Audra Brennan

Senior Director, Strategic Philanthropy

Judy Berdan

Strategic Philanthropy Consultant, Northwestern Mutual

'Tech for Good' Best Practices: How We Do Well by Doing Good

Topics: Tech Advancement.

Here at Northwestern Mutual, we recruit some of the best, brightest and most generous minds in technology. Not only are these people committed to helping our company solve problems in new ways, they want to make a difference in the lives of people across the entire community. 

As an organization, we share in that commitment and applaud the desire of our employees to do good. Together, we're finding great ways to bring the concept of "Tech for Good" to life:

  • One team from the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute is working with Walnut Way Conservation Corp, a local nonprofit, to gather and analyze 20 years of data from various sources and determine how it can be leveraged to promote home ownership and economic sustainability in Milwaukee's Lindsay Heights neighborhood.
  • As part of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation's commitment to accelerating the search for a cure for childhood cancer and supporting families undergoing treatment, we developed Butterfly Island, a calming, virtual reality game designed to lessen the anxiety felt by kids with cancer. We're proud to share that all the butterflies on the island were designed by kids at the Southeastern Wisconsin Ronald McDonald House.
  • More than 400 of our employees volunteer across a number of initiatives tied to our STEM outreach program, hi, Tech. From in-class education and hands-on programming to events and real-world experiences, we're helping today's students prepare for future success in ways that engage. How about learning data science by predicting soft serve flavor-of-the-day sales? Or, learning the value of “failing forward” by building a rocket?

As we progress with efforts like these, we've started to develop best practices for engaging employees and successfully implementing Tech for Good in the community. Here are the key takeaways from our experiences so far:

  • Allow Tech for Good initiatives to develop organically. There are no dedicated Tech for Good teams here and no one is assigned by their manager to work on a Tech for Good project for a certain number of hours each week. Instead, we want these kinds of initiatives to develop organically. We allow the passions and interests of our employees to lead the way, then match those interests with the needs of our community. In doing so, we're creating connections that give employees an opportunity to give back in ways that are meaningful to them, while allowing them to own the experience.
  • Support Tech for Good across the enterprise. You don't have to write code for a living or be a data scientist to participate in Tech for Good initiatives. One of our colleagues, whose day-to-day job is a lead product manager, happens to also be very interested in virtual reality (VR). After we developed Butterfly Island, the VR game originally designed to be used with a phone, he converted the game to be compatible with the newest Oculus headsets so we could share it with kids at our local Ronald McDonald House. He now runs a monthly volunteer event there.
  • Plant Tech for Good seeds and watch them grow. While we developed Butterfly Island with the intent of providing an escape for kids with cancer, we have since learned that virtual reality can also be effective at mitigating the pain and anxiety that accompany cancer treatment. So now, Northwestern Mutual funds VR equipment at several hospitals to help distract kids during many types of painful or stressful procedures. This project is having even deeper outcomes than we originally imagined, and that makes us proud.

We talk about our Tech for Good initiatives, in part, because we hope our experiences will inspire other people and organizations to develop their own programs. Plus, as a practical matter, we know employees want to be engaged in (and better) their communities. To attract the best talent, we think we can create a competitive advantage by being known as a company that encourages employees to use their skills for the greater good.

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At Northwestern Mutual, we are dedicated to advancing Milwaukee as a tech hub through participating in and supporting a variety of initiatives. Learn about our latest partnership with GalaxE.Solutions and their Outsource to Milwaukee program.

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