October, 2011

  • The Freedom of a Volunteer

    Charles Thrasher, Operations Project Manager and Co-Chair Microsoft Net Impact Chapter

    I spent four hours talking to MBA students at the annual Net Impact conference this past weekend. I talked continuously about Microsoft as a matrixed organization and the potential for an individual to influence change far beyond their pay grade. I talked about Microsoft’s sponsorship of the first corporate chapter of Net Impact and how Net Impact could be used as a fulcrum for employees to lever change, exerting greater influence than possible for an individual alone. Together we’re stronger, more capable, more innovative and bolder than we are alone.

    Our presentation Bringing Net Impact to Your Organization: A Microsoft Case Study proved popular. The room was crowded to capacity with an audience of MBA grads, professional chapter members and corporate representatives. They were engaged and filled the Q&A session with relevant questions, continuing even after the presentation.

    There are a lot of people closely watching what we’re doing and an audience eager to follow our experiment. We have more than just internal stakeholders.

    One thing I realized from the conference was the discrepancy in the number of full-time positions available in corporate citizenship and the number of people hoping to fill them. The odds are slim to none that all of those hopes will be realized. Many will be unsuccessful if they define success as a full time position in citizenship. Then something Dan Bross said resonated with me. Any employee can more effectively influence sustainable business practices at Microsoft than can a full time employee working in corporate citizenship.

    That surprised me. It seemed counter-intuitive. Later it made sense.

    As members of Net Impact we have the power of the group and the freedom of volunteers. We can focus on achieving resulting and taking responsibility for our passions without assuming all the overhead of a full-time position. We can be as fluid as water flowing through the cracks of formal org structures, finding the point of leverage where persistence and passion can produce outsized results. We can work for a meaningful outcome rather than an annual review, an outcome that’s personally meaningful like the recent conversation about creating learning software for autistic children. There was passion in that conversation because it was parents talking about their children or the children of friends and relatives. It was personal. It meant something to them and the people they loved. Acting upon that passion, whether or not it contributes to the company’s bottom line or is captured in a balanced scorecard, is the freedom of a volunteer.

  • Global Washington 2011 conference gets underway

    This year’s Global Washington conference, which celebrates Washington State’s global development sector, has got underway this morning. The conference, which runs today and tomorrow, has a packed agenda that will focus on the challenges facing global development work in the midst of rapid innovation, political instability and shifting global, regional and local priorities.

    The event was kicked off this morning by Bookda Gheisa, executive director of Global Washington; Lori Harnick, general manager of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft; and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

    You can follow the event on Twitter with the hashtag: #globalwa.

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    During her opening comments Lori observed: “The Global Washington conference is a unique opportunity to gather Washington State’s global development sector together to both celebrate our efforts while challenging ourselves to find ways to continuously work with our resources and realities to bring about a better, fairer, and safer world. It’s about a wonderfully diverse sector including individuals, businesses, nonprofits, and academic institutions; sharing ideas, combining your expertise, and often working together in partnership to support the achievement of core development objectives such as disaster response, improved health, environmental sustainability, better education and youth empowerment, economic growth, and improved governance.“

    The annual conference is an important milestone in Global Washington’s work to convene, strengthen, and advocate on behalf of the global development sector in the state. It combines high-caliber speakers who will provide valuable insight and the latest knowledge with an opportunity for people to meet and talk. Keynote speakers will include national experts on development’s role in the current geo-political climate and visionaries with innovative approaches to its most pressing challenges. The conference will also give select local organizations the opportunity to showcase their work and will provide all attendees with time to connect and collectively brainstorm solutions to problems.

    You can find the conference agenda here and you can watch a live stream of the event here.

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    Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn addressing the Global Washington conference this morning. You can watch a live stream of the event at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/globalwa

  • Use your job to change the world

    By Dan Bross, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft Corporation

     

    Here’s a question:

    The greatest way to change the world is… ?

    Last evening here in Portland, Oregon, KPMG’s Global Head of Citizenship and Diversity posed that question to more than 2,600 of the next generation of leaders attending Net Impact’s 19th annual conference.

    The answer was simple – overcome cynicism.

    From Wall Street, to Main Street, from the halls of academia to the halls of Congress, from corporate board rooms to everyone’s living room, we have become a nation - and sadly a world - of cynics. And many of us believe with good reason.

    Rather than continue down that dark and depressing path, let me share an alternative route provided by Liz Maw, Net Impact’s Executive Director to the Net Impact Board during our meeting yesterday.

    It is estimated that workers in the US spend 250 billion hours working each year. Imagine if just 2% of those work hours were used to address a purpose – a social issue or a cause. That would translate into 4 to 5 billion hours of social change work each year and that’s just here in the US.

    I am not talking about volunteer time. I am not talking about taking time off from your job. I am talking about doing your job. I am talking about meeting your responsibilities, being accountable; meeting and exceeding your commitments but also taking a moment to look at your job through a wider more empowering and more responsible lens.

    We should think about the small things. How about less printing or printing on both sides of the paper; recycling your coffee cup; using Skype rather than taking that flight – the list goes on. But I am also talking about the big things. A software engineer developing an application for Windows Phone to measure the carbon foot print of our homes; a HR professional helping employees chart career paths that meet the needs of the corporation while increasing the employees sense of purpose through their job; a privacy attorney working in partnership with governments, advocates, and companies to protect free expression on line, the list goes on.

    How many times have we heard friends say, “my job is fine but it is just a job, I’d like to do more. I would like to make a difference.”?

    Well I believe that we can and we should do more. Each of us has the opportunity each and every day. We just need to think differently. We need to look at our jobs differently. We need to look at our jobs and our companies as agents of social change.

    One small step we have taken at Microsoft is by forming the first Net Impact corporate chapter. We are now over 275 Microsoft employees strong and growing. The Microsoft Net Impact members have identified internal projects and are moving ahead in using the power of business to make social change.

    I am incredibly proud to be a member of the Net Impact Board, I am proud to be a member of the Microsoft Net Impact chapter, and I am proud to work for a company like Microsoft that embraces the premise that business can be an agent of social change.

    The greatest way to change the world is to overcome cynicism – making that happen is up to each of us!

  • Volunteers create a circle of giving back in Kenya

    One of the things we regularly see through employee giving at Microsoft is the passion people have for making a positive difference.

    Several employees are utilizing their volunteer hours here to support the Global Give Back Circle (GGBC), a nonprofit organization that helps underprivileged girls in Kenya to overcome extraordinary odds to complete their university education. By mentoring students in the program, Microsoft employee volunteers are providing Kenyan girls with the support and insight they need to gain valuable workforce skills and training and complete their education. The GGBC creates a cycle of empowerment in Kenya by requiring the girls in the program to share their newfound knowledge with their local communities upon graduation through various give back “commitments” of their own choosing. For example, a group of three GGBC graduates currently studying at the University of Dubai committed to educate young women about the dangers HIV/AIDs through a website they have designed and developed called “Hey Sister, Get Clued Up.”

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    The Global Give Back Circle creates a virtuous cycle by encouraging girls to give back to their local communities.

    Microsoft employee mentors maintain long-distance relationships with their mentees via e-mail and Skype to provide advice, guidance and direction and to ensure that the girls stay motivated throughout high school and until they graduate college. A critical time mentors focus on is the gap period between high school and college, which can be lengthy in Kenya. Mentors advise on several topics from life lessons as a working woman to writing tips for college applications. And while the advice is invaluable, another critical success factor for GGBC students is a nine-month technology skills training in one of two state-of-the-art computer labs in Kenya, supported by Microsoft and other partners.

    One example of a Microsoft GGBC mentor is Lei Ma, a technical writer for Microsoft in Developer User Education, who also participates in the giving campaign every year. She says her GGBC mentoring experience feeds her long-time passion for international development and global education. With a doctoral degree in education and specialization in education, technology, distance learning and instructional design, Lei is able to leverage her educational background to support this program as well.

    “I understand that women could face social or cultural barriers that limit their access to education in a lot of countries,” said Ma. “I think education is the great equalizer in our society and can increase economic opportunities for disadvantaged girls.”

    Microsoft matches time that employees volunteer in the community, donating $17 per hour to the eligible organizations they serve. Global Give Back Circle’s founder Linda Lockhart recently discovered that Microsoft employee mentors who are tracking and submitting their volunteer hours can completely sustain the funds needed to see a girl student through high school, the Microsoft technology training course and college graduation, which is approximately $11,500 per student. That’s a key component of success for GGBC to expand throughout Kenya and even to Uganda. Right now, Lockhart is actively recruiting Microsoft employees to join as mentors to help sponsor the next group of graduates. Her goal is to recruit 120 new Microsoft mentors.

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    Lizzie Lahey and Linda Lockhart of Global Give Back Circle meet with Microsoft employees at the women’s event during the kick-off of the annual employee giving campaign.  Their goal is to recruit 120 new Microsoft mentors for Global Give Back Circle.

    Ma says her involvement in the program has been a fulfilling experience, particularly through building relationships with a mentee in another country.

    “I’m excited to find out that my mentee wants to be a doctor in the future to help others in Kenya,” she said.  “My job was to help her believe that everything is possible and encourage her to pursue her dreams. “

    Are you looking for a way to give back?

    Take a moment to visit globalgivebackcircle.org and click the “Get Involved” tab to become a mentor or donate money to help a student through the program. Or, write to Lizzie Lahey of Global Give Back Circle directly at Lizzie@GlobalGiveBackCircle.org

  • Giving through football, karaoke and a 24 hour marathon

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    We’re into the last week of the Microsoft 2011 employee giving campaign. It has been a very busy month so far, and this week is turning into pure madness, in a good way.

    Earlier today Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks came to our Redmond campus to talk about A Better Seattle.

    The initiative, which was launched in September, aims to raise awareness and funds for programs designed to prevent gang violence. It builds on the success of Pete’s A Better LA initiative with the support of the Seattle Seahawks and local community leaders, government, nonprofit and business organizations. In Washington, the YMCA of Greater Seattle is a key community partner and the program was one of the beneficiaries of the recent Microsoft employee 5K run.

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    Citizenship Senior Director Akhtar Badshah asks Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll to tell the crowd at the Microsoft Conference Center a bit more about his community initiatives with ‘A Better Seattle’.

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    Pete Carroll giving out a few autographed footballs to the audience as a thanks for their participation in the Microsoft Give Campaign which benefited ‘A Better Seattle’

    If you missed the opportunity to see Pete Carroll speak live on Microsoft Redmond campus, here is a bit of footage from his talk.


    Elsewhere the 2011 Giving campaign continues apace.

    Last night in Seattle, the 24 hour global give and go event finished after 24 teams around the world ran, biked, swam, walked, played cricket, sailed and used Kinect across 24 different time zones from New Zealand to the United States. You can find out more here.

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    Finally, for today at least, the Windows Phone team managed to convince their executives to perform sponsored karaoke in front of a very enthusiastic employee audience.

    Attendees not only had the opportunity to vote for their favorite contestant but they could also bid for the opportunity to choose a song for their executive of choice. The event raised nearly $10,000 for a range of nonprofit and community organizations. Unfortunately we don’t have any video, but we’re assured there were some amazing performances and a lot of ‘honest’ feedback on the performances. We’ll have to take their word for it

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