Microsoft’s YouthSpark Initiative Inspires Leadership and Invention, Including Chicago
Guest article written by: Shelley Stern Grach, Citizenship & Public Affairs Director, Microsoft
At Microsoft, we recognize that there’s a gap between those who have access to the skills and training they need to be successful, and those who don’t. With more than 75 million unemployed youth around the world, we must work together to close this divide in order to secure the future of our youth, and of our global economy.
Last year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced Microsoft YouthSpark, a company-wide, global initiative to create opportunities for 300 million youth over three years. Through more than 30 programs and partnerships with 186 youth-serving nonprofits, in its first year alone, Microsoft YouthSpark has created new opportunities for more than 103 million young people in more than 100 countries. Although there is still much to do, we’re inspired by the momentum achieved. Young people are taking the lead in changing not only their lives, but the lives of other around them, making a real impact in their local communities and on the global stage.
YouthSpark’s partnership with local non-profits that work with youth burdened by the skills gap is truly making a difference. An excellent example is the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a program supported through YouthSpark, which has had a significant impact on Anthony Halmon, who grew up on the South side of Chicago and often felt pressured to get involved in gang-related activities. With failing grades, Anthony was just barely scraping by. Life-altering events also impacted Anthony’s future – his father died, his daughter was born, and he took a serious look at the path before him.
During his junior year, Anthony became involved with NFTE, which inspired him to look at his situation from a different angle and question what was really important to his quality of life. During this time, Anthony’s infant daughter got sick, so he set out to create something that would benefit parents in similar situations. Knowing how much his daughter loved her pacifier, Anthony designed the thermofier – a pacifier with a built-in thermometer that could help parents monitor the health and wellness of their children in a seamless way. His invention earned him a spot at the White House Science Fair, where he had the privilege of meeting President Obama.
Through joint NFTE Chicago nominations, Anthony received a full scholarship to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where he’s currently a freshman pursuing civil engineering. Now, he wants to share his story with upcoming generations to inspire them to achieve their full potential. He attributes beating the odds to his time at NFTE. “They taught me how to create something from nothing,” he said. “I learned that I can create my own opportunities by staying focused and being confident as a young innovator. I no longer wait on opportunities. I seek them.”
He also credits Microsoft YouthSpark with much of his success. “Microsoft is a great organization. It’s helping youth stand out when they think they have no voice. It gives them the opportunity to stand out and add value to their life. Don’t set yourself to any limits.”
To learn more about Microsoft’s YouthSpark Initiative and the students it has impacted worldwide, click here.