Microsoft headquarters in REdmond, Washington. VDB Photos/shutterstock
Microsoft headquarters in REdmond, Washington. VDB Photos/shutterstock

Racism is baked into U.S. education, government and work structures, and can’t be solved overnight. But the rising movement for racial equity demands immediate action, as well as long-term strategies to bring about lasting change.

As recently covered in Inside Philanthropy, corporations have earned some credit for responding quickly to the issues, while still struggling to align their actions with intent. The overall response from the tech sector, in particular, has been nimble and robust, with a number of companies making multimillion-dollar commitments by June, just weeks after George Floyd’s death.

Now, we’re beginning to see how some of those big pledges are unfolding. Microsoft recently announced a $15 million investment in nonprofits that boost Black Americans through a community skills program. Created with input from the community, the program is part of the company’s larger commitment to advancing racial equality, and helping 25 million people around the globe acquire digital skills this year.

The Tech Response

Microsoft is one of several tech leaders that have committed funding to build bridges to employment. Several of the company’s efforts expand entry points and training for minority career-building in the field. The opportunities are there. Nearly two-thirds of the 13 million U.S. jobs created in the last decade required medium to advanced digital skills.

Back in June, Google committed $175 million to advancing racial equity, focusing on Black-owned businesses. But there was also a solid investment in skills and training. Fifteen million was earmarked for training programs for Black Americans seeking employment, and another $10 million provided educational and other opportunities for the company’s Black developers. Black students received $3 million for computer science training. In July, Google.org also awarded grants totaling $10 million to build job training and digital skills for underserved populations through organizations like Npower and JFF.

Also in June, Apple launched the $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative to challenge the “systemic barriers to opportunity… that exist for communities of color, and particularly for the Black community,” which included education as a focus area.

Microsoft Responds 

Unlike many broad corporate commitments, Microsoft’s community skills program funding will be awarded entirely in the form of grants. Each nonprofit selected as a partner will be eligible to receive up to $100,000 in each of the next three years to provide digital skills and workforce development programming to the Black and African American community. The company expects to engage both new and existing partners, and to fund up to 50 eligible Black-led nonprofits. Grants will be supported with leadership development and technology support from Microsoft.

Nonprofits hoping to take advantage of the opportunity will have to act quickly. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Pacific Standard time on September 30. To learn more about the program and eligibility requirements and the application process, click here. Or follow this link to a webinar on the ways nonprofits can help jobseekers connect with Microsoft resources like free learning content, access to discounted certification, and tools to launch a successful job search.

On a macro level, Microsoft has committed to three core areas as part of a sustained, multiyear effort to increase its representation and culture of inclusion, adding $150 million to its diversity and inclusion programming and issuing a commitment to double the number of Black managers, contributors and senior leaders in the U.S. over the next five years.

Naria Santa Lucia, general manager of digital inclusion and US community engagement, Microsoft Philanthropies, says, “African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and are affected by what was already a widening skills gap around the world. As part of our global skills initiative, the community skills program aims to empower Black and African American-led nonprofits that are working to increase skill development and economic opportunities for the Black community.”

Lucia describes the program as “designed to create a space for community leaders to come together and discuss concerns and issues they are having and for Microsoft to help them navigate solutions.” Recognizing that “this is but a small part of the long overdue investment needed to address the historical inequities created by society,” Santa Lucia says Microsoft looks forward to engaging communities and “other like-minded individuals and organizations” in the work.

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