Microsoft Fostering New Generation of Social Entrepreneurs

As it has for decades, Microsoft today functions as a sort of incubator for social entrepreneurship, with many employees creating enterprises that address social problems or starting second careers in philanthropy after leaving the company, the Seattle Times reports.

The most recent generation of Microsoft social entrepreneurs is inspired by a philanthropic legacy that started with Mary Gates, the mother of the company's co-founder and a longtime leader in the United Way system. That legacy was passed down to Bill Gates, who today pursues philanthropy full-time through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Current Microsoft employees, for example, run nonprofits such as the Jolkona Foundation, Givology, and CRY America, while Microsoft alumni have founded and supported more than a hundred and fifty nonprofit and social ventures around the world, according to the company's alumni foundation.

Last year, employee giving and company matching funds totaled nearly $90 million; the company matches employee donations and volunteer time up to $12,000 a year. More importantly, putting social entrepreneurship front and center has become part of the company's DNA, said Lisa Brummel, the company's senior vice president for human resources. According to Brummel, it also gives the company an edge over its competitors. "There are certain companies that give their employees 20 percent time to spend internally to make the company better," Brummel said, referring to Google. "And there are some companies that give their employees 20 percent time externally to make the world better."

Indeed, the organizational model that a younger, globally connected workforce increasingly seems to be drawn to is one that blends social and commercial goals with visionary leadership, says Young World Rising author Rob Salkowitz. And Microsoft, which ranked fourteenth on this year's Corporate Responsibility list, is one of the more successful proponents of the model.

"If you go to employees and say why do you work here...at the end of the day people buy in and participate in their own mind in our vision and they want to make a difference in society," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "The amount of effort I see our employees doing is quite remarkable. We want to make sure we enable and support and encourage that."

Kristi Heim. "Young Generation Redefines Culture of Microsoft Philanthropy." Seattle Times 05/24/2010.