One of the defining aspects of COVID-19 is its disproportionate impact on underserved communities and the harsh spotlight it shines on existing social equity issues around the world. From access to quality education, jobs or affordable healthcare, COVID-19 is magnifying virtually every inequality in our communities.
Never has there been a more important time to capture the moment to create the solutions the world needs to make a positive and lasting contribution to the social inequity issues of our generation. Solutions will come from all corners and technology innovators will need to play their part.
Building on Microsoft’s long-standing efforts to ensure technology fulfills its promise to address the world’s biggest challenges, Microsoft joined efforts with Giving Tech Labs to unleash the power of public interest technology. This week, at Build 2020, we are offering developers a preview of X4Impact, the innovation hub spawned by this collaboration, and the opportunity to demo this powerful tool. Built on Azure, X4Impact is an AI-powered market intelligence platform for social innovation where people can define social challenges, contribute ideas, access solutions and identify funding.
Clearly the challenges are complex and will require strong vision and collaboration across governments, nonprofits, donors and the private sector. The power of AI, data science and high-performance cloud computing have created an unprecedented ability to produce insights and solutions for critical issues.
Take, for example, our work with the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium led by the White House. Bringing together the Federal government, industry and academics, Microsoft is providing researchers in computer science, biology, medicine and public health access to the world’s most powerful computing resources. This collaboration is helping speed the pace of scientific discovery of treatments and a potential vaccine for COVID-19.
While this is a powerful scenario, it’s only one example. The world needs thousands of these solutions to meet the wide-ranging issues that we’re facing today.
Part of the answer lies in unlocking the power of technology for the public interest – a field dedicated to deploying advanced technology, data science, AI and sustainability models to address urgent issues in society. It is about building solutions that work because they reflect the needs of the communities they serve. To achieve this, technology for public interest encompasses important principles such as:
- Bringing nonprofits, government, the private sector and donors together to drive change through a focus on empathy and inclusion in the design of solutions
- Using ethical AI to transform data into knowledge with a relentless focus on measurable impact for the communities needing help
- Recognizing that, because technology alone does not solve problems, building long-lasting, sustainable processes and capacity is essential
What does technology for public interest mean for those working on the front lines? Let’s take clean drinking water as an example. Fighting cholera is one of the world’s most pressing needs. Five million cholera cases are recorded across the globe each year and $3 billion is spent annually in treatments and lost productivity that could be avoidable through early detection. Having lost family members of her own to cholera, Dr. Katherine Clayton, an engineer by training, founded a startup called OmniVis, which has now developed a cloud-based platform that uses a smartphone and mobile, affordable hardware to test water in the field and produce cholera analysis and insights. The relative affordability and speed at which results are returned will allow NGOs to alert nearby communities before an outbreak spreads. This will help save lives.
At Microsoft, we are committed to being a catalyst to help thousands of organizations like OmniVis pursue their technology for public interest ideas. That’s why, in February, we launched a new Global Social Entrepreneurship program to offer qualified startups access to technology, education, customers and grants. Our global initiative is designed to help social entrepreneurs build and scale their organizations to do good globally. The program is available in 140 countries and will actively seek to support underrepresented founders with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.
In this environment of collective problem-solving, we need an easy way for developers to identify the greatest unmet needs, whether through cholera detection or COVID-19 treatments, where technology can play a critical role in helping address these challenges. Similarly, we need to map these social challenges to available funding sources and collaborators to fully understand the opportunities for solution creation.
X4Impact will help social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, citizen developers, funders and foundations identify where they can deploy their time and talent to collectively build a better world. Leveraging the power of AI, X4Impact aggregates content from hundreds of thousands of IRS 990 and 990-PF filings, private investing filings with the SEC and active grants from the federal government, foundations and private companies, in addition to content from over 5,000 trusted sources. The result is over 30 million units of knowledge indexed under the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and 231 impact indicators. With access to this market intelligence, we can collectively build much-needed solutions at a new level of scale and impact.
While the platform will launch this July, we call on tech trailblazers to join the public interest movement now by registering at x4i.org to receive an invitation to demo the platform. This work builds on our current offers for all nonprofits and we recommend reviewing our COVID-19 Resource Guide for Nonprofits to learn about additional support. At Microsoft, we are committed to learning how to better drive social innovation each day while evolving our social business model to help move nonprofit missions forward and drive social good.