Microsoft’s CSR Accelerator Summit

Microsoft’s CSR Accelerator Summit

It’s easy to forget just how pervasive Microsoft’s reach is from Xbox to Office or their effect on everybody’s lives over the past 35 years.

Ok, they may have lost market value top dog status to Apple, market share in the internet browser sector or have harbingers of doom awaiting the monster to fall as the Cloud approaches, but with competition such as Google acting like a righteous teenager, Facebook playing like a petulant child and Apple’s aspirations heading toward megalomania with their use of applications to control content, Microsoft could be said to be enjoying a somewhat more mature appearance by comparison of late, and that might just be their hidden weapon.

I had to admit to a sudden realisation of a lack of my own awareness of Microsoft’s CSR activity. Not ideal for someone who depends on such knowledge for a living. I assumed I knew they were ticking boxes I suppose. On questioning those in my networks I quickly found nobody else did either, which did make me feel slightly more comfortable. Most people could list their products, usually accompanied by the predictable individual gripes, but very little about the formal responsibility side of the fence.

Last Thursday, at the sprawling campus home of Microsoft in Redmond,  serviced by their own fleet of 48 ‘Connector’ buses and Prius cars (reportedly saving 18 million road miles in two years) myself and an intimate group of traditional press, tech bloggers and academics were offered a glimpse into their Corporate Citizenship efforts. I had no real expectations. I hadn’t had time to formulate any to be completely honest but I knew it had to be worth the trip including the carbon splurge.

The Accelerator Summit was obviously the beginnings of attempts to improve the aforementioned lack of awareness I’d encountered, to offer a view into how and why Microsoft allocated its resources to ‘accelerate change on social issues through the use of technology and partnerships‘. Their corporate mission is focused firmly around ‘realising potential’ and Pamela Pressman, Corporate Vice President for Global Affairs hosted the event, impressively represented throughout the day by similarly extended title senior executives, including CEO Steve Ballmer.

I would be writing for days to attempt to do justice to the wonderful non-profit partnerships we heard about (see links below for more information) but it was the background message, or rather the culture at Microsoft behind them all that struck me. Steve Ballmer was the top of the bill as far as titles go, but the real stars were those elsewhere within his organisation. Let’s be honest Steve has a tough act to follow, he isn’t Bill Gates and will never be a passionate CSR leader such as Jeff Swartz, Ray Anderson or Yves Chouinaurd, and that’s not a bad thing, as this story isn’t about him, it’s about everybody else at Microsoft. Here’s a link to a video of Steve at the Accelerator Summit.

Whilst the CEO may not be the CSR champion, everybody else was. He was keen to keep his personal philanthropic affairs private when questioned by Kristi Heim of the Seattle Times, and I’m sure he’s generous guy.  In addition to Pamela at the top of the CSR pyramid the star supporting actors included Dan Bross, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship; Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Global Community Affairs; Claire Bonilla, Senior Director of Disaster Management; Lisa Brummel, Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Rob Bernard, Chief Environmental Strategist – these are the people to watch, and the other 90,000 or so shorter titled employees. They have all quietly, and that is their other hidden weapon, been getting on with nurturing a culture of ‘smart business doing the right thing’. Todd Bishop from TechFlash asked “What had changed? This obviously isn’t the win at all costs Microsoft of the 80′s & 90′s”.

Microsoft uses its resources to leverage multiplied impacts across its citizenship partnerships with initiatives on show including Microsoft Research division’s (another hidden gem) collaborative photo DNA project to bravely publicly approach the taboo subject around reducing pornographic images of children on the web, collecting and managing huge amounts of data for environmental improvement beyond their own operational impact and disaster relief technology infrastructure.

The effect on recruitment, motivation and retention of employees was tangible and deliberate. The internal culture felt both embedded and energised. The four employees on show presented their pet projects that between them had raised over $90 million for good causes, created a system for tracking impact of individual donations, facilitated educational grants to the poorest and provided advocacy for children’s rights. Not bad for their ‘spare’ time.

I did attempt to push Steve with a question about transparency seeking to discover if he would openly offer operational weaknesses or refer to brand protection mode. Whilst he didn’t tell us anything radically transparent, or surprising he was genuinely convincing in his opinion of wanting to achieve a greater good, as long as it’s aligned to the corporate mission.

I came away with a sense that Microsoft has matured, identifying a new direction to positively enhance their brand position. Microsoft isn’t what it used to be and I for one now feel more comfortable with who they appear to be trying to become.

Click the link to find your own information about Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship initiatives.


Read more of David's musings on Corporate Social Responsibility and Citizenship on David Coethica's Blog.