By James Rooney, senior manager, Technology for Good @jamesroo

At its core, technology is empowering. Technology helps us explore outer space and discover medical breakthroughs. It brings educational tools to areas that lack resources and access, and helps us respond quickly to natural disasters across the globe. As we have seen firsthand as part of our ongoing Solutions for Good program, nonprofit organizations have deep knowledge of the issues they are trying to solve and they know how to apply technology innovation to power solutions. What they may lack is the funding to bring those ideas fully to life. That’s where Microsoft steps in.

In October 2013, we released our first Solutions for Good Request for Proposals (RFP) to select nonprofits, asking them to submit ideas for technology projects that addressed complex social issues. Three winning projects were selected by Microsoft business leaders across various teams, including Disaster Response, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Skype, and experts on civic engagement from Microsoft Research. The winners will receive a mix of cash grants, software donations and Azure support, designed to address the various stages of bringing a technology solution to life:

Choosing only three winners was not an easy task, though we had no doubt when we launched this project that all the proposals we received would inspire us with their potential for positive impact. Ultimately, we selected projects that had a clear go-forward plan and leveraged various pieces of the Microsoft technology ecosystem, including Azure, Microsoft Translator, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft .NET, Skype, SharePoint, a variety of server software, and Microsoft Office for project management

The winners of Microsoft’s first Solutions for Good RFP are:

 As STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education gains traction, there is a segment of the population that is often excluded from participating – the print-disabled and visually-impaired. Many e-books and websites replace mathematical equations with images, which aren’t optimized for those individuals. So these individuals are often unable to pursue STEM degrees as this can limit their choices and rob the world of their potential contribution to those fields of study and work. Benetech’s MathMLCloud cloud-based service will automatically create descriptions of these mathematical images and equations to level the playing field for students and adult learners with disabilities. This app is being developed for Windows 8.

 When disaster strikes, finding and deploying skilled volunteers is one of the most critical and yet challenging issues. In the immediate aftermath, there is generally an influx of good will and people wanting to help those in need, but often organizations have a hard time identifying potential volunteers with specific skills needed most. This can cause a delay in providing the necessary relief to those most impacted by the disaster. Caravan Studios’ 4Bells mobile app will geo-locate skilled volunteers and match them with the needs of nonprofit organizations. Local volunteers can pre-register their skills – such as first aid or construction – so they can be deployed quickly in times of crisis. This app will be available initially for Windows Phone, with cross-platform availability planned for a later phase.

 Humanitarian support runs into many barriers, not the least being language. Relief workers flock to areas in distress to help those in need – only to face communication challenges because they don’t speak the local language. Providing critical health, safety, and transportation information can be difficult if not impossible. In order to share accurate information between crisis-affected communities and international aid organizations, Translators Without Borders will create Words of Relief. The Azure-based service is designed to facilitate machine translation and will also provide real-time translation via Skype.

If your nonprofit is interested in participating in future Solutions for Good RFPs or you’re wondering how you can access technology resources to support your mission, keep an eye on this blog for upcoming opportunities or visit our Technology for Good site.