Is Social Activism an Underrated Job Skill?

A healthy debate is flowing around the skills that students need in order to find jobs. Should learning to program a mobile app take precedence over diagramming iambic pentameter in Shakespeare's sonnets? Will launching a startup provide a stronger return on investment than an undergraduate degree from a traditional four-year college?

As the "Chief People Officer" at Microsoft, I see people who take many paths to success in their chosen career. Self-taught coders fresh out of high school, mid-career entrepreneurs, recent college graduates, and parents returning to the workforce all take advantage of a range of education and skills training opportunities that fit their needs and their personalities.

But there's one piece of the education-to-career track that is often overlooked: social activism.

The millennial generation has demonstrated a wonderful ability to fuse empathy with action. So many young people wake up in the morning and ask "How can I make the world a better place? What can I do to help?" Technology often helps turn that impulse into action. Technology can provide youth with access to global viewpoints, connections and experiences.

As a result, they are aware of injustice in their own backyards and abroad -- voices that are silenced, bellies that are hungry, minds that are starved for knowledge, and bodies that wither without life-saving medication. And they want to help. Technology enables them to create solutions to social issues, rally each other to effect change, and crowd-source funds to support causes around the world. It also shines a spotlight on opportunities where young people can ensure the continuation of positive experiences for others, such as teaching children how to read, or raising even more money for local charities.

Using technology to leave the world a better place than you found it no doubt has an immense impact on society. But what does it mean for business and industry? From my vantage point, these skills matter when recruiting people who will help grow the future of any company or business. Corporations benefit from employees who have translated their concern about a societal issue into concrete action.

Take Natasha Babayan, a high school senior from Seattle, Washington, an active volunteer at her local Boys & Girls Club, and a member of our internship program. A native of Armenia, Natasha returned to her parent's hometown a few years ago and was stunned by its inability to rebuild after an earthquake that had struck decades before. She was deeply affected by the hardships she saw people enduring -- homes made of steel scraps, leaking ceilings, long walks to fetch water from a well.

When nonprofit Free The Children brought its community service curriculum, We Act, to her Seattle high school last year, Natasha's empathy turned to action. She raised money to build schools in the developing world and send filtered water bottles to Ethiopia. She dreams of attaining a degree in international business so she can help strengthen the economies of the developing world. Our society and our economy will be better off because of young people like Natasha who seek to pair their education and career goals with a desire to make the world a better place.

This Wednesday, tens of thousands of high school students, including Natasha, will be rewarded for their community service at Free The Children’s signature We Day event in San Francisco, which we’re sponsoring through our MicrosoftYouthSpark initiative. This will follow last Friday’s We Day in Seattle, which we also sponsored. It’s our way of saying “thank you” to this generation for caring about the world. If this is our future workforce, we are in great shape.