Donna Woodall, East Region Citizenship Lead, Microsoft Corporation

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of hosting Jovenes en Accion, an exchange student program consisting of more than 65 students aged between 15-18 from various cities in Mexico who spent the past five weeks with U.S. host families and on college campuses across the country to uncover new ideas for improving relationships in their home communities, and more broadly provide opportunities to improve relationships between students in Mexico and the United States.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of State, the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP), and various private sector representatives, World Learning brought the students to Microsoft in Washington D.C. as part of their five-week educational exchange. The program began with a pre-departure orientation in Mexico City to promote mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and Mexico; and included significant interaction with American peers and families. The program included intensive English language workshops and service-learning activities which were designed to prepare these youth leaders to become responsible citizens and contributing members of their communities.

Over the past two weeks the students were divided into smaller groups visiting five urban cities - Baltimore, Maryland; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; and Seattle, Washington - to gather input for their projects. The students were asked to focus on one of a number of themes in each city including substance abuse, personal and community development, violence and gang prevention, social development, domestic violence and bullying. This hosted community segment also included volunteering, home stays, and cultural events. In each city local organizations helped with the development of individual service projects which the students will implement upon their return home. Finally, the smaller groups reunited as one large group in Washington, D.C. to make action plans for their follow-on activities.

clip_image002This is where my story begins. As part of the Washington D.C. experience, I was asked to give the students an opportunity to learn about the Corporate Citizenship activities we drive at Microsoft and also to allow the students to have some fun with our products. We had a fantastic time with the students and managed to cover a wide range of areas. We were able to share insight into how and why we, as a company, make community investments in a range of areas from education to training, diversity and inclusion. We also covered a range of other areas including responsible gaming and some tips on using social media effectively. We were delighted that three police officers from a local precinct were able to attend and give the students insights into the local community including some guidance on how to get a community center started back home. We finished at the Kinect Lounge where all the students got to enjoy the latest consumer technology.

clip_image004Jovenes en Accion is a great program to exchange ideas and discuss how to resolve issues in our communities. This was an incredible experience for not just the students but Microsoft as well and although the visit was short it was very impactful. The feeling I came away with was pride, joy, excitement, and confidence that we have young leaders who are willing to stand up for positive change in their home communities. As the students were leaving my first thought was what more can I do to help the youth in my community blossom into leaders like I witnessed in these young students from Mexico? How might I take some of the information gathered today to encourage DC Public high school students to participate in similar leadership programs and the exchange of positive ideas?

As the students departed, each shook my hand with a hearty thank you and the loudest among them shouted, “THIS WAS FANTASTIC!” Well, I can say the same, thank you Jovenes en Accion for choosing to visit Microsoft in Washington DC and let me also say that you and the mission you have embarked upon is absolutely FANTASTIC!!! You have truly impressed me. I guess we can all learn something from each other.