World Once, Together we can Change it Again.” Over 450 alumni, friends and guests gathered to celebrate the achievements of their former colleagues that are continuing to make change, not as business leaders but by helping those most in need. This year five individuals were honored as finalists for making an impact on the lives of the poor and those most in need through their commitment, ingenuity and sheer will.
Bill and Melinda Gates spoke about their work, what inspires them to make change, and why they are optimists, but impatient optimist. They shared their mutual commitment to healthcare and reducing child mortality through vaccines and showed that since the 60s child mortality rates have fallen to half what they were in the 60s so investments in immunizations and vaccines do save lives and improve the wellbeing of the underserved. Melinda also spoke about maternal health and why investing in the mothers health was critical to the future health of the child and the entire family.
The highlight of the evening was being introduced to the five finalists for the Integral Fellows, an award that recognizes and supports a Microsoft alumnus who has made a meaningful difference in the daily lives of others by using his or her talents, time and resources to contribute to the world. The judges for this year’s awards were Tom Brokaw (NBC News), Bill Drayton (Ashoka), Judith Rodin (Rockefeller Foundation), Pierre Omidyar (eBay), Thomas Tierney (Bridgespan Group) and Bill Gates, Sr. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). The finalists were introduced by last year’s winner Trish Millines Dziko – founder, Technology Access Foundation. The finalists were Peter Bladin of the Grameeen Foundation and Grameen Technology Center for his work around technology and microfinance; Richard Gold, founder of Pongo Publishing, Inc. who focuses on incarcerated kids and using writing and poetry to build their self-esteem; Gary Malkasian, founder and president of the Foster Care Justice Alliance for his work on defending the right of foster kids and preventing deaths in the foster care system; Cliff Schmidt, founder of Literacy Bridge for his talking book that provides rural communities with vital knowledge they need to improve their lives; and Frank Schott of NetHope for his work with the largest humanitarian organizations to deploy appropriate IT solutions to support the work that they carry out every day in the developing world.
The three 2010 Integral Fellows winners are Richard Gold, Cliff Schmidt and Frank Schott. Videos of their work can be found here. At Microsoft we continue to be amazed by our employees and our alumni as they go out and give their time, talent and treasure to be change-makers and use their entrepreneurial and innovator spirit and bring that to bear on some of the most challenges problems in the world.