Microsoft boosts tech access

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Microsoft, one of the biggest corporate donors in the United States, is working to give nonprofits, schools and disadvantaged groups in the Charlotte metro region better access to technology through contributions of software, cash and volunteerism.

The giant software-maker, based in Redmond, Wash., contributed more than $36.6 million in cash last year and $179 million in software in the U.S. and abroad.

That included $1.4 million in donated software and cash in Charlotte, plus $600,000 in cash to match dollar-for-dollar contributions by local employees in its consulting and sales operations.

“We have grants and work hard at putting technology in the hands of people who don’t have it, particularly in diverse neighborhoods and areas,” says Kevin Collins, North Carolina site director for Microsoft, which employs more than 1,000 people in the Charlotte area.

The Carolinas also are being considered as the site for a new affiliate of NPower, a nonprofit group that Microsoft launched three years ago to provide technology assistance to nonprofits, says Collins, who also is director of developer support for databases, overseeing U.S. support of Microsoft’s SQL Server relational-database product.

With the philanthropic mission in the Charlotte area to “empower people to realize their potential through technology,” Microsoft focuses its charity on expanding opportunities through tech access, strengthening nonprofits through technology, developing a diverse tech workforce and building community.

Every six months, for example, the company makes a grant – typically totaling $15,000 in cash plus up to $5,000 worth of software — to support technology and tech access in the community.

Over the past 18 months, those grants have helped the L.H. McCrorey YMCA set up a mobile computer-learning lab serving teens, senior citizens and low-income families; helped the Central Avenue Bi-Lingual School teach pre-schoolers how to use computers; and helped the Lakewood Community Development Center buy and equip computers to prepare children and young adults for school and jobs.

Microsoft also supports the Tech Connect program of the Charlotte Chamber to train information-technology students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

And as part of $50 million in software donated last year to the United Negro College Fund, Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte received $3.7 million in Microsoft products.

Collins says NPower is studying whether to expand its network to the Carolinas.

Microsoft helped launch NPower in Seattle in March 1999 as a nonprofit membership group to provide low-cost tech consulting and training to nonprofits there.

Last year, the company said it would contribute $25 million over five years to launch local NPower initiatives in roughly 12 U.S. cities – either as new nonprofits or as programs of existing groups.

As part of that expansion, which now aims to serve 13 U.S. cities by the end of 2003, Microsoft has launched affiliates in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Michigan, New York, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

NPower is evaluating the potential need in the Carolinas for tech-services for nonprofits, and a decision could be made by early next year, Collins says.

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