Microsoft Announces New Scholarly Initiative
September 21, 2012

New Educational Initiative From Microsoft – YouthSpark

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Microsoft announced on Thursday a brand new Spark to their already sparkly lineup, which includes DreamSpark and BizSpark.

Now, Microsoft has YouthSpark, a program which aims "to help close the opportunity divide for youth” by partnering with governments and non-profits, according to their blog post.

YouthSpark will now fall in line behind BizSpark and DreamSpark, programs which help startups get off the ground and provides development tools to tech-minded students.

According to Microsoft´s executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, Brad Smith, YouthSpark will help bring First World opportunities to children of Third World countries, where such opportunities may not exist.

Microsoft is joining YouthSpark with several of their other educational initiatives, including the other Sparks, ImagineCup, Office 365 for Education, Partners in Learning and Skype in the Classroom. With Office 365 for Education and Skype in the Classroom, for instance, those students who are a part of the YouthSpark program will have access to Microsoft software as well as be able to communicate either with other classrooms or even their families at home, as seen in a promotional video for the new program.

Mary Mwende grew up in a self-described “slum” in Kenya, with no running water or electricity. Thanks to President Clinton´s Clinton Scholars program, Mwende was able to attend college at the American University in Dubai. In the video, however, she says there aren´t enough opportunities for students like her to reach their full potential, which is where YouthSpark is meant to step in.

“One of the things I´ve learned is that we need resources, we need all kind of skills, we need...things to engage us,” says Mwende in the video.

“We have so many ideas we want put out to the world and we don´t know how to do that.”

According to the company blog, YouthSpark will provide opportunities for students like Mwende by combining technology with a community spirit, improving the level of teaching to these students.

“Bridging the opportunity divide means more than increasing technology access, although that is still critically important,” writes Smith.

“It means empowering youth by transforming education and enhancing skills training, unleashing future innovators by providing youth with the inspiration and tools to imagine new opportunities, and helping young people find employment or start a new business or social venture.”

Though an incredibly noble and worthwhile goal, some have wondered why Microsoft has chosen this week to announce this new initiative.

After all, according to ZDNet, Microsoft is currently being investigated by the Senate for matters concerning their “Aggressive international tax maneuvers” over the last 3 years.

As told in a Reuters report, the Senate subcommittee has said that Microsoft moved some $21 million offshore between 2009 and 2011, saving the Redmond company nearly $4.5 billion in taxes on products sold in the United States. Microsoft´s partner HP is also the center of this investigation, as more than 90% of their cash remains offshore, according to the senate subcommittee.

“We are disappointed to see what appears to be a politically motivated attack on one of America's largest employers," said HP Spokesperson Michael Thacker during a hearing.