Microsofties with global roots give back

(Photo by Alex Stonehill)

The last couple weeks have seen one former Microsoft executive become the Prime Minister of Mali and another hatch an ambitious plot to mine asteroids.

Expanding from our rainy cradle in the corner of the country, the reach of our massive hometown software company transcends borders (and even outer space apparently).

But some Microsoft employees are making a global impact in less dramatic fashion, by using their skills and networks to give back to other parts of the world where they have roots:

Jolkona Foundation

Help build a latrine in Nepal or fund a safe house for Iraqi women. The Jolkona Foundation links burgeoning philanthropists to a diverse array of hand-selected aid projects. The nonprofit allows you to “give directly to low-cost, high-impact philanthropic opportunities” around the world and provides proof of your donation’s impact in the form of a picture, video or story.

Co-founder and former Geek of the Week, Adnan Mahmud, was born in Bangladesh and currently works as a Microsoft Program Manager, heading technology transfers out of a research lab in Beijing.

“Jolkona” means “drop of water” in Bengali, representing the organization’s emphasis on facilitating small donations that collectively, like filling a bucket, will have big impact.


Created by Moroccan-born Othmane Rahmouni, a Product Planner at Microsoft Advertising, Govpinion provides Moroccan citizens with a platform to publish (anonymously or not) feedback on public officials and institutions.

The site aims to address the lack of oversight for public officials, especially in developing or non-democratic countries, and impact the effect that local government has on critical public sectors, like healthcare and education.

Currently launched (in beta) in Morocco, Rahmouni planes to expand the site throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

The Citizens Foundation

Microsoft manager Jawaid Ekram joined other local Pakistani professionals in 2009 to organize the Seattle chapter of The Citizens Foundation (TCF). The parent organization, housed in Karachi, raises money from expats to build and fund schools around Pakistan to fill gaps left by the country’s failing public education system.

Counting up donations at The Citizen's Foundation-Seattle event in 2009 that raised $234,000 for schools in Pakistan

Ekram, like many other organizers and participants in TCF Seattle, are part of Pakistan’s “brain drain” – the emigration of highly educated and skilled individuals from Pakistan to work and live abroad.

But local Pakistani TCF supporters, many of whom work for Microsoft, haven’t forgotten the country they left behind. The annual fundraisers TCF-Seattle holds bring in staggering amounts of money, and they’ve already built and funded several schools.

Children’s Rights and You

Born in India, Rajesh Munshi came to the US for his Master’s degree and joined Microsoft afterwards. He started the Seattle chapter of Children’s Rights and You (CRY), an Indian NGO that works to provide opportunities to India’s most vulnerable and neglected children.

CRY Seattle, mostly comprised of Microsoft employees and Indian expats, hosts fundraisers, like the upcoming annual Uphaar dinner, and channels money to a variety of youth-focused programs in both India and the US.

Microsoft employees don’t necessarily have to create a new nonprofit in order to contribute to global projects. The software giant provides each employee with a $12,000 annual corporate matching gift, to be earned by committing hours or dollars to eligible nonprofits.

James Liao raised $12,000 and donated 700 hours to the existing NGO Dream Corp within his first six months of employment.

Microsofties like Liao and the rest are taking advantage of the perks of their job to do important international work, even if they’re not taking over an entire country or launching themselves out of the troposphere.

Allison Barrett is a journalism student at the University of Washington and a former intern for the Common Language Project. Her work has been published by the Seattle Times, Next Door Media, Northwest Asian Weekly and several other local news organizations.