Corporate Philanthropy – An Interview with Brad Smith, President and CLO of Microsoft

When people think of “business,” philanthropy is normally not the first thing that comes to mind. However, Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, is challenging this notion. Microsoft raises $120,000,000 a year to give to non-profits around the world, and even has a team called Microsoft Philanthropies dedicated to charity work. Smith said, “I think businesses have an important role to play when it comes to philanthropy… if businesses do this kind of work in a targeted way they can have a real impact on society.”

Particularly, Smith stressed the company’s focus on philanthropies that are related to Microsoft. He said, “We choose initiatives that are connected to what we know about and what we are passionate about.” Not surprisingly, one of the initiatives Microsoft has pursued is introducing coding and computer science programs to high school curriculums. Microsoft started the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) foundation in 2009, and since then the organization has initiated computer science programs in 348 schools. Notably, they have made an effort to implement the program in rural areas, where there are no software engineers to provide support and training for teachers. In these situations, TEALS uses telecommunications to connect volunteers from urban hubs to remote schools. Microsoft Philanthropies supports this program because they believe competence in technology builds stronger and more resilient communities.

Smith also emphasizes giving back to hometowns. He said, “At Microsoft, one thing we do is empower our employees, because we want them to be encouraged to give back to communities where they’ve grown up.” Smith himself has committed to improving his childhood community. He grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, where Green Bay was the city next door. In Green Bay, he recently introduced TitleTownTech in partnership with the Green Bay Packers. This initiative aims to boost economic expansion in Green Bay by providing a location for technology development and innovation. There are three sections of Titletown: the accelerator, which works with startups to develop and market new digital technology; the venture capital fund, which invests in the companies participating in the accelerator; and the labs, which provides innovation-training for employees of local companies. These three groups act to encourage young creative people to come to Green Bay, and to help preexisting industries develop their businesses. Hopefully, this diversification and industrial development will make Green Bay a model for other cities in the Midwest.

Microsoft’s continued dedication to philanthropy has certainly been demonstrated in the past, but the more recent initiatives –  TEALS and TitleTownTech – prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the company’s commitment to implementing tech-specific, equal opportunity programs. More specifically, Brad Smith creating TitleTownTech in his own community shows his true dedication to implementing positive change: when he talks about philanthropy, he means what he says. Hopefully, other rising technology companies will look to Microsoft as a model of corporate philanthropy, and will continue the effort to bring innovation to every corner of the Earth.