Youth & Opportunity
Engineering , Math
Photo credit/copyright: Kenna Klostermann
I had the opportunity to participate earlier this month in the second annual Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference, held here in Seattle. The conference brings together grantmakers and philanthropists in the greater Pacific Northwest who are active in or curious to understand more about global philanthropy. Microsoft sponsored the event this year and I had the opportunity to work with other members of the organizing committee in putting the conference agenda together.
A number of themes emerged from the content, sessions, and discussions at the conference:
1. Technology is hugely important to small foundations and individual philanthropists, but all too often remains inaccessible or confusing to them. Especially for individuals at small family foundations. There is room for us to improve the reach and efficiency of their work by providing better guidance and more formal opportunities for them to learn about existing tools and technologies and how to use them. Organizations like TechSoup and NPower can play a critical role in helping small organization of all types use technology more effectively to achieve their missions. Volunteers can also be an extremely valuable asset, as volunteers can bring in outside expertise and guidance that may otherwise be out of reach.
2. Reaching and influencing young people, though sometimes daunting, is critical to effecting long-term change in any area. It is a cliché, but the young women and young men of today are the leaders of communities and organizations tomorrow. Reaching them must be done in a way that is genuine and sincere; as organizations connect effectively with youth, and allow them to explore and contribute, while also informing and providing opportunities for learning and growth, they are building the foundation of long-term societal impact and change. Similarly, if youth are not engaged and allowed to explore opportunities there can be long-term adverse consequences. There was a great session at the conference focused on engaging with young people and it was breathtaking to see some of the projects that youth have overseen and administered to improve their lives and circumstances as well as those for others within their spheres of influence. Digital Democracy, whose mission is to empower marginalized communities to use technology to build their futures, is an example of a group of young people educating other activists and advocates about the power and pitfalls of information technology in spreading and amplifying democratic voices around the world.
3. Finally, I was reminded of how dramatic an impact even a single individual can have on the world around them. Conference attendees heard from Idaho Philanthropist Greg Carr, whose organization, the Carr Foundation, has partnered with the people and government of Mozambique to restore the Gorongosa National Park, which had been decimated following years of civil war in that country. National Geographic has produced an award-winning documentary about the park, a trailer of which can be viewed here. Mr. Carr was not an expert on ecology or conservation or even Mozambique, but recognized a pressing need and knew that he could make a difference. Seven years later, the park, its surrounding ecosystems, and the people who live in and around it, are seeing some of the early and important fruits of those labors.
Climate change also occupied some of the focus of the conference, as Kristi Heim wrote about in the Seattle Times.
It was a unique and interesting conference in addition to Microsoft, participants also heard from the Starbucks Foundation, Trilogy International Partners and the Grameen Foundation Technology Center about the work they do to further social causes around the world.
I'm writing this blog post from a coffee shop in downtown Minneapolis. I'm here this week attending the Boston College Conference on Corporate Citizenship.
As some of you may recall, Minneapolis is the setting for the Mary Tyler Moore show. When I think of the lyrics to the show's theme song it actually resonates with the topics I've heard from many of the conference attendees.
While there are people here from a diverse set of industries, from pharmaceuticals to oil, retail, entertainment, technology and financial, we all have similar challenges and opportunities in our work. I even spent some time chatting with a gentleman from the Hugh Hefner Foundation. Ironically, he probably had the easiest to remember charter of anyone I encountered when he said, "their focus is on First Amendment rights."
Everyone wants to improve their storytelling. The book, "Made to Stick" was mentioned several times as a great inspiration for concise and compelling communications.
I can't think of anyone who spoke and did not have a success story coupled with a cautionary tale around cause marketing initiatives. The best example I heard in the 'success' column was by TELUS out of Canada. The campaign provided an app to TELUS Blackberry customers allowing them to turn their social media profile pictures pink in support of helping Canadian health organizations purchase mammogram machines. They blew through their monetary commitment to the cause in one day. So, they immediately raised their contribution and then hit that ceiling two days later. Their success was impressive and I appreciated that they were open enough to be honest that they won't engage in one-for-one matching in the future. They plan to use a range from now on. Two of TELUS' theories on why the campaign caught like wildfire were a low barrier to entry and giving the customer something tangible to help achieve a goal (the purchase of medical equipment). Here's an overview of their campaign.
Since we are in Minneapolis, we heard from Brian J. Dunn, the CEO of Best Buy, as well as several of their sustainability focused employees. I was impressed with the work they are doing across their entire company. Their new e-waste take back program sounds very practical and they want to be a leader on this topic instead of waiting until legislation tells them to do something. The team admitted that they were not sure how their e-waste program would be received, but it soon turned into a no-cost marketing program. Their commitment to their values and allowing their 180k strong workforce to be ambassadors on social media is a bold step and fits with their customer demographic
Brian talked about his own use of social media and he has a blog with a powerful video of Best Buy's new Shepherdsville Distribution Center and their commitment to people with disabilities. I have never seen a company of this size make such a strong stand to focus on their employee's strengths.
When it came to large global organizations, I was struck by how similar everyone's corporate socially responsible programs are setup and administered. From my own team at Microsoft, Boeing, and all the way to Abbott, the need to embed your Corporate Citizenship values and practices throughout your business is key to its success and sustainability. Anne Roosevelt (Vice President, Community and Education Relations) of Boeing talked about working across many countries and she said you need to have, "a country strategy and not a product strategy." This message resonated with a lot of people.
Jan Fields of McDonald's USA talked about their programs and challenges around sourcing in an ethical manner but what really stood out to the crowd was their plan to have a broad "Hiring Day" this month. They are looking to add 50,000 people to their workforce on April 19th. That is a staggering number and Jan shared some passionate videos of employees talking about how their "McJob" has really turned into a career.
This is my first time attending this conference and I have thoroughly enjoyed the connections and conversations I've had over the past few days. It seems that the people working on socially responsible business practices see the highs and lows of their companies at any point in time. So, just like the theme song, "We are gonna make it after all."
Earlier this week I decided to skip the usual lunch routine to check out the innovative ideas of some of the nation's brightest students who are looking to change the world at the U.S. finals of the 2011 Imagine Cup which took place this year on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.
Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research listens to a pitch from Drexel's smart and energetic Zack Howitt.
Microsoft established the Imagine Cup competition nine years ago with the belief that students can and will change the world. The Imagine Cup begins with local, regional, and online contests in over 100 countries and regions with the finalists going on to attend the worldwide finals. The competition challenges students to use technology to address the United Nationals Millennium Development Goals.
I wasn't the only person who made the decision to examine the next generation of technology leaders; amongst the gigantic crowd, house music, and digital display frenzy, I saw many familiar faces from the Microsoft digital world such as Alfred Thompson, Scott Lum, and Matt Bernardy. Those in attendance listened to pitches from 22 different teams focusing on a number of areas from software development to game design. The teams tackled a range of global issues with incredible ingenuity such as disease diagnosis through mobile devices, supply chain management and the deployment of resources during disaster response, fighting pollution, alternative energy solutions and more.
Jason Wakizaka (pictured above) of the LifeLense teamkindly took some time to talk to us about their application for Windows Phone 7 that can diagnose malaria and track cases using bing maps.
The LifeLens idea took second place award at the US Imagine Cup Finals, so a big congratulations to Jason and the team!!
Team Note-Taker (pictured below) from Arizona State University won the Software Design competition and will represent the U.S. at the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals in New York City this summer. The team, made up of Michael Astrauskas, David Hayden, Shashank Srinivas and Qian Yan, designed an assistive technology to help vision-impaired students take notes in class. In victory, Hayden remarked, "Technology empowers the individual to make the world accessible according to their own needs. Our work demonstrates this by equipping low-vision students with a portable assistive technology that enables them to take their own notes - a process that is well known to benefit retention."
At the awards ceremony, principal researcher from Microsoft Research, Bill Buxton, shared a number of ingenious insights with the students and his closing comments reiterated what I had been thinking all day: "You students have taken far more steps to change the world through innovation, than I had at your age."
You can find details on all of the winners and see who will represent the United States in New York this summer, on the Imagine Cup Blog: Microsoft Names U.S. Imagine Cup Winners.
I had a pleasure of moderating a discussion with Arunas A. Chesonis, the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of PAETEC, founded in 1998. I wanted to understand from him why he-as a CEO and business leader-invests in his community in the city of Rochester, New York, and why he has developed a culture of investing back into the community at PAETEC.
Arunas, an MIT graduate and an entrepreneur, is a visionary who thinks outside of the box regarding how to build a business and how to build a community around him. He told the audience at the BCLC Corporate Community Investment 2011 conference in Philadelphia that one of his company's four guiding principles is "caring culture," a concept in PAETEC's objectives and a metric for performance evaluation.
"If you have two managers and both are very good, but one is involved in the community," Chesonis said, "he'll drive more business and will build more relationships within the company, outside the company, and with clients. That's the manager who will get the promotion. People like that get to move up in the organization because they're the ones who do business better."
Community involvement at the individual employee level, he said, not only helps managers excel-their success helps to grow the business.
In our talk, he explained that PAETEC also uses the same criteria when considering procurement bids from his partners-with price being more or less equal, PAETEC wants to know how engaged potential business partners are in investing back in the community. He wants to know how you're investing in communities, how you're giving back, how you're making the country do better.
For Arunas, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a strategic weapon-an interesting choice of words-and he said that if you're not doing CSR, if you're not engaged in CSR, then you're not going to be as successful, you're not going to optimize your stock price, you're not going to optimize your performance, and you're not truly, fully engaged with all your team members. In short, it's better business to be engaged in CSR.
So how does Chesonis make sure engagement is constant and thorough?
First, he sees engagement in CSR as building an extended family among a range of stakeholders (even the name of the company stems from the first letter of the names of the Chesonis family). He said he came to Philadelphia for the BCLC conference to lend support to those who are in the CSR business. "Maybe," he said, "I'll give you some tricks that we've used to trick people within our ecosystem into seeing why this is important for all of us."
Second, engagement in CSR work should be decentralized. At PAETEC, Chesonis lets his community relations managers decide where to focus the company's CSR efforts instead of dictating what to do with a top-down approach.
"I feel like I'm the match.com for CSR at my company. It's my responsibility to connect my employees with our community," he said and noted that he wants connections to grow organically between his community relations managers and the local organizations.
Building your own community is important, and connecting your community to other communities in common goals is the next step in building capacity.
Arunas asked, "Wouldn't it be great if there were a BCLC in all communities?" Organizations that convene and connect, he said, are needed at the local Chamber level so that local corporate citizens and community leaders can come together, learn, and expand their capacity. Having a network of local BCLC-like organizations, he said, would encourage public-private partnerships.
"It's hard for SMEs to travel to national conferences and major events like this - that makes local collaboration level so much more needed," he said. "People could develop their own approaches at the local levels and decide what fits best with their communities and businesses."
While his community relations managers guide the company's strategy, the Chesonis family is building its own legacy in environment and energy research-the need for intense research in these fields is astounding, he said. With the belief that researchers should be allowed time to fail and experiment to find the best, most innovative solutions, Arunas and his family are funding long-term research spots for post-grad MIT students. Most Nobel Prize winners in science, he noted, made their discoveries at the age of 28. "We need to be funding young, energetic people who have time and inspiration to immerse themselves in their research 100 hours/week."
He ended the thought that corporate responsibility should be a strategic priority for all companies. "Don't be a 'dumb philanthropist' and just write checks," he said. "Work on the strategic piece-what's good for a company can be good for a community and vice versa."
For those in business still sitting on the fence, this is a good piece of advice.
For more on the relationship between MIT and Arunas and their partnership on alternative energy research: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/chesonis-0422.html
This year's Council on Foundations Conference ended with a unique session that placed the entire field of philanthropy on trial. The charge: Philanthropy is not fulfilling its mission of advancing the common good. Gara LaMarche, president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, represented the prosecution, and Ralph R. Smith, executive vice president of The Annie E. Casey Foundation and former Council board chair, served as the defense attorney. A former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable Jane Cutler Greenspan, acted as the judge.
In his opening remarks, LaMarche painted a damning picture of philanthropy, linking it to the Gucci set with a motivation to do good but operating without any real sense or understanding of the overall situation. He said the sector remains too focused on charity-what I call random acts of kindness- rather than strategic investments. And he suggested that the sector itself is not representative of the communities it is trying to serve, pointing out that only 4 percent of grant making board members are Hispanic.
Ralph Smith mounted a rousing defense by portraying the importance of philanthropy and the sector and its impact. "At the end of the day," Smith said, "philanthropy persists in the expression of generosity and to perform in pursuit of the common good." He spoke about the growth of philanthropy and the recent "giving pledge" that many members of the younger generation have signed to sustain social change. He argued that the practitioners of philanthropy are leaders who come from different ideological perspectives to serve the most underserved.
Smith's rebuttal led to an interesting and at times caustic to and fro. LaMarche demanded evidence of impact in a world with growing disparity, though he did acknowledge that the progress philanthropy has attained was simply not enough. He said he was not convinced that the sector holds itself accountable.
Smith said philanthropy was doing its job by taking what's been left to us to and making it better for the next generation, even if our efforts are imperfect. Philanthropy may not have done enough, he said, but it looks very different today from 10 years ago.
So where did this end? The jury was hung in its verdict but was still in favor of the prosecution by 10-2. Quite a shocking conclusion by the sector and a harsh self-criticism! Was the jury too harsh on philanthropy? What do you think?
I believe the jury was unkind. Much of philanthropy occurs under the most tenuous conditions. Those who work in this sector go beyond passion and show courage, creativity, and compassion (see my blog, "Passion Is Overrated") in the face of endless challenges. On a personal note, I have benefited by the generosity of this sector that funded my education at a prestigious institution that provided me with the skills and know-how to contribute to society. That, to me, is an example of a lasting contribution that changes one life at a time.
Our mission is to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their
Explore the positive impact of local programs promoted and supported by Microsoft
around the world.
News, perspectives and analysis on legal and policy issues.
© 2013 Microsoft
Privacy Statement |
Connect With Us