By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Global Community Affairs at Microsoft.
Last week at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York city was at once a most exhilarating and tiring week. President Clinton continues to bring his star power, his deep concern around global development, and his expertise to energize all of us to do more. After a week of mingling with heads of state, actors, rock stars, models, business leaders and other change-makers one has to believe that the world, even in these difficult times, continues to become a better place. The conversation with Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi was in some ways the highlight of the meeting as both people through their individual struggles have brought hope to the global community. The sheer scale of CGI commitments can be quite surreal at times when the results are shared, yet when we see the breadth of poverty around us we become somewhat skeptical and come to believe that no progress is being made. However, the examples of impact that were highlighted at CGI shows that change is happening and in many cases it is about a positive impact on one life at a time. We should never forget that.
On Monday evening I spoke to about a 100 undergrad students at Columbia University. It was both fascinating and concerning to hear the quality of the Q&A that followed my remarks. For over an hour and half the students debated with me on topics ranging from the impact of technology on our lives and whether jobs are being lost due to technology. Fascinating on one hand because these young minds were so focused on trying to come to grips with the problems they see around them. Concerning on the other because they fear we are not leaving them a better world and that those in power do not have their interests in mind.
One of the fantastic things about CGI is the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are making change. Craig Kielburger the founder of the Canadian based nonprofit Free the Children which he founded as a 12 years old because he wanted to free kids from slavery. The organization provides active citizenship education programs in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, reaching 3,500 school groups annually. The organization’s We Schools in Action program fills stadiums with tens of thousands of young leaders who provide more than one million hours of community service every year.
I was just moved by the striking plea from Caroline Casey of Kanchi who wants all disabled people to have their dignity and not be identified by just their disability. There are 1 billion of people who around the world who have some form of disability and yet can be fully contributing members of society. She herself is legally blind but refused to accept her disability and wanted to be a race car driver – she eventually did drive a race car and raced against another blind driver. Caroline is building a business case to influence media and business through incentives and the Ability Awards that recognizes good business practices towards individuals with disabilities.
Caroline Casey speaking at the CGI conference
Then there is Petra Nemcova who I have come to admire for her steadfast support to build schools for children impacted by a natural disaster and who in six years has built over 56 schools where kids not only get an education but get some normality back into their lives. Petra her team at the Helping Hearts Fund create sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Linda Lockhart started the Global Give Back Circle to help girls in Kenya make the leap from high school to university. She provides the girl with training, support and most importantly mentors – and many of these girls are now becoming leaders in their own right.
I also met Ashok and Amrita Mahbubani who though the Ekta Foundation are making a significant difference in Haiti by helping build technology infrastructure and extend it into classrooms by partnering with Inveneo and NetHope.
Speaking of NetHope. ,Microsoft is partnering the organization to expand its NetHope Academy to Africa and Latin America to train 1,000 interns over the next three years. NetHope launched its inaugural NetHope Academy class in Haiti in September 2010 after recognizing an acute shortage of local, qualified IT staff at NGOs working to help Haiti recover after the 2010 earthquake. In March of 2011, 39 students graduated from the program and more than 80 percent of them achieved full-time employment. This commitment to action at CGI represents a new and significant expansion in the size, scope and geographic reach of our small, but highly successful program launched last year in Haiti.
There is incredible work underway around the world to address the issues we face. At Microsoft we feel very privileged that we have been able to support many of these efforts that are all about providing youth with opportunity so they can be the agents of change. As is customary at CGI it’s not just about talking, it’s about commitment. Microsoft have committed in partnership with Comcast, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and One Economy to provide broadband access and technology to 1 million students from low-income families in the United States to receive the benefits of software, hardware and broadband Internet service. There are over 7 million kids in the U.S. today who have no access to a computer, a mobile phone or the internet. This commitment aims to change that reality and help these kids to contribute to their own future as well as the prosperity of their own community.
President Clinton summed it up best that it is better to try and fail that not try at all. He said that pessimism is making the decision to be disappointed in advance. Coming together to make change is what this week is all about. New Yorkers complain about the traffic and the gridlock because in addition to CGI, the UN General Assembly is in session with heads of State and diplomats rushing all over the city. But these people also show up at CGI where they come in contact with incredible, inspirational people like Craig, Caroline, Petra, Linda and others. Many of them are just committed individuals that wake up every day and against many odds go out and try and make change, one person at a time. We are honored to be part of this movement.