Unfortunately, 3.9 billion people worldwide, often in economically disadvantaged, rural and other underserved communities, lack Internet connectivity. ThatÔÇÖs why Microsoft created the Affordable Access Initiative, a holistic, partnership-based program that invests in new last-mile access technologies, cloud-based services and business models to reduce the cost of Internet access and help more people affordably get online. The initiative is a call to innovate. By using seed grants, mentoring networks and sparking community engagement, we cultivate partner companies that demonstrate promising market-based solutions through hardware, software or infrastructure improvements that deliver connectivity.

One important aspect of MicrosoftÔÇÖs Affordable Access Initiative is a grant fund which has, since November 2015, awarded funds to 12 companies in 11 countries and five continents, offering affordable Internet access or cloud-based services in fields such as power generation, health, education, finance and agriculture. The social enterprises we support have inspired us with practical, high-impact and scalable approaches to help close the digital divide. ItÔÇÖs a privilege to see these solutions take shape, and to play a role in helping local entrepreneurs spur job creation and economic growth.

This initiative is also connected to the work of Microsoft Philanthropies, which is helping to bring technologyÔÇÖs 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.

ÔÇ£Too many people around the world lack Internet connectivity and the educational, commercial and economic benefits of cloud-based services,ÔÇØ Mary Snapp, corporate vice president and head of Microsoft Philanthropies, told me. ÔÇ£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.ÔÇØ

Businesses wishing to apply for this yearÔÇÖs grants may find a list of criteria, and the application, here. Applications will be accepted until midnight PST on Jan. 31, 2017.

Sarah Bieber

Director, Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development

USAID | U.S. Global Development Lab

T 202.712.4601 | M 571.309-0985

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