Microsoft’s Former Philanthropy Head Now Leads Social Impact Accelerator
“I felt like I’d won the educational lottery when I was accepted to MIT,” says Akhtar Badshah SM '83, PhD '93, now an entrepreneur, author, and artist. “I studied architecture but discovered at MIT how all other factors impact form—such as social, religious, and community. It gave me confidence to become a change-maker.”
Badshah, an expert on international development, applied this passion to leading Microsoft’s global philanthropic efforts for a decade and ran the company’s global community investment and employee programs, including monetary grants, software and curriculum donations, and employee giving. He oversaw investments of $5 billion to nonprofits across the world through company-sponsored giving and volunteer campaigns.
“At MIT, I learned that if you have the will and the intelligence, you can make almost anything happen,” he says.
The goal, he says, was to encourage employees to give their time as well as their dollars. “When I left Microsoft in 2014, [employee donations] had crossed the $110 million mark and were supporting thousands of nonprofit organizations around the world.” During Badshah’s tenure, employees also donated two million volunteer hours.
“We found that people want to give, and that these employees were much more valuable, productive, happier, and engaged,” he says.
Now founder of Catalytic Innovators Group, a consulting and training firm, he builds partnerships across the world with corporations, foundations, nonprofits, universities, and international development agencies to turn good ideas into effective solutions to global problems related to poverty.
Badshah is chair of Global Washington, a Washington state organization that supports international development to create a more equitable world. He also teaches social enterprise and global business at the University of Washington, where he founded Accelerating Social Transformation, a certificate course for mid-career professionals. In addition, he wrote the book Our Urban Future: New Paradigms for Equity and Sustainability and coauthored Technology at the Margins— How IT Meets the Needs of the Emerging Market.
“At MIT, I learned that if you have the will and the intelligence, you can make almost anything happen,” he says. “It was an amazing amount of empowerment.”
Badshah lives in Seattle with his wife, Media Lab alumna Alka Gupta Badshah, SM ’87. They have three sons—Anish, Aseem, and Akash, who earned an MIT degree in 2014.
First published in May-June 2018 MIT Technology Review.