Erasing the tech scene’s diversity gap is going to take a lot of people rowing in the same direction, and the rowing must start early.
Chasing that dream is what led Microsoft to form a digital alliance with theUniversity City Science Center, to deliver skills training and tech camps to kids, as well as resources to small businesses within the community.
The brand-new spaces of Philadelphia’s Microsoft Reactor will serve as a venue for these initiatives, which will take place over the course of the next year.
According to the terms of the deal, both institutions will partner to offer the Digicamp program for Latino and African-American boys, in an effort to level the playing field with regard to digital access.
A similar program, DigiGirlz (no relation to Philly’s own TechGirlz), will also come to Philly with the aim of empowering young girls to become leaders in STEM and join the workforce in technology-related fields.
“A lot of girls like technology that’s meant for social good,” said Microsoft Director of Citizenship & Public Affairs Donna Woodall. “So what we’re doing is designing the programs in a way that allows them to impact the environment or health care.”
The alliance has also been billed as a way for Microsoft to reach out to the city core. The company’s Philly-area office is located in Malvern, Pa.
The partnership with the Science Center came naturally, said Woodall, as both organizations share common goals.
“[The Science Center] is all about entrepreneurship, health and STEM initiatives, so it just made sense to partner with them and [Science Center President and CEO] Stephen Tang.”
Philly’s blooming tech scene is also invited to pitch in to the bigger cause. “This is a non-exclusive agreement in the sense that we welcome any and all technology companies to join us in this,” said Woodall.
Relief for local businesses and startups will also be part of the joint venture, as Microsoft will be reaching out to local businesses with its BizSpark program, which gives qualifying startups free access to a digital toolkit and access to mentors and investors.
For now, the agreement is open ended, with a layout of what the first year will look like. According to the Redmond, Wash.-based company, the agreement is expected to continue as a multi-year partnership once priorities have been established.
“We want to have reached as many young people who have come to this community,” Woodall said. “We want to give them the tools they need so that they can follow this path.”
Science Center officials hope the diversity-minded effort will lead to longterm local impact.
“My greatest hope is that we create an environment where we create jobs — not anywhere but here in University City,” said Tang.
This deal is inscribed in Microsoft’s broader CityNext initiative, which gives businesses, citizens and institutions access to tech, partners and education for the purpose of social change.