Adobe recently released its most recent corporate responsibility report, which is chock full of data on where the $4.1 billion Silicon Valley software giant made headway on environmental, diversity and governance issues. The recent overall focus for Adobe, however, is on how the company believes it can make an impact on society, especially youth. Other companies in the information technology space, including SAP and Microsoft, have made massive commitments in money, resources and employees to youth employment and empowerment programs.
Adobe, however, takes a slightly different approach. To learn a more about how Adobe’s corporate responsibility stands out within an industry where a lot of progress has been made, I spoke with Michelle Crozier Yates, Adobe’s director of corporate responsibility.
“Of course it makes perfect sense for companies to leverage their core competencies to help the education sector,” said Yates as we started our talk.
Many technology companies donate copious licenses of their products to help youth burnish their skills and stand out in a hyper-competitive 21st century economy. But Yates insisted that rather than focusing on developing future users of their products, the company is really determined to make a difference with its social impact programs. “So, if you want to learn more about video, we want to offer young people the opportunity to develop their social skills, but we don’t require that they use Adobe products,” Yates continued.
One way Adobe tries to ensure its social impact programs succeed is by how they are structured. Going on nine years, the funds for these programs come from the Adobe Foundation, a nonprofit entity the company created to conceptualize, plan and operate these programs. Adobe donates 1 percent of its pre-tax profits to the foundation. In 2013, that turned out to be $58 million that funded grants for education and community development, donations of Adobe products, and employee volunteer programs. The foundation has no one on the payroll; Yates and her staff of 16 run its programs while on the job.
One of the more compelling initiatives that come under the Adobe Foundation’s umbrella is Adobe Youth Voices. The digital media learning site was accessed by more than 33,000 people globally in 2013. It was actually exciting to hear Yates become more animated as she described this program. In a nutshell, Adobe Voices seeks to “harness creative skills to solve problems.” Considering the fact that the U.S. education system is so focused on test scores, it was also refreshing to hear someone at a tech company talk about creativity — and not appear concerned about how to measure the program’s results.
After all, creativity is a pretty loaded term: You can measure carbon emissions, water saved, number of students enrolled in a skills training program and volunteer hours. Companies have to account for their donations of time and resources to their stakeholders, and that is especially true of public companies. But Yates described Adobe Voices as an ongoing experiment, full of initiatives trying to find the best ways to motivate youth. “What we’re trying to get at is to learn what motivates students, how to get them inspired about social issues, and what they want to change in their lives and communities,” Yates said as we wrapped up our talk. “We’re not teaching them ‘creativity,’ but offering them the skills and resources so they can express themselves.”
The American education system is a lot like its construction industry — applying 19th century technologies and ways of thinking in a modern world. Youth are learning and incorporating information way differently than a generation ago, but educators are still overall tone-deaf to what is going on in homes, neighborhoods and classrooms. Companies like Adobe are filling a void, giving students — especially those who are underserved — a reason to go to class and a reason to think about their future. The stubborn fact is that how we learn, for better or for worse, is changing; we need companies like Adobe to help fill the gaps where schools are falling short.
To learn more about Michelle Crozier Yates and her work at Adobe, read last year’s interview filed by fellow 3p writer Andrea Newell.
Image credit: Adobe