Microsoft Imagine Cup – students showing that nothing is insurmountable

At least one of us still has a noseI’m here in Cairo at Microsoft’s Imagine Cup (been here since July 2nd) and am blown away by both what these students can/are doing and by the fact that we need to figure out how to take impediments and speed bumps out of their way.

We started out the first official event at the Citadel.  An incredible event during which students run in and are recognized by country.  Several amazing things about this event:

  1. Probably the first time many of these students have had an olympics-like experience.  Sappy mom that I am, I was completely crying – being proud of them and also projecting to how I’ll feel in the future at my own kids’ accomplishments. 
  2. The students’ projects are truly mind-blowing in quality, presentation, and consideration

The theme is how they would address the UN Millenium goals using technology.  Just like a person unfamiliar with gravity will try something that others might not for fear of falling, these students assume they can resolve these enormous issues.  And their projects are real and effective.  From one group creating a way to ameliorate hunger by creating protein powder from bugs to another group creating a volunteer matching system (I so wish I had that for Kavana and the other volunteer programs I do) to agricultural simulations and more. 

From a personal standpoint, it’s been incredible to also see the truly global nature of this event.  It is the opposite of US Centric.  In fact, in terms of media, there aren’t any US media here.  There are members of the press from Australia, Kazhakstan, Kenya, France, Canada and more.  But no US. 

Today (the 7th) they’ll hold the world festival in the shadow of the pyramids and will announce the winners.  Should be very emotional and special.  I encourage you to read about some of the projects here.

Today, I sat in on a press roundtable with some of the judges from the Unlimited Potential category.  It gives some insight into what the judges saw and were thinking and how the overall event helps the world.  Here are my notes:

MSFT is trying to reach and use technology in communities in sustainable and scalable ways – Unlimited Potential – next 5 Billion

Technology can address some of the most basic challenges. 

  • Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala – from India – Railway reservations were one of the first ways that technology transformed existence in India.  IC has been eye-opening for him.  Getting them to try to understand problems of society is eye-opening.  Very simple things: one of the biggest problems is how to vaccinate each child.  They’re available and free, but how to make sure that they’re actually deployed.  A simple tracking of which has been vaccinated and how do we send SMS messages to parents to remind them and track it.  One of the teams built a system to do this.  Thanks MSFT for getting students together and getting them excited to think about this.  Trying to get the to believe that if tehey use tech & biz acumen, they can make a difference
  • Nick Hughes – did something called M-PESA – gives a person with a phone a way to manage money.  Impressed with how the students used mobile technology to address issues/concerns in the world.
  • Kentaro Toyama – research at Microsoft – has both social scientists and computer scientists in the group.  This has enabled them to do some major projects.  Pleased that all 5 teams went and did research before they came up with their solutions. The more technologists get out – the better the solutions will be.
  • Ed Granger-Happ – CIO at save the children and Nethope – Feels that this year’s students have matured and appreciate the sometimes connected world well & how does tech work within that space.   An oppy to have the students become the teachers. Thought there wree 3 key trends:
  1. sharing bite sized info (ie mobile use)
  2. automating paper-work (ie vaccination forms, medical records)
  3. notice factor (ie students have grasped that reminders via cell phones are very important

Dr. J: feels that MSFT is enabling that maturity

There was more, but those statements were really at the heart of their commentary.

It feels incredible to see the  focus on impact!


One response to “Microsoft Imagine Cup – students showing that nothing is insurmountable

  1. Wow, Suzi what an awesome description and an insightful approach to problem solving. Sure love the mobile piece, too.

    Safe journey home!

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