Late last week, Microsoft announced the launch of YouthSpark, a new worldwide program that seeks to close the “opportunity gap” that is disenfranchising young people across the world. The program is an important first step in solving the rampant unemployment issues that have left young people jaded and discouraged in both the developed and developing world. The lack of job opportunities are one reason the Arab Spring has flared up across the Middle East. Meanwhile, the dearth of job skills stifles business growth in Latin American nations including Brazil. And the lack of jobs for high school and college grads in the U.S. has been one of the worst outcomes of the recent global financial crises.
To that end, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, announced the company’s most ambitious philanthropy initiative in its 37 years of existence. At a cost of $500 million spread over the next three years, the program’s goal is to provide training, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities to as many 300 million youths in 100 nations. Children as young as six up to young adults in the mid-twenties, according to the company, will benefit from Microsoft’s partnership with over hundreds of NGOs and non-profits across the globe.
Some of the programs, which focus on empowerment, imagination and launching businesses, include:
Digital literacy: With technology creating a huge gap between have’s and have-not’s across the world, Microsoft is pushing their digital literacy curricula, which is available in 30 languages and covers everything from the basic fundamentals of computing to the setting up of email and resume writing. Naturally this is not helpful to those who do not have access to the internet in the first place, so an additional program is . . .
Digital access: From Portugal to Guatemala, Microsoft is amping up its partnership with organizations to expand access to to the digital world. The Shape the Future program works with governments to spend public funds for information technology wisely and strategically on education, health care and infrastructure.
Connecting Students to Business: For young professionals who are keen on a career in IT but do not know where to start, Microsoft Students to Business connects the company’s partners and customers to students seeking internship and entry-level positions. The program dates back to a 2006 project in Italy and has since expanded to 65 countries in which 15,000 students have found new job opportunities.
YouthSpark is a compelling corporate social responsibility (CSR) program that combines mentorship, philanthropy and partnerships to, in the words of Microsoft’s Lori Harnick, not only bridge the “digital divide but the opportunity divide.” At a bird’s eye view, the program is an exemplar of how a company can leverage both its role in the marketplace and its overall strategy to both strengthen its business and build goodwill within the markets in which the company operates. And in a world where youth demand not a hand out but a fist pump nudging them towards a better life, Microsoft fills in gaps that NGOs and governments cannot provide.
While youth unemployment is a huge problem, companies could also find opportunity in working with another demographic group who also confronts unemployment while facing a future of decreased retirement benefits and more expensive health care: the over 50, and even over 40 crowd, who are often left behind by a corporate world that values youth and cheaper workers over experience.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo courtesy Microsoft.