With founder Bill Gates as widely known for charitable giving as for business genius, it isn’t surprising that Microsoft Corp. is actively involved in humanitarian projects throughout the world—from raising money for a Boys & Girls Club in Seattle to helping build a school in the slum area of Nairobi, Kenya.
Microsoft also has developed an initiative called Front Lines, which exposes senior leaders to other cultures and deeper ways of connecting with partners. “Microsoft’s future leaders engage directly with international organizations to apply their consulting and business acumen toward pressing social and economic development challenges,” says Frank McCosker, managing director for global strategic accounts. “In return, Front Lines teaches participants that successful leadership is about being a catalyst for positive change versus the traditional figurehead role.”
The Front Lines program is preparing Microsoft for the future, says Shannon Banks, leadership development manager at Microsoft U.K., where the program was launched. “The rapid growth of emerging markets will increasingly shift the balance of power away from the U.S. Exposure to emerging markets will increasingly be a requirement for senior leaders.”
Participants—among the top 4 percent of Microsoft’s sales, marketing and services group—assemble for three- to four-day workshops in developing countries, such as one held earlier this year in Nairobi with 30 “high potential” Microsoft employees. The leaders met with United Nations agencies, information technology providers and not-for-profit organizations. They also visited destitute communities, met with local community representatives and toured successful businesses such as a flower farm in Kenya. And while visiting Mukuru, a slum area in Nairobi where an estimated 600,000 people live, program participants donated cash to help buy construction materials and desks for a ramshackle elementary school.
Banks says the overarching goal of the human resources program is to “develop leaders while providing benefits to external partners and supporting the company’s African strategy.”
“Experience in the complexity and dichotomies of Africa have opened my mind,” wrote one participant. “I have learnt that citizenship is a competitive differentiator.”
For its efforts at helping leaders see how corporate citizenship can be strategic, Microsoft is the winner of this year’s Optimas Award for Corporate Citizenship.
Workforce Management, December 2010, p. 20 -- Subscribe Now!