On Tuesday, Microsoft Philanthropies announced $1M (US) in cash and technology grants to three innovative South African non-profit organisations (NPO) to help further their work in driving greater social impact in South Africa. The grants to Youth Empowerment Services (YES), Peace Parks Foundation, and the Sunflower Fund will bolster their work to respectively create employment opportunities for youth, combat wildlife crime and support conservation work, and advance healthcare solutions for those with Leukaemia and other life-threatening blood diseases.
“Technology is a powerful tool to help solve the world’s most challenging issues,” says Justin Spelhaug, general manager for Microsoft’s Technology for Social Impact (TSI) group. “In the same way Microsoft takes our corporate clients on the digital transformation journey, we are working with NPOs in South Africa to help them implement long-term, sustainable change in their communities.”
Microsoft South Africa and YES have partnered to bring cloud technology and access to the company’s latest software to youth across the country. Launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa on March 2018, YES is a business-led partnership with government, labour and civil society that aims to empower one million young South Africans by offering paid quality work experiences over the next three years.
This week Microsoft invested $825,450 in a strategic software grant to equip 100 community hubs — as YES centres of excellence — with Office and other applications to boost employee productivity and skills development of young people. To ensure that YES staff capitalise on all the capabilities and features offered by this software, Microsoft is providing the organisation with training to empower employees who utilise Office for non-profits and working on adapting more technologies as well as apps and services.
“Digital skills are among the most in demand from employers. This demand will only increase as we make our way through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Partnerships like the one we now have with Microsoft will ensure that our youth will be employable and will be ready for the demands of their future workplace,” says Tashmia Ismail-Saville, CEO of YES.
Building on Microsoft South Africa’s support of Peace Parks Foundation’s anti-poaching solutions, Microsoft Philanthropies is providing a grant to support its move to the cloud and AI for Earth is providing three grants to support various aspects of their work. These include a grant to further their Smart Parks system, using Microsoft’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) functionality to enable the transformation and integration of anti-poaching interventions. Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities have been deployed to analyse images from a network of connected camera traps to enable autonomous poacher detection. There are two additional grants, one to support new work on conservation-minded agriculture, to deliver best practices via an app for farmers, that has the potential to improve yields with minimal habitat impact, speaking closely to the Foundation’s community development work. The third grant has been secured for the Tracker Academy affiliated to the SA College of Tourism, in a project that aims to pair AI with indigenous knowledge of animal tracking and behaviour to train the next generation of trackers.
The third grantee, Sunflower Fund, plays a critical role in recruiting blood stem cell donors to fight Leukaemia and other life-threatening blood diseases. They are leveraging the power of Microsoft’s intelligent cloud (Azure), a mobile app and AI to better engage with donors and recipients.
Says Spelhaug: “Digital technology powered by Azure has helped NPOs make smarter decisions, be more productive and communicate with one another more effectively. In the future, AI will enable NGOs to harness vast amounts of data and make breakthrough advances in areas like healthcare, agriculture, education and transportation. We’re already seeing how AI-bolstered computing can help doctors reduce medical mistakes, farmers improve yields, teachers customise instruction and researchers unlock solutions to protect our planet.”
The grants, provided by Microsoft Philanthropies and the company’s AI for Earth program, are a part of the company’s commitment to helping non-profits digitally transform to solve the world’s challenging issues. Since 2016, Microsoft Philanthropies has donated over $25 million in cash grants and technology to more than 2,300 non-profits in South Africa.