Youth & Opportunity
Engineering , Math
By Steve Lippman, Director, Microsoft Citizenship
When I say I recently spent time with idealists, what do you picture? Young people volunteering on a political campaign? A scientist working to unlock the secrets to cleaner energy or fight a deadly disease? How about MBAs, businesspeople, investors, and leaders of startups?
If you guessed the latter, you are noticing a remarkable shift over the last generation as people increasingly see opportunities to advance their ideals within the private sector. I was reminded of this in the last few weeks while representing Microsoft at two conferences that attract idealists from places you might not traditionally expect.
The first was the 13th Annual Net Impact Conference. Net Impact is a network of over 40,000 student and professional leaders working to “drive transformational change in the workplace and the world.” The conference attracted a lively mix of over 3,000 students, business professionals, entrepreneurs, academics, and advocates to discuss topics such as “Cultivating Community Health Through Urban Food Systems” and “The Habits of High-Impact Nonprofits”. I shared Microsoft’s approach to corporate transparency and reporting on one panel, effective stakeholder engagement strategies on another, and led a roundtable discussion with students on the future of the corporate responsibility profession.
The next week it was on to the 24th Annual SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing — an annual gathering of investors and investment professionals “working to direct the flow of investment capital in more positive, healthy, and transformative ways.” I participated in a panel discussion with an investor, the head of a media-related NGO, and a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union on “Privacy on the Internet: Rights and Risks in the Digital Age.”
After a few days to reflect on these two events I see three big themes that emerged across both:
Using the power of capital to drive positive change. Both conferences highlighted a diverse set of initiatives, institutions, and financial vehicles designed to channel capital to places where it can make a positive difference. These efforts range from changing how Wall Street values companies’ management of environment, social, and governance issues to esoteric crowd-funding platforms to support small startups that meet a social or environmental need. What unites them is their commitment to think about ways for investments to yield social and environmental returns as well as financial returns.
Rising expectations for transparency, accountability, and performance. Speaker after speaker emphasized that demands on companies and institutions are only increasing when it comes to transparency and delivering social and environmental results. Those demands are coming from almost all the core groups companies depend on to succeed (or even to stay in business): employees, investors, customers, policymakers, and communities.
Recognition of mutual interdependence and openness to collaboration. The broad participation from people across all sectors in both conferences—and especially Net Impact—underscored the widespread acceptance of the idea that no one institutional or sector can solve the complex global challenges we face, alone. Examples of private-public partnerships abounded, such as companies working with environmental groups and MBAs to identify opportunities for greater energy savings through the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps. Both conferences highlight the diverse ecosystem of changemakers working across and between sectors.
Merriam Webster defines an idealist in part as “one that places ideals before practical considerations.” That definition certainly doesn’t fit the idealists I met at these two conferences. Instead it seems to me they are following one of my favorite quotes from idealist Henry David Thoreau: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Jason Vallery recalls his mom joking throughout his childhood that she was smarter than his dad because she made it to 10th grade and his father dropped out in the 9th. As a boy, Jason didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he knew he didn’t want to end up like his parents – without a high school diploma.
Fortunately, help came when Jason was 9. He was in the fourth grade when he and others in his class were adopted by the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. The students, chosen based on family income, were assigned a support group, including mentors and tutors, to work with them all the way through high school graduation.
Jason speaks beside a Dreamer at the “I Have a Dream” luncheon.
The nonprofit foundation provides this long-term support with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. It provides students mentorship, role models and guidance throughout the 10 years and upon graduation, the children, known as Dreamers, are eligible to receive tuition assistance for college.
“The biggest indicator for dropping out of school is being low income so we try to level the playing field for these kids so they have equal opportunities,” says Lori Canova, CEO of the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder County. “We help them find things they are passionate about and interested in doing. The goal is self-sufficiency, to enable them to rise out of poverty through education.”
Jason credits the organization’s Boulder County chapter with providing him opportunities he would have gone without, and he credits his mentors with not only assuring he made it through high school, but providing the connections he needed to land a good job.
Now 31 with his own young son, Jason works as a field engineer for Microsoft. He has remained connected to the organization and transitioned from being a Dreamer to making dreams happen for other young people. He recently shared his story at the 16th annual “I Have a Dream” luncheon and fundraiser and this fall, he and his wife were able to donate $2,000 to sponsor a child in the program.
“This is one way I’m attempting to pay back a small fraction of the debt I feel towards this organization,” Jason says. “I hope in the years to come I can find further ways to pay it forward and help kids in the same way I was helped.”
Our Employee Giving Program will match Jason’s donation dollar for dollar, allowing two Dreamers to be sponsored. The matching program is part of the yearlong campaign which offers up to $15,000 per employee in cash or volunteer hour donations. Now in its 31st year, the campaign has donated more than $1 billion to more than 31,000 unique organizations.
And, to further extend our support for Jason and the “I Have a Dream Foundation,” we’re featuring his story among 30 Microsoft employee “Giving Heroes” who are helping young people overcome a number of challenges and capture new opportunities. As part of Microsoft’s global YouthSpark initiative, the youth-serving nonprofits supported by our employee Giving Heroes will each receive an additional $1,000 cash grant and a chance to raise even more money through the upcoming #GivingTuesday campaign.
“Without having the sense of accountability, I could have very well taken the same path my parents did and dropped out of school early,” says Jason. “I didn't though, I stuck through it, and I graduated on time. Without ‘I Have a Dream’, I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't have the drive, the knowledge, or the experiences that were required to propel me into the successes I've enjoyed. I want to do everything I can to make that happen for the next generation.”
Meet other Giving Heroes by following #youthspark, #givinghero and #msftgiving on Microsoft Facebook and Twitter. We’ll showcase inspiring employees making a difference for youth each day this month.
Jason and his family celebrate a graduating “I Have a Dream” class.
By Jane Meseck, Director of Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft
Thanks to many of you, we received a tremendous response from the nonprofit community around the world with the launch Windows 8. Windows 8.1 is an evolution of the Windows 8 vision, bringing together powerful productivity apps and a range of ways to ensure your team can reach the resources they need from any device or location.
Now is a great time to make the move to Windows 8.1. Eligible nonprofit organizations and public libraries can request Windows 8.1 through Microsoft’s software donation program. Get started today.
Windows 8.1 introduces a fully customizable Start screen, new search experience, upgraded app store, and improved multi-tasking features.
Windows brings together everything you do – wherever you are, wherever you go.
If you’re ready to get started with Windows 8.1, here are a few steps you can take to learn more:
By Daniel Sytman, Senior Public Relations Manager, Citizenship and Public Affairs
In a post today on the Official Microsoft Blog, Microsoft General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal & Corporate Affairs Brad Smith officially announced the launch of the Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA). The MSSA is an intense, 16-week course helping service members obtain the certification required for information technology careers.
In addition to receiving a Microsoft IT Academy-powered curriculum provided by Saint Martin’s University, service members who complete the pilot program will be hired into entry-level roles as Software Testers by either Microsoft or Launch Consulting, the technology consulting firm administering the program. Active-duty service members transitioning from all branches of the military, as well as members of the National Guard and Reserve returning to their civilian jobs, are eligible.
To find out more about the MSSA, please read the full post on the Official Microsoft Blog.
By Karen Bergin, Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs
In a post today on the Microsoft Fire Hose blog, the topic is honoring the “Giving Heroes” among us.
Inspired by all the nonprofits helping the next generation of innovators, inventors, and mountain movers, we asked employees to share with us their favorite organizations. Throughout the month we’ll tell their stories on the Microsoft Facebook page. Each day you’ll meet a Microsoft employee who’s working with a super-powered nonprofit to encourage and support young people in our communities.
To find out how you, too, can be a Giving Hero, please read the full post on the Microsoft Fire Hose blog.
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