Constructive disruption

Microsoft’s Akhtar Badshah wants to be a disruptive influence

FUTURES: Microsoft has been working with NGOs and nonprofit organisations around the world for over two decades. Why?
Akhtar Badshah: Technology can be an amazing tool for social and economic development. It can help people get a better education, learn new skills to earn a living wage or start a business. It also can enable organisations to meet community needs better by broadening access to healthcare, education, micro-banking and other essential services.

IT is evolving rapidly. We now have data in the cloud, and new user interface technologies that let you interact with information wherever you are. This is leading to incredible innovation in products and services and to disruption, creating new business models, new delivery models, and changing how we exchange information and connect with others.

F: What do you mean by “disruption”?
AB: Constructive disruption can drive social change. Today, the combination of connected devices, innovative software, services in the cloud and new natural user interfaces is enabling people and organisations to access information, communicate and collaborate in new and more powerful ways.

The question is how NGOs and non-profits can use these technologies to benefit society’s most vulnerable people. Many non-profits have already embraced technology to help them do more with less. But today’s technologies can do much more: constructive disruption can enable non-profits to achieve dramatically greater impact through new business and service models.

Take Kiva (www.kiva.org), founded in 2005 – the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website. It empowers individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe. Kiva leverages the Internet to facilitate small loans from individual lenders to hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs in 49 countries, facilitating one-to-one connections that were prohibitively expensive and thereby helping alleviate poverty.

Or M-PESA in East Africa, a mobile payment solution for people who do not have bank accounts.Users deposit cash at a local mobile agent office, send money to other mobile phone users via text message – even if they are not customers of the mobile phone company – and withdraw cash at another local agent. This private-sector solution is allowing many poor Kenyans to save and send money, turning the traditional banking model on its head.

F: How is Microsoft helping?
AB: Microsoft donates close to $400 million worth of software each year to help establish stable and secure IT platforms for more than 30,000 NGOs and non-profits globally. We also develop specific technologies to meet local community needs – like our recently launched OneApp, which enables feature phones found all over emerging markets to access mobile applications.

Narrowing the technology skills gap: Akhtar Badshah administers the company’s global community investment and employee programmes.
F: How do you ensure that IT helps unleash the potential in underserved communities?
AB: Over the past decade, Microsoft has focused on creating NGO partnerships to deliver scalable IT services for the broader non-profit community. We are working to increase the IT expertise and capacity of organisations like TechSoup (techsoup.org), which operates our software donations programme, and NetHope (nethope.org), a consortium of 25 leading non-profits in humanitarian relief and development.

The immediacy and influence of online social networking make it a powerful tool for NGOs to improve services and operational capacity. That’s why we launched the NGO Connection (microsoft.com/ngo), an online community where organisations can easily locate technology resources and learn from one another

F: What advice would you have for non-profits looking to adapt to these changes?

AB:The first step for every NGO has to be to put in place the basic IT infrastructure and knowledge to support its operations and increase its productivity. There are fantastic opportunities to take advantage of technology and the business models and opportunities it brings. I believe businesses, non-profit organisations and software developers can achieve a lot by working closely together.

The real opportunity is in harnessing the intellectual capacity through new business models and social networking. And here, non-profit organisations play a critical role because of their vast grassroots reach.

Microsoft on the Issues blog post: Constructive Disruption Can Drive Social Change
M-PESA

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Contact: caeurope(at)microsoft.com