April, 2013

  • 800 Kids on a Computer Science Field Trip at Microsoft: A Glimpse into the Future

    By Jane Broom, Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Yesterday was one of those great days where I felt inspired, energized and hopeful about the future of young people in our community. I can’t help wonder where the lives of more than 800 high school students I met today at the annual Microsoft TEALS Field Trip will take them. Will that amazing kid from Rainier Beach High School– the one with the twinkle in his eye and mischievous grin – become the next Bill Gates? Will that confident, compassionate girl from Lake Washington STEM High School someday start her own gaming company that inspires thousands of girls to pursue computer science careers? Perhaps one of them will combine a love of computer science with a love of teaching and become a high school computer science teacher who sparks passion in his or her students – just like TEALS founder Kevin Wang has done?

    Kevin Wang, founder of TEALS, taking the stage.

    TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) is a Microsoft YouthSpark program that brings technology professionals and curriculum to high schools, providing the students I met yesterday and many more around the country with access to high-quality computer science courses. As part of the curricula, the TEALS students come to the Microsoft campus in Redmond where they interact with professionals, hear about interesting developments in the field, and learn about local colleges, jobs and other resources, including programs at Microsoft.

    Bing talking to students at the Opportunity Fair.

    Computer science is what drives the technological innovation that now underpins the global economy. It is one of the fastest growing, lucrative and rewarding fields that a student can pursue. Yet, very few schools around the nation offer it as a course. For instance, of the 770 public and private high schools in the state of Washington, only 35 offer the AP course in computer science.

    800 students from all over the Puget Sound area came to Microsoft for the TEALS field trip.

    The scarcity of these courses has an even greater impact on students of color. Of the 542 Washington students who took the AP computer science exam last year, less than 25 were Hispanic, African-American or Native-American.

    But we are on the verge of important change. The energy, diversity, curiosity and smarts that I saw in the students yesterday can’t be ignored. They will demand more and more of these high-quality, relevant opportunities. Incredible TEALS volunteers are catalyzing change inside high schools and helping to rapidly build access to these courses. They are proving that it can be done in all kinds of schools. The Washington State Legislature is doing its part, too. It recently passed legislation to make computer science count as a math or science graduation requirement.

    To me, there is nothing more rewarding than supporting young people in pursuit of their potential. Yesterday’s TEALS field trip was one of those days that made us at Microsoft proud to have played a part. Watch the videos below to hear some of the students’ stories and understand why I ended the day feeling so excited and hopeful for the future.


  • A Look at the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

    By Caroline Rees, President of SHIFT

    I took the liberty last week of telling a room full of institutional investors that they reminded me of Dutch beer. I think I got away with it, but let me explain.

    The event was a dinner hosted by Microsoft and Hermes with around 60 investors attending a conference of the Council of Institutional Investors. The purpose was to talk about the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

    The Guiding Principles set the global standard regarding both the duty of states to protect people against harm from corporate activities, and the responsibility of companies to respect human rights as they go about their daily work.

    My proposition to the investors was that the Guiding Principles are a real game-changer for companies and investors, since they focus not on repeating the human rights outcomes businesses need to achieve, but on the process for how to get there.

    When Professor John Ruggie, then UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, was developing the Guiding Principles, there were many expectations that they should be a kind of “Mega Code of Conduct” – a listing of all the human rights companies should not harm.

    But companies weren’t contesting that they should respect human rights. Quite the contrary: corporate leaders largely assumed their organizations should and did respect human rights. The challenge came when they were asked ‘how do you know you do?’ Companies simply didn’t have the evidence to answer that question.

    That’s the gap the Guiding Principles aim to fill in defining the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. They set out for companies the basic policies and processes they need in order to know and show that they are respecting human rights in practice.

    By focusing on process, the Guiding Principles have changed the discourse regarding business and human rights. Exchanges once dominated by angry disputes about who did what to whom, are now increasingly constructive, based on a range of really meaningful questions, such as: What’s your policy on human rights? How do you embed it into your operations? What did you do to assess your human rights risks and impacts? How did you use your leverage to reduce them?

    These questions are meaningful for NGOS, investors and for companies themselves. They address the quality of the business processes that affect human rights outcomes on the ground.

    And that brings me back to Dutch beer.

    When I was growing up in England, we had a famous series of television commercials by Heineken, for which the punch line was: “It refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach.”

    And so it goes with investors and companies. Investors reach into the parts of companies well beyond those staff who spend their days thinking about corporate responsibility. They talk with executives who are focused on core business operations, risk management, quarterly results and long-term financial performance. They have a business interest in seeing companies manage their human rights risk effectively to avoid all kinds of business consequence – from operational disruptions to reputational damage to lost business opportunities to expensive lawsuits.

    The Guiding Principles give them the material to refresh those conversations and connect human rights to companies’ core operations. Because respect for human rights isn’t about philanthropy or social investment; it’s not just a non-discrimination policy and diversity training. It’s about how a company does business: its values, culture, ability to manage a key form of risk, and ultimately, in more and more ways, its bottom line.

    Embedding respect for human rights across a company is a journey that takes time. Institutional investors can incentivize, support and reward companies along that road.

    clip_image002 Caroline Rees is President of Shift, an independent, non-profit center for business and human rights, led by a team that was centrally involved in shaping and drafting the UN Guiding Principles, and chaired by their author, Professor John Ruggie. Shift works with companies, governments and their stakeholders to help put the Guiding Principles into practice.
  • Microsoft Supports ‘Girls in ICT Day’

    By Alethea Lodge-Clarke, Public-Private Partnerships Manager, International Organizations, Microsoft

    Women and girls are extremely underrepresented in science and technology in the developing and developed world. In the United States, only 18% of computer science degrees are earned by women and only 22% of software engineers at technology companies are women. While information and communications technology (ICT) play an important role in the empowerment of women around the world, women in developed and developing countries face challenges to training and access, which often limits their ability to reach their full professional potential.

    In an effort to encourage more women to consider careers in ICTs, Microsoft is supporting the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for its annual Girls in ICT Day on April 25. Girls in ICT Day brings together girls, young women and university students to attend events hosted by ICT companies, NGOs and government agencies around the world. This year, Microsoft is participating in technical workshops that teach skills such as coding, web design, and mobile app development.

    Microsoft shares ITU’s belief that to achieve greater equality and education for women in ICTs they need greater access to opportunities. Globally, Microsoft has been involved in several projects to empower women, improve their access to technology and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For example, DigiGirlz, a Microsoft YouthSpark program, provides high school girls with the opportunity to learn careers in technology by interacting with Microsoft employees and receiving computer and technology training. Microsoft is using a similar model of engagement for a soon to be launched portal for North African Women as a part of our company’s 4Afrika Initiative.



    High school student Lizzie Yoo details her DigiGirlz experience in “Diary of a DigiGirl”. The 4Afrika Initiative focuses on three critical areas of development for the continent – world class skills, access and innovation.

    Microsoft Research is also committed to bridging the gender gap in computing careers. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2018 there will be 1.4 million open technology and computer science jobs in the United States, but only 29% of the applicants will be women. To help grow the next generation of women in computing careers, Microsoft Research focuses on four key actions to help bridge the gender gap:

    • Reaching middle and high school girls with tools and programs
    • Partnering with key organizations and top academic institutions to actively engage undergraduates and post-graduates in the field of computer science
    • Raising awareness of the importance of events and mentorships
    • Providing opportunities in computing

    To learn more about the effort, watch the Women in Computing Careers at Microsoft Video Series, the Bridging the Gender Gap Video or click here to view the brochure.

    In addition, Microsoft in partnership with ITU, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN Women recently released a white paper on getting girls interested in STEM education and careers with a series of recommendations. The whitepaper, “Girls in STEM and ICT Careers: The Path toward Gender Equality,” explores potential solutions to the global challenge of increasing the number of girls interested in STEM subjects.

    To improve representation of women in this field, the STEM paper recommends four areas of focus:
    • ICT access and skills
    • Relevance to their lives
    • Empowerment
    • Combating stereotypes about women and girls in science
    clip_image006 The STEM whitepaper also emphasizes that to overcome these challenges, there is no single solution. But if academia, private enterprise, government and NGOs all work together to change cultural perceptions of STEM subjects and provide ample and inspirational learning opportunities, we should start to see women finally represented more equally in such critical academic and professional fields.

    Through our partnerships and programs with organizations like ITU, Microsoft hopes to make an impact on women and girls in providing them with the opportunities and necessary skills needed to be successful in a career in ICT.
  • Young Kodu designer showcases at 2013 White House Science Fair

    By Caroline Curtin, Policy Counsel Microsoft U.S. Government Affairs

    “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you're a young person and you've produced the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too,” said President Obama in 2009, on why he was starting an annual science fair at the White House.

    Four years later – and just this Monday – 100 kids proudly displayed their inventions at the 2013 White House Science Fair. There was a self-cooling system for the inside of football uniforms. A quantitative sleep study that illustrates the connection between sleep patterns and the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s. All of the exhibits were exceptional, but the one that had particular meaning to me was designed by Gustavo Zacarias.

    Gustavo is a middle schooler from San Antonio, Texas. He presented The Dark Labyrinth, a 3-D maze that players navigate by solving math challenges. He coded the game on Kodu, a free game design tool created by Microsoft that enables kids to easily build their own video games. The Dark Labyrinth took home first place in the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has been an early supporter of the Challenge. Seeing him at the White House was a proud moment for the progress we’ve made in furthering STEM education across America.

    “I never thought I would be exhibiting my game at the White House,” said Gustavo. “I worked very hard during the making of the game and was very happy about winning a national competition, so I’m very excited and thankful for the opportunity to be part of this great event.” Gustavo began playing video games at age 4 and plans to build a career as a game designer.

    “Young people like this have to make you hopeful about the future.”

    -President Obama at the 2013 White House Science Fair

    Young people are capable of extraordinary things. At Microsoft, we’re working to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential. That’s why we launched Microsoft YouthSpark, a company-wide initiative with a three year commitment to create opportunity for 300 million young people around the world. That’s why we partner with the STEM National Video Game Challenge and helped set up TEALS, which places professional engineers in high school classrooms to teach computer science virtually or in person. The need for schools to embrace STEM curricula and for students to study computer science is imperative for America’s youth and the country’s success in the global economy.

    clip_image002 Caroline Curtin is part of Microsoft’s U.S. Government Affairs team based in Washington, D.C. In her role as policy counsel, she supports Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business which includes Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE, the controller-free Kinect for Xbox 360 and music and video services.
  • 2013 United Way Spirit of America and Summit Awards

    Congratulations to science and technology company 3M for winning the 2013 United Way Spirit of America® award for philanthropy, volunteer engagement and community impact!

    Microsoft also received two Summit awards from United Way for our community impact and volunteer engagement. The awards program recognizes outstanding United Way Global Corporate Leaders.

    “At Microsoft we really do believe that our strongest asset is our people. We are deeply honored to receive two United Way ‘Spirit of America’ awards which highlight the real impact of our employees in the local communities in which they live and work.”

    -Lori Harnick, General Manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft

    Read the full press release on United Way's site.

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