Almost two weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting down with some of the Microsoft Community Affairs team in Redmond, WA.
The small group I met with focuses primarily on the company’s Strengthening NGOs Through IT program, which is led by Jane Meseck, a non-profit technology and public policy expert who has been with the Microsoft Corporate team for 13 years. Jane, along with George Durham, Sarah Barnhart, Lindsay Bealko, and more than 100 Microsoft Community Affairs leaders in the field, are connecting non-profits around the world to transformational technology resources.
As one of the leading corporations in the technology world, Meseck said that, “We at Microsoft know that we have a responsibility to make sure that affordable, relevant tools are accessible to organizations doing powerful work in this world.” And they have done that. Last year, Microsoft donated over $400 million worth of software globally to over 30,000 non-profit organizations.
Some Basics About the Strategy: The Theme of Partnership
One resounding theme continued throughout my conversation with these people: Microsoft is about partnership. They recognize the value of empowering others who are doing the work well through financial, software, and consulting support. Whether they are partnering with TechSoup, donating software in exchange for a small administrative fee, partnering with small community organizations in Singapore offering innovative technology resources, or providing the resources for emergency humanitarian response, you will not be able to miss their commitment to connecting with others.
The Microsoft Community Affairs mission statement reads, “To enable people and organizations in underserved communities to realize their potential through the power of technology.” And though donating software is one of the most well-known part of Microsoft’s corporate social responsibility, the organization serves the NGO world in several other ways as well.
“We recognize that simply donating software is not enough,” Meseck said. “Through providing comprehensive training programs at the global, national, and community level, we are able to unlock the magic of software, strengthening an organization’s core competency, resulting in increased social economic benefit through technology.”
Microsoft partners with organizations and communities in these training programs. As one example, for the past five years, Microsoft has offered workforce development programs around the world. This is a way to give the underserved access to new job potential. The head office in Redmond provides grants of cash, software and curricula to local community partners who work with Microsoft’s field community affairs teams to implement the actual program. The approach to this effort ensures that the programs are shaped to meet the needs of those in the communities.
The Pyramid of NGO Technology Adoption
Microsoft has created a pyramid of non-profit IT adoption that helps to shape their approach to service provision for the sector. The base of the pyramid represents the majority of non-profits that are working to establish a stable and secure technology infrastructure. To meet the needs of this group, Microsoft donates software, hosts webinars, and provides the opportunity for NGOs to connect with each other on a site called NGO Connection. Again, in the spirit of partnership, the website serves as a technology knowledge resource for NGOs where staff can share their stories, learn about available products and grants, as well as software support and training.
Those organizations in the middle level of the pyramid are looking to optimize their service delivery with technology. Through partnerships with NPower and telecentre.org, Microsoft offers a way for non-profits to gain greater access to technology consultation and development. NPower is a non-profit that offers technology consulting services to other non-profits, while telecentre.org provides the resources that telecentres need to succeed: locally relevant content and services, support and learning opportunities, and networks that help telecentre activists connect to each other.
Lindsay Bealko who worked in the non-profit sector for eight years before beginning work with the Community Affairs team said, “Our goal in these programs is to help fill in the gap keft by a shortage of IT staff in the NGO sector. We work with the CIOs, CEOs and developers to build systems that support and strengthen their organizations’ work.” Over 100 NGO Connection days, learning events where Microsoft and partners help organizations learn how technology can help them increase their reach and impact, are scheduled for this year.
The final tier of the pyramid offers programs and resources to non-profits looking to maximize their impact by transforming through the innovative use of IT. Microsoft has partnered with NetHope , a network of CIOs from 29 of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations, to shape programs that offer high impact technology to that sector. Microsoft also engages the sector through dynamic contests, and has responded swiftly in times of natural disaster (the recent Haiti earthquake is an example), among other programs. Microsoft also partners with a few organizations like Ashoka that are actively seeking to develop technology solutions to accelerate social change.
In the Spirit of Service and Partnership: Technology Makes a Difference
On top of all of these programs, Microsoft encourages their employees to serve and invest in social good. Last year, Microsoft employees raised over $87 million, including Microsoft’s match. As many of you know, Haiti has been on my heart. And I was amazed to discover that Microsoft, together with their employees have made an initial donation of over $3.25 million to Haiti relief, made up of $1million donated by employees, most of which will be matched by Microsoft and $1.25 million in cash and in-kind donations from the company directly. Microsoft also donates $17 per hour volunteered by their employees. This method, Meseck said, encourages skills-based volunteering. “We have some of the best people in this industry,” she said, “and we want them to be able to use their gifts in their service.”
At times, big corporations can seem a bit unapproachable – far removed from the world. But it is so evident, through the work that Microsoft supports and executes (of which I have only begun to scratch the surface in this post), this corporation is deeply integrated in their communities. Their commitment to partnership serves as a standard, I believe. One that we, as the social entrepreneurship community, should encourage, advocate for, and yes, demand.