From Austin to Africa: How Dell’s Corporate Responsibility is Making a Difference

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You may know that Dell gives 1 percent of our pre-tax profits to help make a difference, but you may not know exactly where that money goes or the impact that it has.  I've had the opportunity recently to see firsthand how we're enabling fantastic things to happen – and I wanted to share a couple of stories. 

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to participate in the Dell Social Innovation competition, one of the events that we sponsor. This contest truly embodies the spirit behind our purpose – technology shouldn't be a privilege; it's essential to human progress.  

Each year, The University of Texas at Austin hosts the Social Innovation Competition, inviting undergraduate and graduate students from any college in the world to unleash their energy to affect change in areas of critical human need. The winning student team receives $50,000 in funding to turn their dream into reality.

The competition is stiff. Entries grew by more than 30 percent this year, with a total of 700 entries from 130 countries around the globe. Our online community in support of the competition also grew from last year, to more than 90,000 on networks like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. Following the competition we will launch a small group of exciting new social ventures that will advance the frontier and raise awareness of social entrepreneurship.

I was honored to be included as a judge, the final step in the Social Innovation Competition. The top three finalists, as determined by online voting, are flown to Austin to present their ideas to a panel of judges from business, the non-profit world and government. I joined Dell alum Lee Walker and renowned philanthropist Philip Berber, along with a packed auditorium of students and community members, to listen to the presentations and select a winner.

One of the finalists was Break it Down, a local Austin organization who devised a plan to help restaurants compost, thus diverting food waste from reaching landfills. The second runner up was Ag 4 Agriculture, which offers a rural development model for sub-Saharan Africa, taking on issues such as food security, malnutrition and economic development. As amazing as both of these proposals were, this year's winner was an organization called Shining Hope, which provides education for young girls in Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa. Shining Hope has created a community-driven model to combat gender inequality and provide residents with essential services that are unavailable elsewhere.

The three finalists will be featured on, the leading Internet-based network for peer-to-peer philanthropy, providing the opportunity to secure additional capital and exposure to donors worldwide. Congratulations to everyone at Dell who was involved in making this happen. I would encourage you to visit the competition site and check out videos from all the finalists.

11,000 miles away from Austin, I had the opportunity to visit another organization that we work with as part of Dell's corporate responsibility program. During my visit to Beijing last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Bai Ning Vocational School, which is part of our YouthConnect program.  With YouthConnect, Dell aims to close the technology gap and unleashing student potential through breakthrough educational initiatives. And, that's exactly what I saw at Bai Ning.

Here, children of migrant workers attend and receive a vocational education, which will surely enable them to live a more stable and secure life than the generations before them.  Dell has been a key sponsor of the school for the last four years; we've outfitted their technology lab and enabled children to learn from the "magic machines." It was inspiring to see the commitment these children had to their education, and even more amazing to see their gratitude to our company for providing them the opportunities and tools to succeed.

Last on my reflections of how we're making a difference globally … this week "The Lazarus Effect," a new documentary by (RED), produced by Spike Jonze, about how AIDS medicine gives people the opportunity for a future launched on HBO and YouTube.  For someone with HIV/AIDS, access to ARV medicine that costs around 40 cents a day can transform them from near death to health in as little as 40 days,; this transformation is called the Lazarus Effect.  Dell is a proud partner of (RED), where a portion of the sales from (PRODUCT)REDTM units goes to buying and distributing antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to people living with HIV in Africa. Depending on what Dell product is purchased, Dell makes a contribution equal to between 11 and 45 days of medicine. I encourage you to check out this compelling documentary and see how we're contributing to programs that truly change people's lives. 

As a company, we focus many of our efforts on our people, communities and the planet. All of these examples will truly make a difference in lives of people from Austin to Africa. Through these programs, we're improving the lives of young innovators, students, and individuals around the world.

Now it's your turn to share your story.  How have you used innovation and technology to improve the lives of others in your community and around the world?  

About the Author: Erin Nelson

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