Central Texas technology journal Silicon Hills News recently covered Steve Ballmer’s keynote presentation at Social Solutions’ Impact Summit. Click here to view the original article or read below to learn Ballmer’s insightful views on why giving nonprofit organizations the tools to track outcomes is critical to solving social problems.
Social Solutions has created technology tools that ultimately can provide for better outcomes for disadvantaged kids, said Steve Ballmer, philanthropist and the former CEO of Microsoft, and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Every kid deserves a chance at the American dream,” Ballmer said.
That is not a simple solution, he told a few hundred people attending the Social Solutions Impact Summit Wednesday morning at the Fairmount Hotel in downtown Austin.
It’s not just about a great education, Ballmer said. That is part of the equation. But a lot of the things that affect kids and deny them a shot at the American dream happens when the kids aren’t in school, Ballmer said. Things like being homeless, lack of safety, dysfunction in the home, childcare, poverty.
And the best way to get a kid on a track for a career is to get them interested in ninth grade or tenth grade, Ballmer said.
“Have them see career opportunities,” Ballmer said.
Whether it’s getting a working wage job or going to college, they must be able to move up the economic ladder, he said.
That is a collaboration of many parties, community groups, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, Ballmer said. And in conjunction with that, the data and tools need to operate really well, he said.
Last August, the Ballmer Group announced a $59 million, five-year investment in Social Solutions, which makes a software product called Apricot that is the nation’s leading data and case management platform for nonprofit and government social service agencies. Social Solutions, which is owned by Vista Equity Partners, has 200 employees and last year moved its headquarters from Baltimore to the Domain area in Austin.
Thirteen years ago, Connie Ballmer, Steve’s wife, started doing philanthropic work focused on helping foster kids. In 2014, Steve Ballmer joined his wife after leaving Microsoft. Their philanthropic organization, Ballmer Group, focuses on the social services sector.
“Community is the enabler of change,” Ballmer said.
Community groups, the school system, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, healthcare providers and others need to come together to support disadvantaged families, Ballmer said.
A key is to use data and focus more on outcomes, Ballmer said.
“Outcome is a kid gets a chance at the American dream,” he said. “Kid gets a career over time.”
Focus on outcomes, not just activities and use data or software to measure how well nonprofit organizations and government agencies do to serve the needs of kids, Ballmer said.
“We think that’s what’s important and that’s what brought us to Social Solutions,” Ballmer said.
These are local problems and the bulk of our focus is local, Ballmer said. His philanthropy focuses on social problems in Los Angeles, Detroit, Michigan, and Seattle, Washington.
“We not only have to measure ourselves, but we also have to have a continuous improvement process,” Ballmer said.
There are 7.7 million families living below the poverty line in the U.S. And $1.3 trillion of government spending goes to help the disadvantaged, including the elderly, Ballmer said. And another $853 billion spent on other important government projects plus $80 billion in philanthropy. In total, there is $2.2 trillion spent on helping people in need in the U.S., Ballmer said.
The Ballmer Group staff scanned all the technology providers who service the nonprofit and government agencies focused on social problems, Ballmer said. A lot of the technology for nonprofit organizations is hand cobbled together, Ballmer said. Pencil and paper are the tools of choice for some nonprofit organizations, he said.
To solve these problems, it’s important to give these organizations the tools to track outcomes, Ballmer said.
“Social Solutions is the big kahuna of what I would call small software companies,” Ballmer said.
Social Solutions can continuously improve, which is important in the software business, he said.
Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce are not prepared to focus on the small nonprofit market, Ballmer said.
“We felt very well aligned with Social Solutions. The most capable and the most aligned with the kinds of things we think are very important,” Ballmer said.
Mobile friendly, intuitively designed and able to integrate well with other software, those are some of the features Ballmer wanted in software. He wanted software that works both for government and nonprofit organizations, he said.
Robust reporting and analytics are also important, Ballmer said.
Social Solutions is one of the two largest investments the Ballmer Group has made since it geared up its philanthropy four and a half years ago, Ballmer said.
“So, it’s a big deal for us,” Ballmer said.
Following his talk, Kristin Nimsger, CEO of Social Solutions, did a question and answer session with Ballmer. With a background in the software industry, it has changed the way Ballmer thinks about philanthropy and the strategy that he takes, Nimsger said.
“What is it about your time at Microsoft and the software world that led you to take a different approach,” Nimsger asked.
“In almost any tough set of challenges I see software as a key enabler of people doing better, of being more productive,” Ballmer said.