As a child growing up in a tiny town in the Midwest, Mary Snapp absorbed the importance of commitment to community from her parents. “Literally every night, my parents were out at some meeting, and my dad delivered Meals on Wheels to seniors,” she recalls. Today, as corporate vice president and the first head of Microsoft Philanthropies, Snapp leads the technology company’s corporate citizenship initiatives.
Recently, NationSwell founder and CEO Greg Behrman sat down with Snapp to discuss the importance of companies providing a structure of support for social good and volunteerism.
GB: What is one approach or guiding principle at Microsoft Philanthropies that differentiates you from others?
MS: Microsoft’s Giving Campaign started 30 years ago when co-founder Bill Gates’s mother, Mary, told him that it was important to build philanthropy into the fabric of the company. We commit to matching employees’ volunteer time hour-by-hour and donations dollar-for-dollar. Last year, employees raised $142 million for nearly 19,000 nonprofits and schools worldwide. The program really encourages creative volunteering, such as Hacks for Good, where employees come up with ways to reduce demands for sex trafficking to things related to weather forecasts and water conservation. It’s really, truly unique.
For the past three decades, Microsoft has also been committed to supporting education. We believed 30 years ago, and we still believe today, that it’s really important for young people, especially underserved populations and girls, to learn science, technology, engineering and math. Our Technical Education and Literacy in Schools initiative started with one engineer volunteering an hour of his time several days a week to teach computer science at an underserved school. After a couple of years, he had nine other engineers joining him. This year, Microsoft employees are in 350 schools in 30 states team-teaching computer science alongside a teacher.
GB: Do you think what you’re doing to engage employees around social good is having an impact on employee engagement and enthusiasm, and the culture at Microsoft?
MS: I only have purely anecdotal evidence, but I think it does. For example, I recently met with some senior level employees who told me that they came to Microsoft specifically because of the ability to volunteer. And I’ve had a number of conversations with our data science lead who told me that his employees are constantly being recruited by outside companies, but they choose to work at Microsoft because they want to do things that give them purpose.
GB: As you look forward into the world of corporate responsibility and philanthropy, what’s next for you and Microsoft?
MS: Two years ago, at the World Economic Forum, there was a lot of talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the cloud. Last year, most of the discussion was on artificial intelligence and robots. We realized that we have an obligation to talk about digital skills and jobs for the future, but that we also need to urgently think about middle skills — jobs that are beyond a high school diploma, but don’t require a college degree — as well.
Fulfilling this middle skills area is coming at a pretty fast and broad clip. We believe that, as a big technology company, we have a particular responsibility to help ease the transition that’s coming with technology. We hope to work in urban and rural communities to build out technical skill programs so that as we move forward, technology does not leave people behind.
GB: What advice might you have for someone at the beginning of his or her career that aspires to lead business in the direction of sustainability and responsibility?
MS: Many young people have to overcome things that I didn’t, but it’s still possible for them to achieve their dreams. These dreams may change over time, but they need to have persistence and an interest in continuous learning. And I’d be sure to tell them that they’re going to make it, because they are.