Microsoft has launched a new philanthropic effort named, funnily enough, Microsoft Philanthropies. The initiative aims to "deliver the benefits of technology to a wider segment of the population," and will be investing in a range of schemes from "providing access and connectivity to the public cloud to delivering digital skills training." The organization's chief, Microsoft veteran Brad Smith, isn't giving away many details at the moment, but says the organization has earmarked $75 million to go toward computer education schemes over the next three years.
"Despite global expansion, increased access, and democratization of technology, the benefits of technology are not yet reaching everyone in the world," writes Smith in a blog post announcing the venture. He cites poverty, lack of education, accessibility, and remote communities as specific barriers to this, and says that Microsoft Philanthropies will "contribute in new and more impactful ways to a societal ecosystem that connects the benefits of technology."
Bill Gates has previously criticized tech-focused humanitarianism
This is vague stuff, and although that's to be expected from an organization that has only just launched, it's perhaps worth considering what Microsoft founder Bill Gates would have to say about the project. After all, Gates has previously poured cold water on tech-focused humanitarian efforts from Google, pointing out the company's project to bring internet access to developing countries using high-flying weather balloons isn't as charitable as, say, sponsoring public health projects in the same countries. "When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you," Gates noted in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.
Of course, it would be unfair to say that these comments apply to Microsoft Philanthropies. After all, the organization's focus on education and the "root causes of digital exclusion" sounds more practical than an initiative simply trying to bring remote communities online (see also: Facebook's internet drones). And there's nothing wrong with companies leveraging their expertise — Microsoft says it wants to "[match] employee technical talents with nonprofit organizations’ technical needs," and that makes sense. If you've got access to skilled people then you should think about where those skills are best used. However, as with any charitable effort, it's always worth asking whether the money involved is going to the place where it will do the most good.