Last week, I was in New York for a conversation with Warren Buffett at Columbia University.
As I travel to different countries I often get a chance to talk with students, and when I do I’m often very impressed by their passion for helping solve some of the world’s toughest problems. To encourage them and get them even more involved in finding solutions, Microsoft created the Imagine Cup, which is now in its ninth year. As I wrote about last year’s competition, hundreds of thousands of students around the world participate in the Imagine Cup by coming up with creative solutions to big social and environmental problems like education and literacy, disaster relief, environmental sustainability and global healthcare.
This year, Microsoft has added a new program to help inspire young people to focus on the practical needs of organizations that are grappling with these problems every day. Imagine Cup Solve This is a kind of marketplace of ideas where organizations describe their needs for creative ideas that they hope students will think about and work on.
We’ve seen in past years that Imagine Cup projects can truly make a difference. Last year, for example, the Imagine Cup national team winner from the Czech Republic developed a mapping software program known as GINA, for Geographical Information Assistant. The program was used in Haiti last year to help coordinate the efforts of earthquake rescue and recovery workers. More recently, the GINA team launched an online portal to follow the latest developments in Haiti.
Imagine Cup Solve This is intended to facilitate more such real-world impact from the creativity of students. The first organizations that are participating include several United Nations agencies focused on development, youth, food and agriculture, world health and the environment. Also participating are the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Robin Hood Foundation, a local New York City non-profit. It’s a new effort, and Microsoft expects that the list of participating organizations will grow.
One of the initial organizations, the UN Programme on Youth, is seeking help in developing ways for young people around the world to communicate and collaborate on achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, such as ending hunger and poverty, achieving universal education and combating HIV/AIDS. The agency says traditional social networks have not been effective because of various barriers—linguistic, technological, social and cultural. They’re hoping that Imagine Cup teams will work on devising an innovative solution that would use mobile, video or other technologies to overcome these hurdles.
Meanwhile, USAID is looking for help on one of the most important educational challenges of poor countries: ensuring that all children learn how to read, write, count, add and subtract in their first three years of school. Studies show that students who do not achieve this goal are on course for a lifetime of poverty. USAID hopes Imagine Cup teams will help them identify creative technology solutions for promoting literacy among infants and children from poor families.
I want to encourage young people from around the world to participate in this year’s Imagine Cup; registration is now open. Check out the project ideas put forward by organizations as part of Imagine Cup Solve This.
And I want to encourage more organizations to participate by soliciting help from participating Imagine Cup teams. Intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other not-for-profit organizations are all eligible. It's a tremendous opportunity to tap into the remarkable brain power and enthusiasm of these young technology leaders.
Regardless of who wins, everyone involved in the Imagine Cup, and the world as a whole, always emerges victorious.