How we’re putting the Microsoft Cloud to work for the public good

As Satya Nadella announced today, we’re committed to putting the Microsoft Cloud to work for the public good. That’s why Microsoft Philanthropies, with support from Microsoft Research and Microsoft Business Development, will donate $1 billion in Microsoft cloud services to nonprofits and university researchers over the next three years. Our goal is to support 70,000 nonprofits through this initiative during that time. I wanted to provide some more detail on what we’re doing and the commitments we are making today.

Our rationale for today’s announcement is simple. Cloud computing has emerged as a vital resource for addressing the world’s problems. Cloud services can unlock the secrets held by data in ways that create new insights and lead to breakthroughs, not just for science and technology, but for addressing the full range of economic and social challenges and the delivery of better human services. They can also improve communications and problem-solving and can help organizations work in a more productive and efficient manner.

As Satya makes clear, both the need and the opportunity are real. It is vital that the cloud serve the public good in the broadest sense. While the marketplace is reaching a rapidly growing number of customers around the world, it is not yet benefitting everyone. If we’re going to realize Microsoft’s mission of empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, we need to reach those that the market is not yet reaching. We need to reinvent our corporate philanthropy for the next decade, ensuring that we help empower people and organizations the cloud is not yet serving. This will require extensive efforts on a global basis that reflect varied needs around the world, oftentimes in ways that bring companies, NGOs and governments together in new public-private partnerships.

We believe that each of us in the tech sector has a role to play, and we should each do our part. As we at Microsoft seek to play our part, we’re launching today three concrete initiatives that are designed to ensure that cloud services are easily accessible to nonprofit organizations, faculty researchers in universities and people who today lack affordable broadband access.

Here’s what we are doing:

1. Serving the broad needs of the nonprofit community.

Through our new Microsoft Philanthropies arm of the company, founded last month and headed by Mary Snapp, we will build on our longstanding global software donation programs to create a comprehensive and industry-leading donations program to provide cloud services to nonprofit organizations worldwide. This will ensure that nonprofits have access to the full suite of Microsoft’s cloud services. Specifically, we’ll include:

  • Microsoft Azure, so NGOs can access our data centers around the world to develop and run their applications and make use of our computing and storage power;
  • Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS), so nonprofits can manage all of their devices, applications, and data on a cross-platform basis based on industry-leading security and identity management services;
  • CRM Online, so nonprofits can use our new cloud solution for managing relationships with donors and beneficiaries;
  • The expansion of our Office 365 Nonprofit program, which currently includes the cloud-based versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and will now include Microsoft’s Power BI, so nonprofit groups can make use of our newest business intelligence and data analytics.

The full Microsoft Cloud nonprofit program will begin rolling out this spring. We’ve been providing Office 365 services to nonprofits the past two years, and we will apply to this new and broader effort everything we have learned from this experience. We are setting today the goal of serving 70,000 NGOs through one or more of these offerings by the end of 2017, and then we’ll focus on serving even more nonprofit groups each year. We expect that in 2016 alone we’ll donate to nonprofits through these offerings cloud services with a fair market value of close to $350 million.

2. Expanding access to cloud resources for faculty research in universities.

Through Microsoft Research and Microsoft Philanthropies, we will significantly expand our Microsoft Azure for Research program, which grants free Azure storage and computing resources to help faculty accelerate their research. Harry Shum, our executive vice president for Technology and Research, has been a passionate advocate for the potential of cloud computing to be transformational when in the hands of passionate research teams committed to understanding and addressing big challenges. To date this program has provided free cloud computing resources for over 600 research projects on six continents. We will build on what works and will expand our donations program by 50 percent, with a focus on reaching important new research initiatives around the world.

We know from experience that this program can make a critical difference for researchers in universities, and our increased funding for this effort therefore builds on a successful formula. As a company we have supported and witnessed compelling examples of the breakthroughs that can be achieved when university faculty harness the unprecedented power of the cloud is used to analyze data, unlock insights and predict outcomes. From protecting forests in Brazil to fighting wildfires in Greece, and from developing new medicines in the United Kingdom to modeling flood risks in Texas, dedicated university researchers have used Microsoft Azure to advance their cutting-edge research projects. The expansion of funding for these grants will enable faculty around the world to accomplish even more.

3. Reaching new communities with last-mile connectivity and cloud services.

Finally, we will pursue new initiatives that bring together Microsoft Business Development and Microsoft Philanthropies to combine investments in innovative new technologies for last-mile connectivity access with donated access to our cloud services. Just last month, Peggy Johnson, our Executive Vice President for Business Development, announced in the Philippines part of our new focus on funding new connectivity access for underserved communities, building on such work as our TV White Spaces project to bring low cost connectivity to rural Kenya through the Mawingu project.

We’re enthusiastic about the potential for TV White Spaces to bring broadband connectivity at a low cost to more communities around the world – and to do so in 2016, without waiting for the arrival of the next decade. That’s why we’re going to grow this connectivity initiative by growing our financial investment and combining it with cloud services donations and community training programs that we’ll pursue in partnerships with local governments and nonprofit groups. By combining connectivity with cloud services and training focusing on new public-private partnerships, we are setting a goal of pursuing and supporting at least 20 of these projects in at least 15 countries around the world by the end of 2017.

Taken together we believe these steps will ensure that nonprofit organizations and university researchers around the world obtain the access they need to pursue cutting-edge solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

Our approach reflects the unmet need we see in communities around the world, the confidence we have in the ability of nonprofits and researchers to solve these challenges, and the ambition we have for Microsoft Philanthropies to drive digital inclusion and empowerment programs around the world.

All this also reflects a cross-company commitment to help respond to the question Satya raised: How can we make sure the cloud truly serves the public good? Today is a step on that journey. We are committed to doing more, and in the coming months we will launch additional programs through Microsoft Philanthropies to address this opportunity. We’re committed to being part of a broad discussion and a comprehensive response, built on partnerships across civil society and around the world.