August, 2013

  • YouthSpark Ambassadors Share Social Entrepreneurship Lessons From Kenya

    By Elisa Willman, Senior Marketing Communications Manager, Microsoft Citizenship
    Last month, we announced the winners of Microsoft’s YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest and our new YouthSpark Ambassadors: Adam Dunn, Brian Hickey, Sneha Jayaprakash, Christina Ong and Meghan Shea. They are wrapping up their three-week volunteer trip in Kenya (part of the grand prize package), where they’ve participated in a village water walk and building a school, and have learned about the local economy, agriculture and food security.

    From left to right: Sneha, Brian, Meghan, Christina and Adam outside their tent in Kenya.
    We spoke with all five of them to learn how their perspective on social entrepreneurship and youth leadership has been shaped and strengthened by what they’ve learned and experienced in Kenya, and how they’ll use that knowledge to shape the social good projects that helped them win the contest:
    Adam Dunn, a student at North Carolina State University, summarizes his initial experiences: “After our first week in Mwangaza, things are starting to feel like home. Our days are filled with constructing the new school’s foundation, experiencing Maasai traditions, and learning about development models for rural Kenyan communities.” Adam was particularly struck by local family economics. “It’s humbling to see the figures and understand the sacrifices that are often made, but it’s also exciting to think of the entrepreneurial potential here.”
    Babson College student Brian Hickey’s highlights have included, “interacting with the locals, helping to build a new school, and completing tasks typically done by villagers such as carrying water.” Though his contest-winning project is based in Uganda, he’s excited to use his Kenya experience as inspiration for his project. He explains, “Hearing from the village Mamas about the income provided from their bead project resonated with my work in Uganda where I am currently helping to develop a business and training center. I plan to return from this trip with new knowledge and experiences to help further my passions.”
    University of California San Diego student Sneha Jayaprakash had a humbling experience through Global Simulation Day, a learning exercise where she was assigned to represent a specific country. “After completing physical chores representative of an impoverished citizen of that nation, I had so much more respect and empathy for the people worldwide, even in our own country, who live paycheck to paycheck without access to basic education and healthcare.” Sneha says the trip, “has reaffirmed my belief that motivated youth have the power to change the world.”
    Christina Ong, a student at University of California Irvine, “can’t stress enough” how much she’s enjoyed her time in Kenya. She shared, “The perseverance of every student I have met here has motivated me even more to bring basic education to every child in Kenya and in the local community I call home... No other experiences could replace the ones I have had during this trip.”
    Meghan Shea, a Stanford University student, had two goals when she entered YouthSpark Challenge for Change: to create a science mentorship program through the funds from the competition, and to advance her own water purification research through the trip to Kenya. Her experiences on the trip have had a far larger impact on her former goal than she could have imagined. Meghan explains, “More important than the specific lessons I’ve learned in my short time here, however, are the little moments that constantly shape my perspective and the conversations—short and long—that I’ve shared with those around me. I’m excited to bring my evolved sense of humility, optimism, and passion back home.”
    Thanks, YouthSpark Ambassadors, for sharing your experiences! We look forward to following your social good projects throughout the year.

  • College Success Foundation Partners with Microsoft on the HERO Initiative in Washington, D.C.

    By Monica Gray, Director of Programs, College Success Foundation – District of Columbia

    At the College Success Foundation, we are thrilled to be partnering with Microsoft on our Higher Education Readiness Opportunity (HERO) Summer Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C. The program is designed to increase college readiness for 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grade underrepresented boys. Microsoft’s recent YouthSpark grant of $150,000 enabled us to extend the school year program into a six-week summer program.  Through this partnership, we are enriching the academic experience and skills of more than 100 young men and encouraging them to pursue higher education.

    College Success Foundation Summer HERO Program participants and staff pose for a photo during their STEM education field trip.

    The D.C. HERO program operates in six high schools in Wards 7 and 8. This summer, our HERO Leadership Academy is helping to develop the academic knowledge and leadership skills of these young men. Each week is dedicated to increasing their knowledge and interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). We finished each week with an educational field trip and ended the summer with a final week-long tour of the Marine Science and Oceanography Institute and college tour in Boston, MA.

    HERO students learn first-hand about STEM education during their field trip to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New York.

    Our emphasis on STEM education allows our students to participate in hands-on learning activities, including utilizing technology, building rockets and hover crafts, testing water for cleanliness, and observing open heart surgery in a real hospital environment. Along with sparking their interest in pursuing a college education and/or STEM career, these activities help them build decision-making, leadership and team building skills.

    The HERO program is proud to partner with Microsoft as part of its YouthSpark initiative to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential by connecting them with greater opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship. It also continues the sustained drumbeat Microsoft has established at the national level in support of STEM education initiatives and reform.

    Together with Microsoft, we can continue to work with students who have the desire to go to college and the willingness to work hard, but are falling short of their potential. By providing support directly to students, their families and academic communities, we can help ensure that these students have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to strengthen their academic and leadership skills.

    Additional information on the College Success Foundation and HERO Initiative can be found here. Information on Microsoft YouthSpark can be found here.

  • Powering Forward

    Note: This post also appears today on the Microsoft Green Blog.

    By Rob Bernard, Microsoft Chief Environmental Strategist

    Microsoft’s adoption of our carbon neutrality commitment and the creation of an internal carbon fee are helping drive an increase in our purchase of renewable energy and carbon offsets. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized us for our leadership in purchasing nearly 1.9 billion kWh of green power. In addition to our green power purchases, we seek to drive research breakthroughs that will enable us and others in our industry to increase our use of renewable energy. We and our business partners are also working with an increasing number of customers in the renewable energy space to use the power of cloud computing to help them grow their business.

    Our purchase of renewable energy is growing due to our environmental commitments and for business reasons. Under our internal carbon fee, we have chosen to increase our operating costs when we rely on carbon-intensive energy sources. This helps increase the business value of finding cost-effective renewable energy options to power our operations. We are updating the next version of our Global Public Policy Agenda to reflect this. (As background, we publicly post our Global Public Policy Agenda each year to communicate to government officials -- and all of our stakeholders – our point of view on public policies that we believe benefit both Microsoft’s business and spur economic growth and help countries achieve their own national priorities.)

    As we update our Global Public Policy Agenda for 2014-2015 we will strengthen the energy and environment section with regards to renewable energy. Our current policy agenda
    has this to say about energy and environmental challenges:

    Address energy and environmental challenges. Reducing energy use and limiting the effects of climate change will require technological advances and innovation. Governments can help in this effort by promoting wide-scale broadband connectivity and deployment of smart devices. We encourage policymakers to adopt policies that will stimulate innovations in energy technology and provide market-based incentives for private investment in the transition to sustainable, low-carbon energy sources and technologies. For example, policies that promote state and local investment in intelligent transportation technologies are a cost-effective way to ensure that transportation systems are safer and more efficient. Such technologies can provide accurate, real-time information to measure system performance and manage the transportation network. Cloud computing can also play an important role by providing tools to measure and reduce energy use in the home, factory, and office—and reduce the environmental impact of IT itself by decreasing the energy use and the carbon footprint of computing by 30 to 90 percent per user.

    We plan to enhance this with this addition: Given Microsoft’s carbon neutrality commitment and imposition of an internal fee on carbon associated with our energy use, we gain business value from cost-effective policies that increase the availability of low carbon and renewable energy for us to use in our operations.”

    Beyond this, Microsoft is also joining the growing number of companies who have signed on to the Climate Declaration, a nonpartisan statement from the business community that “tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st Century.”

    While these steps make clear where we stand on the importance of renewable energy, we sometimes face questions about differing positions on energy and climate issues that have been taken by other groups we belong to have taken. As you would expect, Microsoft works with a wide range of groups across the political spectrum addressing policy issues important to our business. We work with many of these groups on narrowly-tailored technology policy issues and not the full set of issues they address. Our engagement with a particular group is not an endorsement of all the policy positions those groups have taken. For instance, we’ve received some questions about model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council that would repeal renewable energy mandates at the state level. To clarify this issue, Microsoft participates in ALEC’s Communication and Technology Task Force, as do many leading companies in the technology sector. We do not participate in any other ALEC task forces or provide any support or funding for ALEC’s work on environmental issues or other issues outside of communication and technology policy. In short, ALEC is not speaking for us on renewable energy policy.

    Speaking of speaking, we know that actions speak louder than words, and that corporate policies need to be backed up by material commitments towards greater sustainability. We’ll have some significant new actions on renewable energy to share with you soon. Watch the Microsoft Green Blog (or even better subscribe to the RSS feed) for more updates on renewable energy and Microsoft’s progress around environmental sustainability.

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