How this Tech Giant is Helping Disadvantaged Youth Build Skills for the Global Economy

When it comes to philanthropy, Microsoft doesn't make a lot of noise, but the company and its employees give a ton of money. Microsoft's giant signature charitable issue is support for youth. It announced a big global initiative, YouthSpark, in 2012, aimed at giving opportunities to 300 million youth worldwide. 

How does this commitment play out on the ground for U.S. nonprofits? Well, take a look at a recent grant of $7.3 million to the Children's Home Society of Florida, Florida's top provider and supporter of at-risk youth and families. Through its YouthSpark Software Grants program, Microsoft will provide funding as well as volunteers to help the Children's Home Society improve technology's place in the world of child welfare throughout America. The plan here is to improve technology skills for disadvantaged youth, and also improve tools for child welfare systems and the workers who care for these children.

There is no doubt that kids need computer literacy to function in the economy, and that marginalized children—those living in poverty, foster care, or involved in juvenile justice—are further impacted by the digital divide. The Children's Home Society of Florida plans to create an online program that will teach and train 7,000 at-risk youth, either living in poor homes, in foster care, or in the juvenile justice system. The goal here is to give disadvantaged youth hope that they, too, can participate in the global tech economy by developing their skills early and learning how and where to apply them for employment purposes. 

The YouthSpark program reaches out to young people globally to connect them to a vast array of opportunities for learning, employing, and being employed. Children's Home Society of Florida, through this large grant from Microsoft, will work to build the skills of youth so they can reach their fullest potential. 

Microsoft's YouthSpark program was founded by Shelly Stern Grach, a leader in the company who has directed great corporate giving to her home of Chicago. She has been at the forefront of grantmaking throughout the U.S. and manages several programs, many concerning nonprofits, leadership, education, and business. She also led development of Microsoft's Tech Soup program. (Learn more about Grach here.) Like the YouthSpark program, Tech Soup donates technology and software to nonprofits and public libraries, but only in the U.S.

Children's Home Society of Florida is developing a unique technology training program to help 7,000 disadvantaged youthincluding those in poverty, in foster care and/or in the juvenile justice systemacquire the necessary technological aptitude, interest and skills to improve their chances for success in life. 

There are two main components to this partnership between Microsoft and Children's Home Society of Florida: 

Tech Success Florida

Tech Success will use Microsoft technology and software to provide training in computer basics: use of the Internet, websites and cloud services; Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications; résumé writing and interviewing techniques. Participants engage in self-paced programs, incentives, and individualized interest targeting. 

This program has already been piloted with 20 teens in foster care, and Phase II will begin soon with full roll-out planned by the end of the year. Along with self-led online learning, participants in Tech Success Florida will also receive mentoring and support with developing entrepreneurship. 


Microsoft employees can volunteer their time to the Children's Home Society of Florida, with a great side benefit: For every hour volunteered, Microsoft Corp. donates $25 to the society. To date, Microsoft has contributed more than $9,500 through this process. 

A May 2015 Hack-a-thon event produced $6,000 in donations and resulted in the development of a groundbreaking task management tool that’s being heralded as "the first of its kind in the child welfare arena." In just one weekend, 40 volunteers from three organizationsMicrosoft, Nintex and Children's Home Society of Floridacollaborated on a software project to help social service case managers spend more time with clients and less time on burdensome administrative tasks. In that same weekend, they also created a new intranet for Children's Home Society of Florida.

This grant is evidence of how Microsoft can be a powerful resource for nonprofits working with marginalized youth. This new initiative is a good demonstration of community collaboration helping marginalized youth populations in new ways.