Do You Want to Know What Really Happens to the Stuff You Donate?

Microsoft is proud to be launching our third year of Civic Tech focus at MassChallenge with the Civic Tech Scholarship. The scholarship recognizes 5 startups as they enter the MassChallenge accelerator with a cash grant to help them grow their businesses. Microsoft’s Civic Tech Scholarship aims to identify startups helping elected officials deliver improved services to citizens, increasing communication with residents and enhancing government effectiveness. The ultimate goal is to identify solutions that foster citizen engagement and transparency between government and constituents. This blog post highlights the work of one of the 2016 Civic Tech scholarship recipients.

— Aimee Sprung


For many of us, donating is the most socially conscious way to offload the things we no longer need. You don’t want to throw away that perfectly good sweater you never really loved, or the baby toys your toddler doesn’t play with anymore. The best thing would be to give them away… right?

The answer is a little more complicated. Most people think that by donating items they are gifting them to someone in need. The reality is that the majority of what we donate is ultimately resold for profit. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that only 20% of donated clothing items end up in thrift stores. The remaining 80% is sold to wholesalers who then resell them largely in underdeveloped countries at marked up prices, or into industrial processing streams.

The used goods trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, based almost entirely on our charitable donations.

donii-infographic-verticalThis unfortunately isn’t great news for developing economies. As countries in regions like Africa and Central America are flooded with used clothing from the US and Europe, their native textile industries are unable to keep up. It’s a cycle that puts manufacturers, factory workers, and even skilled laborers like tailors, out of work. It’s gotten bad enough that many African countries are banning imports of secondhand goods outright.

Even considering the clothing and household items that are sold in thrift stores, our donations are generally not getting to the individuals and families in our community with the most urgent needs. Large donation and thrift centers in the US are not in the business of outfitting or equipping the needy. Rather, the sale of our donated items finances their operations (often worthy programs like employment for the disabled, but in some cases shady operations which barely qualify as non-profit). The result is that our stuff rarely makes its way to people living in shelters, to single mothers struggling far below the poverty line, or to teenagers living on the streets: namely, people for whom even thrift store prices are out of reach.

Donii is a social enterprise whose mission is to get the stuff you donate directly to the people in your community who need it most. Donii works with local charities like homeless shelters and youth welfare programs so that, through them, you can give to people with critical material needs. Simply tell Donii what you want to give, and select from a list of local human service organizations that need it. Donii picks up the donation for you, and you get a personal note telling you how it will be used and a tax receipt when the charity receives it. Each organization on the Donii platform gives the items they take in directly to a person or family in their programs.


Boston’s most socially innovative companies, like Microsoft New England, are partnering with Donii to empower their employees to give better. Rather than waiting for the perfect time to drop your stuff off at a donation center, bring them to work with you… you’re going there anyway! Donii will pick up and deliver for you, giving you the confidence that your items are being put to their best possible reuse.

Donii partners with companies looking for creative and effective ways to engage employees in a year round social impact effort. Companies get ongoing impact metrics and dynamic stories about how their donations have helped people in their community. They build meaningful connections with nonprofit organizations throughout the city. And they join a growing list of companies dedicated to having a positive impact in Boston, putting them visibly at the vanguard of local poverty alleviation.

Residents of Greater Boston donate millions of items a year. If every donation were matched to a person in need, we could wipe out material need as effectively as food banks and soup kitchens have minimized hunger. Isn’t it time to start giving better?

19th Annual MassTLC Leadership Awards Gala Honors Boston’s Best

masstlc-awards_logo2Last week, we were honored to join the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) at the 19th annual MassTLC Leadership Awards Gala at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center. This night recognized Massachusetts’ leaders and newcomers in the innovation economy, in the company of hundreds of top tech executives, community leaders, and more.

After highlighting the winners of 16 separate impact categories, from Emerging Executive of the Year to Best Use of Internet of Things to Innovative Technology, the awards shifted to more individual honors. The MassTLC Distinguished Leadership Award, honored to individuals growing, changing, and inspiring lives through developing and promoting technology in the region, was awarded to the following leaders:

Want to join these Distinguished Leaders in transforming your community?

Join New Urban Mechanics in igniting Boston’s public spaces at the Public Space Invitational (or create your own!). Follow Vicky Wu Davis’ footsteps and volunteer to support YouthCITIES’ March-to-May Bootcamp or recommend the program to a teen near you. Nominate a nonprofit for Resilient Coders’ Resilient Rebuild, which will (re)build a website for a non-profit organization for free. Consider how you’re promoting diversity in your company like Akamai does, and seek companies who want to take real action to drive diversity. Or… enact your own idea to make direct change.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Missed out on the gala? Catch up below with some of the top tweets from the night:

Small and Midsize Businesses Get a Boost at Microsoft Stores

New England-based businesses have something to celebrate: four Microsoft Stores in the region have rolled out SMB Zones. What are those, you ask? SMB Zones are spaces where you can get hands-on access to business-grade technology — and they were designed with entrepreneurs and small and midsize business (SMB) owners in mind.

The nonprofit Smaller Business Association of New England has approximately 600 small business member companies. To further support these businesses and their employees, Microsoft Stores are also offering the Accelerate Your Business leasing program – created to help small and midsize organizations choose the technologies that best meet their business needs as well as get training, support, warranties and deals for combined solutions.

The new programs can be found in Microsoft Stores in Burlington, Mass.; Danbury, Conn.; West Hartford, Conn.; and Salem, N.H.

To underscore Microsoft’s commitment to SMBs, on Thursday, Sept. 22, entrepreneur, author and CNBC contributor Carol Roth will host a live-streamed event at the flagship Microsoft Store in New York to discuss how small business owners can use technology to solve problems and take their business to the next level of success. Register here for the event and tune in online starting at 4 p.m. Eastern Time to hear from Roth as well as a handful of other entrepreneurs.

In addition to the SMB Zone and the Accelerate Your Business program, SMBs can access a host of in-store and on-the-ground support, training, and services designed especially for them. Check out the Microsoft U.S. Small and Midsize Business Blog for more details.

Upcoming Event: How Technology is Transforming Citizen Engagement

The evolution of technology has radically disrupted citizen engagement – elevating and expanding the way government officials can innovate to engage citizens at critical junctures of the electoral process and engage citizen voices in day-to-day governance. Operating from the belief that an informed and engaged citizen is critically important to a well-functioning democracy, this event will convene public, private, and non-profit sector leaders to discuss what’s working, examine challenges, and surface emerging innovations that stand to shape the landscape of citizen engagement in the future.

How Technology is Transforming Citizen Engagement
Event Date: August 22, 2016 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Program: Keynote Address, Leaders Roundtable & Networking Reception
Location: Microsoft New England Research & Development Center, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA



This event is a joint effort by The Civic Innovation Project and The Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center, New England. The Civic Innovation Project is a national thought leadership platform focused on emerging government innovation, founded by Lourdes German, and recognized with a 2015 State of Boston Innovation Award. To learn more, follow Twitter @civinnovation and visit:

The Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center aims for Microsoft to be “of” the community, not just exist within it. Through the Innovation and Policy Center, we are extending beyond the tech community to: Connect stakeholders from tech to the broader business, academic and government community; Catalyze important technology and public policy discussions; and contribute more directly with the health and vitality of greater New England.  

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events This July


Fireworks, trips to the beach, and civic tech in the city. We’re honoring this July with some of the best civic tech events you can find in Boston. Our top picks for events this month:

July 6

Public Space Invitational Awards Ceremony

This year, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the Boston Art Commission, and the City’s Streets cabinet launched the second Public Space Invitational, an open call for creative minds to reimagine civic spaces and public infrastructure in Boston.
Join Mayor Martin J. Walsh as he opens up the third and fourth floors of City Hall to showcase a gallery of this year’s proposals and announces the winners of the Invitational.

July 9

Grand Opening of the Boston Public Library Central Library Renovation

The Central Library Renovation will open to the public on Saturday, July 9, following a ribbon cutting with Mayor Martin J. Walsh at 10:30 a.m. The grand reopening will celebrate the completion of the second and final phase of renovations to the Johnson building constructed in 1972. This second phase of work includes updates to the interior design and exterior landscaping, new digital elements, beautiful new spaces for studying and reading, refreshed collections, and new public computers. The Central Library Renovation puts the Boston Public Library on the cutting edge of library services – reshaping and redefining the patron experience at a 21st century urban public library.

July 12

Digital Politics: New technology in motion

This month on Modern Workplace, watch Digital Politics: New technology in motion, airing July 12th at 8:00 AM PDT / 3:00 PM GMT. Get a first-hand look at some of the new tools and innovations being put to the test in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

  • Stan Freck shares some of the tech innovations being used in political campaigns, including how new apps are informing an electoral process that is over 100 years old.
  • Patrick Stewart discusses how data visualization is playing a crucial role in the 2016 election cycle and takes a look at some of the emerging technologies.

July 19

Boston Bayesians Inaugural Meetup

Boston Bayesians is a meetup group that brings together data scientists, statisticians, engineers, entrepreneurs and others interested in the practical applications of Bayesian statistics. Join us for friendly academic briefings, stories from real-world projects, and open discussion of Bayesian inference, tools, techniques and case studies.

We follow a conventional format of 1 or 2 presentations from volunteers in the group and/or invited experts, and general conversation and socializing afterwards. Think of us as your Bayesian self-help group in the Boston Area.

July 19

Roxbury Innovation Center Café Night

The monthly Café Nights @ RIC are energetic and dynamic events where innovators and entrepreneurs can find one another and collaborate to bring their dreams to reality.
These regular gatherings provide a space for conversations and scheduled programs to inspire a wide range of attendees from different backgrounds and industries to connect, share ideas, and grow their ventures. The Café is open to all members of the innovation community—stop by to try it out.

The July Café will highlight the convergence of Education and Innovation.

July 19

MassTLC Leadership Awards Summer Reception

Join us for this special cocktail and networking reception where Council Members, Sponsors, Trustees and invited guests will have a chance to meet the nominees and watch the announcement of the 2016 Mass Technology Leadership Awards finalists!

July 20

Conversation in Civic Innovation: Financial Transparency and Citizen Engagement

What do municipal governments need to do to go from providing financials tools that build trust to providing tools that helps citizens engage in a meaningful and practical way with issues that concern them but have financial implications that constrain the options?  What would a set of tools that covered the whole financial waterfront – budgets, actuals, future projections, benchmarking, participatory budgeting – look like?

We’re looking to answer these questions — and more — at our July #CivicTechBos event. Join us for our next Conversation in Civic Innovation, set around financial transparency and citizen engagement, on Wednesday, July 20.

July 20

Export Regulatory Compliance Update

This conference will provide the latest information on export regulatory trends, with a focus on current compliance issues, including: export regulatory policy developments; special concerns involving product and technology controls; rapidly evolving sanctions policy; and best practices for compliance. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to hear the latest on export compliance issues and trends from some of the area’s leading export compliance practitioners and experts.

July 29-31

Design Museum Boston Urban Innovation Festival

Free & Open to the Public: Help improve your city! Give your feedback to design professionals, vote on your favorite urban solution, enjoy food trucks, kids activities, and community interviews. Make your voice heard and view design in action!

Microsoft GLEAM Takes On Boston Pride 2016

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft (GLEAM) ERG proudly celebrates diversity and how far we’ve come in the fight for equality. However, our work doesn’t begin or end in June. GLEAM aligns to Microsoft’s diversity and inclusion initiatives all year long to transform our culture, empower our employees, and expand our talent pipeline.


Microsoft loves Boston — and there’s no better way for us to show that love than in the annual Boston Pride Parade. Held annually on the Saturday of Boston Pride Week, the parade/march is an opportunity for Bostonians of all walks of life to celebrate diversity and equality for all.

IMG_2396This year, on June 11, our Boston chapter of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees at Microsoft (GLEAM) headed to Boylston Street with 20 team members to take the nearly 3-mile walk in support of the Boston LGBTQ+ community. With members of our Microsoft Research, Technology and Civic Engagement, and Microsoft Store teams, we walked through Boston Proper with our #HelloPride banner, Microsoft swag (beach balls, whistles, frisbees and more!), and pride to support a strong, diverse community. Plus, our very own Dana (or should we say Data?) Zircher joined us in full Star Trek attire, celebrating Pride with us as Lieutenant Commander Data, our favorite android!

Every year, GLEAM has a Pride presence in various locations around the globe celebrating workplace diversity. We at GLEAM are honored to be invited to the 46th Annual Boston Pride Parade. We have been thankful to join the march year after year and can’t wait for our next parade! But the commitment to diversity doesn’t end there. With GLEAM, we strive to create a supportive employee environment at Microsoft, encouraging other companies to follow suit.

Microsoft Boston Pride 2016

For more pictures of GLEAM at the 2016 Boston Pride Parade, head to our Facebook Page.

Learn more about Microsoft’s actions toward workplace diversity with Microsoft GLEAM here.

The Boston Data Portal: Putting Data in the Hands of Everyday Bostonians

bariIn recent years, digital technology has become ever-present, involved in nearly all aspects of everyday life. And where there is digital technology, there are data. As a society, we are awash in data—what some might call a data deluge. But, just as water converts from a vital resource to a confounding nuisance during a flood, “big data,” as they are sometimes called, are rich sources of information that are largely inaccessible to the vast majority of the population. This is true even here in greater Boston, where cities like Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge have each built portals through which they publish data, offering the public the opportunity to directly analyze the patterns of their own city. Unfortunately, very few citizens are “hackers” or data scientists, and are unable to capitalize on these publicly available data sets in their raw form.

The Boston Area Research Initiative (for which I am the Research Director) is seeking to solve this problem through the Boston Data Portal, a public platform where visitors can browse, download, analyze, and map data describing the people, places, and neighborhoods of Boston. The Boston Data Portal is composed to two parts: the Data Library, which, like a open data portal, is oriented towards data scientists and others who want access to raw data that they will then analyze, visualize, and explore on their own; and BostonMap, an easy-to-use mapping platform where visitors can explore the neighborhoods of Boston from their computer, including visualizations of data from various sources as well as access to other tools, like Google Street View.

BostonMap BARI

The Boston Data Portal features a variety of data. It includes a series of census indicators that BARI has curated. Beyond that, many of the contents have been built through BARI’s efforts to identify novel digital data sources, like administrative records and social media posts, and to unlock the content within them for the purposes of research, policy, and practice. Thanks to a series of partnerships with data-generating entities, particularly the City of Boston, as well as support for graduate student theses and dissertations, BARI has been able to build out the contents of the Boston Data Portal.

Some of the highlights include documentation of all bicycle collisions recorded by Boston Police Department between 2009 and 2012; or maps tracking shifts in ethnicity, labor patterns, and public education between 1880 and 1930. Possibly most notable has been BARI’s effort to construct ecometrics—interpretable measures that describe the physical and social characteristics of a neighborhood—from novel administrative records. For example, BARI publishes annual measures of physical disorder (i.e., graffiti, “broken windows”) and “custodianship” (i.e., care for public spaces) based on 311 records, and of investment and growth based on building permits.

The difference between the Boston Data Portal and a traditional open data portal might be captured in the following metaphor, which I am borrowing from my friend Chris Scranton at Jobcase, Inc. An open data portal is like going into your pantry: you have a substantial set of ingredients at your disposal, but it is up to you to put those things together to make dinner. The Boston Data Portal is more like visiting a restaurant. The raw materials have already been analyzed and prepared in a manner that makes them immediately useful. Policymakers can use them to guide decision-making. Advocacy groups can see clearly the needs of their community. Parents can understand the environment of a neighborhood before they move there, or learn more about the neighborhood in which their children attend school. Teachers of all levels might use it to illustrate the variations of the vity for their students, or to inspire them to learn more about their community.

Releasing data publicly is one thing, but promoting its use is an entirely other. To this end, BARI has undertaken a series of community-based trainings where we are teaching representatives from community organizations how to use the Data Portal to better understand and advocate for their constituencies. The trainings also include a conversation about how the data are useful, and what other content might be valuable, so that we can continue to build the Boston Data Portal to fit the needs of local communities. We have started with community organizations because they are the entities that work directly with communities. Our goal is to partner with some of these organizations to hold future trainings that are even closer to grassroots of the city, so that we can fulfill our goal of putting data in the hands of everyday Bostonians.

For more information, head to our online resources at BARI’s website and the Dataverse.

If you represent a community organization that would like to participate in an upcoming training, please contact Chelsea Farrell, the project manager for the community-based trainings, at

Staff Spotlight: Kristin Kube


Name: Kristin Kube

Hometown: Columbia, Maryland

Job: Business Administrator for the Intune DeX Engineering and PM Teams in Cambridge, MA

Years at Microsoft: 3 years, 7 months

Favorite Local Restaurant: I love Commonwealth in Cambridge!

Last thing you searched on Bing: The singer Ellie Goulding; she was recently in a car accident in Norway and I was reading about it. I was also looking at images of her. I think she is so gorgeous and such a talented artist!

Something cool you’ve worked on recently: My favorite part of my job is event planning! I am currently working on a morale event for my leadership team which will be a bartending/mixology class they take together at Drinkmaster Bartending School in downtown Boston. I get to attend as well; I am super excited!

What inspires you about technology? I love how technology can help people with disabilities. I was particularly inspired by the story of Steve Gleason, a former NFL player who has ALS and who uses eye-tracking technology, which runs on Windows on his Surface, to communicate. This has greatly improved his quality of life. It is amazing and inspiring!

What problem would you like to see solved with technology? I would like to see technology continue to help improve the human experience, whether it be improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, developing new ways for people to express themselves creatively, making our daily lives and tasks easier or exploring the universe. Technology is capable of so much and I can’t wait to see what it accomplishes next!

Announcing the First Annual Retrospective for Youth CITIES


Through my role at Microsoft, I get to be a part of the amazing innovation ecosystem we have here in Boston.  And Boston is not just a great place to innovate because I say so; 1776 recently ranked Boston #1 in their Innovation that Matters Report based on six key themes: talent, capital, industry specialization, density, connectivity and culture.  Every day, I have a change to meet a new startup, attend an event to learn about an amazing new innovation or spend time with a founder to think about who can help grow their business.  Partners like MassChallenge, Venture Café, Smarter in the City, Epicenter Community and more are just some of the organizations that make our ecosystem in Boston unique.


Last year, I brought my husband to the MassChallenge Awards Ceremony.  My son Alex joined me for the Generation Citizen Civics Day in December. We frequently take my family and friends to Lawn on D, the Greenway, the Boston Public Market and other spaces and places with innovative design.  But I often wonder how I can share the uniqueness and unique experience that is the innovation ecosystem in Boston with my family, especially my kids.

582788_273593796065540_1732480520_nOne organization that is working to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs is Youth CITIES.  As a member of the board, I have judged the finals and semi-finals of the Youth CITIES March to May Bootcamp and each year the students blow me away with the comprehensive business ideas and plans they develop through this program.

On June 2, the board will host the First Annual Retrospective for Youth CITIES. Please join me at this event to meet some of the students, hear their ideas and learn more about how you can support this terrific organization.

YouthCities2Youth CITIES – First Annual Retrospective
June 2, 2016 | 6 – 9PM
Light dinner sponsored by Fuji
Davenport building, 25 First Street, Cambridge (Atrium of Accomplice building)

Join Youth CITIES to both help us celebrate our last 7 years and help forge our way forward. Meet and mingle with the new wave of young entrepreneurial thought-leaders.  Get a glimpse of what will be in store for the future, the one they will be building in ways we aren’t even aware of yet.

Meet our alumni students and learn how an entrepreneurial mindset has opened new possibilities and transformed their way of thinking, and find out what big plans they have for the future.

With Special Guests:

  • Toni Oloko, Youth CITIES alum
  • Rayza Carrasco, Youth CITIES alum
  • Jeff Fagnan, Founder and General Partner, Accomplice
  • Tito Jackson, Boston City Councillor

Hosted by: Youth CITIES Board of Directors

  • Vicky Wu Davis, Founder
  • Dan Ross, Chair
  • Aimee Sprung
  • Alex Finkelstein
  • Andy Miller
  • Chris Wolfel
  • David Birnbach
  • Dougan Sherwood
  • Kathy Huber
  • Leland Cheung
  • Steve Willis
  • Tito Jackson
  • Tom O’Donnell
  • Toni Oloko
  • Vivjan Myrto

Register here.

Youth CITIES is a nonprofit organization preparing the next generation to become entrepreneurial leaders in their area of passion, permeating all areas whether startups, corporations, philanthropy, or government.  We are changing the way young people look and think about problems, limitations, and obstacles…associating them as just design constraints within endless opportunities for change.

TechJam Shows Middle School Students The Fun Side of Tech


What happens when you unleash a full spectrum of technology on over 200 middle school students? A day of tech, learning, and fun! This April, our Burlington Microsoft Store headed to Shawsheen Valley High School in Billerica for TechJam, a day of tech delivered to students — and we had just as much fun as they did! With 15 Microsoft Retail volunteers, we headed to Shawsheen to take over the school with STEM delights.


Alongside areas that the school’s robotics and engineering team put together, our group of volunteers spread out across the building to set up six different zones that brought Microsoft technology straight to students:

  • Zone 1: BB-8 Robot Race — An Nguyen & Jade Gosnell
    We brought along an iconic Star Wars character BB8! In the gym, Jade & An helped all 280 kids pilot BB8 through a cone obstacle course – teaching them about the sensors in their smartphones and how wireless connectivity works in iOT devices.
  • Zone 2: Xbox One Minecraft — Rachel Sodi & John Grzyballa
    Rachel & John ran a classroom and taught each kid the fundamentals of coding with Minecraft on Xbox One consoles. The kids were so excited when they saw that Minecraft was an activity at the event!
  • Zone 3: Xbox One Project Spark — Nicholas Martino & Beverly Markwith
    Beverly & Nick ran a classroom with 10 Xbox One consoles loaded with Project Spark. The kids loved exploring the open world of Project Spark and shared their creations with each other.
  • Zone 4: Surface FreshPaint Art Zone — Jena Mancini & Amy Pestena
    Both Jena & Amy did an amazing job instructing all the kids on how to create with the Surface Pen in FreshPaint. The kids all were able to print and take their artwork with them!
  • Zone 5: Xbox Kinect Sports — MD Islam & Evan Pharm
    Our two FITNESS ALLSTARS MD & Evan got every kid up and moving in front of the Kinect camera! From bowling to jet ski racing, the kids were on their feet nonstop!
  • Zone 6: Drone Zone -Joe Dire, Brett Chartenitz & Julian Wiryo
    Goose, Maverick & Iceman(Call signs chosen by them) taught all 280 kids how to pilot a drone using a smartphone! They taught the kids the fundamentals of their Wi-Fi direct which connects the phones to the drone and about onboard solid state memory the drones use to store pictures and videos.

20160421_163940878_iOSAfter a day of fun and nonstop activity, we were thrilled to hear the kids talk to one another about the projects they created and the new tech they learned. We are already planning an event themed for Adults in September, focused on Office 365, Windows 10 and the power of the cloud. We are looking forward to next year’s TechJam, and couldn’t thank Shawsheen Valley High enough!