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A refugee receives a medical checkup at a clinic in Uganda, where Medical Teams International has been putting donated Azure services to use to build medical records in the cloud. (Photo via Microsoft Philanthropies)

Cloud computing has quickly become an essential tool for businesses and governments across the world — but for many nonprofits that operate on a tight margin, moving to the cloud is a huge challenge.

Microsoft Philanthropies set out to close the gap for nonprofits in January of 2016, pledging to donate $1 billion in Microsoft Azure cloud services to 70,000 nonprofits around the world. Monday, the group announced it had reached that goal a year ahead of schedule and had donated cloud services to 90,000 nonprofits, well over its initial goal.

In light of the project’s success, it also announced the formation of a Technology for Social Impact group that will work to bring cloud services to a total of 300,000 nonprofits in the next three years. It also launched a new website to help nonprofits find technologies and services that could help them.

“This new team will build the kind of robust ecosystem that today works so well for businesses, to help nonprofits move to the cloud and provide the support they need,” Microsoft Philanthropies GM Justin Spelhaug said in a blog post announcing the news.

He also said Microsoft Philanthropies will partner with startups and incubators to build “a pipeline of innovation for nonprofits, and help enable these technology professionals to build solutions that meet nonprofits’ unique needs.”

Of course, it’s also in Microsoft’s long-term business, competitive and public relations interests to get more people and organizations using its technology, even at no cost to them. Leading public cloud provider Amazon Web Services, whose cloud services compete with Microsoft’s Azure, also has offerings for nonprofits. Over 22,000 nonprofits use those services, according to AWS.

In his blog post, Spelhaug pointed to Medical Teams International, one of the program’s recipients, as a classic example of how the cloud can help nonprofits work more effectively.

The Portland, Ore., based global health nonprofit gives medical care to a million patients in Uganda every year, many of them refugees. Until recently, all its medical records were kept on paper, making it almost impossible to see large health trends or quickly access data.

After receiving donated Azure cloud services, the group was able to build and scale a cloud-based app to process and record medical data, greatly improving its reach and ability to help patients.

Spelhaug said the new effort will include donating and discounting more cloud services for nonprofits, as well as two new offerings, announced Monday: Microsoft 365 for Nonprofits — a far-reaching software package that includes Office 365, Windows 10 and enterprise mobility and security — and discounts on Surface Book and Surface Pro computers. More offerings, partnerships and other efforts are also in the works.

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