October, 2011

  • 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

  • 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

  • Reflecting on Eight Years of Community Investment Worldwide

    As Microsoft approaches the eighth anniversary of its Community Technology Skills Program (CTSP), I have been taking some time to reflect on the opportunities imagined and realized, the amazing things we’ve learned about running a global community investment program, and how all of that will guide our work in the years ahead.

    Since CTSP was founded in September 2003, the program has touched the lives of more than 200 million people. In Colombia, we have seen former combatants in the country’s long-running civil conflict sitting side-by-side in free computer classes that offer them new hope for employability and economic opportunity. In Portugal, where the once-thriving textile industry is in decline, thousands of displaced workers have attended computer skills classes as a way to prepare for new careers. Even in regions where few jobs exist—such as the poverty-stricken Eastlands of Nairobi, Kenya—technology training is giving young people the skills they need to establish their own small businesses.

    Over the years, Microsoft has invested more than $400 million in CTSP cash and software grants with over 1,500 community partners offering technology-related job skills training. During that time, Microsoft’s approach to CTSP has evolved as we have learned what works (and sometimes doesn’t work). But our focus has remained consistent: providing technology skills training to empower individuals and create economic opportunities that can help transform underserved communities.

    Over the coming weeks, I’ll post a series of blogs reflecting on the insights we’ve gained and how our community investments have matured since the CTSP program began. My hope is to stimulate a conversation about the role that multinational corporations can and should play in local communities, and the most effective ways to accomplish that.

    For example, the initial CTSP plan envisioned grants being used to provide ICT access and basic skills training for a range of purposes—from teaching the elderly how to use the Internet to helping reduce social ills such as human trafficking. As the program expanded and more people attained basic ICT skills, we saw that the most successful local community efforts were focused specifically on providing ICT skills for employment and livelihood.

    In Sri Lanka, for instance, rural farmers began using newly acquired computer skills to get quick diagnoses of crop diseases. And in India, computer training and access enabled fishermen to get up-to-date information on the location of local fish stocks.

    Over time, Microsoft has sharpened the focus of CTSP to deliver workplace skills training that will have a lasting, measurable impact. For example, we have learned that NGOs with a well-defined social mission and focus on providing people with skills relevant to their local economy are the most successful partners. We know that strong community leaders with a vision and deep local roots can greatly influence the participation level and effectiveness of community programs. We’ve seen that it’s possible to run a global program with a unifying vision while enabling decision making at the local level. And we are closer than ever to aligning our community investments with our core business and competencies.

    I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. At the same time, I’m cognizant that the world has changed since we started CTSP, as has the technology landscape and the role of technology in society and in peoples’ lives. To keep pace, our community investments will continue to advance as well—building on what we’ve learned and on the evolving needs of local communities and governments.

    We will continue to explore ways to sharpen the program’s focus, both in term of helping underserved populations access technology and helping those who have access but lack the opportunity to apply those skills to their own growth and development. We will continue to draw on the many lessons learned—through our experiences on the ground, in partnerships with NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, and through insights gleaned from academic research on the program and its impact.

    In the next post later this week, I’ll discuss what we learned about the importance of identifying partnerships that meet local needs.

     

    Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts reflecting on the evolution and impact of Microsoft’s Community Technology Skills Program.

  • Can charitable donations be kitsch?

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    October is a month of giving back at Microsoft when employees around the United States host or participate in events to raise money for nonprofits. There are hundreds of events taking place across the company throughout the month, but we’ve found a new favorite.

    The Plastic Pink Flamingo Flock!

    During October at Microsoft, for a small sum donated to the nonprofit of your choosing - and matched by Microsoft - you can have your co-worker Flocked.

    What is that, you may ask.

    Well, your chosen victim will arrive into their office to face their work day, only to find it filled with those infamous and charming pink Flamingo yard statues. Awesome.

    But it doesn’t end there. There are actually four flock options:

    1) Flock‘em – your standard offering where you can have your colleague’s office stuffed with Flamingos

    2) Flock Migration - allows the ‘flocked’ victim to pass the flock over to another colleague (increased donation over option 1)

    3) Flocksurance – enables you to protect yourself from an unexpected flocking (increased donation over option 2)

    4) Flocksurance Side Stepper – this is the premium product which allows you to override another person’s Flocksurance.

    Now, this all sounds very interesting, but we felt that we couldn’t report on this particular initiative without seeing it in action.

    So we decided to try it out on a beloved colleague.

    Here’s the report on Flocking in action.

     

    Editor’s Note: The Flamingo Flock was the brainchild of the Operations team at Microsoft. And please be assured no birds were harmed in the process of this flocking. We assure you the offices are kept cozy overnight, Microsoft also has all the free pop, coffee, and water you can drink.

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  • Meeting Local Needs is Key to Success of Community Investment Programs

    When Microsoft first began working on strategies to increase access to technology in underserved communities, we assumed that the most successful programs would be those run by nonprofits with a track record of success operating community technology centers and ICT skills training programs.

    It was a logical assumption, but, as we learned, not necessarily a correct one. In the eight years since we launched the Community Technology Skills Program, the NGOs that have proven to be the strongest and most effective partners are those with a well-defined social mission and those focused on meeting specific local needs.

    What we have seen is that such organizations are better equipped to design programs that prepare people with skills relevant to the local economy. And programs that are locally relevant are more likely to be embraced—and therefore effective—within the community.

    In Portugal, for instance, the Technological Centre for the Textile and Clothing Industries (CITEVE) has been working for more than two decades to increase ICT proficiency among textile workers. Faced with intense competition from lower-cost producers in other countries, Portugal’s textile industry has been forced to shed thousands of jobs.

    In 2006, Microsoft helped CITEVE establish four technology skills training centers in central and northern Portugal, where the nation’s textile industry is centered. In addition to providing textile workers with the computer skills they need to keep up with the industry’s increasing use of technology, the training program helps displaced workers gain other skills—such as career planning and resume writing—that will help them find jobs in other sectors of the economy.

    In the Philippines, we formed a partnership with the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFFI) to address another important local issue: helping victims of human trafficking learn skills that can set them on the road to a better life. VFFI operates a network of safe houses for women and children who have been victims of forced labor or sexual exploitation or who are at risk of being victimized. In 2006, Microsoft and VFFI launched a program called Stop Trafficking and Exploitation of Persons through Unlimited Potential (STEP-UP), which combines technology training with other courses in life skills and job skills. In addition to opening new economic and educational opportunities for those who complete the program, the STEP-UP training helps trafficking victims by building their confidence and self-esteem. Since the collaboration began, more than 30,000 individuals have graduated from the STEP-UP program, and Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, president of VFFI, has told us that the program helped participants reintegrate into society and made them more employable.

    In Kenya, Microsoft partnered with an NGO called the Informal Sector Business Institute (ISBI) to help shift the country’s informal, cash-based economy—which supports 80 percent of Kenya’s working population—to a more sustainable and stable business model. With support from Microsoft, ISBI launched a 50-hour computer skills training course to complement its classes in accounting, management, marketing, and business English.

    In the U.S., one of Microsoft’s key partners is Per Scholas, a nonprofit organization that equips people in underserved communities with the skills necessary to compete for entry-level ICT jobs. Per Scholas offers a tuition-free 15-week computer technician training course that emphasizes hands-on experience. It also teaches students how to repair donated computers, which are then sold at low cost to disadvantaged youth and families in the New York City and Miami areas. More than 2,400 Per Scholas graduates have earned ICT industry-recognized computer technician certifications, and Per Scholas has provided refurbished PCs to more than 72,000 low‑income people.

    Each of these organizations – in Portugal, the Philippines, Kenya, and the U.S. – exemplifies the impact that organizations can have meeting local needs with the use of technology and support from companies like Microsoft.

    Next week I’ll talk about some of the amazing local community leaders I’ve met, what makes them tick, and what makes them such great partners.

    Editor’s note:

    This is the second in a series of posts looking at the lessons and insights Microsoft has learned from eight years of investing in community initiatives around the world:

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