Accelerating Change – We Can’t Do It Alone

On Thursday we hosted our first citizenship “Accelerator Summit,” a day of open discussion on our corporate citizenship efforts. The conversation was based on how technology and partnerships can accelerate change on social and economic issues.  The event included a variety of different sessions related to workforce development, education, environment, online safety, and the role of technology in the non-profit community. It was attended by government and nongovernmental partners, academics, journalists and bloggers.

Events like this provide us with the opportunity to shine a light on the big problems we are working with others to try to solve.  We have learned that partnership must be at the very center of our efforts.  We don’t have all the answers and we are always learning.  We learn from the feedback we receive, we learn from working with partners and we learn from how people are using our products and services – often in ways we never imagined.

When we formalized our citizenship program in 2003, we realized there were efforts underway across every part of the company. It became apparent that we had a great opportunity to increase the impact of those activities by bringing them together.

There is a growing expectation for businesses to actively participate in addressing some of society’s most challenging issues. And there is recognition that technology is an important enabler to accelerate this change.  Our citizenship work is grounded in the power of our people, our products and our partners to address social and economic opportunity.  This enables us to have impact, scale and sustainability. 

We had an opportunity to hear from partners who are working in their communities to bring computer skills training to individuals who need those skills to enter or re-enter the workforce.  Nalini Gangadharan from the CAP Foundation in India observed that basic IT training provides the most vulnerable with the confidence they need to pursue employment.  Jim Gibbons from Goodwill Industries International talked about providing technology skills training and other support services so that individuals with limited exposure to the workplace could be more successful.

Technology is also helping nonprofits to do more with less.  Daniel Ben-Horin of TechSoup Global observed that nonprofits have become far more sophisticated and now see the potential of technology. Ed Granger-Happ, chairman of NetHope, summarized the potential very well when he said that nonprofits need to move from thinking about technology as a way of keeping the lights on, to driving and supporting high quality mission-focused work. NetHope is a great example of that approach.  It brings together many of the world’s largest nonprofits to use technology collaboratively, reducing costs and complexity and allowing them to focus their energy and resources on what matters most.  You only have to look at the incredible work underway in Haiti to see the benefit of this approach. 

Another way we see technology having great social impact is in how we harness the latest tools and resources to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing our planet.  We shared how Microsoft Research is partnering with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Sao Paolo to deploy a network of sensors to study the Amazon rain forest’s “micrometeorology” — small-scale weather patterns involving the transfer of heat and moisture between the forest floor and the canopy above – which will help us better understand the rain forest’s system and ultimately may help us understand more about climate change.

At Microsoft we appreciate that we have a responsibility to take on big challenges that can help society. We ground our programs in areas where we have expertise and resources.  We are at our best when we work with others to unleash social innovation –  as our CEO Steve Ballmer commented today, our network of partners have a multiplier effect on our ability to make a difference.  We have incredible partners.

Since the company’s inception there has been a strong culture of giving that was instilled by our founders.  Lisa Brummel, senior vice president of human resources at Microsoft interviewed four employees on the different ways they are getting involved in the community.  Tom Moran was a loaned executive at United Way and managed the creation of our online staff giving auction tool.  Rajesh Munshi founded the Seattle chapter of Child Rights and You (CRY). Xiang Li co-founded Givology and Adnan Mahmud, co-founded Jolkona Foundation.  While our giving story started with Bill Gates, and that kind of leadership is critical, we now have a model that has evolved from one that was driven from the top to one that is stimulated from the top but driven by our people.  That model has amazing potential for local impact at a global scale.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing video and content from the sessions and I hope you’ll take some time to get better acquainted with how and why Microsoft works with partners around the world to drive social and economic change.

Posted by Pamela Passman
Corporate Vice President, Microsoft