This article has been written by Sue Holly-Rodway.
When I joined Avanade about 8 months ago, I was drawn to the fact that all employees are encouraged to devote our time to causes outside of the business that have meaning to us. One organization that I’ve worked with for the last couple years is the Hult Prize Foundation, founded in 2009 by an ambitious MBA student at the Hult International Business School. This foundation serves as an accelerator for enterprises formed by young people, encouraging them to create start-ups that will solve the world’s toughest challenges.
This year’s challenge was “Harnessing the Power of Energy to Transform the Lives of 10 Million People”. Quite a lofty goal, I know, but the students in this competition are the most ambitious, driven, and intelligent young people I’ve ever met, and they were up to the challenge. I was lucky enough to meet with the finalist teams to hear their ideas and provide my advice on their business plans. Funnily enough, rather than asking for my insight on finance or business strategy, most teams just needed some assistance with finding the best way to frame their presentation and tell their story. I think that really speaks to the strength and smarts of these teams; they had come up with what they knew were solid ideas and just needed my skills on how to present and to tell a compelling story for their business.
The final business pitch is where the participants really get to shine. Having been through several rounds of judging and mentoring, the most-promising six teams were invited to New York City to pitch at the United Nations in front of some very prominent judges, including President Bill Clinton! The winning business, Rice Inc., developed a process which helps rice farmers in South East Asia reduce rice waste and increase profits by providing farmers modern rice drying technology. This team was one I had worked with the most out of all the contestants and seeing them be selected out of all the amazing business ideas was a thrill! I was able to join the team on stage after they accepted their $1 million prize and offer my congratulations. I also gave them one final piece of mentoring advice as they jumped into the real work of building a business from the ground up:
This is where the hard work really starts.”
Although I’ve not been at Avanade for very long, I’ve been involved with Hult Prize for years, and finding an employer who would be supportive of volunteer efforts outside of work was imperative to me. Luckily, my volunteer commitments were never an issue while being hired, and I was wholeheartedly encouraged to continue committing my time to this.
Additionally, Avanade has partnered with Microsoft Philanthropies to bring about social change through Technology for Social Good. This new program will pair Avanade consultants with non-profits and companies in the social sector so that we can help them on their digital journeys. It will also provide Avanade employees with even more opportunities to give back and make a difference. I was asked to personally get involved with this cause, and I am excited to contribute my learnings working with Hult Prize to Avanade!