April, 2012

  • TEALS: Helping students discover computer science

    By Gretchen Deo, Citizenship & Public Affairs, Microsoft

    Recently I sat with a group of 22 kids from Rainier Beach High School & South Shore Middle School who were on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond for the day. The kids were here as part of their involvement in Microsoft’s TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) program which places Microsoft engineers in a team teaching role with into high-need K-12 classes to teach computer science with an existing in-service teacher.

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    TouchDevelop on Windows Phone

     
    The kids are enrolled in an ‘Introduction to Computer Science’ class, which teaches students the basic ideas behind computational thinking using a programming application called TouchDevelop on Windows Phone.


    “We have a software program that the students can use in their hands,” said Michael Braun, a computer science teacher at Rainier Beach who partners with Microsoft employees to teach the class. “They’re gravitating towards that in their daily lives, so it’s a way to merge the two ideas – social media and actual academic curriculum into one. The kids love it.”

    Only 27 percent of American high schools offer any type of computer science classes, so the absence of a formalized class at Rainier Beach prior to TEALS is not uncommon. Peli de Halleux is a Software Developer with Microsoft Research and teaches 29 kids at Rainier Beach every morning together with Chris Mitchell, another Software Developer with Microsoft Exchange. “A lot of those kids don’t have computers at home, so it’s hard to give them homework,” said de Halleux. “[We said], let’s be the first class that teaches exclusively on a mobile device.” Braun added, “Without having this kind of handheld technology, they would not have this opportunity to be doing computer science homework. By giving them the hardware and software, we’re basically delivering classroom technology to their home.”

    Miguel Higgins, a sophomore at Rainier Beach High School is taking the TouchDevelop class. “I thought it’d be interesting because the school doesn’t really have many technology courses, so I thought TouchDevelop might be good. I did C++ before I got to the school, so I already had an interest in programming; it’s just a cool introduction.” TouchDevelop is also being used as a “bridge class” between middle and high School. Price Jimerson is an 8th grader at South Shore and attends class at Rainier Beach High School for one hour each morning. She said, “It’s not different [from other classes] because we still do Math or Algebra, but it is different because we use… scripts and word streams.”

    On this particular day, the kids were at Microsoft to see what’s possible when applying lessons from the classroom to careers and our everyday environment. They heard from employees about college technology tracks, internships at Microsoft, and career ideas. David Hardy Jr., a parent who was chaperoning the day, said “I like that my daughter is in the program. My daughter comes home and she’s really excited and engaged. It’s really giving her a skill [programming] that will forever be with her.” I asked a number of the kids if they were interested in exploring computer science beyond high school and received enthusiastic responses across the board.

    TEALS is expanding from 13 partner schools in the Puget Sound this year to over 30 schools nationwide with a reach of over 1800 students, and it’s a good thing – as 8th grader Deja Sopher-Frazier said, “I think other people should have the opportunity to do the same thing as us.”

     

    If you’re interested in more information on the TEALs program contact Kevin Wang at Microsoft.

  • CR Magazine announces 2012 Best Corporate Citizens List

    By Lori Harnick, General Manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs, Microsoft

    Corporate Responsibility Magazine has announced that Microsoft was named among the Top 3 Best Corporate Citizens for 2012.

    CR Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens List is known as one of the world’s top corporate responsibility rankings. Now in its thirteenth year, the list ranks companies based on publicly available information in seven categories: environmental impact, climate change, human rights, philanthropy, employee relations, financial performance and governance.

    It is a considerable honor to have been ranked so highly on this prestigious list alongside other companies that have devoted so much and made such sizable contributions to our society.

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    Microsoft’s Director of North America Community Affairs Andrea Taylor (front row, third from left) attends the closing bell at the NYSE to celebrate the release of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens list

    For Microsoft, Corporate Citizenship is core to our company mission of helping people and organizations around the world realize their full potential. As our company has grown, our commitment has extended far beyond our own products and services and has been amplified many times over through our partner network – including our non-profit partners, with whom we work closely to apply our business skills, our technology, and our company resources to serve the communities where we live and work around the world.

    Microsoft was founded on the belief that putting technology in the hands of individuals could enrich and improve their lives, and we’ve invested heavily in improving individuals’ access to technology.

    However, we’ve recently identified a more complex issue that extends beyond technology access and cuts across economic, geographic and social boundaries. This issue is the opportunity divide for youth. Around the world, new skills and experiences are needed for new economies, but the approach to educating and training young people for this new world isn’t keeping apace. While some young people are prospering, those on the other side of the opportunity divide lack the skills, education, experiences, and connections to employment that are required to survive and thrive.

    According to a recent International Youth Foundation report, “Opportunity for Action,” nearly 75 million young people were unemployed worldwide in 2011. This equates to an unemployment rate of 12.7%, which is more than double the rate for people over the age of 25. And, for those young people who have jobs, it is concerning to note that many are working in poor conditions for very low pay with no safety nets for protection. Indeed, youth today comprise 25% of the world’s working poor. Another alarming fact is that only 44% of youth worldwide have access to a high school education, which is one of the most basic requirements for gainful employment.

    Addressing the challenges facing youth is critical to the economic future of all countries and regions around the world and Microsoft’s desire to help them create a real impact for a better tomorrow. Therefore, Microsoft is focusing on helping youth cross the opportunity divide by empowering them to imagine and realize their full potential through a number of programs.

    These programs include empowering nonprofits around the world with cash donations and free software – nearly $1 billion in 2011 alone – to address issues of technology and workforce training, especially among the youth population. They also include working with millions of teachers to build their technology skills and reach students in new ways through innovative practices in their classrooms. And, it they including engaging students directly as well….in this year alone, we helped more than 350,000 students from nearly 200 countries develop technology solutions to address the world’s toughest societal problems through our Microsoft Imagine Cup competition. We’ve even provided a select number of those students with a cash grant to help them bring their ideas to market.

    These are just a few of our programs to empower youth to change their world. We invite you to learn more about our work in this area and join us in creating opportunities for today’s global youth.

     

    More information:

  • The Spring of Hope -- Restoring the Dignity

    By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft

     

    I am in Tunis – this is where the Arab Spring got launched in December 2010. I have had the privilege of being in the Arab world for the last two weeks meeting and having discussions with youth and young entrepreneurs about how they perceive their future. The Arab Spring and the change that was ignited was all about ‘dignity’ – there has been a high level of unemployment in this region for years but what ignited the revolution was the loss of dignity. Over the last two days in Tunis I have met with leaders of the business community, government agencies, development agencies and young people and they all believe that there is hope and the biggest challenge is to restore dignity.

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    I met with the senior leadership of the “Fact-Finding Commission on Abuses” which was set up to investigate abuses during and after the revolution. The President of the Commission who is 70 years old and a very distinguished leader of the country told me he is now reenergized with this work and feels 10 years younger and is working continuously to conduct a thorough and transparent review so he can give hope to the country and restore dignity.

    The three business leaders that I had lunch with have launched TARI9I an entrepreneurship effort to provide business skills to youth. They are convinced that without providing youth with skills to start their own business, especially those living in smaller towns in the country, they will continue to remain unemployed. They believe that in Tunisia the engine of job creation will be youth and they need skills. They launched TARI9I right after the revolution and since then have supported five new businesses and trained over 20 young people. While this is small, it is a very important effort and we have supported it as part of our commitment to help rebuild this society.

    Later that day I met with several entrepreneurs that Microsoft has supported through its Microsoft Innovation Center. One of them was Mr. Afif Bouchoucha who is the founder of Business Information System – and was supported by TARI9I. He lives Gafsa, a small town in the middle of Tunisia. His company is focused on developing digital healthcare record keeping software and services. Others were focused on mobile gaming, or cloud services. Some of them were small 5-7 people firms and others were more established medium size companies employing over 100 people.

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    In Tunisia the youth are educated, the issue has always been a lack of good jobs. There isn’t a prevalent culture of starting a new business or enterprise. But it is a small country with big aspirations. I spoke to thirty young people who are part of the Microsoft Student Professional program to understand how they were doing and get a sense of their hopes and aspirations. After over a year and with a new government in place not everyone in that group was feeling optimistic. Many are but some worry whether anything has really changed or if they will become part of a lost generation.

    The statistics on youth unemployment are not very encouraging. In Europe unemployment among youth is reaching record figures and North Africa is dependent on a healthy Europe to help drive its economy. If we are help restore dignity and provide hope to youth around the world we must focus on bridging the ‘opportunity divide’. At Microsoft believe we can do that through building the technology capacity of youth and provide them with hope. We are doing that by supporting innovative efforts such as TARI9I and the employability portal through Silatech. All of the young people I have met in this region believe they will have to make the change themselves, many are up for it, and some are apprehensive. What is very clear is that for all of them having ‘dignity’ is critical – let’s make sure that happens.

  • Kicking off the 2012 Nonprofit Technology Conference

    Looking back for the next generation of nonprofit technology

    By Jane Meseck, Director of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Technology for Good

    Last month I celebrated my fifteenth year with Microsoft Citizenship. Fifteen years of nonprofit technology craziness, including nine Nonprofit Technology Conferences, two Circuit Rider Round-ups, and over $3 billion of Microsoft software donations to causes around the world supporting everything from puppies to disaster response. I’ve met some amazing and smart people trying to change the world and I’m super proud to be a part of a global community thinking big about how technology can create lasting and powerful social change.

    For me, it all started with my first big “I don’t know” moment at Microsoft. I was hired to figure out how Microsoft should support nonprofit use of technology. At the time, I think we were donating about $10M in software each year and had no idea how to respond to all the letters asking for help creating a thing called a website. How could we respond in a way that could have broad impact for the sector not just one nonprofit at a time?

    I’d like to think that I was smart enough to say “I don’t know”, and smart enough to find others who were also brave enough to say they also didn’t know, but had a few ideas and a genuine interest in trying to figure it out together. In 1998, these dozen or so nonprofit techies, funders, and interested geeks became The National Strategy for Nonprofit Technology (NSNT). Clearly choosing interesting or sexy code names wasn’t one of our strengths.

    NSNT’s goal was simple yet big – to help nonprofits around the world use technology for social change. We set out to better understand nonprofit technology uses and needs, how best to help nonprofits with IT adoption, how we could jointly develop platforms and solutions, and how we could build a movement of people wanting to take forward this goal in a scalable way.


    Some amazing things came from that year of work including a strategy paper that I can’t find in my files. One of my favorite things is the “Pyramid”, a framework for how to think about nonprofit technology adoption and innovation that funders, service providers and IT developers could use to understand how best to support and help nonprofits with technology.
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    This framework is still relevant today although it has become multi-dimensional and occasionally flips upside down. [Note that the pyramid was originally a 3-tiered cake, yummy but pyramids were easier to draw in PowerPoint than 3-tiered cakes.]

    Some of my other favorite ideas and efforts that emerged from this early thinking include NPowerNW, Aspiration, and TechSoup’s online global platform. We also created a common language that supported “appropriate” technology choice and use in the nonprofit sector stressing technology as a strategic tool to support mission.

    Part of this work was the creation of the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN). NTEN was created as a big tent for people of various backgrounds, platforms and geeky interests to come together to transform technology into social change. A movement that started with 50+ circuit riders (fun term for nonprofit technology service provider) has grown to 15,000 people with more than 1,700 in San Francisco for our annual meet-up this week. Holly Ross and her team should be very proud of the community they have created.

    So after 15 years I am having another big “I don’t know” moment. We have come so far, yet I feel something is telling me that we are at another critical inflection point for the sector. I’ve reached out to several of my confidantes and heroes in the nonprofit tech field the past few weeks and consensus is that something is afoot and none of us can articulate exactly what it is.

    We are all seeing big changes in technology. Technology is ubiquitous and simpler to use yet the vast number of new developments has created even more complex decisions for nonprofits with little technology capacity. New social media tools, the advent of mobile, big data, and the promise of the cloud bring great opportunities for social change but it also brings additional challenges in how to effectively adopt them. Many nonprofit leaders are still struggling to recognize the need to adopt technology as a mission critical tool to scale and create impact.

    There are new players in the nonprofit tech ecosystem: free agents, young innovators, and social entrepreneurs bringing new ideas and solutions. Yet these players are not always connected to the broader sector or platforms that would help to scale their impact.

    At the same time, the economy is not being kind to the decade old business models of nonprofit technology service providers. The numbers of funders that directly support nonprofit tech or capacity building services have dwindled dramatically in recent time.

    Recognizing this “I don’t know” moment is important and addressing it in an urgent and proactive manner is critical. As we gather in San Francisco this week for this year’s NTC, my challenge to all of us is to create a next generation NSNT, but with a sexier name. We need to hear new and old voices on the challenge of creating the next 15 year roadmap for driving social change through technology.

    NTC 2012 be the future!

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    This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference takes place this week in San Francisco. If you’re attending do stop by the Microsoft booth and say hello to Jane, Gretchen Deo and James Rooney.

  • Personal highlights from Innovate4Good Seattle

    By Rodrigo J. Santos

    Rod1_2_2  

    Editor’s note: We’re delighted to share an independent perspective of the Innovate4Good@Microsoft event that took place in Seattle at the weekend. It comes from Rodrigo Santos who is one of the young leaders who attended the event. This was originally posted in the Innovate4Good online community and Rodrigo kindly agreed to let us share it here. Rodrigo is currently studying at the University of Southern California. His website is here.

    If I had to describe what happened at Innovate4Good@Microsoft in one word, I'd say "inspiring." The hours spent inside of that room were priceless, and the collective brain power at work was immeasurable. Let me share with you what happened from the beginning. When I got the email with the invitation from Akhtar, I was surprised at how little it said about the event other than creative minds coming together to tackle the problems of their communities through technology. Intrigued, I signed up and patiently waited for the day to come. After all, flight and room expenses were both covered, so I had nothing to lose. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Seattle.

    The reception on Friday night was just the beginning. I was asked, among 11 others out of 100 people to be the facilitator for the brainstorming sessions that would occur the next day. I was then presented with an overview of the agenda, but needless to say, it wasn't "fully disclosed," which made our expectations jump to the roof. The Microsoft store where the reception took place was fully equipped with the latest tech, and everywhere you looked people were playing Kinect games, including the new Star Wars. As we networked and talked to each other, I realized what was going on: people from all walks of life, ages ranging 14-30, with different backgrounds, careers and interests were summoned in one place to produce a greater impact in the activities they were already a part of in their communities. Only then I realized why we were selected: we each produced positive change in our communities, and Innovate4Good wanted to help us amplify that.

    Saturday began with a quick registration process, a hearty breakfast and a PEZ dispenser after my own image (thanks to MakerBot industries). Once we gathered in the room, Gunner from Aspiration unfolded our schedule. Comprised of 3 parts, our day consisted of discussing controversial issues where taking a stand, recognizing major problems within our communities and highlighting steps to address these issues would culminate into people taking action for what they believed in. As I talked and listened to each story, I realized how many young people are making their marks in the world, changing it for good. From providing access to technology for lower income students to literacy movements and after school programs, high school and college students, as well as Microsoft employees and workers in the healthcare, education and other industries are successfully tackling these issues and making the change many of us want to see but only a few want to be a part of.

    As the day progressed, we generated ideas that addressed many problematic areas that are similar in every community, and some people finally began to take a firm stand. In particular, I didn't have a strong stand on any given problem that our community in Los Angeles was facing, but after hearing how 1 person implemented an after school program, which resulted in a decreased crime rate of over 20% in just a month and then others who defied the world through persistence and as a result changed the fate of many lives, it got me thinking, and thinking, until I realized how much was given to me, and how little I was giving back.

    This wake-up call created my Senior project idea, which I will be using to creatively teach middle school kids, especially schools in lower income areas how to code. It is an interesting twist to what's already out there, and I can't wait to get started. In doing this, I hope to give kids the chance I never had: to get a head-start on writing code and become the change-makers that our world needs.

    So what exactly happened, other than my "inner transformation" for a greater cause?

    1. People who are doing good work in their communities shared their stories and inflamed others on doing the same in theirs.
    2. Microsoft and other companies created a platform where these issues can be discussed freely and worked on collaboratively so that no matter how big the challenge, innovators nationwide can work together and make it happen
    3. Great alliances were formed, as well as contacts from other industries, including venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs who are looking to invest in ideas that result into positive change

    This was a win-win for me and I'm pretty sure anyone who went to this event would say the same thing. I'm glad I was there. Now I'd like to leave you with the quote that got me... and got me good. It said:

    "We can be the voice to bring about change in a global movement"

    Are you ready? Then Join In!

     

    More information about Innovate4Good:

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