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Helping NGOs Crowd-Source Solutions from Students

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The Imagine Cup is Microsoft's annual student technology competition asks students from around the world to combine their creativity and passion for technology to help solve the world's toughest problems. Personally, it's one of my favorite events that Microsoft puts on for students. Every year I am blown away by the quality and sophistication of the students' projects and the inspiration the competition evokes to improve lives around the world.

The Imagine Cup 2011 competition is already in full swing. Students are beginning to assemble their teams and thinking about their projects and the problems they want to solve.

This year we are launching a new program called "Imagine Cup Solve This" to provide additional inspiration for students looking for project ideas. "Imagine Cup Solve This" takes the concept of solving the world's toughest problems a step further by connecting students with specific, real problems that inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) need help solving. Students can access a library of problems submitted by the organizations on imaginecup.com to find issues that matter most to them and then put their ideas into action as they create technology solutions in several different categories of competition.

For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is looking for technology solutions to promote and assist organizations and educators that foster early reading and literacy among young children, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) wants a knowledge management system, or "online campus," with virtual classrooms that allows teachers to interact, collaborate and share information with their students. NetHope is also participating, and we plan to extend this program over time to include submissions from all IGOs and NGOs from around the world that are interested in participating.

The Imagine Cup started in 2003 with only 1,000 competitors from 25 countries. In the first few years, interest grew modestly. As the competition developed, we decided a great source of inspiration would be to focus on solving societal issues. Leveraging the United Nations Millennial Development Goals as a guide, registration soared.

In 2010, more than 325,000 students from 100 countries and regions entered the competition. It became evident to us that students care deeply about major issues such as improving education, combating diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability, and want to do their part to save the world.

What better way to connect real-world problems with real-world problem-solvers. We see "Imagine Cup Solve This" as just the beginning of a new approach to how NGOs and other organizations can tap into students' creativity and technology savvy.

Students can register their team today at www.imaginecup.com.