Coming Together to Spark Change

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

Last week in New York, I had the privilege of hosting an incredible group of young international men and women in a discussion which examined the gritty challenges facing young people around the world.  The convening of the Microsoft YouthSpark Advisors coincided with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting where we provided an update on our commitment to youth.

Since the launch of our YouthSpark initiative in September 2012, Microsoft has created opportunities for 103 million young people around the world in partnership with 186 youth-serving nonprofits and through our own programs and products, as illustrated by this infographic.

The global youth unemployment rate is expected to reach 12.8 percent by 2018. The time to listen – and act – is now. Therefore, we felt it was critical to convene a group of youth advocates, experts and leaders to better understand their most challenging issues, and in particular, where the private sector and companies like Microsoft can play a role. 

Lori Forte Harnick, general manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs, Microsoft listens as YouthSpark Advisors share their stories during the Microsoft YouthSpark Roundtable discussion in New York on September 23, 2013.

Over the course of three days, we dug deep into the issues, seeking to understand about specific efforts and approaches that are making an impact, and to learn where we can do more. 

Microsoft’s YouthSpark Advisors gather for their inaugural meeting in New York on September 23, 2013.

For example, our YouthSpark Advisors agreed that access to technology is a critical stepping stone on the path toward success.  The view was that technology education, from basic digital literacy to advanced computer science engineering, is a vital ‘means to an end’ that must be coupled with tangible opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. In fact, there was a great deal of passion about the opportunities to help more youth become not only adept users of IT, but also innovative creators of IT, which would increase their own employability and equip them to create even more jobs for others.

Interestingly, several of our YouthSpark Advisors talked about attitude and how it fuels personal drive, collaboration and creativity. We’ve seen this first-hand in our work this year: the fire within youth to take action and lead 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. 

We are excited about the dialogue we started in New York with our international YouthSpark Advisors, and we are indebted to them for their commitment to help shape the ongoing development of our YouthSpark programs.  

One thing is clear, there is one common goal: to empower youth to enhance their lives and the livelihoods of others.