“Today’s generation of young people are active in understanding the challenges ahead of them and are using their voice to advocate for change,” says Lori Forte Harnick, Microsoft’s General Manager of Citizenship and Public Affairs. “We’re inspired by today’s youth and believe we have a responsibility not only to create thriving economies that they can be a part of, but listen, inspire and encourage them to harness their own passion, innovation and aspirations for their futures. It’s a belief that animates our fourteen-year commitment to City Year.” 

YouthSpark, Microsoft’s signature corporate citizenship program launched in September 2012. The company-wide global initiative is aiming to provide 300 million young people – that’s nearly the entire population of the United States – with opportunities in education, employment and entrepreneurship, by 2015. City Year is one of 186 youth-centered nonprofit organizations that have received YouthSpark support. 

Microsoft began partnering with City Year in 1999, donating more than $500,000 in software. Direct investment in City Year’s work in schools started in 2011, when the company sponsored a team of City Year AmeriCorps members serving at a high school in Queens, New York. With the launch of YouthSpark, Microsoft’s investment has grown and the company became one of City Year’s National Leadership Sponsors in 2012.  To date, the company has donated more than $23.4 million through financial and in-kind support.

Microsoft invests in two areas of City Year’s work. First, it supports City Year teams serving in four schools in New York City, Washington, DC, Chicago and Seattle. Every team Microsoft sponsors is part of Diplomas Now, a collaboration between City Year, Johns Hopkins Talent Development and Communities In Schools, that is helping to turn around some of the nation’s most troubled schools.  Microsoft’s support helped generate improved results in student attendance and course performance, in addition to providing engaging service opportunities for Microsoft employees. The company has also invested in City Year’s mathematics curriculum, helping City Year’s program team build a research-based instructional framework and provide professional development trainings for corps members. As a result, the number of students who will receive math interventions will increase from 8,500 to 14,000 during the 2013-2014 school year.

Math and other STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) are obviously important to Microsoft. “In today’s society, STEM education and computer science skills are key components of a 21st century education and are becoming a larger requirement for employment in most workplaces around the world,” Forte Harnick says. “Our investment in City Year’s math curriculum is intended to help expand opportunities for all students to be prepared to pursue even more advanced training that will contribute to their personal and professional success.”

Microsoft’s increasing engagement with City Year has also had an impact on Forte Harnick’s personal life, as she began to think about how she could have a more direct, personal commitment to empowering young people in Puget Sound, where she lives. One result? She joined City Year Seattle’s board (Justin Spelhaug, Microsoft’s General Manager of the Operations Service Group is also a member of the board). She says stepping into a leadership role was a natural next step. “As a parent and a professional, I understand how important it is for all young people to be nurtured and supported in their journey to adulthood,” she says of her new, on-going commitment. Maybe most important, though, to our partnership are the values Microsoft and City Year share: both believe in the power of young people.  “Our future success as a society, across the U.S. and throughout the world, will largely depend on the knowledge and capacity of today’s youth to drive innovation and address increasingly complex global challenges,” Forte Harnick says. “An investment in youth reflects our belief in the potential and promise of the world’s 1.4 billion young people.”