Tech Company Drops Conference Swag in Favor of 13,000 School Donations

Diversity and Equity

Tech Company Drops Conference Swag in Favor of 13,000 School Donations

By Emily Tate Sullivan     Apr 4, 2019

Tech Company Drops Conference Swag in Favor of 13,000 School Donations

Ten schools in the San Francisco Unified School District had their wishes granted this week—13,746 wishes, to be exact. That’s the number of items and school supplies recently donated by the San Francisco-based tech company Okta.

The catch? Conference-goers to the company’s annual Bay Area event didn’t come away with any “swag” this year. That means no branded backpacks, stress balls, hoodies or fruits for the adults.

In their place, though, thousands of students at San Francisco-area schools received supplies, furniture and equipment, from iPad cases and HDMI cables to whiteboards, college prep materials and crayons.

In the past, attendees of Okta’s annual conference—much like attendees of virtually every tech conference in the U.S.—could expect to walk away with sleek but somewhat trivial gadgets and garb. In 2018, for example, Okta provided its 3,500 attendees with Yeti water bottles (retail: $50), Corkcicle water bottles ($35), and design-your-own T-shirts and sweatshirts.

But this year, the company wanted to do things differently—a decision sparked by a viral tweet posted last fall.

"Picture it: A tech conference where they give out 7,000 winter jackets to the homeless instead of 7,000 backpacks to people that already have 7,000 conference backpacks,” wrote Twitter user suzie_mae.

Her point resonated with Okta employees, who began brainstorming about “extending our outreach and doing something with more impact,” says Anna Currin, global program manager at Okta and leader of the company’s partnership with the San Francisco Education Fund, a nonprofit that helped with the donation project.

The SF Education Fund suggested Okta use the schools’ existing wish lists as a starting point and helped the company select the SF Unified schools that could benefit most from the partnership.

“Some have really heavy needs in technology. Some needed pens and paper. Some needed non-conventional items like washers and dryers,” Currin tells EdSurge. “We just decided to support in whatever ways they needed us.”

Curious to know how crowdfunding works in schools? EdSurge Research has compiled a set of tools and resources to make the crowdfunding landscape a little less—well, crowded.

It was “stunning,” she adds, to see the wide-ranging needs of these schools, from run-of-the-mill classroom supplies to more basic needs like laundry appliances and detergent.

At one of the schools, Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School, teachers requested and received supplies to support their project-based learning and STEAM instruction, according to the principal, Michael Essien, in a video Okta produced about the project.

Okta San Francisco Schools
Okta employees and staff at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School in San Francisco. (Image credit: Okta)

Leslie Hu, a social worker at MLK Middle School, recalled receiving the email about the donations. “I felt so grateful,” she says in the video. “The teachers were excited that there are people out there who are looking out for our children together.”

Company officials declined to specify the total value of the more than 13,000 items donated, but they said it was comparable to what they have spent on conference giveaways in previous years.

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