As Steve Ballmer wrote in his introduction to our FY10 Corporate Citizenship Report, "Microsoft has a long tradition of taking on tough challenges on a global scale... it started with our original vision of a computer on every desk and in every home."The world has changed since Bill Gates articulated that vision over 30 years ago and events over the past three months bring into clear focus the growing role technology has played in addressing those tough challenges. We operate in an increasingly connected world – yes, connection through technology – but also perceive that connected world through another lens – the lens of collaboration and partnership.
In the first few months of 2011, beginning in mid-January, we witnessed the power technology has to foster economic empowerment and freedom of expression. Activities across the Middle East and North Africa show us that when individuals are free to express their views, civic engagement increases, governments are held accountable, societies are enriched and individuals are given opportunities to realize their full potential.
The march toward economic and social empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa would not have been possible had it not been for individuals and institutions working together to affect social change. Through the power of an open Internet, individuals around the world are able to express their views in the pursuit of free expression.
In 2008, Microsoft helped form the Global Network Initiative (GNI) , an organization dedicated to advancing Internet freedom. The GNI was formed in collaboration with Yahoo and Google, human rights organizations, academics and socially responsible investors, and was launched to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Talk about collaboration and partnership!
The GNI informs Microsoft’s engagement in markets throughout the world. While we must adhere to local laws to which we are subject, legal compliance does not necessarily require absolute or reflexive deference to local authorities. If we disagree with governments, we try to find the most constructive and pragmatic approach to sustain a principled stand. Sometimes that involves public statements of our views; other times we may find it more constructive to engage directly with the government.
The point is – through cross-sector collaboration and partnership – by working together, Internet freedom is advanced. Microsoft will continue efforts to help build on this foundation of partnership to advance the GNI as a source of expertise on Internet freedom issues and to help its principles and guidelines take root globally.
A more recent demand for partnerships around a tough challenge arose from the tragic devastation resulting from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Even as the full scope of the catastrophe was first unfolding, it quickly became apparent that this natural disaster demands a global response.
Even in the very early hours following the earthquake, we saw governments, nonprofits, corporations and individuals rising to the challenge. Partnerships have been formed, teams have been assembled and individuals around the world are responding.
While global corporations have a tradition of responding to disasters, what the media and corporate press releases often fail to mention is the foundational role partnerships play in such responses. Corporations work in partnership to support a wide range of organizations. For Microsoft and other corporations responding to the crisis in Japan that means the Japanese Red Cross; NetHope.org and World Vision. The scope of the Japan disaster far exceeds the ability of individual corporations, and demands partnerships at all levels – including among governments and nonprofits.
The tough challenges Steve Ballmer refers to cannot be met by one government, one corporation or one nonprofit. The interconnected world in which we live demands an interconnected approach – an approach based on collaboration and partnership.
After all, isn’t that what citizenship is all about – meeting the duties and responsibilities that come with being a member of a community?