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Insiders For Good

March 28, 2017

On this inaugural episode, host Thomas “Tomcat” Trombley explores how Insiders for Good helps people transform their passion for tech into their superpower. Dona Sarkar, Head of the Windows Insider Program and overall Renaissance woman, teaches us how to use technology for the betterment of humanity. Then hear from one of the 25 winners of the first Insiders for Good Fellowship about how he puts power into the hands of the people of Nigeria (solar power, that is).

Windows Insider Podcast Episode 1


THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Singing is just one of the many talents of the person we'll be talking to today on Episode 1 of the Insiders for Good Podcast.  Let's get rolling.

(Audio break.)

In this edition of the Insiders for Good Podcast one of our Nigerian Fellowship winners, Yeshwa Russel, opens up about his journey to success and how he overcame obstacles, skepticism and challenges when it came to launching GrouPower.  But before we get to his story, let's get a quick update from our esteemed leader of the Windows Insider Program Dona Sarkar about the latest opportunities and events coming to you from the Windows 10 universe.

Dona Sarkar is both a friend and head of the Windows Insider Program.  As her Wikipedia page so aptly describes, she's also a coder, a fashion designer, fashion blogger, public speaker and author.  I spoke with her about the Insiders for Good roadmap for the product and community.

Dona, thanks for joining me today on our first podcast.

DONA SARKAR:  Hi, Tomcat, this is exciting.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  It's good to see you.  Now, this is not our first radio rodeo, as you know.  You and Jeremiah Marble (ph) and I, we made a last-minute appearance, where was it?

DONA SARKAR:  Nigeria.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  On Radio One in Lagos.  Who was our host, do you remember?

DONA SARKAR:  African Farmer.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  That's his first name, African Farmer.  So if you're listening African Farmer, a big shout out.


THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Love that guy.

So that said, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about where we are with the Insiders for Good community and the product overall as well as the strategic vision for 2017.  So talk to me about some of the biggest changes you've seen recently in the Insider Program?

DONA SARKAR:  I would say the biggest change I've seen since June 1st, actually, so seven months and counting, is that the focus has gone from the Insiders themselves, from just the technology that they're so passionate about, to actually using that technology to make the lives of people around them better.  We've gotten this intense outpouring of love and support saying, you know what, I always knew that tech was my passion, but I realize it's now my superpower to actually make a difference in my local community.  That's been amazing to see.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  You've been all over the place traveling like crazy these last seven months, visiting insiders all over the world.  Tell us about some of those people you've gotten the chance to meet.

DONA SARKAR:  Yeah, so there is a guy named Raymond Dylan (ph) in Ireland, and he's always been a very passionate Insider.  He installs the latest builds.  He builds apps for Windows.  He builds Internet of Things apps.  And a few months ago he reached out to me and said, Dona, I've been watching a lot of the Insider for Good activities you've been doing, like these create-a-thons, where you bring together creatives and tech people in local communities along with nonprofit and actually try to tackle a local problem, like homelessness, trying to get more affordable housing, et cetera.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Big projects.

DONA SARKAR:  And I've been watching you guys do this, and I realize that this is my calling.  I want to use tech to make my city, my country a better place.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  That's awesome.  But how do you put something like that into action?

DONA SARKAR:  He started.  He's hosted his own event.  He's starting to do a series of meet-ups for Tech for Good, and he's now mentoring his younger brother in using technology and building Tech for Good as well.


DONA SARKAR:  He has also volunteered to help the Nigerian Fellows with whatever Azure or Internet of Things needs they have.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Now you, me, the entire Insiders for Good team, we hammer away every day and late at night.  It's a very genuine, honest passion for all of us.


THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Tell us why this program is so valuable?

DONA SARKAR:  This program is unlike anything I've worked on, because for the first time in my entire history at Microsoft I truly believe that I'm fulfilling the promise that's written on my badge.  On all of our badges it says, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.  We're not saying we're only going to empower the two billion customers that we already know, nor are we only empowering organizations of over 500,000 people.  We're saying every person and every organization.  And I think by doing this Insiders for Good work, we're taking our superpowers of tech and actually helping to unlock the next five billion people who, once they're unblocked, they're going to actually go and make their local communities better.


DONA SARKAR:  Because they're not going to be stagnated in this place where they're stuck in this infinite cycle where they're generations aren't making improvements, aren't able to rise above their condition.  We've tried to solve these problems, these decades old problems, like poverty, corruption, homelessness, medical care, problems with agriculture.  We've tried to solve these problems without technology for generations, hundreds of years, and it hasn't worked.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  So what makes this so different?

DONA SARKAR:  As our Insiders actually go out into these communities that they know really well, and these lives they lead, and they apply tech to these problems, solutions are actually starting to emerge that are different.  Now, we're not going to say that tech is the solution for everything, but we know it's a really good starting point to thinking about a solution and communicating the solution.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  I think you really hit home on just what the Insiders for Good Program is really about.  I mean, this program is not just about technology, it's about how technology can make the lives of humans better.

Now, in November, as you recall, we launched the boot camp for our first Insiders for Good Fellowship Program.

DONA SARKAR:  I recall.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  A six-month effort, 25 Nigerian entrepreneurs.  As I recall, we're leading them through now strategic thinking, business development, customer acquisition, building their products, and ultimately monetizing their solution.

DONA SARKAR:  That's the best part.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Now it also connects them with the global community of Windows Insiders, and also helps them establish relationships to solve some of those challenges.

DONA SARKAR:  Right, but they're not just building relationships with global insiders.  Insiders are millions of people.  Microsoft and our partners are also millions of people.  They're actually now connected to one of the biggest networks on Earth by opting into the Insider Program.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  But we also witnessed some of those connections right there in the room, looking at some cross-pollination across the groups.  Tell me a little bit about what you saw in there.

DONA SARKAR:  That's been really interesting to see, because the Fellowship is a cohort of 25.  There are 25 strangers who arrived.  And over the course of the last two months, we're starting to see 25 friends and business owners emerge.  And that's very powerful because we're saying that this can be done.  We're saying that these 25 people who found themselves in a condition where they were dissatisfied.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Dissatisfied with what?

DONA SARKAR:  They were dissatisfied with the state of things in this country that they love so very much in Nigeria, that we've fallen in love with, too.  And they're willing to do what it takes to make these conditions better, not just for their own scenario, but for the scenario of the cohort around them.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Give us an example.

DONA SARKAR:  So for example, we've got one guy who is an amazing artist and a designer, but he's not technical in a coding kind of way.  Meanwhile, we've got a woman who is very technical but she's not a designer, and she needs artistic help.  So these two have opted in to helping each other with their businesses.  So, one, they don't have to spend whatever limited funding they have on external talent, but also, they have a strong desire to help each other's businesses succeed, because they realize the story of 25 viable businesses emerging is so much more powerful than one or two emerging.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:   That's so great, and what's coming up next for the program, what should our listeners be excited for?  Give me a sneak peek, I love that stuff.

DONA SARKAR:  This is going to be a pretty amazing year for Windows Insiders.  First of all, there's going to be so many new features emerging in Windows.  That's going to help people run the businesses of their lives or the businesses of their actual business.  Windows has always been for the humans, right.  It's been for everybody.  We said a PC on every desk.  Now we're empowering every person on the planet.  So by actually opting into this amazing Windows community, people are saying that, you know what, I have something to teach and I have something to learn and I am willing to bring that to the table.

So in terms of specific programs that are going to come up this year, we're going to do a lot of things for artists and creatives.  We're looking at a whole Design for Good initiative around designing a program or process, or product for the developing world to actually eradicate some decades-old problems.  So there's a design challenge coming up.

There's also going to be a do it yourself kit for the entrepreneurship fellowship.  We know a lot of people around the world are raising their hands and saying, hey, I have a business idea, as well.  I would love to use your tools to actually launch this business.  So for insiders we're going to make this kid available.  And they're also going to have access to us, the team, as well as this ginormous global community of millions.

Everyone who is a Microsoft Insider, the entire Microsoft Network, all of our customers and partners that is one of the biggest networks on Earth.  And if you're starting a business and you have that network at your disposal you have a tremendous advantage over not having that.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  You're absolutely right, Dona.

DONA SARKAR:  So those are two things I'm really excited about.  The blog is really picking up steam.  I've been seeing people share a lot of deeply personal stories about what the insider program has meant to them and why they joined.  And honestly, we were weeping last night when we were reading one of the blog posts by one of our companions.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  I think we all were.

DONA SARKAR:  Yeah, it was a very powerful story, very, very powerful about her history of growing up in India and then meeting one of our fellows and really resonating with his project and why she is so committed to ensuring that that project is successful.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  You're encouraging others to be contributors, as well, to that blog.

DONA SARKAR:  Absolutely.  If you would like to contribute to the blog and talk about how technology has changed your life, or how you'd like to use technology to change the lives of others, go to our blog, send us an e-mail,


DONA SARKAR:  And let us know you'd like to contribute and we will sign you up to be a contributor.  We would love to hear from you.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Remember that music at the top of the show, well; believe it or not that was actually one of our 25 winners in the first Insiders for Good fellowship program in Lagos, Nigeria.

YESHWA RUSSEL:  My name is Yeshwa Russel.  I'm a consultant based in Abuja in Nigeria and my project is Group Power.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  I recently had the chance to talk with Yeshwa over Skype and catch up after the team's last visit.  He's a prime example of how our Nigerian fellows are using the program to magnify their efforts to solve complex problems in their communities.  You wouldn't believe the kinds of truly amazing things they're doing.  Yeshwa is delivering cost-effective solar power to communities in Nigeria through a business called Group Power.  As a member of the fellowship he receives coaching on business development, marketing, planning, coding development and go-to-market planning.  Here's the situation he's facing in Nigeria in his own words.

YESHWA RUSSEL:  Nigeria has a huge part that has power outages all the time.  Nigeria currently still doesn't have much power.  I think from recent data we have like more than 50 percent of houses outside the national grid.  And it was that need that birthed the whole Group Power concept and had us thinking we could create a vehicle to help Nigerians get reliable solar power.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  So as you can imagine having a power deficit is not the only challenge in bringing solar power to communities around Nigeria.  Yeshwa put it best himself.

YESHWA RUSSEL:  Solar energy is expensive, even in Nigeria it's quite expensive for the equipment.  And on the average a home a standard home would need to invest, say, 1 point something million naira to get all the equipment they need for a solar system to work in their homes.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Which in turn puts power out of the reach of many Nigerian families; I asked Yeshwa how Group Power was progressing since the boot camp.  For our listeners who may be unfamiliar with the mechanics of the fellowship program, we put together a boot camp with our fellowship participants as an immersive way to get them familiar with how best to develop a minimum viable product, or MVP, which is the ultimate goal.

YESHWA RUSSEL:  In the past two or three months since the boot camp MVP has evolved to the point where we've created the option.  So even commercial clients, for instance, large shopping malls and large businesses, to also have the same opportunity of speaking to us and they will develop whatever their plans are.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  The fellowship has also helped Yeshwa begin to consider power production options beyond solar in order to support areas where solar might prove too costly or inappropriate.  This, in turn, allows him to expand his client base.

YESHWA RUSSEL:  We are considering hybrids in cases where it makes more sense, the areas of Nigeria where the solar profile is not that good.  We are considering hybrids for those kind of areas, probably a mix of maybe solar and wind turbines.  However, our core capability, our core focus remains solar.  So whenever we speak to any customers, any potential customers and clients, we emphasize solar is our main thing.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  It was great to hear that Yeshwa is more or less staying true to his core value prop, with a little bit of wiggle room in there for growth.  I also asked him what he found most meaningful about Group Power and what excites him about its potential.

YESHWA RUSSEL:  I'm excited about the actual impact it's going to make.  In one of our meetings with a lady who works in the development group, she explained that the next focus for international development agencies is to empower the community to be able to produce and make more money and then have better standards of living.  The Group Power project would tie into that to be able to produce higher standards of living.  And it was exciting to me just looking at how that would come together.

I'm excited about how it's easy, so easy for everyone to understand what the concept is.  The impact that we are going be having, the results we're going to be creating and the fact that it's something that ties into other things; it produces better lives, higher income, so communities, higher standards of living.  I'm excited because of what it does as regards the impact and the result in people's lives.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  As the fellowship moves forward we're excited to continue working with Yeshwa, as well as the other 24 great ideas in the fellowship.  We may highlight more in future episodes.  For those of you engaged in the Windows Insider forums, you might see posts form him and other fellows and still other members of the insider community looking for advice on bringing their ideas to fruition.  I encourage you to get involved.  It's a great opportunity to stretch your entrepreneurial muscles and help solve complex problems in the world.

Anything else I forgot, Dona?  Tell us what we can be doing.  How else can our listeners get involved?

DONA SARKAR:  The easiest thing to do is actually go sign up for the program on

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Did you guys get that?  That's

DONA SARKAR:  The second one is to follow along with our adventures on the blog itself and become a contributor on the blog.  Go out there, use tech to do something in our local community, that can be something as simple as volunteering your time.  It can be something like teach someone else something that you know.  But as people activate and use tech to start making a lasting impact on the world, they become a part of this huge global community of people who are like-minded, who are willing to help each other, who are helping make the world a better place, just one person and one action at a time.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Couldn't have said it better myself.

Thanks for tuning in.  That's a wrap for today.

Would you call that a wrap, Dona?

DONA SARKAR:  It's more of a burrito Tomcat.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Looking forward to next month when we share more exciting stories from our insiders for a good community.

DONA SARKAR:  I already have our special guest lined up.  It's a secret.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Interesting.


THOMAS TROMBLEY:  In the meantime please take a moment to check out the blog, flight the next build, and join in the dialogue that is the Insiders for Good community.

Say goodbye, Dona.

DONA SARKAR:  Goodbye, Dona.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  And goodbye, Tomcat.

DONA SARKAR:  Goodbye, Tomcat.

THOMAS TROMBLEY:  Thanks, everyone.  See you next time.