Microsoft Launches YouthSpark to Empower 300 Million Kids Through Technology

Microsoft said Thursday that it will invest about $500 million over three years to fund YouthSpark, a program designed to give 300 million kids around the world opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Closing The “Opportunity Divide”

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, said in a webcast that YouthSpark was designed to close the “opportunity divide” between First World and Third World countries, where youth either doesn’t have the resources they need to succeed, or lack the jobs or training to make the jump from schools into the working world.

Microsoft also said that it would change its philanthropic strategy to align with Non-Govermental-Organizations (NGOs) and other nonprofits that themselves were focused on “opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship for young people,“ according to chief executive Steve Ballmer.

Examples include the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and nonprofits like Take IT Global. Microsoft also launched the YouthSpark Hub, an online repository of training and resources, and said it would launch Give for Youth a global microgiving marketplace for NGOs; and Innovate for Good, a global online community where those young people could engage and collaborate with each other.

Big, Bold Bets - On Philanthropy

“Lately we’ve talked a lot at Microsoft about big, bold bets we’re making: Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, our new Office products, and a number of other flagship product releases,” Ballmer said via Webcast. “Today I also want to talk about a big bold bet we’re making - a different kind of bet, a bet to close this opportunity divide we’ve discussed for a target of 300 million young people around the world.”

Ballmer said that Microsoft was prepared to use its connections with partners around the world to effect real change. “We’re committed to using our technology, our talent, our time and our resources to help actual issues facing young people around the world,” he said.

In-Kind Contributions

Finally, Microsoft said that it would align YouthSpark with other educational initiatives, including Partners in Learning, Office 365 for Education, Skype in the Classroom, DreamSpark, its Imagine Cup, and BizSpark. The half-billion-dollars Microsoft will contribute includes in-kind help such as Office 365 subscriptions and Skype for the classroom, allowing one classroom to talk to another. “In effect, this allows for a multibillion-dollar contribution,” Smith said.

Mary Mwende, who grew up in what she described as a “slum” in Kenya and gained an education at the American University in Dubai through President Clinton’s Clinton Scholars program, said not enough was being done to let the ideas of young people bloom.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that we need resources, we need all kind of skills, we need… things to engage us,” Mwende said. “We have so many ideas we want put out to the world and we don’t know how to do that.”

Support For Innovation

Jennifer Corriero, the founder of TakingITGlobal, said that one teen in Latin American had developed a mobile app to encourage others to donate blood. “Young people are bursting with ideas, and they just need support,” she said.

Microsoft’s initiative also complements the goals of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, founded by Microsoft co-founder and executive chairman Bill Gates.

Although the Foundation works worldwide, one of its goals is to improve the quality of education within the United States by “making sure that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and that young adults who want to get a postsecondary degree have a way to do so,” according to the Foundation’s annual letter.

The solution, according to the Foundation, is using a combination of peer review and technology to improve the quality of teaching. A spokesman for the Foundation could not be reached at press time for comment, and a spokesman for Gates himself also said that Gates had no comment.

 

Image from Microsoft.