Almost 150 years ago, Samuel Morse (yes, the inventor of Morse code), fired off the very first telegraph message between Washington and Baltimore, making him the first to ever achieve instantaneous, long-distance communication. Morse ushered in the era of communication technology that would allow for immediate access to information, better education, and broadened opportunities for populations across the world. After Morse’s invention went global, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was formed in 1865. The ITU (which is still going strong today) marked May 17 as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. The goal? Raise awareness of the many opportunities that technology can bring to communities around the world.
Softchoice Cares also sees the many opportunities technology can bring to our society. Over the past few years, Softchoice Cares has worked hard to help bridge the ‘digital divide’ and provide communities all over the world with access to technology. But we haven’t always been focused on technology-related philanthropy. In fact, we started out supporting a variety of causes, including building houses with Habitat for Humanity. It was only after we discovered Peggie Pelosi’s book Corporate Karma that we realized we were uniquely positioned to improve the lives of people by connecting them to what we know best – technology!
Softchoice Cares In Action
I spoke with current Softchoice Cares Chairperson, Heather Brown (Outside Sales Representative), and Vice Chair, Craig Bator (Marketing Project Manager), to gain insight into whether Softchoice Cares’ more focused approach has made a bigger impact.
NB: Craig, Heather, can you tell us why Softchoice Cares decided to focus its efforts on “bridging the digital divide”?
Craig: Everything in our world today ties back to technology. If you don’t have access to it, you’re automatically going to be at a disadvantage. Technology generates significant opportunities, and Softchoice Cares wants to provide people with access to technology so they have a chance to achieve their full potential.
Heather: Softchoice Cares recognizes the way to empower people is to give them access to technology because it’s one of the best tools you can use for education. Personally, I think that the connection aspect of technology is one of the strongest parts of what bridges a digital divide. As an example, it allows an individual in Kenya to tell their story to someone across the world.
NB: Can you share some examples of where we’ve made an impact through technology?
Heather: A great example of our strategy in action was one of our overseas missions to a Ugandan community to build a computer lab. I had the chance to go back last year and see first-hand the benefits that this lab brought to the community; they were using it as a “vo-tech” for people to receive computer training. It’s important to note that the people using the computers are kids who would’ve had to leave high school to financially support their families. However, this program allowed them to make the switch from backbreaking manual labor to administrative or technology-related jobs, helping improve their standard of living and providing opportunities that they may never have had.
Craig: That’s a great example of our overseas missions, but it’s also important to note that a large part of our goal is to also make a difference in our local Softchoice communities across North America. A recent example was with Sky’s The Limit. We provided 111 laptops to high-school students in one of Canada’s most economically-disadvantaged regions. These were kids who would stay late at school to finish their work because they didn’t have computers at home. Many students actually came up to us during the event and told us these computers were going to open up so many doors for them once they graduated because it gave them more opportunity to better educate themselves outside of school.
NB: Do you have any advice for organizations that may be looking to develop a philanthropic strategy?
Heather: I believe a great strategy is based around the skillsets you’re able to share with people. When Softchoice Cares first got started we were looking at Habitat for Humanity – we figured it would be great to go build a house! But at the end of the day, we don’t know how to build homes – we know how to build technology solutions. I think organizations that have special skillsets that others can really benefit from should use those to make the greatest impact.
Craig: I agree. I also think our Softchoice differentiator is our people – these are the passionate people we bring through the door to help support our initiatives. So you also need to understand what your employees are passionate about and build your philanthropic strategy from there. That’s how Softchoice Cares started in the first place. It was from people who really wanted to contribute to relief efforts for the 2004 tsunami in South East Asia. Overall, when you align your goals and skillset with your giving initiatives, you’re going to make a much bigger impact on the communities you’re helping.
Making Your Own Impact
Leveraging your strengths for philanthropic initiatives isn’t just reserved for corporations; you as an individual can also do the same! Why not take that love of knitting and make clothing for the homeless? Or use your passion for literature (and possibly overabundance of books) to read to children who don’t have access to libraries? There’s plenty of charitable causes out there, and plenty of opportunities to use strengths and passions to help with an initiative you feel strongly about!