Technology as a Force for Inclusion

Progress on the first year of Microsoft Philanthropies
Mar 3, 2017 5:40 PM ET

Technology as a force for inclusion

A recent trip to visit my family in Kansas offered an unexpected example of how quickly the nature of work is changing. While I was there, we stopped in at a restaurant near the edge of our small town. In the past, it was the kind of place where you’d be greeted and served by eager young people—mostly local high school students or recent graduates getting their first work experience. This time, however, a computer screen at the entrance assigned us to a table. We ordered by browsing through a digital menu at our table and tapping a touch screen. I practically cheered when a young man delivered our meals.

While it was intriguing from a technology standpoint, I couldn’t help but wonder about the ripple effects on the community. What will replace those entry-level jobs? Are schools helping young people gain the skills they need now and for our technology-driven future?

As a company with a mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, these are just some of the questions we ask ourselves at Microsoft. We believe it’s no longer enough to measure success simply in terms of how quickly technology advances. More important is how many lives are improved and whether people are prepared for jobs that require skills ranging from basic digital literacy to advanced computer science.

Without question, we’ve entered a period of remarkable technology-driven transformation. The change is so profound that some say it’s a new industrial revolution. With so much innovation in artificial intelligence, robotics, genomics, and cloud computing, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which we have addressed humanity’s most pressing challenges in health, education, and the environment. But we know that around the world, many people see technology as a growing threat to their jobs, their privacy, and their safety. And for the nearly 4 billion people who lack access to the Internet, the next industrial revolution is, at best, a distant dream.

Which brings me to the reason Microsoft Philanthropies was created just over a year ago: to realize the promise and potential of technology for everyone. What are the challenges humankind faces, how can technology help, and what is Microsoft’s contribution? Just as an extremely effective commercial ecosystem brings the promise of technology to life in the marketplace, we must create a strong societal ecosystem that brings the promise of technology to life in our communities – especially where people are at risk of being left behind in this era of digital transformation.

To that end, I’m pleased to provide this overview of what we have accomplished so far. It was a productive first year that included:

  • committing $1 billion in cloud services for nonprofits and researchers to support the public good, and to date, donating $465 million to 71,000 organizations;
  • delivering connectivity to remote schools, health clinics and community centers in 11 countries though the innovative use of “TV white spaces”;
  • expanding access to computer science education to 225 U.S. high schools;
  • providing more than $30 million in technology and cash donations to organizations serving refugees and displaced people; and,
  • raising a record $142 million through our employee giving program, benefitting 19,000 nonprofits and schools.

These contributions and more, as detailed below, totaled more than $650 million in 2016.

Transforming the way nonprofits deliver impact
If there’s a single technology that is making today’s technology-driven change possible, it’s cloud computing. Our ability to work from anywhere, at any time. The emergence of self-driving cars. Individualized medicine based on the analysis of a person’s genetics. All of these things are made possible by the cloud.

But to realize the full potential of the cloud to create economic opportunity and address the world’s most difficult challenges, the power of cloud computing must be available to nonprofit organizations and researchers, and to individuals who lack affordable broadband access. Therefore, in January of last year, we announced a three-year initiative to donate $1 billion in cloud computing resources to 70,000 nonprofit organizations and 900 university researchers, and to expand broadband access in 15 countries.

In 2016, we reached nearly half of our three-year goal for donations and surpassed our target for nonprofit organizations served by donating $465 million in cloud services to more than 71,000 organizations.

There are so many ways in which nonprofits are taking advantage of these donations to improve their impact and effectiveness, but one example really stood out for me. CONIN is a nonprofit that works to eradicate childhood malnutrition in Argentina. They are using Microsoft cloud technologies to analyze issues that cause malnutrition, like lack of clean water and insufficient healthy food, and to create an accurate visualization of on-the-ground realities. This has enabled CONIN to work with local governments to direct resources to families in urgent need.

We’ve also made progress in our efforts to enable university researchers to make greater use of cloud computing to advance their work. This initiative builds on the Microsoft Azure for Research program that was already supporting 600 research projects around the world when Microsoft Philanthropies was established. In 2016, we extended access to the Microsoft cloud to an additional 350 scientists.

And because affordable broadband access is a prerequisite for accessing the benefits of the cloud, we continue to emphasize programs that expand connectivity in communities around the world. Currently, our Affordable Access Initiative supports 26 projects in 11 countries including Jamaica, where we are taking advantage of unused broadcast spectrum called “TV white space” to connect more than 30 rural schools, community centers, healthcare clinics, and police stations to the Internet for the very first time.

Educational opportunities to empower the next generation
If today’s young people are going to thrive in the digital economy, they’ll need access to high quality education and skills training so they have the computer science skills that today’s jobs—and tomorrow’s—require.

Through programs like YouthSpark, this has long been a focus at Microsoft. With Microsoft Philanthropies, we deepened our support for YouthSpark through a $75 million, 3-year commitment to make digital literacy and computer science education accessible to all young people. In 2016, we provided more than $23 million through 142 cash grants to organizations in 58 countries. Currently, more than 80 percent of the students benefitting from YouthSpark grants are from underserved communities and more than half are female.

One inspiring example is Roxana Rugina, a young woman from Romania who began teaching herself how to code before she was 10. But as is too often the case in so many countries and cultures, because she is a girl, she was steered away from a career in computing. Even with a pair of masters’ degrees in communication, at age 22, she was underemployed and stuck doing work she didn’t enjoy. Then she was accepted to a six-month intensive programming boot camp in Montreuil, France, run by a YouthSpark-funded organization called Simplon. That reconnected her with her childhood passion for computing. Now she lives back in her hometown of Cluj, where she has launched a project for Simplon to help young people there—particularly girls—gain the digital skills they will need to obtain good jobs in the digital economy.

Another program called TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) is central to Microsoft Philanthropies’ work to make computer science classes available in every U.S. high school by pairing volunteer computer science engineers with classroom teachers. TEALS was started by a Microsoft employee in 2009 and it has grown dramatically. Last year, we engaged 750 volunteers from more than 400 different companies to help bring computer science education to students in 225 U.S. high schools. Our reach spans from Washington to Pennsylvania to rural Kentucky, where two schools receive remote support and instruction from industry volunteers via Skype.

Microsoft is also the founding partner and largest financial contributor to, a nonprofit expanding access to computer science and increasing participation of women and minorities underrepresented in tech. In 2016, nearly doubled their impact. They now work with 120+ school districts to incorporate computer science education from kindergarten through 12th grade. Girls and underrepresented minorities comprise 45 percent and 48 percent of their courses, respectively, during the current school year. These courses alone are poised to double enrollment of underrepresented minorities in AP Computer Science, nationwide, in just one year. Additionally, for the 2016 global Hour of Code campaign, Microsoft and co-developed a new learning tutorial based on Minecraft – engaging more than 15 million people in 119 countries. We will continue to support such vital partnerships that close diversity gaps in STEM fields.

A commitment to support those who are responding to humanitarian crises
People in remote or displaced communities often face great challenges when it comes to accessing technology and information. Around the world today, there are 65 million people displaced due to conflict, natural disasters, famine, and political unrest—making this one of most acute periods of humanitarian need since World War II.

One of our most important commitments at Microsoft Philanthropies is to support the nonprofits, agencies, and communities that are responding to humanitarian crises and working to create more resilient communities. In 2016, we provided more than $30 million in technology and cash donations to organizations including Mercy CorpsCARE, the International Rescue Committee, and NetHope to aid displaced people.

One area where the need is great and we are having an impact is through our support for SOS Children’s Villages International, which works in 135 countries to care for displaced children and their families. Microsoft Philanthropies is providing technology that is helping SOS raise funds, and tools that are improving case management for children who have been lost or orphaned.

We’re also helping SOS Children’s Villages International respond to the needs of the nearly 5 million people who have fled the horrific violence in Syria by setting up information and communications technology corners along refugee routes in Europe. At these corners, refugees can research upcoming stretches of their journey, seek medical advice, prepare to enter a host country, and stay connected to loved ones. They also offer children access to educational opportunities and a chance to check social media, chat with friends, and play games.

A record year of giving
Microsoft employees are the heartbeat for our efforts to empower those most in need. Their generosity is truly remarkable. In 2016, 74 percent of U.S. employees participated in our giving program, an all-time high, and they raised a record $142 million for nearly 19,000 nonprofit organizations and schools. In addition, more than 3,000 employees took part in our Hack for Good program and worked on 550 projects, including one to help transform foster care by using data to better support and retain foster families.

We must do more together
I’m proud of what we achieved at Microsoft Philanthropies in our first year. More than that, I am inspired by the impact that the nonprofits and researchers we support are having as they work to make the world a better place. While we made good progress, one thing is very clear to me—at Microsoft Philanthropies, we must do more.

In particular, in 2017, we will continue to drive initiatives in education, increase our support for humanitarian action, and work to make technology more accessible for people living with disabilities. We will also support new technology training opportunities for in-demand jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree but do require learning beyond high school.

Beyond that, the work to ensure that the benefits of technology innovation are broadly shared will require us all to be more thoughtful, more dedicated, and more committed. We live in a time of great unmet need and incredible promise. I believe we must come together to do everything we can to ensure that the evolution of technology leads to a world that is more prosperous, more fair, and more inclusive.

At Microsoft Philanthropies, we are honored to support tens of thousands of organizations around the world that are working to make this vision a reality. But we are just one small part of what must be a much larger effort. And so I ask you—in this moment of great change and possibility—to join us.