Lori Harnick, General Manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs
Earlier today our CEO Steve Ballmer announced Microsoft YouthSpark, a new company-wide initiative to create opportunities for 300 million young people over the next three years.
We’ve created Microsoft YouthSpark in response to the challenges facing youth around the world. The nature of the challenges vary region-by-region, but the unfortunate outcome is the same everywhere. There are new skills and experiences required for jobs, but our collective approach to educating and supporting young people is falling behind. The evidence for this is clear. Among others, the International Youth Foundation identified these troubling global trends.
In Latin America, more young people than ever have access to education, but too many drop out of school or graduate without having acquired basic skills.
In Brazil, approximately 40% of firms have difficulty finding qualified staff to fill vacancies due to low quality education.
In contrast, there are a growing number of youth in the Middle East and North Africa who have university degrees, but they are more likely to be unemployed than their less-educated peers due to the realities of the job market in the region.
This region has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world (approximately 25%) and to avoid increases in this rate, 15 million new jobs per year will need to be created over the next decade.
Another contrast exists in Central and Eastern Europe, where the challenge is a dramatic decline in the working age population, due to emigration and poor health. Those who remain are more likely to have “traditional skills” and lack more enterprising “life skills” needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
40% of private sector employers believe low workforce skills are constraining economic growth.
In North American and Western Europe, despite educational opportunities for many, the jobs crisis has led to a growing number of NEET youth – those Not engaged in Education, Employment or Training – and they can quickly become marginalized, creating even more costs for society.
Conservative estimates in the European labor market show that if just 20% more youth were working, the EU would save more than 21 billion Euros per year.
In Asia, we see a large number of working poor, particularly in rural environments, and a lack of technical/vocational training to open new opportunities.
In Asia, 70% of working youth are engaged in the agricultural sector where jobs are seasonal and offer no protections or access to safety nets.
In Sub-Saharan African, we see deceptively low youth unemployment rates because youth are working at very low-skilled, low quality jobs simply to survive with no hope of pay that will lift them out of poverty.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, youth are grossly underemployed leaving 72% of youth living on less than US $2 per day.
These are some daunting statistics. But, at Microsoft we pride ourselves on taking on big challenges and this is no different for our Citizenship work. We continually review and analyze how we can do more to address pressing economic and social challenges. We believe we must move beyond bridging not only the digital divide but also the opportunity divide for youth — an emerging gap between young people who have the education, skills and opportunities they need to succeed and those who do not.
Bridging the opportunity divide means more than increasing technology access, although that is still critically important. It means empowering youth by transforming education and enhancing skills training, unleashing future innovators by providing youth with the inspiration and tools to imagine new opportunities, and helping young people find employment or start a new business or social venture.
Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we are mobilizing our company and partnering with governments, nonprofit organizations, and businesses to help close the opportunity divide for youth.
This is a new focus for our philanthropy efforts. We are committing the majority of our corporate cash giving to support nonprofits that serve youth and we are announcing a number of new Citizenship programs. But, Microsoft YouthSpark goes beyond philanthropy.
We are activating the company around this challenge because that’s how we can have the greatest impact. We will help young people access a wide range of Microsoft programs that share the common objective of supporting and serving young people in their quest for opportunity. This includes, among others, Partners in Learning, Office 365 for Education, Skype in the Classroom, DreamSpark, Imagine Cup, and BizSpark.
Through Microsoft YouthSpark, we will help empower youth to change their world…to reverse those daunting statistics, and to carve a new path for their future and ours.
Please join us. How can you be the spark of change?