As part of its YouthSpark initiative to create opportunities for youth, Microsoft welcomes 15,000 students to We Day at Seattle’s KeyArena.
SEATTLE — March 27, 2013 — At the age of 12, while looking for the morning comics in the newspaper, Craig Kielburger stumbled upon a news item about a 12-year-old boy killed in Pakistan for speaking out against child labor. Outraged by the story, he desperately wanted to do something to help. After a number of phone calls and attempts to contact nonprofit organizations, Kielburger realized it wasn’t so easy for kids to get involved with social activism. That’s when he got an idea.
That same year, the young Canadian founded his own nonprofit, Free The Children, to pave the way for kids to help other kids around the world. Twelve years later, in 2007, Kielburger took his organization to the next level, launching the We Act program in schools across Canada and creating a more widespread approach to helping youth make a difference. As part of the program, Free The Children hosts a celebration in each participating city called We Day.
Today Microsoft Corp. is helping bring We Act to the U.S. by sponsoring a We Day event at Seattle’s KeyArena. The support springs from the Microsoft YouthSpark initiative, which aims to create opportunities for 300 million young people around the world over the next three years.
YouthSpark and We Day: An Inspiring Fit
Kids attending We Day Seattle will explore how they can make a difference by turning their passions and talents into social action. They’ll also get to rock out to live music, be inspired by celebrities and activists, and connect with one another around their common desire to change the world. In fact, every young person in attendance today has made a commitment to contribute their time to one local and one global social action project. This stadium-sized celebration rewards kids for their participation in the yearlong We Act program, which provides Seattle-area students and educators with free educational resources, pre-packaged campaigns for students to lead in support of community service and international development projects, and guidance to help kids use their passion and talents to get involved in their local and global communities.
As part of the Seattle We Day event, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will speak to the audience of 15,000 youth about his passion for technology and how it can help change the world. The celebration also will feature presentations by world-renowned activists, such as Martin Luther King III, Magic Johnson, Mia Farrow and Martin Sheen; musical performances by award-winning singers and musicians including Jennifer Hudson and Nelly Furtado; and testimonials from local heroes who have made a difference either in the Seattle community or around the globe.
“We Day fits right in with our YouthSpark initiative, which is about empowering young people to imagine and realize their full potential,” says Lori Harnick, general manager of the Global Citizenship and Public Affairs Team at Microsoft. “Technology plays a big role in this empowerment by providing young people with the tools and skills to pursue their dreams, and an event such as We Day provides the inspiration to turn talent into transformation.”
At We Day, young people come together to discover how they can channel their talent, energy, focus and expertise to solve societal challenges in their local communities and around the world.
“Free The Children’s mission is about freeing children all over the world from poverty, exploitation, violence, bullying and all the negatives, but it’s also about freeing young people at home from the idea that they’re too young to make a difference and from the limits that are often put on their potential,” Kielburger says. “When you come to a We Day event, you stand in a stadium with all these other kids who feel as motivated as you do and you realize that changing the world is possible.”
Along those lines, Free The Children created We Act to bring community service learning to youth in a more effective way. The We Act program uses a simple equation to motivate young people to take steps toward making a difference: Gift + Issue = Change. By helping kids apply their unique gifts and identify their personal issue, We Act shows them how simple it is to make a difference.
“We want to establish community engagement as an educational pillar in every person’s life as much as reading, writing, arithmetic, music or sports,” Kielburger says. “We’ll have more than 100 school districts across Washington taking part in this program. We would never have had the opportunity to provide We Day, along with the We Act program in schools, without the financial support of an amazing corporate citizen such as Microsoft.”
Microsoft also has supplied volunteers and technology to power the state-of-the-art event. Kids at the event will have an opportunity to connect online with communities around the world, and special guests will dial in via Skype to share their community service experiences. In addition, event attendees and We Day online viewers will have the opportunity to write a short statement about their commitment to change the world and enter a sweepstakes to win Microsoft Surface or Windows Phone 8 devices. Beyond helping make We Day possible, Microsoft has supplied Seattle-area middle and high schools participating in the We Act program with technology and other resources to help support students and their commitment to changing their world.
YouthSpark Ambassadors and Reporters
Specifically for We Day, Microsoft has equipped 50 YouthSpark ambassadors — selected from schools participating in the We Act program — with a Microsoft Surface device, which they will use to share their experience at KeyArena with their classmates, friends, family and those tuning in from around the world (click here to stream the live webcast). In addition, three youth will have special access to roam the arena on We Day and interview participants, including celebrities, business participants and community leaders, about their experiences; capture backstage excitement; and tweet and blog about the event as a Microsoft YouthSpark reporter.
“I’m looking forward to being a reporter at We Day because it’s all about bringing awareness to community needs,” says Gabrielle Hall, Microsoft YouthSpark reporter and a senior at a local high school. “In the past five years, I’ve done a lot of community service related to education and at homeless and women’s shelters. I’m really just interested in finding more ways to work with and help strengthen my community — locally and globally. We Day gives me that opportunity.”
To support her local community, Hall volunteers at a shelter for victims of domestic violence and at Mount Zion Baptist Church where she helps at the annual Christmas Toy Giveaway, providing gifts for nearly 2,000 underprivileged youth in the Seattle area. Globally, she has been involved with Kayla’s Corner, an organization working to establish a library for a small community on an island off the coast of Uganda.
Hall’s commitment to education and women’s issues isn’t new. She also has participated in the DigiGirlz program, which now falls under the YouthSpark initiative. DigiGirlz gives high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with Microsoft employees, and join computer and technology workshops. Hall says DigiGirlz expanded her horizons in terms of what’s possible in technology fields. She now better understands the range of skills it takes to produce the technologies we use every day — not just computer engineering, but also marketing expertise and savvy business leadership.
Through her DigiGirlz experience, Hall was selected to do a job shadow at the Seattle Storm headquarters, giving her a personalized experience using technology in the field. Hall plans to eventually attend law school, focusing on family law and women’s rights.
“Young people on their own are just so incredibly engaged and committed to helping their neighbors, their communities and society at large,” Harnick says. “It’s really the kids who inspire us, and with YouthSpark, Microsoft is essentially responding to that inspiration with commitment, resources and support to help them spark the change they are driven to make.”
Kielburger couldn’t agree more. “We can’t wait to hear the incredible stories from the youth in the Pacific Northwest. We Day is a national and international celebration, but it’s also highly local. It’s a story of local students and what they’ve done, local heroes and the causes that matter to them and to their communities. I’m also incredibly excited to shine a spotlight on all the amazing local organizations and the work they are doing.”