On May 6, the Women’s Refugee Commission presented Microsoft, our corporate honoree, with the 2010 Innovating for Change Voices of Courage Award. We recognized two exceptional Microsoft initiatives: Unlimited Potential and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), the latter of which was formed in collaboration with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie.
Before the event, we sat down with Pamela S. Passman, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Global Corporate Affairs at Microsoft, to discuss the two initiatives being recognized at our Voices of Courage Awards luncheon. We asked Pamela to tell us about the inspiration behind the initiatives, how they grew and the impact they’ve had on women and unaccompanied immigrant children worldwide.
How did the issue of unaccompanied immigrant children come to the attention of Microsoft?
Microsoft’s success has been built on its ability to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world. When we sought to build a pro bono program for our legal team, we decided to focus on an issue that enabled us to support the immigration system, since we rely on it to hire talented individuals from around the world. Microsoft initially created a program called Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice (VAIJ), which began with Microsoft legal professionals working with other leaders in the local legal community to provide representation for immigrant detainees and unaccompanied children in Seattle. VAIJ has since become a nationally recognized initiative that has achieved the unique goal of providing pro bono legal counsel to every unaccompanied immigrant minor in Washington state facing deportation or removal proceedings.
Can you tell us about the process of formulating the KIND program—what inspired the idea, how the program began and how it has progressed since its inception?
We began to dream about what it would take to expand our efforts so that 100 percent of unaccompanied children across the country were represented by pro bono counsel. Noting the long-standing work of actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, we joined forces in 2008 to co-found Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), a national organization that brings together legal and nonprofit professionals to represent unaccompanied refugee children in the US. We are so proud that this now includes a national network of 1,200 pro bono attorneys in seven cities.
What inspired the idea for the Unlimited Potential program and how did it get put into practice? Microsoft began with the dream of putting a PC on every desk in every home. Thirty years ago that dream seemed impossible. Today, life has changed profoundly for the more than 1 billion people we’ve reached. And yet, there are still more than 5 billion people around the world without access to such technology. Bill Gates launched Unlimited Potential in 2007 to bring together business and philanthropic approaches to make technology more relevant, accessible and affordable. Unlimited Potential spans 18 programs from across the company that center on efforts to transform education, foster local innovation and enable jobs and opportunities.
How have your consumers reacted to the KIND and Unlimited Potential initiatives?
I am in the fortunate position to regularly see the impact of our programs firsthand. Recently, I met with a number of young women from Kenya, who, thanks to the Global Give Back Circle are the first in their families to go to University. It shows how work like Unlimited Potential is enabling real economic and social change. In addition, we’re so proud of our partnership with KIND. I think it is a great example of how you can mobilize people who are passionate about using their professional skills to help give others not only a chance but new opportunities.