Let’s put cynicism aside and embrace our philanthropic obligation

Mother-Teresa-Holding-ChildFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that he’s donating 99 percent of his Facebook stock to a new philanthropic organization is welcome news.

Based on this, I wrote an article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  Click here to read Let’s put cynicism aside and embrace our philanthropic obligation.

Intertech Awards Scholarship to Stanford Student

The Intertech Foundation has announced the recipient of its STEM scholarship.  The scholarship is $2,500 and we recently awarded it to an impressive high school senior named Annina Hanlon.


Annina lives in California and she plans to study at Stanford beginning this fall. If anyone can find a way to combine science/technology with a noble mission to improve the world, I believe Annina is the person to make it happen. She has successfully battled cancer while continuing to build an impressive academic and extracurricular record. She also has channeled her personal health challenge into an innovative iPhone app to help raise funds for pediatric cancer research.

Here’s a Q&A with this extraordinary young woman:


Q: Why are you interested in computer science?

A:  It all started when I got my first laptop. I was wonderstruck by the simplicity and perfection with which the beautiful device functioned, and my desire to learn about technology was born. As a witness to the way technology has permeated the everyday life of the average person, I see the relevance and excitement in learning to code and affecting millions in unforeseen and beneficial ways. My dream is to use what I learn to help those in need, not necessarily just design the “next big thing” for those who can afford it.


Q:  When did you first decide on a computer-related field?

A:  I didn’t officially decide on a computer-related field until just this last year. I knew I was interested in technology for awhile, but I hadn’t tried actually coding. This last year, I learned Java in AP Computer Science A and loved it, and that was the deciding factor for me.


Q:  Did you have any educational or extracurricular experiences during your k-12 years that helped you decide on computer science?

A:  My interest in actually pursuing computer science as a career blossomed when I was first introduced to coding in a technology camp during the summer after my freshman year of high school. I learned to use drag and drop coding software, to create an iPhone app.


Over the course of that summer, and the following summer, I spent about 180 hours designing the children’s game, Zarno, as a fundraiser for the nonprofit my family started, Cure Me Too Childhood Cancer Foundation, which raises money for pediatric cancer research.  Zarno reflects my first computer science-related accomplishment and I am extremely proud of having it published in the app store. The limitations of the software I used to create the app are part of what inspired me to learn how to actually write code.


Q:  Why did you select Stanford?

A:  Many factors contributed to my decision to select Stanford. Beyond being a world class university in an ideal location in terms of weather and proximity to

Silicon Valley, Stanford also has a unique interdisciplinary major called Symbolic Systems. It is basically the study of how computers think, how humans think, and how the two interact, and it incorporates studies in computer science, psychology, philosophy and linguistics. Within that major, I hope to specialize in either artificial intelligence or human-computer interaction.


Q:  Would you be willing to share your thoughts about the value of the Intertech scholarship to your academic journey?

A:  I am incredibly grateful to be the recipient of an Intertech scholarship, as it will decrease the financial burden on my family as I pursue my education at Stanford. Merit based scholarships are generally not given at top universities, so scholarships like this are extremely helpful.


Q:  Is there anything else you would like to share for others, particularly young women, who may be considering a computer science career?

A:  I would advise young women to not be intimidated by the “bro-culture” of the technology industry. Being in the minority can be an advantage as companies seek diversity, and it can also be an opportunity to empower other women to follow their passions. “Be the change you want to see” is some of the most solid advice ever given and is an excellent mantra by which to live and work.

Can Business Save the World? The CSR Benefits

Superman-TeamIf you’ve been following my current series of posts about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), you know I’m ready to share some of the benefits of engaging in CSR. These findings are from a survey of 142 business people representing a diverse range of industries: manufacturing, consumer packaged goods, extractive minerals, financial services, media, telecommunications and others. All were managers who attended Harvard Business School’s CSR executive education program sometime during the past four years. A surprising 60 percent said they were “dissatisfied with their firms’ CSR activities and wanted to improve them.”

The research team divided the responses into three categories, based on how each respondent’s company CSR programs were organized:

  • Philanthropy = 48 percent of respondents
  • Operational Improvements = 39 percent
  • Business-model Transformation = 13 percent

Those who fell into the purely philanthropic category rated the benefits as follows:

  • Improves company’s social standing (84 percent)
  • Supports company’s philanthropic priorities (77 percent)
  • Increases employee motivation (67 percent)
  • Increases revenue (13 percent), with 41 percent citing increased costs

Among the managers whose companies’ focused CSR on making operational improvements, the benefits were identified as:

  • Improves company’s social standing (94 percent)
  • Improves company’s environmental impact (62 percent)
  • Protects resources on which company depends (58 percent)
  • Increases revenue (32 percent), with 35 percent citing increased costs and 32 percent citing increased costs

And among the 13 percent of respondents representing the “radical fringe” defined by “Business-Model Transformation” CSR programs, the following benefits were reported:

  • Creates an important solution to a social/environmental program (89 percent)
  • Promises long-term gains (82 percent)
  • Addresses senior management’s social/environmental mission (82 percent)
  • Increases revenue (31 percent)
  • Reduces costs (35 percent), with 36 percent citing increased costs

While we started our foundation and volunteerism activities for altruistic reasons, there are benefits any firm can receive through philanthropy:

  • Position and branding in the market place. Think of a friend who’s a “taker” versus one that’s a “giver”… which one do you hold in higher esteem?
  • Recruiting. Most people, and especially millennials, want a multi-dimensional life and that includes where and how they work.
  • Engagement.  Volunteering outside of work gives us time to get to know one another in a non-work setting and build understanding and camaraderie.
  • Perspective.  I remember having a tough day at work, which was followed by going to volunteer at our local Ronald McDonald House.  Within minutes, I was reminded that my “problem” was really a nuisance.
  • Strengthens our industry.  With our STEM scholarship, Intertech is helping build tomorrow’s technical talent pool.  For more on our STEM scholarship and the 2015 recipient, see my final post in this series.

Can Business Save the World? Some Recommendations

Superman-TruthReady to roll up your sleeves and dig a little deeper into the topic I’ve been exploring in past two posts? Last time I shared the four steps described in the HBR article, “The truth about CSR” (Corporate Social Responsibility), which the authors recommend for developing a CSR program that makes sense.

The first recommendation, “Prune existing programs to align with the firm’s purpose and values,” surprised me because having a single focus typically is recommended for philanthropic activity. “Aligning,” they write, “is not about putting all your eggs in one basket, though that sometimes helps. It is about collecting activities that are consistent with the company’s business purpose and that have a valuable social goal that the company cares about.”

If you know my company or are a regular reader of this blog, you probably already are aware of the Intertech Foundation. For years, the Foundation focused on a single mission: relieving financial stress for families with terminally ill children. Our employees also have been involved in hosting many birthday parties for seriously ill children and their siblings staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis.

How does helping families in unimaginable distress fit with our business purpose? We make software not medicine after all. A local reporter asked me this question once and, for me, the answer was simple and logical: “Business should give life, not take it.”

That simple philosophy underlies how we run our company, treat our people, and engage with our community.

The authors’ second recommendation, “Develop ways of measuring initiatives’ success,” appeals to my logical right-brain thinking (I was a software developer!), but that can be tricky when your goal simply is to reduce some of the stress in parents’ lives when they are losing a beloved child. There is simply no way to measure or quantify that “success” because the ultimate outcome always will be unbearably sorrowful. And, yet, we continue to feel that this is a valuable aspect of how we give back to our community.

The final two recommended steps: (3) Coordinate programs across “theaters” (CSR program components) and (4) Create an interdisciplinary management team to drive CSR strategy are logical for large organizations and major corporations.

For small- to medium-sized companies like Intertech, it’s a whole lot simpler. We do work to ensure that our firm “gives life” by creating a work environment that is flexible, rewarding and fun. And, in recent years, we’ve expanded our philanthropic focus to include grants for students involved in science projects and, most recently, a college scholarship for budding computer scientists.

Beyond the obvious good feelings that come from CSR activities, why do businesses engage in them? That’s just what I’ll discuss in my next post.