Youth Opportunity Top of Mind at Social Innovation Summit

By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

“We’ll laugh, some of us may cry, we’ll be inspired and we’ll even dance.” These are the words that I used to kick off the “Opportunity: Youth” session at this year’s Social Innovation Summit. These are the same words that came to pass throughout our time at the Summit and specifically as my colleague, Yvonne Thomas, and I heard from young people who have discovered and created opportunities to better themselves and our world.

We were honored to have two incredible young women who have successfully completed programs supported by Microsoft YouthSpark join us for a fireside chat during our session hosted at the United Nations. They shared how their lives have changed from the support of Microsoft YouthSpark partners, Year Up and Girls Who Code. Franklyna “Franky” Gabriel shared her challenges as a young woman in Computer Science and how Year Up gave her opportunities that helped her land a job at Facebook where she has been working for more than a year. Kafilah Muhammad shared her excitement for learning and applying Computer Science through her participation in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program.  In only eight weeks and as a high school student who had never taken a computer science course in her life Muhammad built a fully functional website.

 Yvonne Thomas, Franklyna "Franky" Gabriel, Kafilah Muhammad

Founder and Emmy-award winning filmmaker at Stillmotion Inc., Patrick Moreau, shared how he brings the stories of young people making change in the world front and center. As a storyteller he shared what makes a great story including the four pillars leading with People, then Place, Plot and Purpose. This is exactly what he did when sharing the story of Vivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer of Make A Stand, in his company’s first feature-length, independent documentary #standwithme.  At nine years old, Vivienne discovered that millions of women and young girls just like her around the world are enslaved. Wanting to create more awareness of the issue and to help move forward her vision of a world where all 18 million enslaved children are free and safe she created a lemonade business.  Vivienne sold lemonade every day for 365 days to both raise money and awareness for her cause.

Vivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer, Make a StandVivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer, Make a Stand

Vivienne, her younger brother and her parents joined us at the Summit where she told all of us that "You don't have to be big or powerful to change the world. You can be just like me." She also announced that her next "project" is a new mobile crowdfunding technology that will allow anyone to make a stand—wherever they stand.

Nely Galan, founder of The Adelante Movement, joined us to share how women and specifically young Latina women, as an emerging economic market in this country, are being inspired to take themselves to a higher place for the sake of their children. She urged young women to become entrepreneurial, raise more money, and know that their voices in their communities must be heard. She urged women to buy more buildings – not shoes!

Nancy Lublin, CEO and chief old person of, and Jen Chiou, executive director of the Crisis Text Line, joined us and shared how their work is saving lives and giving young people a way to communicate in a time of crisis – and in a way that is familiar to them. Michael Smith, director of the Social Innovation Fund at the Corporation for National and Community Service, then joined us and gave examples of how each of us can turn social innovation into social impact. Marshall Davis Jones , internationally acclaimed World Bridger, brought many of our words together with the intersection of his spoken-word art in an inspiring performance. He artfully shared the experiences of young people from all walks of life – from their challenges, overcoming their challenges and bringing hope into their lives.

While at the Summit, we also shared examples of how technology can be used as a tool for good. Wendy Norman from Skype for Good, a Microsoft YouthSpark program; Dyane Smokorowski, a teacher from Kansas; and Mike Soskil, a teacher from Pennsylvania, shared how Skype is connecting classrooms, teachers and students around the world to provide real-world learning opportunities. Smokorowski shared how she and a teacher in Africa are connecting their classrooms to learn more about each other’s cultures. Soskil shared how his students and those they are connecting with are getting see parts of the world they may never have the opportunity to travel to or experience.

I was also happy to announce at the Summit that the next version of our HelpBridge app was released and I urged everyone to download the app to have a way to communicate with their loved ones in the unfortunate need to connect during times of disaster.

As you can gather, we are grateful to participate in and sponsor the Social Innovation Summit and each year we leave more inspired, more hopeful for the future and even more motivated to deepen the impact of the work that we do every day. With this in mind, it was fitting that our session ended with impromptu dancing from the Harlem Shake. And just when I didn’t think that was possible to top off, I had the opportunity on behalf of Microsoft and alongside other Social Innovation Summit leaders to end our time in New York by ringing the closing bell on Wall Street!

 Akhtar Badshah celebrating with the Harlem Shake Dancers