Youth Stories with a Side of Toast—Reflections from a New York City Breakfast Discussion

Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship at Microsoft

This morning, I had the opportunity to start my day with an inspiring conversation about the challenges facing today’s youth and how we can work to solve them. I was joined by over 70 participants who came to hear from two youth representatives and a youth-focused organization on a panel called, “Bridging the Opportunity Divide – Empowering Youth to Imagine and Realize their Futures.” Lori Harnick, Microsoft’s general manager, Citizenship & Public Affairs also joined in the panel discussion.

Our gathering in New York came on the heels of the Microsoft YouthSpark launch last week where Steve Ballmer, our CEO, and Brad Smith, executive vice president, discussed Microsoft’s new focus for the company’s philanthropic efforts; namely, that the company is concentrating on addressing the opportunity divide facing youth. Microsoft YouthSpark is a new company-wide initiative to create opportunities for 300 million young people around the world over the next three years. The initiative brings together an array of existing, new and enhanced global programs and partnerships that connect young people with better education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. Because we know we can’t do this alone, we are committing the majority of our corporate cash giving to support nonprofits that serve youth.

Today’s youth panel was truly inspiring for me. Talking about global youth issues from a high-level is one thing, but it is so much more impactful and inspiring to sit down with young people and hear their stories of challenge and success directly.

Mary Mwende told us about her journey from Mombasa, Kenya, to being one of ten girls chosen for the Global Give Back Circle, a mentoring and empowerment program. From here she was selected to take a Microsoft ICT course, where she learned about the power of technology for connecting people around the world. In 2009, she was recognized at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting and today she gives back through the Global Give Back Circle website “Hey Sister, Get Clued Up” and attends the American University in Dubai. A video of her story is here.   image
Matt Howard is a young man who is involved with one of Microsoft’s newly announced youth partner nonprofits, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE and four other youth nonprofits will receive new funding from Microsoft to enhance existing youth programs or start new initiatives. During the panel, Matt shared his story about how his interest in poetry and introduction to NFTE helped turn his life around, and helped him develop an online platform for artists “CreaTistZone”.   image
Peter Shiras joined us from another great youth organization, the International Youth Foundation (IYF). Microsoft commissioned a report with IYF chronicling the opportunity divide which was published in March this year. Peter has extensive international experience in Latin America and Africa and discussed the problems and solutions he sees from the ground. In particular, he talked about New Employment Opportunities (NEO), a partnership between Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and a consortium of companies that focuses on creating millions of opportunities for youth in LATAM. Peter believes that the consortium is an attractive model that can be replicated in other regions of the world.   image


It’s so encouraging to me that Microsoft can partner with nonprofits that care as deeply as we do about helping youth reach their full potential. I’m also always impressed by the ingenuity, charisma and passion of young leaders, like Mary and Matt that are cutting a path for their generation. Matt said it best during the discussion when he noted, “When you help someone else realize their dreams, know that you are also making your own dreams real.”

If you would like to become involved personally in empowering youth, visit the Give for Youth micro-giving marketplace. From here you can view real youth causes and support youth-focused nonprofits directly. Lori Harnick announced yesterday, during the Mashable Social Good Summit, that Microsoft would match individual donations through Give for Youth, through October 1st and up to $100,000. We are so excited to announce that, thanks to the generous donations of the community, in less than 24 hours $100,000 has already been donated. So today, we are extending that matching commitment by another $100,000. For more information on Microsoft YouthSpark, I encourage you to check out Brad Smith’s blog post and a video of Steve Ballmer making the announcement during the live campus event.

Comments (2)

  1. Allegra,  thanks so much for your kind comments!  That's our target, there's a lot of work to do, but it's something we'll be doing our best to achieve.

    Thanks again!

  2. Allegra Cullen says:

    It was amazing to see people from all kinds of organizations meeting together to figure out how to give opportunities to 300 million people over the next three years. Until you are in that room with everyone who seemed so genuine, it would be easy to be skeptical that this could really happen. But after seeing how everyone responded to Mary and Matts' stories (including me), I believe you all will meet that goal.

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