“The social enterprises we support have inspired us with practical, high-impact and scalable approaches to help close the digital divide,” said Microsoft Affordable Access Initiatives Director Paul Garnett, writing in NextBillion. “It’s a privilege to see these solutions take shape, and to play a role in helping local entrepreneurs spur job creation and economic growth.”
In the fund’s first round of investments, Microsoft awarded grants to 12 businesses offering affordable internet access or cloud-based services in fields such as power generation, health, education, finance and agriculture.
AirJaldi, a 2016 grant recipient, provides high-quality Wi-Fi broadband connectivity at reasonable rates to more than 90,000 public- and private-sector clients in rural India. Vista Africa, another recipient from last year, is a cloud-based software platform that helps healthcare providers more easily screen, track and treat patients’ health in areas where connectivity is limited.
In addition to receiving funding and software to help power and develop their businesses, grant recipients will join a growing ecosystem of other grantees and funders to further increase their impact.
This initiative is also connected to the work of Microsoft Philanthropies, which is helping to bring technology’s benefits to those who need them most. Microsoft Philanthropies is making its digital literacy, online safety and computer science education programs available to grant recipients and the communities they serve.
“Too many people around the world lack internet connectivity and the educational, commercial and economic benefits of cloud-based services,” said Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Philanthropies. “Affordable Access Initiative grants, and the technology ecosystems they help support, empower entrepreneurs to provide connectivity, which then enables the creation of critical services for those who need it most.”
How to apply
Applicants must be commercial organizations with two or more full-time employees and have a prototype of a working solution and preferably paying customers. Such products and business models might combine new cloud services and applications, low-cost forms of internet connectivity, and new payment mechanisms designed for consumers and smaller businesses in underserved markets. A list of criteria, and the application, can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/affordable-access-initiative/home.