Tech giant Microsoft is demonstrating the well-known generosity of its founder, Bill Gates, with its most recent market move. Microsoft Philanthropies, a project that effectively expands Redmond’s commitment to global giving, is donating a whopping $1 billion worth of cloud computing resources to 70,000 non-profits and NGOs around the world over the next three years.

Microsoft's timing appears to be intentional. In an announcement yesterday, Satya Nadella (pictured above), the company’s CEO, pointed to a January 20 issue of the Financial Times in which he wrote about both the challenges and opportunities that drove Microsoft to make the massive cloud resources donation.

In the opinion piece, Nadella asked a pointed question: How can we make it easier for governments and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to use the public cloud for the public good?

Meeting 17 Sustainable Goals

“The ‘public cloud’ refers to massive, privacy-protected data and storage services rendered over a network for public use,” Nadella said. “Cloud computing makes it possible to reason over quantities of data to produce specific insights and intelligence. It converts guesswork and speculation into predictive and analytical power.”

Cloud computing resources are essential if members of the United Nation are going to meet the 17 sustainable development goals they established last fall to solve some of the most challenging global issues by 2030, he said. Those issues include hunger, health, poverty, and education. With cloud computing, nations can analyze mountains of data and respond with appropriate actions, according to Nadella.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, pointed out the bigger picture in Microsoft’s big announcement.

“It improves their corporate image, and it increases the number of people who are experts on Microsoft systems to sell Microsoft systems,” Enderle told us. “It doesn’t come without cost because Microsoft has to donate support as well, but they get a lot of value for their investment.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Nadella is also edging toward what he calls the fourth industrial revolution. He’s participating in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week alongside other leaders who are focused on the digital transformation that mobile and networked technologies make possible.

“Among the questions being asked in Davos are these: If cloud computing is one of the most important transformations of our time, how do we ensure that its benefits are universally accessible? What if only wealthy societies have access to the data, intelligence, analytics and insights that come from the power of mobile and cloud computing?” Nadella asked.

Governments are looking for a coherent, pro-cloud policy framework, according to Nadella. "I believe there are four elements -- infrastructure, next generation skills development, trusted computing and leadership," he said. "This framework would encourage more pervasive use of the public cloud for public good.”

Nadella offered an example of what he means out of his homeland of India, where the LV Prasad Eye Institute has treated 20 million patients suffering from cataracts. Doctors there have tapped into medical record digitization and socio-economic data to zero in on specific procedures required to help prevent and treat blindness and other visual impairments that may result from cataracts. He also pointed to the value of digitized data to relief workers in the wake of the earthquake in Nepal in April.

“Philanthropy is a start, but to truly harness the public cloud for public good, businesses, governments and NGOs must come together with a shared vision and relentless passion to improve the human condition and drive new growth equally," he said.