It appears that we now live in a world where every day is named after some issue or the other - today is no different, it is International Corporate Philanthropy Day, so I thought it was a good reason to provide some reflection on the issue. 

Over the past year there has been a revival of the discussion whether companies especially public companies invest shareholder resources towards a public good or should they leave philanthropy as personal expression of the shareholder.  This will continue to be an ongoing debate and my intention here is not to reignite an issue but to simply provide my perspective as someone who leads a corporate philanthropic effort and explain why we believe this is important. Corporate philanthropy is an opportunity to bring together our resources - time (people), talent (know how), and treasure (cash and products) and - to address some of the problems facing society today. Let's look at how this approach works at Microsoft.

Time - We have thousands of employees who want to give back either to their local communities or to issues they care deeply about.  Our employees have been volunteering since the inception of the company on their own time but in order to more effectively support and track our employees volunteering efforts in the United States we launched our "dollars for doers" program in 2005. Every year we have seen an increased number of our employees volunteering with a total of 1.3 Million hours volunteered to date.  Microsoft's "dollars for doers" program matches our employee's time with a $17 per hour's cash donation to that nonprofit creating an incentive mechanism for both the employee and the organization where they volunteer.   In 2010 alone we matched over $6 million to non-profits as unrestricted cash donations.   

Talent - Another essential element of corporate philanthropy is understanding how we can match the know-how that resides within the company and our employees with nonprofits around the world.  For example, two Microsoft software developers recently returned from Uganda where they developed a technology platform to help Grameen Foundation scale its initiative to use mobile applications to reach 200,000 smallholder farmers with valuable agriculture information and create technology-related businesses for more than 4,000 agriculture agents.  There are hundreds of such examples where we have been able to use our internal talent to develop specific and effective tools for nonprofits to use. James Duffus who works with one of our product groups has been installing a new product which he manages - Windows Multipoint Server - in the Boys and Girls Club of America to update the Club Tech centers that Microsoft has established over the last decade with new technology.  He is actively learning from how the kids in these clubs are using this technology so that he can continue to evolve a product that will make a substantial impact in the education space.

Treasure -- Corporate financial donations are critical for our nonprofit partnerships.  At Microsoft as part of our Unlimited Potential program we are focused on workforce development and since 2003 we have invested in over 1,500 nonprofit partners to help them establish over 70,000 Community Technology Centers this has led to young people, women, the disabled and the elderly gain access to technology skills to date we have reached over 170 million people in over 110 countries through this effort. This means that in Europe immigrant women are gaining technology skills so that they can participate in the workforce, in the US since 2009 our Elevate America program has reached over 900,000 people through online training vouchers and certification vouchers.  Kelly Edwards lost her job in New York in 2009, as a 50 year old without a college education finding a job was very difficult.  Dwayne Moorehead felt similar distress when he left the U.S. military service and faced the challenge of transitioning to a civilian job.   Like millions of other Americans who have found themselves unemployed in recent years, Edwards and Moorehead discovered that they did not have the kinds of technology skills that many employers demand.  Today both are employed again after receiving technology skills training-along with thousands of other Americans -through Elevate America.  In Africa and Asia, women and youth are receiving training to either start their own small businesses selling goods over the Internet or providing training to others.  I could go on with these examples however what is important here to note that these programs are locally relevant in the communities in which they operate and our role as a corporate funder is to identify the right partner and let them execute.

As we mark International Corporate Philanthropy Day it is important that we recognize that as companies we are part of the fabric of society.  We can play a positive role in contributing to the overall development of our communities if we can harness the power of time, talent and treasure in a way that it can make a leveraged impact.

*This post has been cross posted to the BCLC Blog.

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