Employee Philanthropist Spotlight: Erin Zuehlsdorff

Employee Philanthropist Spotlight: Erin Zuehlsdorff

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Last year Microsoft employees across the United States raised $100.5 million for nonprofit organizations around the world. While the total value is great, what’s more impressive is the stories of the 35,500 people inside Microsoft who made it happen. Over the coming months we’re hoping to share some of their stories, shine a light on why they give back, and showcase some of the nonprofits they are supporting. Our first spotlight is shining on Erin Zuehlsdorff. Erin has been working at Microsoft for just under two years but she has already made her mark.

Erin has helped build a sustainable support model for Microsoft employees to volunteer for Global Give Back Circle (GGBC), an organization that enables disadvantaged girls in Kenya to complete their educational journey, gain skills for employment, and become agents of change themselves. Erin is a mentor for the program; however, the impact of her volunteerism extends much wider through recruiting other Microsoft employees to join the cause.

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Erin Zuehlsdorff, Microsoft University Staffing Consultant, has recruited several Microsoft employees to volunteer as mentors for Global Give Back Circle.

It’s a natural ambition for Erin as she supports university recruiting for Microsoft Human Resources, acting as a staffing consultant at a variety of universities in the Midwest and Northwest. She also spearheads Microsoft’s high school internship program, which aims to spark an interest in computer science in young people and provide them exposure to real-life projects so they’ll be empowered and inspired to study CS in college.

“I could not have dreamed up a better job for me,” she said. I really believe in Microsoft’s core values, especially those related to giving back.”

Discovering Global Give Back Circle

Erin first became involved with GGBC shortly after she joined Microsoft in September 2010. She interviewed Vivian Onano after she was recommended by a Microsoft employee when visiting to speak at a Microsoft breakfast series talk on education. Vivian is part of the GGBC and one of the first girls from the program to attend college in the U.S. at Carthage College in Madison, Wisc.

“Her passion for giving and learning was so strong that I was inspired to learn more,” said Erin.

She was then introduced to the founder of GGBC, Linda Lockhart, and was inspired to begin informally mentoring Vivian. The two used Skype and texting to communicate every couple of weeks. Erin, 24, often encouraged Vivian, 21, from a peer’s perspective as they’re not far apart in age. In Kenya, it is often up to two years before a young woman who has completed high school is able to join university, so encouragement from mentors like Erin during that period and beyond is crucial. Through GGBC, girls from all parts of Kenya are guided to apply to universities and for education loan packages, while working with mentors from all over the world.

Gaining IT skills is also a critical part of the program. In 2008, Microsoft Women of WECA (West, East, and Central Africa) collaborated with GGBC to implement Microsoft IT Labs in Kenya. Since then, girls in the program have turned their gap period into a gateway through a nine-month Microsoft IT course in which they learn marketable skills such as programming, web design, accounting, and using the productivity tools in Microsoft Office. In the lab, the girls learn about university options, scholarship opportunities, and career planning. They research what GGBC calls “give-back commitments” to invest back into their own communities, all while communicating with their mentors to gain skills and confidence to pursue their dreams.

Mentoring strikes a match

After learning about the incredible impact GGBC was having on young Kenyan women, Erin was determined to do more for the organization.

“I shared the story with other women at Microsoft and we learned that we could match our volunteer hours through Microsoft’s volunteer match program,” said Erin.

Through Microsoft Volunteer Manager, Erin and other employees began to record their volunteer hours and request a matching contribution from Microsoft. At a match of $17 per hour, they realized that employees mentoring for GGBC could have a serious impact on the success of the organization, not just through their time, but financially as well.

“Typically, women in Kenya are told from a young age that there are very limited options for their future, if any,” said Erin. “Being able to empower someone and say ‘I believe in you’ means so much to them. You may be the only voice telling her that she can do anything and that her potential is limitless.”

Erin currently volunteers around six hours per month through her mentoring of Celestine Chepeng’ who is currently attending Todosia School in Kenya while continuing to informally mentor Vivian. She also coordinates and attracts new volunteers and serves as an advisory board member for a recent Clinton Global Initiative commitment by GGBC and three of its members, “Hey Sister, Get Clued Up,” a website dedicated to informing young women of a myriad of important topics such as HIV testing and IT skills. The Global Give Back Circle has yearly trips for mentors to visit Kenya and Erin plans to go next year to meet her mentee for the first time, give a career prep workshop, and see the IT labs in person.

“Mentoring is a great way for women with a packed scheduled to give back in a meaningful way,” she said. “It’s such a small amount to give for so much reward. Just a small piece of your heart – two letters a month – can have a significant impact on her self-esteem and future.”

Building a larger base of Microsoft mentors

Erin plans to attract additional employees to become mentors with October’s upcoming giving campaign.

“Whether you are passionate about women’s education or a cleaner environment, I would encourage all employees to consider making a formal commitment to give back in an area they are passionate about,” Erin said. “Nothing can be more rewarding.”

Microsoft employees looking to get involved and to be a mentor for a girl in Kenya through Global Give Back Circle should visit www.globalgivebackcircle.org to learn more about the structure and impact of mentoring and to sign up, or if you are just considering and want to learn more email erstanci@microsoft.com or ggbcmentors@microsoft.com.

“The giving campaign makes me proud to be a part of this company,” said Erin. “I’m incredibly blessed and it’s encouraging to know that the company wants you to bless others. It shows me that Microsoft values what I value, which is making the world a better place. That makes me a more loyal customer and employee.”

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  • i like the spirit  portrayed by the microsoft people

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