Last month, Microsoft announced the formation of a new division, dedicated to overseeing the company's philanthropic projects. Today, Microsoft Philanthropies announced that, with support from Microsoft Research and the company's Business Development unit, it will donate $1 billion in cloud computing services to over 70,000 nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the next three years.
As Microsoft's President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith explained:
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.
Microsoft Philanthropies will focus its efforts in three key areas:
"Serving the broad needs of the nonprofit community"
This will include an expansion of the company's software donation programs around the world. Microsoft Azure, Enterprise Mobility Suite and CRM Online will form part of this commitment, along with wider availability of the Office 365 Nonprofit program.
"Expanding access to cloud resources for faculty research in universities"
A 'significant' expansion of the Azure for Research program. So far, this has included free cloud computing resources for over 600 research projects around the world, and Microsoft says that it will expand its donations program in this area by 50 percent.
"Reaching new communities with last-mile connectivity and cloud services"
The company says that it will "pursue new initiatives... to combine investments in innovative new technologies for last-mile connectivity access with donated access to our cloud services". It adds that it plans to increase its investment in its TV White Spaces project for broadband connectivity throughout 2016, "combining it with cloud services donations and community training programs that we'll pursue in partnerships with local governments and nonprofit groups". It aims to support "at least 20 of these projects in at least 15 countries" by the end of next year.
The need to partner with government to deliver long-term results and secure real, lasting change through technology is a theme that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates emphasized last year ahead of announcing a new clean-energy technology initiative with numerous world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.
That theme was echoed today by Microsoft's Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella in his own comments on today's announcement.
"Philanthropy is a start," he said, "but to truly harness the public cloud for public good, businesses, governments and NGOs must come together with a shared vision and relentless passion to improve the human condition and drive new growth equally."
Only time will tell if Microsoft's latest efforts, and its massive donation, ultimately deliver lasting benefits towards the company's aim of "empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more" - but as Nadella says, it's a start.