Posted by Akhtar Badshah
Senior Director, Community Affairs
The technology scene today is distinguished by the convergence of device connectivity, software innovation and cloud-based services, which enable people and organizations to access information, communicate and collaborate in more powerful ways. But how can these technologies be used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits to benefit the most vulnerable people in society? Microsoft has published a new whitepaper, Unleashing Technology to Advance Social and Economic Development, which takes an in-depth look at this question.
Our whitepaper notes that many nonprofits have already embraced technology to improve their productivity and ease their constant struggle to do more with less. But today’s technologies have potential to do much more – the potential for “constructive disruption” that enables nonprofits to achieve dramatically greater impact through new business and service models.
Based on Microsoft’s experiences working with NGOs and nonprofits around the world for over two decades, we believe that realizing this potential will require attention and investment in four key areas.
Technology Innovation – Nonprofits need to continue advancing their technological capabilities, and technology providers need to help ensure that today’s innovations are affordable and accessible to NGOs. Microsoft meets this challenge in part by donating close to US$400 million worth of software each year to help establish stable and secure IT platforms for over 30,000 NGOs and nonprofits globally. We’re also deeply involved in developing specific technologies to meet local community needs. One example is our recently launched OneApp, which enables feature phones, commonly found in emerging markets, to access popular mobile applications.
Capacity Building and the Partner Ecosystem – Over the past decade, Microsoft has focused on building out NGO partnerships to deliver scalable IT services for the broader nonprofit community. We’re working to increase the IT expertise and capacity of organizations like NPower, TechSoup, Telecentre.org andNetHope, a consortium of 25 leading nonprofits engaged in humanitarian relief and development issues. To help guide nonprofits on the effective use of technology, we’ve held our NGO Connection Days in over 50 locations around the world.
Developer Community Support – The software developer community must be encouraged to continue creating innovative technologies that address societal needs. Among other efforts, Microsoft works to encourage the developers of the future through the Imagine Cup, our annual technology competition, which challenges students to use technology to address the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. We’ve seen incredible innovations entered in this competition. This year more than 300,000 students from over 100 countries participated.
Social Networking – The immediacy and influence of online social networking make it a powerful tool for NGOs to use to improve services and operational capacity. Microsoft is working to help NGOs better understand how they can use social media to reach their constituents and beneficiaries. And to facilitate social networking among nonprofits, we launched the NGO Connection web site, an online community where organizations can easily locate technology resources and learn from one another.
These four concepts form the basis for new nonprofit business models such as those being pioneered byKiva, the first person-to-person micro-lending web service; M-PESA, a mobile payment solution for people who do not have bank accounts; and NetHope, an IT consortium that helps NGO’s coordinate humanitarian relief. The key is partnership. We need to work together to bring the benefits of technology to nonprofits, and by doing so, help them use constructive disruption to drive real social change.