Microsoft Visit – 2011 TMMBA International Study Tour

Microsoft Turkey: Blog Post
Pete Austin & Flora Wu (TMMBA Class of 2011)

The afternoon of our second day of company visits took us to Microsoft Turkey. Microsoft Turkey also serves as the center of Microsoft’s larger Middle East and Africa regional division composed of 79 countries.

The design of Microsoft’s office building in Istanbul reflects Microsoft’s building designs in Redmond. A modern, angled exterior gives way to a bright, open, colorful interior. As is the case at many Microsoft offices, few employees wear suits or are otherwise “dressed up”. Our group’s business professional attire definitely stuck out in the environment and within moments of meeting our speaker and host Jeffrey Avina, he demanded that everyone remove their ties.

Mr. Avina is the Lead Manager of Microsoft Middle East and Africa’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) program. Accordingly, his presentation to the group focused almost exclusively on Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship efforts in the region, and covered very little of Microsoft’s business strategy in the region.

Mr. Avina possesses an extensive background in public policy including a Directorship position with the United Nations, public sector legal representation, and a laundry list of public administration degrees from both Harvard and Stanford. One thing clearly apparent from Mr. Avina was that he knew his field inside and out, and that he was deeply passionate about public policy work.

Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship efforts are an effort to “help create social and economic opportunities wherever we work, live, and do business [and to] make a meaningful contribution to the prosperity of communities and the sustainability of the planet”. These corporate citizenship efforts are not a part of Microsoft’s core business and are run under the larger Unlimited Potential corporate social initiative. According to Mr. Avina, these efforts help to ensure that as commercial businesses continue to advance economically students, non-profits, and NGOs are not left behind in their access to technology.

Mr. Avina manages Microsoft Middle East and Africa’s corporate donations and sponsorships to NGOs of all sizes and causes including political and religious NGOs, health organizations, educational institutions, and governance agencies.

Although Mr. Avina acknowledged that corporate citizenship efforts receive very little PR or recognition, companies with strong CSR records attract better talent over time. CSR programs and efforts also help to improve perceptions of Microsoft throughout the world and broaden the scope of their commercial products into sectors that may otherwise not have access to them.

One such project that Mr. Avina has helped donate Microsoft services to is the Eye On Earth website for monitoring air and water quality levels in partnership with the European Environment Agency.

Mr. Avina was without a doubt one of the most unique individuals that we met with throughout our study tour. He has a boisterous, larger-than-life kind of personality that makes it difficult to tell when he was being genuine and when he’s exaggerating. As he spoke, his stories bounced from the inspiring to the completely outlandish; his personality seesawed from sincere and empathetic to egomaniacal.

Most importantly though, Mr. Avina clearly conveyed Microsoft’s focus on corporate citizenship and social responsibility. It was a unique opportunity to see how one of the world’s largest companies is trying to give back to communities and non-profits – and the kind of person it takes to lead these herculean efforts. For more information on Microsoft’s Global Corporate Citizenship efforts, visit their website here.