Corporate Philanthropy in Tech: Unlocking R&D Innovation for Good

Many people would R&D in corporate philanthropyplace a corporate philanthropy foundation at the other end of the spectrum of technology innovation. But at VMware, things are different.  

 “From the VMware Foundation’s inception, we have been and continue to be innovators. Our Citizen Philanthropy approach disrupts the status quo of traditional corporate giving,” says Jessamine Chin, VMware Foundation Program Director. “Through the Foundation’s platform, VMware people direct the company’s philanthropic assets and amplify their own contributions of time, talent and resources to the causes that matter most to them.” 

VMware CTO Ray O’Farrell speaks about innovation as not only being about the “what”—creating products—but also about the “how”—identifying new and creative ways to approach problem solving.  

Play for Pi 

Play is critical to invention and innovation. VMware’s foundation calls it “curiosity-driven research.” The VMware Foundation invited employees to inspire future inventors through Play for Pi. Inspired by the Einstellung effect, Play for Pi brings people back to the beginner’s mindset, giving people fresh experiences to see things in new ways.  

To O’Farrell’s point, play is a way to innovate around the “how.” As employees played select games, they unlocked Raspberry Pi’s to be donated to students, inspiring future inventors to tinker through hands-on learning. The VMware Foundation collaborated with CoderDojo, a global movement of community-based programming clubs for young people, to develop a curriculum and distribute Pi’s to Dojo’s in 30 countries. 960 Raspberry Pi’s and a year later, students around the world submitted their inventions to CoderDojo Coolest Projects, from gaming to tools for people with cerebral palsy.   

Engineer for Good 

2016 RADIOThe future requires that we put back more than we take into the environment, society, and our global economy. In 2016, building upon innovating on the “how,” the VMware Foundation launched its Engineer for Good initiative, focused on inspiring people to use their talents to change the world.  

VMware employees learn about ways they can Engineer for Good, such as the VMware Foundation’s Kernel & Cache program.  Systems Engineer Patrick Kremer brought VMware’s software-defined data center vision to a low-income school district in Illinois via his Kernel & Cache project. An experiment in a larger implementation, Patrick’s project is also serving as the design for his VCDX certification attempt.  

As groups of VMware people work together to implement full lifecycle solutions with each nonprofit, Kernel & Cache teams gain a broader perspective on their day-to-day VMware work. As Patrick noted, “While each of us has a deep lens into our work products, we don’t always have the wider lens of the full product ecosystem: production, installation, or interoperability.” Kernel & Cache projects help bridge business units within VMware, giving fresh perspectives on old problems.  

The time and talent that VMware people contribute to our communities through Service Learning is one of VMware’s biggest social investments. Each VMware employee receives 40 paid hours per year to serve with their nonprofits of choice. Imagine the possibilities of combining that Service Learning with our intellectual and technological capital to optimize the effectiveness of nonprofits in our communities. And imagine how many different ways it can be done to empower corporate philanthropy that changes the world.