Microsoft Harnesses Cloud for STEM Education Outreach

Microsoft Philanthropies reports progress in helping non-profit organizations teach children about robotics and fight child hunger in Argentina.

Microsoft cloud, outreach in South America

Microsoft takes corporate social responsibility seriously, explained Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of business and corporate responsibility at the Redmond, Wash., tech giant.

"Across the company, we are working to apply the power of technology to ensure corporate responsibility, safeguard human rights and protect our planet," she wrote in a blog post. "This commitment is central to why many of our employees come to work every day, and it impacts the type of products and services we develop."

Wrapping up its fiscal 2016 CSR report, now structured as a "living reporting website," Microsoft claims it has made big strides. For example, Microsoft Philanthropies' pledge in January to donate $1 billion in cloud computing resources over three years to non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is already off to a strong start, said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (pictured).

In a letter, the executive reported that FIRST Robotics, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, is already using Azure to get students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. "With a limited budget and a tiny engineering staff, FIRST Robotics uses Azure to harness the power of big data to strategically channel resources where they are needed most, freeing up precious staff time to help more students develop real-world technology skills and create the next generation of STEM leaders," stated Nadella.

In Argentina's mountainous northwestern region, Azure is helping CONIN, an agency focused on battling child malnutrition. An Azure-based app alerts the group when a government and non-profit census finds children in need. "Now it is able to reach more at-risk families with better solutions before they fall through the cracks," Nadella said.

Nadella also said the company had already invested $28 million in YouthSpark in a separate initiative focused on improving access to computer science education for all children. Last year, Microsoft said it earmarked $75 million over three years for the program.

In total, Microsoft's technology donations amounted to more than $1 billion and reached more than 100,000 nonprofits, said Nadella. Separately, Microsoft's employee giving program, which matches the funds its workers donate to nonprofits, has helped over 18,000 organizations collect $133 million.

In terms of the environmental impact of the company's rapidly expanding cloud, Microsoft has set new goals that will help ween its data centers off carbon-emitting energy sources. Although the company has been carbon-neutral since 2012, it relies on a mix of renewable energy and efficiency programs and clean energy purchases to accomplish the feat.

In North and South America combined, Microsoft said its data center energy consumption jumped from 1.9 million megawatt hours (MWh) in fiscal 2015 to 2.4 million MWh in fiscal 2016. Demand is growing in other regions as well, noted the company.

Microsoft plans to boost its use of renewable energy (wind, solar, and hydro power) in its data centers from 44 percent currently to more than 50 percent by the end of 2018. Sometime in the early 2020s, the company hopes to push past the 60 percent mark.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...