Purpose At Work: How Microsoft Is Liberating Data To Scale Impact

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By: Simon Mainwaring, Forbes 

This is the eighth post in a series of conversations with business leaders from some of the most innovative companies in the world. The conversations were held around the Social Innovation Summit in Los Angeles. At the Summit, entrepreneurs, business people, philanthropists and individuals convened to discuss the present and future of purpose and business. For this interview I spoke with Justin Spelhaug, GM of Technology for Social Impact at Microsoft. 

Simon Mainwaring: Justin, what are you most excited about right now in terms of Microsoft’s purpose and impact?

Justin Spelhaug: Well first, there is always a humble realization that we need to find a way to do more. Philanthropy and CSR are important investments that have high social impact. But they need to be complemented with social businesses that have a high impact and a reasonable economic return, that are sustainable and, most importantly, scale. Pick poverty, and look at the hundreds of millions people suffering. We need mechanisms to scale to that challenge. We have a Microsoft philanthropy team and we have a CSR initiatives, but that recognition was the genesis that got us saying, “We need to lean into this social business lever harder.”

Mainwaring: So how is Microsoft developing social businesses?

Spelhaug: We’re building two mainstream social businesses. One is an Airband group that focuses on putting together creative partnerships to solve the broadband divide that we have in rural America.

The second is the Technology for Social Impact group. That group focuses on helping nonprofits digitally transform to drive mission-led impact. We’re bringing together a multidisciplinary team that has engineering, sales, business development and philanthropy. It needs to all come together under one leadership structure so we have the agility and speed necessary to deliver impact with the organizations we’re serving.

Finally, we created an integrated P&L financial system that allows us to reinvest any incremental profits we generate from any of our work into two things. One, more innovation and support for nonprofits directly. Two, philanthropies. That means funding things like affordable housing, digital skills investments and AI for Good investments. Not only to fuel more innovation for the sector and reach the nonprofit sector with technology, but also to fuel additional philanthropy that our company can drive.