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University of British Columbia President Santa J. Ono and University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce at the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C., in September 2016. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft is donating $1 million to a new partnership between the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia called the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative, which seeks to use data to solve urban problems shared by the two regions, such as traffic and homelessness.

In a blog post Thursday, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote that the partnership represents the “region’s single largest university-based, industry-funded joint research project.”

The cooperative will bring together students, researchers, and public stakeholders to solve problems in areas like transportation, housing, and climate. The goal is to build on research from UW’s eScience Institute, its Data Science for Social Good summer program and UBC’s Data Science Institute. The two institutions have worked together on a couple of projects in the past.

Santa Ono, president of UBC, sees a united Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. becoming one of the world’s top hubs for innovation of many kinds, competing with places like Silicon Valley and Boston.

Microsoft President Brad Smith at the company’s 2016 annual meeting. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

“Our ultimate goal is to establish the Pacific Northwest as a world leader in responsible social innovation through data science,” Ono said. “We Hope to establish our universities as a permanent hub for applied research projects that have directly positive effects on society.”

UW President Ana Mari Cauce added that both cities share the same corner of the world and similar values. Even though they are separated by an international boarder they deal with many of the same opportunities and challenges. These problems can be extremely complex and require more research to solve them, Cauce said.

“If you don’t have good a diagnosis of a problem, and that’s what data allows us to do, you can’t come up with solutions that are both effective and efficient,” Cauce said. “That’s what this (partnership) is all about. It’s about building data infrastructure and using data science, something both our universities excel at, for the public good.”

Here’s Smith explanation for why Microsoft got involved in the partnership:

We believe that this one grant will enable the two universities to complete twice as much joint research over the next two years as they have accomplished in the past 10. But our goal is bigger than this one-time gift. We see this investment as a catalyst for broader and more sustainable efforts between these two institutions that will benefit both Washington state and British Columbia, and the U.S. and Canada more broadly.

Microsoft has championed collaboration between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., for some time, with a goal of fostering a “Cascadia high-tech corridor.” Microsoft opened a new office in Vancouver last summer that will allow it to more than double its workforce in the Canadian city three hours north of its headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft was instrumental in a conference last year focused on collaboration between Seattle and Vancouver. That event included a rare joint appearance of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and its current CEO Satya Nadella and featured talks from business, education, and political leaders. At the conference, representatives from the two cities discussed the possibility of a high-speed train between Seattle and Vancouver, an important connection as the two cities become increasingly linked.

It was this conference that set the stage for the two universities to team up. On the call, speakers teased even more collaboration between the two regions in the coming months.

“This is just the beginning,” Cauce said. “Tune in, come back in a year, and we’ll start telling you how exciting this is and just what’s happening.”

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