Is it our location on the fringe of the lower 48, our bustling ports, our proximity to Asia, or our inspiring natural surroundings that give the state of Washington such an orientation toward global development issues? I don’t really know, but there is no denying that something is in motion here.
Last week, we sponsored the 2nd annual Global Washington conference on our campus here in Redmond, WA. Having supported Global Washington as an organization over the past three years, it has been great to see the organization gain such momentum in a relatively short time. With 450 registered attendees, the conference entitled “Bridges to Breakthroughs” focused on the role of partnerships and innovation in the rapidly-changing global development sector. The amazing level of interest, quality of speakers, and engaging hallway discussions further supported my theory that Washington State has become a nexus of international development second in the US only to the other Washington.
Speaking of the other Washington, the conference was kicked off by Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, who also recognizes the unique confluence of organizations based on Washington state working on international development issues, many empowering women and girls in both direct and indirect ways. The Ambassador noted a recent visit to one of the Community Technology Centers Microsoft sponsors near Beijing that trains primarily young immigrant women who face unbelievable hurdles after arriving in the city. With new skills, including in the use of basic information technology, the odds of success for these women increase significantly. Noting this as just one example of great work being done by a Washington-based organization, the Ambassador spoke of the refreshing and inspiring atmosphere in the Pacific Northwest and that Washington DC might just have something to learn from this corner of the country.
The conference also provided space for some of the smaller organizations who often struggle to make the speaking circuit. Through a video competition, organizations based in Washington submitted short videos highlighting the work they do, the partnerships they formed and innovations they have applied. The winners were highlighted during lunch on the first day of the conference, including a set up and pitch by a representative from each organization. But recognition of one special video was held until day two, when Jessica Markowitz and Grace Mutesi presented a video about Richard’s Rwanda. Both just 15 years old, these young women are simply amazing – Jessica, as the President of the organization, has more poise, presence and depth than most people three times her age. Grace, who was born as the genocide was just beginning, studies at Myamata High School in Rwanda and spoke of her dream to set an example for other young women and study medicine so that she can give back to her community.
Throughout the conference there were many examples of innovation originating from our state, from health care to mobile banking. Concurrent panels on technology solutions, commercial strategies for development, women and girls, and environment were compelling in content and highly interactive. And all indications from social media and traditional press have been largely positive. At Microsoft we are proud to be a part of this community and to offer our resources as a meeting and collaboration space because we believe that only by working together can we solve some of the biggest problems faced by the world.