Microsoft Turns Philanthropic Eye to Youth “Opportunity Gap”

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September 21, 2012; Source: Seattle Times

On Friday, Microsoft announced the launch of its new philanthropic initiative, Microsoft YouthSpark, which will dedicate $500 million toward addressing the global youth “opportunity gap.” Here is how Microsoft defines the problem and the program on its YouthSpark website:

“…While there are more young people on the planet than ever before, youth unemployment is double that of the adult population…Today’s young people face an opportunity divide – a gap between those who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful and those who do not…Through partnerships with governments, nonprofits and businesses, we aim to empower youth to imagine and realize their full potential by connecting them with greater education, employment, and entrepreneurship opportunities.”

YouthSpark will reportedly be comprised of three main elements: Give for Good, which will secure contributions for nonprofits providing services to youth; YouthSpark Hub, an online information source for programs available from related nonprofits and resources offered by Microsoft itself; and Innovate for Good, which is envisioned as something of a social network where youth will, it is hoped, work collaboratively to address problems with innovative solutions. Another element of YouthSpark involves the donation of classroom-oriented tools such as Office 365 and Skype. Microsoft’s aim is to reach 300 million youth with the program, about one-sixth of which will be youth in the United States.

According to the Seattle Times, “Microsoft is partnering with hundreds of nonprofits worldwide in the effort.” Among the nonprofit partners on the international stage, CBS reports, are the GlobalGiving Foundation, TakingITGlobal, the Foundation, the International Youth Foundation, Silatech, The Trust for Americas, AIESEC International and the ASEAN Foundation, while U.S. partners will include the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, City Year, Junior Achievement USA, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Year Up Inc.

In explaining the need for this initiative, the YouthSpark website points to a March 2012 study from the International Youth Foundation, “Opportunity for Action: Preparing Youth for 21st Century Livelihoods.” The report focuses broadly on six areas where barriers to opportunity stand in the way of young people and success, such as poor education systems in areas of Latin America and the Caribbean, a mismatch between the supply and demand for certain skills in North Africa and the Middle East, and a lack of engagement among youth in the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe. Microsoft’s $500 million investment is sizable, but so too are many of the deep-seated problems the International Youth Foundation report addresses. –Mike Keefe-Feldman

  • Rajendra Kulkarni

    Good to know. Manav Charities a NGO will be interested to take up the assignment of this work

  • Henry Turner III is a nonprofit charity making a difference &I we would love to join your efforts in opening up doors the the young people of our generation and beyond.Please reach out to us!

  • Kat Haber

    Fantastically visionary! Let the sharing begin! Glad to see that Ashoka Youth are also engaged. Playing bigger, let 21st Century youth changemakers, our world is eager to hear their positive voices.

  • Amy

    Where are the institutions of higher learning, particularly community colleges, in this mix? The bottom line is that people still need valid credentials in the form of degrees or certifications to obtain employment. Where are the metrics that show that participation in activities sponsored by the Boys & Girls Clubs or Junior Achievement lead to higher rates of persistence and completion in higher education? While these organizations provide valuable services to their constituents, they are not the answer to engendering “engagement among youth in the U.S.” that will lead to greater levels of employment or interest in STEM programs.

  • Jeff Wenzler

    This initiative is fantastic! I run a small non-profit that introduces American teens to children living in struggling landfill communities outside the US. Through our efforts walking in their shoes our youth experience those same obstacles to opportunities they have taken for granted. If they are our future leaders they must be aware (not sympathetic) of the global challenges in order to offer collaborative solutions.