Innovate4Good or How Microsoft Engages Young People In Tech?

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Innovate4good is a Microsoft initiative to build a network for young people who are able to name the modern world problems. It also is a chance for the company to translate them into tech solutions, that Microsoft could then build or support. To meet these goals the company from Redmond is organizing a series of offline meetups (1.5 days events in different places all around the world like Brussels and Redmond), as well as encouraging young people to stay in touch online via an especially designed social network. In this interview, Chris Worman, TechSoup Global Communications and Special Projects Manager, shares his experience with the Innovate4Good events and speaks about working with young people -- the “why” and the “how”. Do you have more questions that I have managed to ask? Let me know in the comments, and I will try to get the answer for you.

What are the reasons behind so many projects being targeted at youth at the moment? How is the Microsoft initiative different?

That is a very good question -- I think perhaps it is in part because youth are largely digital natives.  What is important in that statement is that youth are leading new models of interaction that are going to influence the way we all work - whether we are in the corporate sector or civil society.  So we are all trying to figure that out and understand ‘kids these days’ in order to work with the upcoming generations. 

I think there are a couple  of ways in which the Microsoft initiative is different.  First, it is truly global.  There are a lot of kids in Redmond, Brussels, Cairo, Singapore, Beijing and Mexico City coming together.  There is a lot of good data there and we are seeing a lot of similar trends in their discussion.  It is also different because it is quite cross-sector.  This is a global corporation listening to youth from a variety of backgrounds and encouraging them to ask questions, be they about civil, social, business or education issues. 

Who exactly does Microsoft try to engage via Innovate4Good and how are they doing it?

Youth from their various programs -- programmers, beneficiaries in civil society organizations and social entrepreneurs.  Microsoft is engaging them through a creative process which asks youth to map the issues they care about then explore tech interventions that might offer solutions.  It is co-creative and empowering.

What was the difference (if any) between the US and the European Innovate4Good editions?

The main difference was cultural -- first that the US kids were all from... the US.  Which is not homogeneous, but more so than the 20+ countries in the EU offering.  Second, social service is really ingrained in US youth.  There are many excellent young social entrepreneurs in Europe, but the entire dialog starts earlier in the States, and I think there are more opportunities for youth to engage.  In the US edition there was no question about whether those youth wanted to engage in social change or what social change they might engage in because it was already happening whereas we felt in Europe we had to ask the question about ‘what’ and in some cases ‘why.’

Do you expect the communities created within 1.5 days to be successfully maintained online after the event?

To some extent.  It depends on how you define success.  I am pretty optimistic about people’s desire to engage and realistic about the commitment and environment necessary to do so.  Those who want and need to lead will find it a very enabling environment to do so.  It is for that group.  And they will maintain and grow.  For the others I am sure this was a good/great and educational process and hope it may broaden their view a bit to apply some of the logical tools we worked on to any situation they face.

At the event in Brussels during one of the closing speeches we heard that “it is remarkable how young people are similar all around the world”. It spoke to the young generation problems and aspirations. Would you say that is true? Why?

If you look at the ideas around the world they are remarkably similar -- they are largely about reforming and improving education.  So yes it is true.  But on the other hand, that is a product of the environments youth are exposed to.  They sit in school all day and have a lot of time to figure out the problems.  If all youth travelled and learned freely it might be different.  I am curious though how dialog and participation are becoming remarkably similar -- meaning behavior is becoming more similar -- even if the dialog is perhaps more limited in scope.  This is very interesting.  Why did all these youth from a very different set of educational paradigms - some which reward creative outspoken thought, and some which don’t, feel open and empowered to engage?  Because they are youth?  Or because the internet - their digital native home - has taught them communications and interaction models that are quite different than you see in the culturally influenced and widely different engagement models of their parents?

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