In 2019, TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools), a program built to pair software engineers with high schools to develop computer literacy, faced a crossroads. Should it stay under the Microsoft philanthropic umbrella or venture out on their own?
The program had started ten years earlier when Kevin Wang, a Microsoft software engineer and former high school computer science teacher, responded to a high school that was looking for someone to teach a computer science class. Wang soon received inquiries from other local high schools and asked friends at Microsoft to join him.
The program continued to expand, providing volunteer computer professionals to partner with high school teachers to provide technical knowledge, classroom support, student awareness of the field, and informal mentoring. It provided training for both the volunteers and professional teachers.
By the 2018-19 school year, TEALS had a staff of 50 that coordinated programs with 18,000 students at 500 schools over 30 states. It had 1,450 computer science volunteers participating in the program, 80% of whom were from companies other than Microsoft.
TEALS addressed societal issues that were in line with Microsoft's corporate mission – giving more students access to computer science, helping address the skills gap for software developers, providing a pathway to well-paying jobs particularly for low-income students, and increasing computer literacy in the general public. TEALS provided a tangible symbol of the company's mission and enjoyed the support of upper management and employees. It provided a public face for Microsoft's philanthropic efforts.
Nonetheless, TEALS was an anomaly within the organization. Almost all of the corporation's philanthropic efforts were grants to external nonprofit organizations engaged in charitable work. Did having this organization within Microsoft make it more difficult to measure TEALS' effectiveness?
Would becoming a 501(c)(3) organization allow TEALS more flexibility to grow and scale? Would it be able to reach out to more schools? Would it be able to pursue new areas that might be valuable outgrowths of its programs but not as closely aligned to Microsoft's mission? Could it attract a wider range of donors? How would an independent TEALS develop its own infrastructure and business processes? What would be the effect on program staff, volunteers, and the school districts applying for the program?
Publication Date : September 8, 2020
Suggested Citation: Kate Cooney, Jean Rosenthal, and Jaan Elias, "TEALS," Yale SOM Case 19-024, September 8, 2020.