Youth & Opportunity
Engineering , Math
Earlier this week I decided to skip the usual lunch routine to check out the innovative ideas of some of the nation's brightest students who are looking to change the world at the U.S. finals of the 2011 Imagine Cup which took place this year on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.
Bill Buxton of Microsoft Research listens to a pitch from Drexel's smart and energetic Zack Howitt.
Microsoft established the Imagine Cup competition nine years ago with the belief that students can and will change the world. The Imagine Cup begins with local, regional, and online contests in over 100 countries and regions with the finalists going on to attend the worldwide finals. The competition challenges students to use technology to address the United Nationals Millennium Development Goals.
I wasn't the only person who made the decision to examine the next generation of technology leaders; amongst the gigantic crowd, house music, and digital display frenzy, I saw many familiar faces from the Microsoft digital world such as Alfred Thompson, Scott Lum, and Matt Bernardy. Those in attendance listened to pitches from 22 different teams focusing on a number of areas from software development to game design. The teams tackled a range of global issues with incredible ingenuity such as disease diagnosis through mobile devices, supply chain management and the deployment of resources during disaster response, fighting pollution, alternative energy solutions and more.
Jason Wakizaka (pictured above) of the LifeLense teamkindly took some time to talk to us about their application for Windows Phone 7 that can diagnose malaria and track cases using bing maps.
The LifeLens idea took second place award at the US Imagine Cup Finals, so a big congratulations to Jason and the team!!
Team Note-Taker (pictured below) from Arizona State University won the Software Design competition and will represent the U.S. at the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals in New York City this summer. The team, made up of Michael Astrauskas, David Hayden, Shashank Srinivas and Qian Yan, designed an assistive technology to help vision-impaired students take notes in class. In victory, Hayden remarked, "Technology empowers the individual to make the world accessible according to their own needs. Our work demonstrates this by equipping low-vision students with a portable assistive technology that enables them to take their own notes - a process that is well known to benefit retention."
At the awards ceremony, principal researcher from Microsoft Research, Bill Buxton, shared a number of ingenious insights with the students and his closing comments reiterated what I had been thinking all day: "You students have taken far more steps to change the world through innovation, than I had at your age."
You can find details on all of the winners and see who will represent the United States in New York this summer, on the Imagine Cup Blog: Microsoft Names U.S. Imagine Cup Winners.
I had a pleasure of moderating a discussion with Arunas A. Chesonis, the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of PAETEC, founded in 1998. I wanted to understand from him why he-as a CEO and business leader-invests in his community in the city of Rochester, New York, and why he has developed a culture of investing back into the community at PAETEC.
Arunas, an MIT graduate and an entrepreneur, is a visionary who thinks outside of the box regarding how to build a business and how to build a community around him. He told the audience at the BCLC Corporate Community Investment 2011 conference in Philadelphia that one of his company's four guiding principles is "caring culture," a concept in PAETEC's objectives and a metric for performance evaluation.
"If you have two managers and both are very good, but one is involved in the community," Chesonis said, "he'll drive more business and will build more relationships within the company, outside the company, and with clients. That's the manager who will get the promotion. People like that get to move up in the organization because they're the ones who do business better."
Community involvement at the individual employee level, he said, not only helps managers excel-their success helps to grow the business.
In our talk, he explained that PAETEC also uses the same criteria when considering procurement bids from his partners-with price being more or less equal, PAETEC wants to know how engaged potential business partners are in investing back in the community. He wants to know how you're investing in communities, how you're giving back, how you're making the country do better.
For Arunas, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a strategic weapon-an interesting choice of words-and he said that if you're not doing CSR, if you're not engaged in CSR, then you're not going to be as successful, you're not going to optimize your stock price, you're not going to optimize your performance, and you're not truly, fully engaged with all your team members. In short, it's better business to be engaged in CSR.
So how does Chesonis make sure engagement is constant and thorough?
First, he sees engagement in CSR as building an extended family among a range of stakeholders (even the name of the company stems from the first letter of the names of the Chesonis family). He said he came to Philadelphia for the BCLC conference to lend support to those who are in the CSR business. "Maybe," he said, "I'll give you some tricks that we've used to trick people within our ecosystem into seeing why this is important for all of us."
Second, engagement in CSR work should be decentralized. At PAETEC, Chesonis lets his community relations managers decide where to focus the company's CSR efforts instead of dictating what to do with a top-down approach.
"I feel like I'm the match.com for CSR at my company. It's my responsibility to connect my employees with our community," he said and noted that he wants connections to grow organically between his community relations managers and the local organizations.
Building your own community is important, and connecting your community to other communities in common goals is the next step in building capacity.
Arunas asked, "Wouldn't it be great if there were a BCLC in all communities?" Organizations that convene and connect, he said, are needed at the local Chamber level so that local corporate citizens and community leaders can come together, learn, and expand their capacity. Having a network of local BCLC-like organizations, he said, would encourage public-private partnerships.
"It's hard for SMEs to travel to national conferences and major events like this - that makes local collaboration level so much more needed," he said. "People could develop their own approaches at the local levels and decide what fits best with their communities and businesses."
While his community relations managers guide the company's strategy, the Chesonis family is building its own legacy in environment and energy research-the need for intense research in these fields is astounding, he said. With the belief that researchers should be allowed time to fail and experiment to find the best, most innovative solutions, Arunas and his family are funding long-term research spots for post-grad MIT students. Most Nobel Prize winners in science, he noted, made their discoveries at the age of 28. "We need to be funding young, energetic people who have time and inspiration to immerse themselves in their research 100 hours/week."
He ended the thought that corporate responsibility should be a strategic priority for all companies. "Don't be a 'dumb philanthropist' and just write checks," he said. "Work on the strategic piece-what's good for a company can be good for a community and vice versa."
For those in business still sitting on the fence, this is a good piece of advice.
For more on the relationship between MIT and Arunas and their partnership on alternative energy research: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2008/chesonis-0422.html
This year's Council on Foundations Conference ended with a unique session that placed the entire field of philanthropy on trial. The charge: Philanthropy is not fulfilling its mission of advancing the common good. Gara LaMarche, president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, represented the prosecution, and Ralph R. Smith, executive vice president of The Annie E. Casey Foundation and former Council board chair, served as the defense attorney. A former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable Jane Cutler Greenspan, acted as the judge.
In his opening remarks, LaMarche painted a damning picture of philanthropy, linking it to the Gucci set with a motivation to do good but operating without any real sense or understanding of the overall situation. He said the sector remains too focused on charity-what I call random acts of kindness- rather than strategic investments. And he suggested that the sector itself is not representative of the communities it is trying to serve, pointing out that only 4 percent of grant making board members are Hispanic.
Ralph Smith mounted a rousing defense by portraying the importance of philanthropy and the sector and its impact. "At the end of the day," Smith said, "philanthropy persists in the expression of generosity and to perform in pursuit of the common good." He spoke about the growth of philanthropy and the recent "giving pledge" that many members of the younger generation have signed to sustain social change. He argued that the practitioners of philanthropy are leaders who come from different ideological perspectives to serve the most underserved.
Smith's rebuttal led to an interesting and at times caustic to and fro. LaMarche demanded evidence of impact in a world with growing disparity, though he did acknowledge that the progress philanthropy has attained was simply not enough. He said he was not convinced that the sector holds itself accountable.
Smith said philanthropy was doing its job by taking what's been left to us to and making it better for the next generation, even if our efforts are imperfect. Philanthropy may not have done enough, he said, but it looks very different today from 10 years ago.
So where did this end? The jury was hung in its verdict but was still in favor of the prosecution by 10-2. Quite a shocking conclusion by the sector and a harsh self-criticism! Was the jury too harsh on philanthropy? What do you think?
I believe the jury was unkind. Much of philanthropy occurs under the most tenuous conditions. Those who work in this sector go beyond passion and show courage, creativity, and compassion (see my blog, "Passion Is Overrated") in the face of endless challenges. On a personal note, I have benefited by the generosity of this sector that funded my education at a prestigious institution that provided me with the skills and know-how to contribute to society. That, to me, is an example of a lasting contribution that changes one life at a time.
The year was 1990, Vanilla Ice's hit "Ice Ice Baby" was rocking the radio waves, and the combination of neon MC Hammer pants and a Bozworth Mullet made me feel like the coolest kid in the second grade. Growing up an only child raised by a single mother, after school programs occupied the hours between school's end and the time my mom could retrieve me after a hard fought day of making a living to keep us afloat. Back then you could catch a glimpse of my 90's style on the basketball court at the Boys and Girls Club of America (BCGA), where I spent many afternoons developing the face of my future - as close to Michael Jordan as possible (tongue out and all) - through a BCGA Basketball program.
20 years later...
As I walked through the doors of the Wallingford Boys and Girls Club in the greater Seattle area, a few feet taller and with far less flamboyant style, I saw children socializing in the common areas and a few shooting hoops on the basketball court-but what stood out to me was the largest gathering of kids sitting patiently with a look of anticipation on their face. I couldn't help but wonder if they were eagerly awaiting the opening of their brand new Club Tech - that's why I was there.
I entered the room labeled Club Tech and was immediately greeted by an enthusiastic James Duffus, who I learned was a fellow representative from Microsoft and the engineer behind a system we are testing with the BCGA using Windows Multi Point server to best serve the technology needs of teachers and the children they educate.
Below is a clip I captured during the Club Tech opening party where Club Director Nita Smith introduced James Duffus and asked him to describe his team's work with the BCGA Clubs:
When Club Director Nita Smith opened the doors to the new Club Tech, the group of patient kids swiftly filed in one after another to find an empty seat and immediately logged on to the computers as if they had a magic treasure waiting inside their Windows profile. Some kids began playing games on a split screen against each other; a few others Bing'ed the stats to the previous night's Hornets vs. Celtics game. "Ray Allen dropped 20 on 'em last night, they came back from 15 down..." One kid explained to me.
Engaging with these kids and watching their actions using a state of the art technology center, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to my childhood. BCGA was there for me; teaching me skills that were then focused mainly in sports, and helping me fit in as part of a community, cultivating my future as an able member of society. I might not have become a professional basketball player, but the foundational skills that assisted me in my life leading to where I am today; I attribute 90% of this to my mom, but that 10% is a VERY important number as she could not be with me all of the time, so others had to set a good example like the BCGA.
Kids today face the expectation of being technologically literate, as a societal norm. Did you know 23% of American children do not have access to the Internet and more than 8 million American children do not have regular access to a computer? So if this has become the expectation of our society's youth, what happens to those who do not have access to technology? How will they keep up with their peers in an ever changing digital learning environment?
Enter the Boys and Girls Club of America, Microsoft, and Comcast. The Club Tech program gives children access to learn technology as a skill, a part of life, and a means of education. There are over 3800 Club Tech's in the United States providing communities with a place to learn, work, and grow in their use of technology as a tool.
At the BCGA in Wallingford, I met kids wearing this year's equivalent of hammer pants, with the same hope for the future for themselves and from their families that surrounded me growing up; I can't help but wonder who's Face of the Future looks less like Michael Jordan, and more like Bill Gates.
This week help us celebrate the Faces of the Future with the Boys and Girls Club of America, Comcast, and all of Microsoft.
You can make a difference in the digital literacy of today's youth by visiting your local BCGA, and spreading the word through Twitter and Facebook, help us tell everyone about http://www.facesofthefuture.org/ !
*Source for Stats: Source: Child Trends Databank
I'm here in Minneapolis to attend the 2011 Corporate Citizenship Conference sponsored by Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship. Microsoft is proud to be one of the conference sponsors again this year and I am honored to have been asked to participate on a panel today to try and answer the question: "How in the World Do You Handle Global Corporate Citizenship?" The panel was facilitated by Ron Brown, one of the Center's faculty members and I was joined l by Anne Roosevelt, my counterpart at The Boeing Company and Katherine Woerner from the global citizenship team at Abbott Laboratories.
The Center has promised conference participants four takeaways - knowledge, solutions, best practices and connections. So, in thinking about our panel conversation today I keeping those take aways in mind as we share experiences, insights and learnings.
First, let me say, global corporate citizenship is an art - not a science! Having said that, there are a number of key things we have learned in building a global Citizenship program:
1) One size does not fit all. To be effective, a company's global citizenship program must provide local flexibility to ensure that the strategy reflects cultural norms and addresses local social and economic priorities. While my team and I are responsible for developing Microsoft's annual global corporate citizenship strategy, that strategy is localized by our Citizenship teams in our over 100 subsidiaries worldwide.
2) Focus, focus, focus. Don't try to boil the ocean. It is about the quality of the program outcomes, not the quantity of random programs.
3) Empower and support your colleagues on the front lines. Those of us with corporate jobs should be focused on providing our colleagues in the field with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs and then get out of their way!
I also shared a few other Microsoft citizenship best practices - including our quarterly citizenship business review calls; our monthly global citizenship connection calls; and the annual gathering of our global citizenship community.
Microsoft is all about bringing the benefits of technology to people around the world and that is what we have done in the area of global corporate citizenship. From our Microsoft Local Impact Map that provides rich visualization of the outcomes our citizenship work has in individual countries, to a range of tools we use internally to support our global colleagues. We are using technology solutions to communicate, inform, empower and manage.
Once again this year the BCCCC conference presents rich opportunities for best practice sharing. This conference and our work in Citizenship is all about connections. My team and I get a great opportunity to connect with our colleagues and we learn together. We exchange knowledge and share best practices. A large part of my job is also about connecting externally - connecting with stakeholders - including industry partners, shareholders, advocacy groups, and non-profits.
Having just attended an array of sessions today, I can say with 100% certainly - the Center is delivering on its "take aways" promise.
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