Microsoft Citizenship Blog

  • Meet 20 Finalists and Vote for Your Favorite Change-Maker!

    By Kari Sherrodd, senior manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    After reviewing impressive entries from more than 50 countries, our judging panel for this year’s Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest has finished the tough task of selecting 20 finalists. Now we’re asking you to make five of these inspiring change-makers our grand prize winners and our newest YouthSpark Ambassadors.

    Starting today through April 22, you can vote once a day for the project that inspires you the most. To help you out, each of the 20 finalists created a video sharing more about themselves and their projects.

    Watch their videos and cast your vote today!

    Meet the Finalists

    Many of the finalists are passionate about increasing access to STEM education and digital literacy skills training, or using technology to enhance curriculum. “I think it’s up to community leaders, like myself, to provide as many resources as possible to help bridge the skills gap, creating a smoother transition into a workforce that’s increasingly reliant on technology,” finalist Aaron Carr shared.

    • Aaron Carr (New York City, New York, United States) aims to partner with homeless shelters to create digital literacy training workshops that will help the homeless acquire the skills they need to enter the workforce and support their families.
    • Arturo Lucatero (Newberg, Oregon, United States) hopes to inspire young Latino students to pursue STEM education by funding and leading an all-Latino FIRST Tech Challenge team to help them get excited about robotics.
    • Dominic Co (Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines) plans to develop an online curriculum to supplement the teaching of literature by famous Filipino authors so the stories come alive and resonate with today’s high school students.
    • Juan Carlos Murillo (San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico) founded Sin Miedo al a Corriente to teach electrical engineering and computer science to underprivileged junior high school students through hands-on activities such as building electric motors and solar cars.

    From left to right: Aaron Carr, Arturo Lucatero, Dominic Co, Juan Carlos Murillo

    • Laura Fulton (Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, United States) created Science for Success to promote STEM education among young girls and encourage them to overcome gender stereotypes and cultural biases that may affect their interest in science.
    • Osazee Paul (Igueben, Edo State, Nigeria) intends to build a technology training center in rural Edo State, Nigeria that would be free of charge for the community.
    • Sathya Narayanan Subramanian (Coimbature, Tamil Nadu, India) plans to launch a portal that provides 10 hours of free digital literacy training covering everything from “What Is a Computer?” to basic tutorials on how to use computers in daily life.

    From left to right: Laura Fulton, Osazee Paul, Sathya Narayanan Subramanian

    Other finalists are determined to combat social injustice and inequality. As finalist Chelsea Montes de Oca explained, “No child deserves to have their future determined by their zip code. Every child deserves the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

    • Chelsea Montes de Oca (Denver, Colorado, United States) plans to create a program that empowers children in low-income areas to become community-minded advocates by writing for their school newspapers.
    • Jeremy Goss (St. Louis, Missouri, United States) will launch a nonprofit mobile farmer’s market using a reclaimed city transit bus to bring fresh, healthy, locally-sourced produce, meat, poultry, and dairy to food desert communities in the greater St. Louis area.
    • Sara Stifler (Forest Hill, Maryland, United States) and her friend Connie developed Journey In Their Shoes to combat hate, judgment and apathy among humanity by recording and publishing the stories and photographs of strangers, demonstrating a way to connect through differences.

    From left to right: Chelsea Montes de Oca, Jeremy Goss, Sara Stifler

    Several projects aim to provide therapy through music, poetry and play. “I have found my place in the world helping others,” shared finalist Brandon MacDougall. “Creative expression saved me, and it will save others.”

    • Brandon MacDougall (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada) plans to create weekly workshops around spoken word poetry, rap and public speaking to empower youth struggling with mental illness and combat the stigma surrounding mental health.
    • Cynthia Poon (Providence, Rhode Island, United States) developed Increment Studios to create toys that can be used by all children, but especially those with special needs and disabilities.
    • Daniela Orozco Vizcaino (Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico) founded Interludio to provide the healing power of music therapy to hospital patients.

    From left to right: Brandon MacDougall, Cynthia Poon, Daniela Orozco Vizcaino

    Three of our finalists are focused on youth empowerment and mentorship. “We want to inspire and motivate young adults to explore new things, to discover unknown possibilities, and ultimately live a more productive and fulfilled life,” explained finalist Brandon Polack.

    • Brandon Polack (Norcross, Georgia, United States) created Off THA Couch to inspire and motivate young adults to create lives full of purpose and meaning, and to engage with each other to create change in the world.
    • Tayler Ulmer (Chicago, Illinois, United States) founded My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), a mentorship program to broaden the horizons of young males and help maximize their potential by pairing them with college students to emphasize the importance of secondary education.
    • Yuhao (Danny) Huang (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) plans to grow his online platform, National Student Network, which centralizes thousands of education, internship and volunteer opportunities for youth in Canada, and the related National Young Leaders program that provides peer-to-peer mentorship.

    From left to right: Brandon Polack, Tayler Ulmer, Yuhao (Danny) Huang

    And these finalists created projects designed to address global health issues and disaster response. “I believe that health is a human right,” explained finalist Ali Greatsinger. “I want to help these communities harness their own potential to create healthy environments.”

    • Ali Greatsinger (Chicago, Illinois, United States) hopes to combat health inequality in Peru by piloting a breakfast program designed to increase adherence to tuberculosis treatment, which is often compromised by malnutrition.
    • Kumar Vivek (Davangere, Karnataka, India) is developing a Windows Phone app to help rice farmers diagnose paddy plant leaf disease, often caused by nitrogen deficiency. After uploading a photo of the crop, farmers will receive fertilization suggestions to combat the disease.
    • Mohamed Iqbal Isham Mohamed (Eastern Province, Sri Lanka) created a platform that collects data on Dengue fever and provides risk alerts via a mobile app to the community, doctors and medical workers to prevent the deadly disease from spreading.
    • Ryan Justin Reyes (Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines) developed SankalusuganQRX, a platform that aids with the search for loved ones after devastating natural disasters through a novel use of personal QR codes.

    From left to right: Ali Greatsinger, Kumar Vivek, Mohamed Iqbal Isham Mohamed, Ryan Justin Reyes

    We’ll announce the winners on May 1, so check back then to see if your favorite project won! Remember to vote once a day between now and April 22 and spread the word about #youthspark.

  • Harnessing Disruption: The power of IT for disaster response

    By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft
    Some of the largest humanitarian relief organizations met this week in Luxembourg to discuss using technology to prepare and respond to emergencies.  The Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, led by the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), was hosted by the Government of Luxembourg for a “Technical Innovation Day.” 

    The event included a hands-on experience with technologies used for humanitarian relief.  We participated in a disaster scenario in which three groups were asked to use these technologies to assess damage and determine the best responses. “The idea was to recreate a scenario of tests close to the reality in the field for humanitarian actors, where they will interact with each other using different tools and channels all federated or connected to the Cloud,” said Antoine Bertout, Senior Manager of Strategic Partner Relations for Skype.

    We saw how emergency “vertical connectivity” may be activated using an inflatable satellite dish  that pulls satellite signals down to a base station. Even more important, the system’s software allows information to be managed across responding groups.  We examined a device that accesses TV “white space” signals through an easy, modular setup, and converts the inflatable satellite dish-captured signal horizontally across more than 20 kilometers.  It may also be fitted with solar panels to help generate power for the affected community, and may eventually provide cellular coverage to disaster-ravaged communities. In another demo, a fire truck equipped with some of this communications equipment traveled around Luxembourg and, through low-bandwidth Skype, we communicated with the crew.


    We had the opportunity to operate a drone that relayed data back to a base station. It’s not hard to imagine the disaster recovery uses of a drone with these capabilities.  For example, it might scan a large area for survivors, transmitting their locations to rescuers. But what if the drone crashes during such an operation? We simulated a crash in which a wing broke. Using a Maker Bot 3-D printer, we were able to quickly print a replacement blade.

    Big data also made an appearance at this week’s demonstrations. We examined data visualization packages designed to ensure the flow of information during emergencies. And we worked with apps specially designed for disaster response, including Microsoft HelpBridge, which helps people connect during a time of disaster. Others may use the app to discover and donate to organizations involved in disaster response work, and find opportunities to volunteer.

    These demonstrations were a reminder of the power of innovation: the thirst to find new solutions to big problems in the developing world and beyond. With technology, those in remote communities touched by disaster now have improved access to life-saving communications and information that speeds recovery. Access to these technologies can also lead to more income-generating activities, which those in the developing world desperately need.

    But most of all it was a reminder that technology is about empowering people. It empowers the relief organizations delivering aid and those on the receiving end of that help. It helps level the playing field, even for the most vulnerable. That’s the true power of technology.

  • Meet the Judges for Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change

    By Elisa Willman, senior manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    We lined up a great panel of judges for Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change. They have backgrounds in social entrepreneurship, nonprofits and technology, and their job is to select 20 finalists with the most promising ideas to move to the next phase of the competition. They reviewed inspiring submissions from more than 50 countries that covered a range of issues including food security, personal empowerment, digital literacy, STEM education, healthcare, environmentalism and entrepreneurship – just to name a few! We’ll announce the 20 finalists on Tuesday, April 15.

    Meet the Judges

    From left to right: Romanus Berg, Adam Braun, Jennifer Corriero, Ben Goldhirsh

    Romanus Berg, chief information officer, Ashoka

    Adam Braun, founder, Pencils of Promise

    Jennifer Corriero, executive director, TakingITGlobal

    Ben Goldhirsh, co-founder and CEO, GOOD

    From left to right: Rachel Abbot, Clair Deevy, Matthew Tams, Yvonne Thomas

    Rachel Abbot, US & Worldwide Student Lead for the Windows Experiential Team at Microsoft

    Clair Deevy, leads Microsoft’s Corporate Social Responsibility programs in Asia Pacific

    Matt Tams, senior marketing and communications manager, Global Advertising Team at Microsoft

    Yvonne Thomas, senior program manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft

  • Impact Sourcing – The Opportunity Ahead

    By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    Today I co-authored a blog post with Mamadou Biteye, managing director, Africa, Rockefeller Foundation about Impact Sourcing.

    Microsoft and the Rockefeller Foundation recently co-convened over 30 global industry experts in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss the future of Impact Sourcing. This was a follow-up meeting from the one convened by the Rockefeller Foundation in September 2013, and this time around there was a greater focus on each organization’s roles in helping to advance the sector. 

    The Rockefeller Foundation believes that companies can achieve both business and social impact through Impact Sourcing, which focuses hiring opportunities on qualified workers who would be considered disadvantaged in their local context – economically, socially, physically, or otherwise. The team came together in South Africa to engage major outsourcing firms to gauge their understanding of this sector and to determine existing opportunities to expand their impact.

    To read more about the point of view that Microsoft and the Rockefeller Foundation share, visit the Rockefeller Foundation blog.

  • Coding for Impact with Chelsea Clinton and CGIU

    By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

    If you knew how to code would you want to create the next hot social media app? Or would you try to save the world? There’s no reason you can’t do both, but through our YouthSpark initiative, we’re especially motivated to support students who aim to solve the world’s toughest problems through technological innovations.

    Last week we co-sponsored a codeathon with Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) at Arizona State University. This two-day event brought together four teams of students to develop technology-based solutions related to several CGI commitment areas: Education, Global Health, and Water Quality. It was one aspect of CGIU’s annual meeting that convened more than 1,100 students to make a difference.

    Participants didn’t have to be coders to participate. The group also included students focused on landscape architecture, design, and education. Microsoft Citizenship provided guidance on their overall concepts and helped the teams develop their pitches, and our colleagues from the Microsoft Developer Platform Evangelist (DPE) team were on hand to support from a technical perspective.

    At the end of the two days, three judges – Chelsea Clinton, Microsoft’s Ashish Jaiman, and Sasha Barab (Executive Director of ASU’s Center for Games and Impact) – listened to each team’s pitch, asked follow-up questions, and measured the projects against the following criteria: Design, Potential for Impact, Relevance, and Creativity.

    Ultimately, they selected MediText as the winning app, which helps people remember to take their medication by providing reminders and encouragement. The app provides simple text message reminders with additional community elements that involve doctors, friends, and family – all key parts of the social network that help keep people on track with their medications. Each team member won a Windows Phone, and another codeathon participant won a Surface supplied by Microsoft and raffled off by Chelsea Clinton.

    It’s inspiring to see how quickly young people can come together to make a difference! Clinton Global Initiative University is doing phenomenal work motivating young people to get involved in solving the world’s biggest challenges, and we are proud to support them.

    The winning team, MediText, on stage with Chelsea Clinton.

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