The Art of Pics/shutterstock
The Art of Pics/shutterstock

Sometimes corporate commitments come in fast and furious. That was certainly the case in 2020, as a pandemic and rising racial justice movement demanded a response—and got one.

But announcements are just that, and it’s worth circling back to see how strategies and intentions are landing in local communities.

Microsoft was one of a number of tech companies that pledged to address racial inequity following the death of George Floyd. In June, Google committed $175 million to the issue, with a focus on Black-owned businesses and skills training. Apple launched a $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative to challenge the systems that block access to opportunity for communities of color.

Some commitments swept products and services or lumped existing giving into their commitment totals. But Microsoft’s pledge stood out. Calling the investment “long overdue,” it committed $15 million toward finding solutions, strictly in the form of grants.

Vice President and Lead of Microsoft Philanthropies Kate Behncken says assuming the responsibility to build progress on racial equity started at the top, “Last June, our CEO Satya Nadella committed Microsoft to put its data, technology and partnerships to work to help improve the lives of Black and African American people across the country.”

Grantmaking followed suit, with the goal of reducing barriers that have largely kept Black Americans from accessing the nearly 13 million tech jobs created in the last decade alone.

The process moved swiftly: The window for applications launched on September 2 and snapped shut at the end of the month. Nonprofits working in digital skills training and workforce development applied within a tight window, hoping to become one of the partners selected to receive $100,000 in each of the next three years from Microsoft Philanthropies, along with ancillary development and tech support from Microsoft.

Four months later, here are five things to know about the 50 Black-led nonprofits that Microsoft is funding in its efforts to move the needle on racial equity:

  1. Part of a broader program. Microsoft’s grant strategy aligns with a broader community skills program that’s grounded in the idea that everyone should have access to digital skills, and community racial justice work that harnesses technology to rebalance the odds for Black Americans, especially where work is concerned. Components include an internal and external “community of practice” that provides space for issues to bubble up, and ongoing community investments.
  2. New program, new partners. New programs often attract existing partners and networks—but despite the quick turnaround, the process was truly open. Forty-nine of the 50 grantees were new. The sole carryover was Chicago-based i.c.stars, which provides youth from low-income communities with the framework to develop both technical and leadership skills.
  3. An intentional effort to lift Black leadership. Besides seeking partners that work with Black communities, representational leadership counted. The application asked the following yes or no questions: Does the executive director identify as Black or African American? What percentage of the leadership team identifies as Black or African American? And what percentage of the organization’s board of directors identifies as Black or African American?
  4. Geographic diversity. Funding was awarded in 22 states and D.C., and across 37 cities. California-based nonprofits led the pack with 14 grants, followed by Florida with nine and New York with seven. But grants span the country, including in Alabama, West Virginia and Ohio. At the city level, San Francisco, Miami and Brooklyn drew the highest number of investments.
  5. A diversity of programs and tactics. The 50 partners have a range of means to an end. Code Fever Miami delivers skills training in ecosystems within local Black communities. We Build Black in Brooklyn creates networks for black professionals working in tech, especially women. Code Tenderloin in San Francisco helps remove barriers to getting and keeping a job, like childcare and transportation. And organizations like Cultivating Coders in Albuquerque are helping kids develop skill sets at coding boot camps.

Behncken says Microsoft finds its grantees’ work inspiring, “We’re proud to partner with these 50 organizations, led by and serving Black and African American people, that are providing access to the digital skills needed to so many jobs today. We’re inspired by their work, and excited we can be a part of it.”