Who: Lori Harnick, general manager for citizenship and public affairs
Charitable giving highlights: Microsoft made $43 million in cash and software donations to Washington area organizations last year.
Describe the company’s philanthropy.
For a number of years, our citizenship program around the world focused on helping people cross the digital divide — to access technology to create better futures for themselves and their communities. About a year ago, we started to look hard at our citizenship program. What we found was that while the digital divide is still a critical issue around the world, helping people access technology was not enough. We saw that the real challenge was with a particular segment of the population, the youth segment. Young people ages six to 24 are the ones struggling the most around the world no matter which market you go to. We decided that our philanthropy focus would shift. It would focus not just on the digital divide but also helping young people cross the opportunity divide. That focus is embodied in what we call Microsoft Youth Spark, which we announced a little over a month ago.
What are the goals for the program?
In the next three years we will help create opportunities for 300 million young people around the world. And we will be tracking and reporting on that on an annual basis.
What does this new program include?
It includes giving students and teachers around the world free access to our Office 365 products. It also includes training teachers around the world to use technology to improve learning in the classroom. We also have a program called DreamSpark, which is about giving students free tools to design computer programs.
How is the company’s philanthropy structured?
At the corporate level, we have a philanthropy budget that we use to give grants to nonprofits around the world. Secondly, we launched a site called GiveforYouth. It’s a micro-giving site where you can fund a young person anywhere in the world who needs help. The third is employee giving. Last year alone our employees, with a company match, raised $100 million for 1,800 nonprofits around the world. We’ve hit $1 billion since the start of the campaign 30 years ago.
What evaluative measures have you implemented?
We track all of our programs. For example, when we are giving a cash grant to a nonprofit, we’re looking at a number of measures. How many youth are being served at that nonprofit? Secondly, within that number, how many are getting trained in other types of skills such as entrepreneurship or business skills? Then, how many of those are finding a job or starting a new business venture? That’s information we are trying to track.
How did you select your nonprofit partners?
We took a very strategic approach.We looked at the age range from 6 to 24 and the different challenges young people face throughout that time in their lives to determine how we might affect each stage along that path. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America provide an amazing array of afterschool programs. But we also looked at ways to make impact in schools and that’s how we picked Junior Achievement. City Year and Year Up address challenges of making sure students graduate and get that first work experience right after graduation. Finally the kids have been educated and inspired, so how do you help them land an entrepreneurial opportunity for them. That’s what NFTE [Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship] does. So through our nonprofits, we address the whole spectrum.
Why those particular nonprofits?
These are organizations that we’ve touched or worked with in a number of ways throughout the past decade. We looked for organizations that had national or regional reach that complimented one another. That’s how we found these five.
What are some recurring challenges that you face in running a global philanthropic operation?
Making sure that our impact is real and we’re focused in a way that is going to make a difference. When you have a large company, you have a lot of different points of view in perspective to think about. It is fantastic to get a lot of input, but you have to bring all that together to have a true societal impact. I’m spending a lot of my time with our teams in our fields around the world to see how things are going. We are refining it continuously.
— Interview with Vanessa Small