September, 2013

  • The Future Will Not Wait

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

    The economic and societal challenges facing youth around the world loom larger than ever with the youth unemployment rate expected to click upward to 12.8 percent by 2018 as forecasted by the International Labour Organization’s report, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013.

    Yet, the world’s youth are undaunted by these challenges.  Instead, they’re fired up, taking action and leading the charge to build better lives for themselves and others around them.  We’re inspired by today’s youth and proud to stand alongside them, ready to help every step along the way.  And, we’re not alone.  Government leaders, nonprofit organizations, and companies large and small are working together to empower youth to change their world and build a better future for all. 

    Throughout the past year, as the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative has taken shape around the globe and we’ve worked closely with a large number of nonprofits – ranging from the International Youth Foundation to the African Center for Women and ICT and the China Foundation for Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship, to name just a few –  we’ve spotted three key trends that underscore our commitment to closing the opportunity divide for youth.

    Youth are leading the charge in building the future. Today’s generation of young people know better than anyone the challenges they face and are using their voice to advocate for change.  To help us stay close to the most pressing issues affecting youth in all regions of the world, we are convening an international group of YouthSpark Advisors to guide the ongoing development of our YouthSpark programs over the course of the next two years, beginning with an inaugural meeting this week at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in NYC. Among these advisors is Mary Mwende of Kenya, one of the early inspirations for our YouthSpark initiative.

    Technology is now, more than ever, a great equalizer for 21st century jobs. Computer programming jobs are growing at two times the national average in the U.S., yet less than 2.4 percent of college students are graduating with a degree in computer science. And, of course, there are still many youth without the digital literacy skills that are required for employment in most workplaces around the world.  In light of this continued mismatch between skills and jobs, we are increasing our efforts to bring technology education to youth.  We’re doubling our TEALS program in the U.S. to reach a total 70 high schools in 12 states and we’re rolling out an enhanced digital literacy curriculum on the YouthSpark Hub.  Our increased investment is driven by the opportunity to help more people like Jeremy Moore, one of the first students to learn computer programming through TEALS, and Muriel Surmely, a star student in our Web@cademie program in France.

    Youth entrepreneurship is key to driving economic growth. It is becoming the priority of many governments around the world to promote entrepreneurship and small business creation in order to drive economic growth.  We’re working with governments and nonprofits to provide young entrepreneurs with the technology, skills, and connections to help them build businesses for themselves and create jobs for others. Ranjeet Kumar is just one example of a young entrepreneur, armed with tech skills, who is making a better life for himself and his community.

    As we mark the one-year impact of Microsoft YouthSpark, we are ever-grateful for our collaboration with so many nonprofit organizations, companies, and governments–across all sectors and geographies–to empower youth to enhance their lives and the livelihoods of others. 

    Change of this magnitude will take time, persistence and partnership, but we must press on, fueled by the inspiration of Mary, Jeremy, Muriel, and Ranjeet, and the opportunities that stand before millions more just like them.

    The future will not wait. 


  • Good Read from NetHope: Office 365, the Cloud and Nonprofits in the Developing World

    By Karen Bergin, Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs

    On Tuesday, Microsoft launched Office 365 for Nonprofits as a worldwide donation program.

    Frank Schott, interim president and executive director of NetHope, believes cloud solutions offer a specific set of benefits to nonprofits and NGOs who work primarily in the developing world. NetHope works with 39 leading international humanitarian organizations so that the best information communication technology and practices can be used to serve people in the developing world.

    You can read Frank’s full post on the NetHope blog, an excerpt from which is below:

    “For many years, it was thought that cloud solutions were out of reach for those working in the developing world. Because many organizations lack the basic connectivity that users would need to access their applications and data, it seemed improbable that it would catch on quickly. However, I’ve been struck by how quickly various innovations are coming together simultaneously making cloud solutions well within reach – and highly desirable – for most organizations working in the developing world today.”

  • Windows Donates PCs to Microsoft YouthSpark Partner Year Up

    By Karen Bergin, Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Earlier this summer, we partnered with Windows on the Chip In program to create a “buy one, give one” offer. For every PC that a student crowd-funded through Chip In, we planned to donate a new PC to participants in the Chicago chapter of our Microsoft YouthSpark partner Year Up

    These Year Up students are currently in the internship phase of the program, and are gaining real-world experience at some of Chicago’s most well-known companies. This experience gives them the opportunity to network and learn the skills necessary to thrive when they enter the workforce.

    Please see the Windows blog for more information and photos of the students receiving and unboxing the PCs.

    Participants in Year Up Chicago's internship program with their new Windows PCs.


  • Office 365 Donation: Helping Nonprofits Do More Good

    By Lori Harnick, General Manager, Corporate Citizenship and Public Affairs

    As the needs of communities expand exponentially around the world and technology advancements accelerate with increasing speed, we’re taking a new step forward to help nonprofits more easily harness the power of technology to do more good.

    Starting today, Microsoft is significantly widening the scope of its Technology for Good program by donating Office 365 to nonprofits worldwide. We’re launching the offer in 41 countries today, and we’ll roll it out in up to 90 countries by July 2014. There’s no cap on the number of nonprofit employees who can get on board, whether the organization has 10 employees or thousands.

    Access to the cloud and simplified IT administration have proven essential for the Delaware chapter of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, a Microsoft YouthSpark nonprofit partner. George Krupanski, chief executive officer of the Delaware chapter, wanted to free his staff to focus on youth instead of servers and technical issues. “For many of our kids, Boys & Girls Club is a home away from home. Office 365 allows us to spend more time and resources helping our young people because we are spending less time trying to manage our systems. It also frees up space on our servers, so we can spend our resources on programs for kids instead of on additional technology equipment.”

    For nonprofits with offices in multiple locations, Office 365 simplifies collaboration. Staff can view their colleagues’ calendars to find ideal meeting times, share documents without worrying about version control, and hold group meetings with high definition video conferencing. The added benefit of a cloud-based product is the ability to access documents from anywhere.

    “Office 365 has been vital to the work we do, which by its nature is cross-organizational and spans the globe,” said Erik Arnold, chief information officer of PATH, an international nonprofit that transforms global health through innovation. “For example, now our Malaria Vaccine Initiative team can collaborate across geographies, accessing their files no matter where they are in the world. Office 365 is the ideal solution for our technology needs. Our whole staff has found value in the many features that help them efficiently stay connected to each other and their work, such as calendar overlays, desktop sharing, and group video conferencing.”

    “I am hugely impressed with Office 365. Within days we were seeing real benefits,” said Peter Davitt, chief executive officer of Fastrack to IT, an Irish nonprofit that provides technology training and career development opportunities for the unemployed. “We have offices in Dublin, Cork and Belfast, and we can meet and collaborate very effectively using SharePoint within Office 365. We can upload files that everyone can share and work on during these meetings, regardless of their location.”

    If you work at a nonprofit, now is a great time to apply for a donation of Office 365 for Nonprofits. If you have a favorite nonprofit, please help us spread the news by sharing the video below. Technology is more than bits and bytes – it’s about how people are using technology to make the world a better place.  We can’t wait to hear your story.


  • A Blended Learning Pilot: Teacher Tried, Student Tested

    By Melissa Mauter, CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellow and 8th grade math teacher at The Kipp Key Academy in Washington, D.C

    Editor’s note: This guest post is part of an ongoing series from Microsoft’s YouthSpark non-profit partners focused on their work in local communities. In this back to school post, CityBridge-NewSchools Fellow and 8th grade Math Teacher Melissa Mauter tells us about the classroom pilot she created this summer along with 12 other teacher fellows as part of the CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellowship (EIF).  Earlier this year, CityBridge announced a $1 million grant from Microsoft to support STEM Education via the EIF’s blended learning approach. 

    Early on a recent Monday morning, 12 Education Innovation Teacher Fellows reflected on summer school by answering this question: What would we each keep, change, or dump from our summer school redesigns?  In the months leading up to summer school, fellows planned classroom redesigns based on a blended learning model.  Blended learning models leverage computer based technologies in classrooms to personalize learning and accelerate student achievement.

    With summer school under our belts and the new school year starting, we each gained experience in planning and implementing our classroom redesigns. The “keep, change or dump” list would serve as a springboard for designing fall pilots which iterate on summer school models to account for lessons learned.

    I scanned the list from my fellow teachers.  Shane wanted to keep competency-based learning in his classroom -- He would need some tweaks to make it scalable to larger classes in the fall.  Charlotte and Vee would change back-up plans when hardware or timeline agreements with digital content providers failed. The “dump” list ranged from specific classroom procedures to earlier mindsets related to students learning best in more traditional ways. 

    Kipp Key Academy Senior Kenya Johnson reflects on her progress towards her personal growth targets using Khan Academy, a computer-based math program.

    This activity captured the spirit and practice of the Education Innovation Fellowship (EIF) in supporting teachers to increase student achievement and act as ambassadors in the field of blended learning.

    Before the Fellowship, I viewed computers as adding a degree of separation between teachers and students. Through my classroom redesign, I learned that this notion had to do with how I had previously used computers in class. In my summer school classroom redesign I eliminated the use of a one-to-one computer model and created 6 computer stations instead. This move created more time to engage students in meaningful, project-based learning in smaller groups. I gained more chances to informally check for student understanding and adapt my instruction to respond to student misunderstandings.

    Working with smaller groups of students proved to be a much less stressful learning configuration compared to my traditional style of teaching. In my more traditional style of whole group instruction, I would often feel uneasy about teaching towards the middle.  I experienced preoccupying thoughts of students who may be feeling bored or feeling confused.  My biggest takeaway from my classroom redesign is that using computers more strategically actually has the opposite effect of adding a degree of separation. In fact, computers helped me strengthen my relationships with my students by creating space to work with smaller groups and more opportunities to help and enjoy my students.

    In this Fellowship, I have also learned how to apply the scientific method to help solve problems hindering student achievement in my classroom. While I have sweated the details of classroom plans more than ever before, I have also implemented ideas for changing my practice on a quicker timeline. I can confidently say because of this Fellowship, I have learned more about how students achieve in my classroom and I have learned it much faster than I would have on my own. The Fellowship has created a valuable framework for helping teachers to apply the scientific method to problem-solve through meaningful school observations, pilot planning templates, individual feedback, pilot redesign focus groups and conversations with just about every expert in the field of blended learning.

    As a rising fifth year teacher, I can confidently say participation in this Fellowship constitutes one of the steepest and most impactful learning curves in my teaching experience. With what is best for students at the forefront of my mind, I owe it to other teachers to spread the word about lessons learned through this experience as well as progress made as blended learning continues to evolve in my classroom.  

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