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Friday, May 7, 2021

Paving the future with technology: Employee volunteers build a “societal ecosystem” in Japan

As technology grows as a force in our daily existence and across society as a whole, the idea that we can rely on a few “experts” is becoming a thing of the past. Everyone now has the potential to participate in the digital world.

Making technology widely available enhances our lives and economic opportunities. So, putting technology into the hands of a greater number of people, in the true sense, is an important social mission.

That is why Microsoft uses employee engagement and supports nonprofits. The company provides the digital tools that nonprofits can use regularly, and it also sends its specialists to nonprofits as employee volunteers.

Teaming up to promote technology

Let’s look at Japan, where computer programming is to become a compulsory subject at Japanese schools in 2020. Volunteers from our company are helping to pave the way. Among them is Yuka Matsubara, who joined Microsoft Japan in 2015. She regularly gives coding lessons at elementary schools.

We visited one elementary school where Matsubara was teaching a class of sixth graders. Her lively voice held the attention of the group made up equally of girls and boys. “We want to take on this challenge together. So if there’s anything you don’t understand, don’t struggle on your own and let me know. If you finish early, please help others around you,” she says with a smile.

Learning materials for elementary and junior high school students are designed to help spark their interest in programming. But some students become overly immersed in the work. Telling children not to struggle on their own and to help others is not just a message to encourage and comfort them, it also carries one of the basic but often overlooked elements of programming.

These learning materials – such as the Minecraft Hour of Code tutorial – let the children build programs to control the movement of creatures, such as sheep and zombies, and make them drop and pick up items such as jewels and vegetables. To increase the fun, sounds can be added to each movement, creating a world of endless possibilities. The children sometimes drop diamonds on each creature with an unlikely groaning sound to accompany the move. Matsubara says this sort of creativity and spontaneity helps to serve as an inspiration in her own work.

Matsubara got into computer coding while studying agricultural informatics. She needed programming skills to help her use huge amounts of data to better understand how to improve farm work efficiencies.

Nowadays, she wants children to take a keen interest in technology and so expand their career options, and that is why she volunteers as a teacher. She says being exposed to the spontaneous ideas of children makes her want to teach more. “Everyone is full of a free and imaginative spirit. I want to help them be able to put in action what they want to do or express, in whatever way that they want to.”

Nonprofits are important partners

Microsoft Japan has formed partnerships with many nonprofits in community building and educational support activities by sending employee volunteers and providing IT tools, helping them maintain their ties with local communities and educational institutions.

When Tokyo-based nonprofit, Sodateage Net, was preparing to offer an IT course for young people, Microsoft wanted to ensure that it could provide an on-going benefit. So, instead of sending its employees to teach the course directly, the company trained Sodateage’s staff to become instructors who are now providing learning on a long-term basis.

“Through collaboration, we want to continuously support nonprofit activities that have a structural impact on society,” says Megumi Kusumoto of Microsoft Philanthropies Japan.

Building a societal ecosystem, in which employees share their experience and skills with local communities, is also about creating a framework for volunteers to engage with local communities in the long-term.

“We want our employee volunteers to use their skills to give back to society,” says Kusumoto.

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