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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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October 18, 2012 1:26 PM

Gates, Ballmer cheer employees' $1 billion charity mark

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's been awhile since Bill Gates headlined a Microsoft press conference, but he surfaced for an unusual event today at the company's Redmond headquarters.

Gates joined Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and other dignitaries to announce a milestone in the Microsoft employee giving program, which began 30 years ago after a nudge from Gates' parents.

The giving program -- in which Microsoft matches employee contributions to nonprofit organizations and provides direct corporate gifts -- has had a remarkable effect on the Puget Sound region in particular, where most of the employees are located.

Microsoft announced that giving through the program has reached $1 billion in cumulative donations to more than 31,000 non-profit groups. Earlier this month, when the company issued its annual citizenship report, the company said it expected to reach that level by the end of 2012.

Ballmer called it a "mind numbing" milestone and thanked the nonprofit "partners" who leveraged the donations and provided an outlet for "our folks' incredible desire to change the world."

Ballmer said that the effects of the giving are seen around the world, and employees "have really stood up in times of crisis" and helped people in more than 200 disasters.

Microsoft matches employee contributions dollar for dollar up to $12,000 per year. For the last five years it has also donated $17 per hour to non-profit groups where its employees have donated at least 10 hours of their time volunteering.

The company's philanthropy helps attract new employees and introduces newcomers to non-profit organizations in the communities where they're hired, executives said.

In addition to Gates, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire attended the event, along with a number of former Microsoft executives who have become prominent philanthropists.

"Well, I come back for historical perspective whenever that's needed," Gates joked, before recounting how the program began.

Gates said it began with Sunday dinners with his mother and father, who were longtime supporters of United Way and encouraged him to start a giving program.

"In the early days I was a little bit reluctant to distract people from writing code day and night," he joked.

Eventually, he agreed and decided it was an area where Microsoft could apply "our analytical excellence to that field as well."

That first year, in 1983, about 200 employees raised $17,000 for non-profit groups. This year the company expects more than 35,000 employees will raise more than $100 million for non-profits around the world.

The $1 billion figure is just for employee donations and matching gifts from the company through its giving program. Total donations since 1983 - including donations of cash, software and services by the company and employees - are more than $6.5 billion.

Additionally, many former employees have gone on to start their own charitable programs and support efforts such as the Microsoft Alumni Foundation.

Over the last three decades, Microsoft and its employees have contributed $460 million to United Way, said Jon Fine, chief executive of United Way of King County.

"The impact of all that giving is almost incalculable," Fine said.

Fine said the company's "culture of generosity" has radiated beyond the campus and raised the bar for what it means to be a responsible corporation.

"This is an area where I feel Microsoft continues to set the pace for the entire technology sector," said Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, who oversees the company's philanthropic programs.

Gregoire noted that contributions to Washington nonprofits were more than $50 million last year and more than $520 million over the life of the program, an apt number considering the roadway that connects Microsoft's campus to Seattle.

The giving reflects "something that I think is about the values of Washington state," she said.

Gregoire said she found evidence of Microsoft employees' largesse on a recent trip to Hyderabad, India. She visited with employees there whose giving program this year supported the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, a nonprofit that provides eye care and rehabilitation. She also met a 1-year-old girl who was blind until she received corneal transplants from the institute.

"It was one of the most heartwarming experiences of my life," she said. "That's what you have done, that's what it means on the ground to the people who have benefited from your generosity."

Gates and Ballmer praised the milestone as the company was simultaneously delivering a particularly tough earnings report that pulled Microsoft stock down more than 2 percent in after-hours trading.

The earnings weren't mentioned, but Ballmer cast things in a positive light, saying the charitable milestone will be remembered along with the company's other big accomplishments this year, including the launch of Windows 8 next week.

Among the attendees was Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft president who is now chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has so far granted more than $23 billion.

"Cleary this is an incredible milestone ... but it really symbolizes the spirit of the company," Raikes said.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy , Seattle , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 2, 2012 9:59 AM

Video: Bill Gates on America's innovation and "fearful mood"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Donning his global statesman hat, Bill Gates spent time discussing America's concerns about its future with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

Gates talked about paradoxes - such as polls showing that Americans see a bleaker future despite the huge amount of innovation in their country that will lead to advances in medicine, energy and other fields.

"There's more innovation taking place in this country still than the whole rest of the world put together," Gates said in a video of the chat. "Now over time that will shift and they'll carry their more fair share of the burden, but in all these fields, the most interesting work is still largely in the United States."

Gates also touched on concerns about the effect of polarization on U.S. government, a topic he raised during an October speech at the University of Washington that also highlighted opportunities being created by innovation.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 10, 2011 9:59 AM

One Bus Away extended, for now, with Googler help

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bus riders in the greater Seattle area have a friend in Switzerland.

That would be Brian Ferris, the University of Washington computer-science student who graduated in the summer and now works for Google, in Zurich. (He's pictured below in his UW office in May.)

Ferris built and ran One Bus Away, a collection of phone apps that inform riders when buses are expected to arrive at their stop, using data shared by transit agencies.

His hobby morphed into a Ph.D. project and a job with Google's Zurich office, where the search giant does much of its mapping and navigation work.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ferris1.jpg
That was great for Ferris and Google, but it left One Bus Away's users in limbo. They continue to use the service more than 50,000 times a week, accessing it via smartphones, browsers and a dial-in system at 206-456-0609.

Fortunately, the UW has continued to run the system -- on servers in the Computer Science & Engineering Department -- while the school and regional transit agencies hashed out a plan.

It could have gotten sticky earlier this month. King County Metro did a major restructuring of its network Oct. 1, changing dozens of routes, adding a new rapid line and rerouting others to deal with the Alaskan Way Viaduct project.

Those changes introduced glitches in One Bus Away that needed to be fixed, even though the agencies were still negotiating who would pick up the tab for the service.

So Ferris went ahead and updated the system himself -- just as he had for years at the UW -- except this time he did it from Zurich.

"He's not getting paid for it. He's just doing it because he believes in it," said Alan Borning, a UW computer-science professor who worked with Ferris on transit information research.

A slightly longer-term solution will be announced soon, perhaps in the next few days.

Metro, Sound Transit and Pierce Transit are working with the UW to fund One Bus Away for a year. Funding will enable the UW to hire someone to manage and update the service.

"We wanted to keep it going," said De Meyers, a Sound Transit information technology manager who is researching and developing rider-information systems.

It's unclear what will happen beyond the one-year contract, but Seattle-area agencies are apparently interested in a similar system being developed by a group in New York.

Called Open Trip Planner (OTP), it's an open-source project that started in 2009 and drew in part on the work that Ferris did at the UW.

The OTP software is freely shared, but several groups charge agencies to customize, host and support the system. OTP is being tested in Portland, where the TriMet transit agency helped develop the system.

In July, OTP held a user meeting in Portland attended by Meyers, another Sound Transit representative and a King County Metro manager, according to the group's attendance list.

An OTP presentation on its website also lists Sound Transit and King County as "prospective users" having "early conversations."

So is One Bus Away simply being extended until OTP is fully up and running?

"We don't know really right now," Meyers said, adding that "we're still in the assessment phase."

Meanwhile, Borning and his students may continue to use One Bus Away as a platform for research purposes.

One Bus Away users may also be asked to help out.

Borning envisions a sort of crowd-sourcing approach. People with knowledge of particular routes could become "transit ambassadors" and help run the system.

(That would be a cousin to a crowd-sourced voters guide -- at -- that he and students are developing.)

Demand for One Bus Away continues, and it's likely to grow over the next few years as massive road projects strangle Seattle-area traffic and put more pressure on transit agencies.

The system is also uniquely accessible, enabling even basic phones to access the same information as fancy smartphones.

Crowd-sourcing may help keep the service going, Borning said.

"On the other hand," he added, "I don't have another Brian Ferris who can put in 10- or 20-hours a week."

Comments | Category: Apps , Automotive , Education , Google , Philanthropy , Phones , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 3, 2011 4:52 PM

"Social innovators" make pitch, win grants at Seattle Center

Posted by Brier Dudley

More than 600 people are expected at the Social Innovation Fast Pitch event tonight at Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion, where 14 ventures are making pitches in the final round of the event.

The event's theme is "New Ideas for Social Impact," and presenting ventures include services for organic farmers, special-needs students, alternative energy and K-12 teachers.

Winning non-profits will share awards totaling $100,000. Awards of $75,000 are available for winning for-profit ventures. Judging is by a panel with members from 11 different business, education and philanthropic organizations.

Competitors include two team of high school students and two of college students.

They're all pursuing funding from Social Venture Partners Seattle, a local chapter of SVP. Backers of the event include Ashoka Seattle, Bezos Family Foundation, the Microsoft Alumni Foundation, Social Venture Partners and Bill and Paula Clapp.

"We have had overwhelming participation in this inaugural Fast Pitch event, with 120 applicants and dozens of the area's best civic affairs and business minds participating in the extensive mentoring and judging processes over many weeks," Will Poole, SVP lead partner and fast pitch organizer, said in the release.

For some participants, the exposure was as valuable as the cash awards would be, Poole said at the event.

The top non-profit winner was Viva Farms, which received a $30,000 grant, plus the audience-selected "Most Innovative" and "Best Fast Pitch" awards each worth $5,000.

Here's the full list of presenting companies and the prizes won, as described in SVP's release:

Biodiesel Cooperative: A student led, student run biodiesel conversion lab at the University of Washington, procuring used cooking oil on campus, converting it to industry-grade biodiesel and selling it back to the UW to power part of their on-campus diesel fleet. A non-profit, college team; it won $2,000.

Dynamic Labs: Dynamic Labs develops breakthough solutions to problems faced by children with special needs. It operates a self-sustaining social enterprise incubator to generate ideas for products and services that will help children reach their full potential. A nonprofit, it won the $20,000 Zino Society Award.

FindProz: An "eBay for education," FindProz is described as "the marketplace for private instruction." A for-profit venture, it won a $25,000 investment.

Flash Volunteer: Flash Volunteer provides tools to create, discover and easily share local service events via social media, mobile and our unique Cause Crowd feature. Nonprofit, won $10,000.

Food N' Me: Food N' Me is a nutrition system that changes eating behaviors in children and families. It claims to be "Fighting childhood obesity with pounds of fun!" A for-profit venture, it won a $50,000 investment.

BOSS: BOSS empowers project owners/managers and minority small businesses with the tools and information to create sustainable social change. A for-profit venture.

Jolkona: Jolkona helps non-profits improve fundraising efforts by providing a simple online microgiving and reporting platform to crowdsource funds online. Nonprofit, won $15,000.

MoneySense: Building an interactive website and offering training clinics around educating middle school and high school students about financial literacy and the dangers of financial mismanagement. A non-profit, high school team, it won $1,000.

Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development: Solarize Seattle harnesses the collective impact of community to accelerate solar energy adoption via a group purchasing program. A nonprofit.

SIFF (Sharing Interests Forming Friendships): Breaks social barriers between special needs students and their peers at three public high schools in the Puget Sound and is expanding every year. A nonprofit, high school team, it won $2,000.

Reach Out: Brings an innovative approach to day camps, providing 1:1 counselor-to-camper, week-long camps designed to change the self-impression and life-trajectory of disabled, disadvantaged, and homeless youth. A nonprofit, college team, it won $5,000.

Village: A health and wellness model simultaneously stimulating healthy mothers, babies, families, providers, healthcare systems and the planet. A nonprofit, it won $5,000.

Viva Farms: Viva Farms is helping launch the next generation of organic farmers by providing land, capital, expertise and dedicated markets. A nonprofit, won $40,000 as mentioned above.

Youth Suicide Prevention Program: "K-12 Lessons for Life" is a new web tool that links educators to Best Practices curricula to support school-based suicide prevention and save lives. A nonprofit.

Comments | Category: Philanthropy , Public policy , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

August 18, 2011 4:13 PM

Simonyi gives big to Princeton institute

Posted by Brier Dudley

Medina software pioneer Charles Simonyi is backing a $100 million challenge grant to the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the largest gift since the research center was founded in 1930.

The $100 million is expected to be matched by other grants over the next four years, giving a huge boost to the institute, which has supported the work of scientists such as Albert Einstein, Kurt Godel, J. Robert Oppenheimer and others.


The challenge grant was made by the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences -- which has also given to the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Public Library and the Museum of Flight -- and the Simons Foundation.

"The institute's role in promoting and cultivating original scholarship in the sciences and humanities is unparalleled," Simonyi said in a release. "It is of utmost importance to sustain the work of this institution of international renown and reach where scholars have the freedom to pursue their research in an environment dedicated to the advancement of ideas that change our understanding of the world."

Simonyi, who helped create Microsoft's application software business, earlier supported the insititute's school of mathematics, endowed a theoretical physics professorship and started an endowment fund. In 2000, the math school's building was named Simonyi Hall.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 20, 2011 10:49 AM

A new era: Attorney general lauds Neukom at Stanford

Posted by Brier Dudley

Have we passed through a time warp?

On Wednesday San Francisco decided to use Microsoft's email system.

Now U.S. Attorney Eric Holder is leading a dedication ceremony this afternoon for the William H. Neukom Building at Stanford Law School.

I wonder if Stanford held back this event until the Microsoft antitrust decree expired.

Neukom was Microsoft's top lawyer from its early days through its antitrust battles with the U.S. Department of Justice. Holder was deputy attorney general under Janet Reno during the height of the Microsoft case.

Neukom grew up in the San Francisco area, graduated from Stanford Law in 1967 and then came to Seattle and worked with Bill Gates -- father of the Microsoft co-founder in Seattle. Gates asked Neukom to advise Microsoft in 1978, he joined the company in 1985 and retired as its general counsel in 2002.

In 2006 Neukom donated $20 million for the law school building and in 2008 he became managing general partner of the San Francisco Giants.

Here are a few pictures of the William H. Neukom Building, taken by Aislinn Weidele for Stanford:



Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 17, 2011 11:30 AM

Bill and Melinda Gates in National Portrait Gallery

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery today is unveiling its latest acquisition, a portrait of Bill and Melinda Gates painted by Jon Friedman.

There's no reference to Microsoft in the portrait, which emphasizes their stature as philanthropists. They're seated in front of a video monitor showing African girls and the motto of their charitable foundation, "All Lives Have Equal Value."

The gallery's advisory board chooses subjects "who are making a significant impact on American culture," a release explained. Its collection includes "poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story."

Friedman had only an hour with the Gateses, according to a New York Times editorial that said the artist took digital photos and them assembled the poses on a computer but captured the Gateses "as if he had worked with them for months. The result is quietly inspiring and suprisingly affecting."

The view in the background of the painting suggests Friedman met with the couple at the Kirkland offices that Bill Gates set up in 2008 after he retired from Microsoft. Beyond the monitor and the wall of windows are what appears to be Lake Washington, green ridges of Seattle and the Olympics.

The gallery, in Washington, D.C., began displaying the painting today and hosted a presentation by Friedman. It's an oil and collage on canvas measuring 50 1/8 by 46 1/8 inches and was paid for by the musuem's Marc Pachter Commissioning Fund.

"I am thrilled to accept this commissioned painting of Bill and Melinda Gates into our collection," Martin Sullivan, director of the museum, said in its announcement. "Jon Friedman created a compelling portrait that tells the story of their foundation's work."

Bill and Melinda Gates provided a statement, saying "It is an honor to have our portrait joining those of so many outstanding Americans in the National Portrait Gallery. Our thanks go to Jon Friedman for creating the portrait in so thoughtful a manner, and for calling out the work of our foundation so evocatively."

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 14, 2011 3:12 PM

After Japan quake, Verizon offers free calls, text to donate

Posted by Brier Dudley

Verizon customers can call Japan for free through April 10 through a program intended to help people contact friends and relatives in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami.

Verizon wireless customers with monthly plans can make free calls to Japan and send text and multimedia messages from the U.S. to Japan for free until April 10.

Verizon prepaid phone card charges for calls between the U.S. and Japan will be waived from March 11 to April 10.

FiOS TV customers will also get free access to TV Japan - at FiOS channel 1770 - through March 17, matching the offer made by Comcast.

Verizon also set up a mobile-giving program, for people who want to donate to Japan charities by sending a text message. If you send a message to the following numbers, you'll be billed $10, which will be donated to the organization listed. Verizon said all $10 will be donated to the charities.

Verizon's list:

- ADRA Relief: text SUPPORT to 85944
- American Red Cross Relief: text REDCROSS to 90999
- Convoy of Hope: text TSUNAMI or SUNAMI to 50555
- GlobalGiving: text JAPAN to 50555
- International Medical Corps: text MED to 80888
- Mercy Corps: text MERCY to 25383
- Salvation Army: text JAPAN to 80888
- Save the Children Federation, Inc.: text JAPAN or TSUNAMI to 20222
- World Relief Corp. of National Association of Evangelicals: text WAVE to 50555
- World Vision, Inc.: text 4JAPAN or 4TSUNAMI to 20222

Comments | Category: Philanthropy , Telecom , Verizon |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 22, 2010 10:58 AM

Take Microsoft private: It's been considered

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Here's today's column, about why Microsoft should go private. I may have buried the news, that people in Microsoft's treasury group have run the numbers ...)

With interest rates at historic lows, maybe it's time for Microsoft to refinance.

Seriously, the company is unable to convince investors that its business is doing well. So why not say to hell with Wall Street and take the company private?

Microsoft has management challenges and seems less nimble and adventurous, but it's steadily grown the business through the downturn.

The company is now so big that its stock will never perform the way it did in the 1990s.

It's also getting harder to explain all the different things it's building, especially when analysts and the media are more interested in the gadget du jour. Executives seem tired of telling their story over and over, only to be asked about the iPad and mocked for the Kin.

With the stock stuck under $30, investors no longer have the patience to wait the decade or so it takes Microsoft to build humongous new businesses, as it did with servers and is doing with Xbox.

Breaking the company apart or raising the dividend further may give investors a quick hit, but they'd soon be begging for more.

They've already forgotten that last month Microsoft reported 51 percent profit growth, and that it gave shareholders more than $1 billion a month over the past year through dividends and stock buybacks.

Instead of throwing free cash into that black hole, Microsoft could use it to cover refinancing costs and share the rest with employees. It would be a better incentive than middling stock awards and could even start churning out Microsoft millionaires again.

Going private isn't that far-fetched. Dell's been thinking about this and will reportedly discuss it again during a board meeting next month.

Public offerings get all the attention, but 1,199 companies went private over the past decade, including 92 with a combined value of $60 billion so far this year, according to Thomson Reuters.
Thumbnail image for going private.jpg
As of Friday, Microsoft's market cap was $219.8 billion.

To get your mind around this, pretend that's a mortgage (it's easier if you lop off six zeros).

First, deduct the $24 billion in equity still held by Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

Make it a cash-out refi - take out 15 percent to sweeten the deal for shareholders. Use the cash on hand if they need more.

You're looking to borrow about $225.5 billion.

If Microsoft refinances at 5 percent - roughly what it sold 30-year bonds for last year - its monthly payment would be about $1.21 billion. Last year the company had profit of about $2 billion a month before taxes.

It looks even better if Microsoft figures out a way to get the principal down. Perhaps a few big shareholders would be interested in a limited partnership that owned Microsoft outright.

Gates and Ballmer together own about 11 percent of the shares. About two-thirds of the rest is held by about 1,700 institutional investors and mutual funds.

To go private, Microsoft would have to reduce the number of shareholders below 300.

Maybe one could be the Gates Foundation. Imagine what it would do for the company's reputation and morale if people buying Windows knew a portion of the profits would directly benefit the world's poor?

Everyone would love that, except Apple and that person at last week's shareholders meeting who asked Gates to give more to investors and less to sick and impoverished children.

I'm not the only one thinking about taking Microsoft private.

The notion has crossed the minds of a few people in Microsoft's internal treasury department, according to Bill Koefoed, the company's general manager of investor relations.

"Sure, in the back of people's minds. We've thought about it," he said.

But it's apparently not something the chairman of the board is interested in pursuing.

For the deal to work, it would need the two largest shareholders - Chairman Gates and CEO Ballmer - to hang on to their stakes and go for it, and lately they've been selling millions of shares.

It won't be too many years before both billionaires move on, and who wants to refinance when they can taste retirement?

I wonder, though, if Microsoft's next generation of leaders will be as immune to Wall Street sirens.

Going private seems like an opportunity for Gates to develop another vaccine, to keep Microsoft's long-term vision clear and to protect it from infectious greed.

If he takes a little cash out from the refi, he could probably get one of those big TVs, as well.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy , Steve Ballmer |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 14, 2010 2:25 PM

Video: Bill Gates as a Boy Scout, Seattle history

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a tribute video prepared for the Boy Scouts of America, which presented Bill Gates with its Silver Buffalo award today during a luncheon at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle.

It's a nice bit of Gates and Seattle history, with images of Gates during his time in Troop 186 in the Sand Point neighborhood.

Gates was accompanied to the event by his father -- Bill Gates, an Eagle Scout -- and stepmother, Mimi Gardner Gates.

Among the audience were former scoutmasters who led Bill back in the day, William Christoffersen and Don Van Wierengen.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Philanthropy , Seattle |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 13, 2010 11:44 AM

Bill Gates getting Silver Buffalo

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates will collect his latest honor at an event in Seattle on Tuesday.

The Boy Scouts of America is presenting Gates with its Silver Buffalo honor for "his deep commitment to improving the lives of the world's most disadvantaged people," according to a release today.

Gates -- who became a Life Scout -- is receiving the award from the Chief Seattle Council during a Tuesday luncheon.

Silver Buffalo awards have been given since 1925 to civic-minded people for their contributions and service to youth. Gates is among 12 recipients this year; others include ExxonMobile Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, the release said.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Microsoft , Philanthropy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 20, 2010 12:11 PM

Next on American Idol: Bill and Melinda Gates

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill and Melinda Gates are making an appearance on American Idol tomorrow night as part of the show's "Idol Gives Back" feature.

The international philanthropic idols will be interviewed by Ryan Seacrest during an episode featuring celebrities such as Elton John and Alicia Keys.

In a preview interview with the Associated Press, show producer Simon Fuller said the Gates "have done something very special, quite incredible, this year."

A Gates Foundation spokesperson said they made a donation to support Idol Gives Back.

Their appearance is also an opportunity to introduce global health issues and thank viewers for their support of the charitable effort, Melissa Milburn said.

"Bill and Melinda want to thank them for their generosity and also just to use the program to focus attention on global health and poverty," she said.

The foundation also contributed to the show's first charitable campaign in 2007.

But the big question is, will Bill and Melinda Gates sing on the show?

"No, they will not sing," Milburn said. "They're singing the praises of the generosity of the American people."

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February 26, 2009 2:49 PM

Timely "self sufficiency" calculator wins NPower award

Posted by Brier Dudley

A free online "self sufficiency" calculator that helps people figure out their living expenses and financial situation won the NPower Seattle Innovation Award at the organization's luncheon today.

The awards recognize technology developed by non-profits in the Puget Sound region. Judges were from event sponsors Microsoft, Accenture and Avanade.

The calculator - at - was developed by the Workforce Development Council. It helps people develop goals, evaluate job offers and see if they're eligible for public assistance programs.

Comments | Category: Philanthropy , Public policy , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 5, 2009 11:25 AM

What will Bill "Skeeter" Gates do next?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates' mosquito-release stunt at TED yesterday was amazing.

After decades of mellow, academic keynotes, could he get radical in his quest to raise awareness of social and health issues?

What will he do next?

A few ideas:

- Throw pies at Big Pharma executives who aren't doing enough for global health.

- Have Nordstrom outfit a few people lined up at the unemployment office, then add them to the mix of suits at the Microsoft CEO Summit in May.

- Hire The Stranger's Dan "the Doorknob" Savage as an outreach consultant/congressional liaison.

Comments | Category: Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Philanthropy , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 5, 2009 12:00 AM

Microsoft mobile exec stepping down

Posted by Brier Dudley

Todd Warren, vice president of Microsoft's mobile communications product group, is leaving the company this month.

Warren has been at Microsoft for just more than 21 years and recently led development of Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1. For the past few months he's been in a strategy-advisory role while considering his options.

After consulting with mentors such as former Microsoft executives Paul Maritz and Ben Slivka, Warren decided to take some time off and consider his options.

"They all gave the advice that it was best to get a little bit of distance before deciding what to do next,'' he said.

Warren came directly to Microsoft from Northwestern -- with five days off after graduating -- after he was recruited by Slivka.

Now Warren plans to be a visiting scholar at the school, teaching a computer science class and commuting from his Seattle home. He also plans to spend more time working with Ashesi University in Ghana, where he serves on the board.

Warren is leaving just before the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona starting Feb. 16. Microsoft is expected to present new mobile services and perhaps launch Windows Mobile 6.5 at the show.

Comments | Category: Microsoft , Philanthropy , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 30, 2009 11:03 AM

Advice for non-profits on social networking, getting webby

Posted by Brier Dudley

NPower Seattle,a group that helps non-profits with technology, is marking its 10th anniversary with a luncheon and workshops offering non-profits advice on using social networks, blogs and other Web tools.

Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff, co-author of "Groundswell," will speak at the Feb. 26 luncheon.

NPower will also award its annual Innovation Award. Finalists include:

Arts Corps, for its integrated database and Web site that helps youth find information about its classes in their neighborhoods and schools.

Workforce Development Council, for its "Self-Sufficiency Calculator," an online tool that measures the cost of living for more than 70 different family types in Washington state.

Washington Health Foundation, for an online tool to help Washington residents set, track and reach health goals.

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January 16, 2009 10:21 AM

Bill Gates surfacing Jan. 26 to outline new role, priorities

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bill Gates will be back in the news on Jan. 26, when he's scheduled to present his "first Annual Letter" in his new role as co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The letter's going to explain his new role at the foundation and prioirities for 2009 and beyond, a foundation announcement said:

"In his Annual Letter, he will talk about his expanded role at the foundation and its efforts and priorities for the future. In the face of the global financial crisis, Gates will also explain why he remains optimistic about the ability of government, business, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to help reduce child mortality, address hunger and poverty, and improve education in the U.S."

It sounds a little bit like the periodic call-to-arms/priority-setting memos that Gates used to send periodically at Microsoft, although this one doesn't make any pretense of being an internal communication: He's presenting the letter during a press conference on the 26th.

The letter is also available to the public. Anyone can sign up to receive it electronically on the 26th - the foundation has created a special sign up page here.

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December 17, 2007 2:16 PM

LA Times rips Gates Foundation

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's good that watchdogs are keeping their eye on the Gates Foundation and that thoughtful experts are monitoring the overall benefits of global health philanthropies, but Sunday's LA Times story on the Gates Foundation was awfully sensational.

It basically says money the foundation is spending battling AIDS in Africa is distorting the continent's already poor healthcare system, drawing resources and luring desparately needed healthcare workers to better-paying jobs funded by grants. It also questions priorities, noting that people are still dying of hunger -- some are so hungry they throw up the AIDS medicine the foundation is funding.

These are interesting questions and there is great on-the-ground reporting, but the story uses a terrible anecdote of an infant's death to make its point.

Here's an excerpt from the story, headlined "Unintended victims of Gates Foundation generosity":

There was no oxygen tube for Mankuebe. She asphyxiated for lack of a second valve. It would have cost $35.

The hospital, with no staff to move Mankuebe's remains to the morgue, placed her body on a shelf near the delivery room while her father arranged for burial. The tiny corpse was swaddled in a baby blanket. A handwritten death notice was stuck to the blanket with a used hypodermic needle.

The Gates Foundation, endowed by the personal fortunes of the Microsoft Corp. chairman, his wife and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren E. Buffett, has given $650 million to the Global Fund. But the oxygen valve fell outside the priorities of the fund's grants to Lesotho.

Every day, nurses say, one or two babies at the hospital die as Mankuebe did -- bypassed in a place where AIDS overshadows other concerns.

That's a low blow, because it implies the foundation is responsible because it didn't spend $35 for a valve.

The lack of a valve in a chronically underfunded African hospital isn't a smoking gun. Maybe I missed something in the story, but it didn't say the valve would have been there if not for the priority placed on AIDS work because of the Gates money. So how does that make Mankuebe an "unintended victim"?

The story actually says the foundation gave the child a chance to come into the world, because it had earlier saved the child's mother, not to mention all the children saved by its work on malaria and other critical problems.

It does a good job showing that the AIDS work is stressing Africa's healthcare system, and it's a reminder that the foundation is still young and has issues to sort out, such as the side effects of its giant footprint.

It's also good for the public to know about the foundation's challenges and outcomes, intended and unintended. With all the money being spent, there's going to be some dirt.

I'm glad there are newspapers with the resources to do this kind of reporting, but I wish the story had more context.

Also, if the goal is to pressure the foundation to spend more on basic healthcare delivery in places like Africa, I'm not sure the best route is to suggest Mankuebe died because of bad decisions made in Seattle.

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October 9, 2007 2:52 PM

Samsung's big gift to TAF

Posted by Brier Dudley

With all the excitement around the Bungie spinoff, I missed this news last week out of the World Cyber Games in Seattle.

It turns out the big winner was Technology Access Foundation, the Seattle nonprofit that gives kids more opportunities to learn computing.

Samsung, a sponsor of the games, gave TAF 600 19-inch LCD monitors used in the games. It also gave the organization 47 42-inch and 50-inch plasma displays.

The "amazing additions" will replace the overworked CRT monitors at the TAF Academy and TechStart sites, Trish Millines Dziko, executive director, said in a newsletter today.

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May 15, 2007 6:08 AM

Nonprofit tech awards

Posted by Brier Dudley

NPower Seattle is taking nominations for its annual Nonprofit Innovation Award.

It recognizes organizations whose novel approaches to technology make a "measurable difference in the lives of people they serve."

Nominations are due by June 8; more details are here.

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April 25, 2007 3:15 PM

A great, global Mother's Day gift

Posted by Brier Dudley

Unitus started a brilliant campaign Monday to raise money for its microfinance program helping impoverished and mostly female entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Just in time for Mother's Day, the Redmond non-profit created a special Web site where you can make a $5 donation that will "empower one woman by connecting her to a life-altering microfinance loan."

Donors can also write a tribute to an empowering woman in their life.

The site already has a collection of poignant essays, like the one from Glenda of Nottingham, England, who donated enough to support 20 women:

"Mummy -- you touched & empowered so many people. I miss you more every day but I know your energy is around out there somewhere, empowering us all still."

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