MOUNTAIN VIEW -- At 40, Sid Espinosa straddles many worlds -- the power centers of Washington and Silicon Valley, local and national politics, the corporate board room and soup kitchens.

Espinosa has worked at the White House, was mayor of Palo Alto and now heads up philanthropic and community outreach in Silicon Valley for Microsoft as director of corporate citizenship at the company's Mountain View campus. Before joining Microsoft, he was director of global philanthropy for Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), where he oversaw the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in nonprofits and schools in all 50 U.S. states and 60 countries around the world.

Sid Espinosa, Director of Corporate Citizenship for Microsoft in Silicon Valley, at the company’s offices in Mountain View Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.
Sid Espinosa, Director of Corporate Citizenship for Microsoft in Silicon Valley, at the company's offices in Mountain View Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. (Patrick Tehan/Staff)

Espinosa, who grew up in Gilroy, recently sat down with this newspaper to talk about the varied roles he has played, from speech writer for President Clinton to corporate policy analyst. His comments are edited for length and clarity.

Q: You move in two of the nation's power centers -- Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. How would you describe the cultural differences, or similarities, of the two worlds?

A: Washington D.C. attracts people from across the country and the world who love government, policy and politics. Silicon Valley attracts people from around the world who are interested in technology. In Washington, there is a culture built around our political system, which you don't see here. Here in the Silicon Valley you have whole industries built around innovation and entrepreneurship and having good ideas. There is, to some extent, a level playing field. (As mayor of Palo Alto), I had delegations coming here every week from around the world. They would ask, "Please tell me what the secret sauce is -- how can I build this in my country?"

Q: What was it like working at the White House?

A: I worked as both the president's speech writer and a public liaison. You feel like you are a part of history. I saw an episode or two of "The West Wing;" They did a good job of capturing what it was like. Really important conversations were happening and interesting debates were happening. To be a part of that, it changed my life. President Clinton is an incredible orator. He has a phenomenal memory. He could read through a speech on the way to an event and then recount the data and stories without looking at the speech.

Q: What roles do you think corporations should play in philanthropy?

A: I think there is now, among a large number of multinational companies, an understanding that as an entity, you are part of a community. On a self-serving front, a lot of companies realize (corporate philanthropy) can help your branding, your presence in a community. It can help you recruit and retain employees. A lot of surveys say people want to work for a company that has corporate commitments to a community.

Q: Describe Microsoft's corporate philanthropy.

A: We are very lucky to have been led as a company by Bill Gates, who is recognized around the world for truly understanding philanthropy and the impact it can have on social issues. He embedded that in the company. If an employee gives $1,000 to the Girl Scouts, the company matches that $1,000. Microsoft matches up to $12,000 a year per employee. Last year, that totaled more than $100 million (in employee and company donations). Microsoft also wants to encourage all of its employees to volunteer. After an employee volunteers with an organization for 10 hours, the company will donate $17 an hour (for each retroactive and future employee volunteer hour) to that organization up to $12,000.

The company also runs strategic philanthropy programs. In Silicon Valley, we focused on workforce development and skills training. There are so many people out of the workforce who need training. Catholic Charities does this with recent refugees. There are a host of organizations we have invested in. Our philanthropic investments in nonprofits in the Silicon Valley, aside from the (employee) giving campaign, was $17 million in both cash and products for the last year.

Q: Do you see yourself gravitating more toward the policy world in the future, even a political career?

A: I love policy and politics. And I love the world of philanthropy. I could see a career that shifts between the two. Here in the Silicon Valley, we've seen the creation of incredible wealth and it just continues. The conversation this region is having around philanthropy -- and the investment of its wealth here and around the world -- is incredible. On the policy and politics side, I am a policy wonk. I've got the political bug. I am sure I will be drawn into future campaigns and debates.

Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496; follow him at Twitter.com/svwriter

Five Facts About Sid Espinosa

He is an adventure junkie who has been shark-diving in the Galapagos, gone on safari in Africa and sailed the fjords of Norway.
He watches at least one movie a day.
He has a passion for ancient and modern history.
He sang in a gospel choir for several years.
He has serious photography skills. His work has been shown in major art galleries.

Sid Espinosa

Age: 40
Hometown: Gilroy (born in Santa Clara)
Current position: Microsoft's director of corporate citizenship in Silicon Valley
Career path: Speech writer for former President Bill Clinton; adviser to former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno; adviser to Carolyn Curiel when she was U.S. ambassador to Belize; director of global philanthropy for Hewlett-Packard.
Political activity: Worked with the Democratic National Committee during the 1994 congressional campaigns; elected as Palo Alto's first Hispanic council member in 2008; was mayor of Palo Alto for 2011.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.; master's degree from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University