For decades, nonprofits have been talking about how to use technology effectively. While the tools and platforms have kept evolving—CD-ROMs are ancient relics, having a website has become a standard part of doing business, and new buzzwords abound—technology companies’ outlooks seem to be changing too. They’re no longer simply selling products; their work is imbued with purpose. Now, the goal for both technology companies and nonprofits is social good, and we can achieve it together if each side better understands what the other can offer.

With the 2015 launch of Microsoft Philanthropies, whose tagline is “empowerment begins with inclusion,” the company has demonstrated its investment in broadening access to technology and the opportunities it affords. Microsoft Philanthropies also has pledged one billion dollars to deliver cloud-based resources to nonprofits.

I recently had the privilege of participating in the inaugural Microsoft Envision conference, where Mary Snapp, head of Microsoft Philanthropies, moderated my panel. In “How Corporate Philanthropy Meets Technology,” Snapp, representatives from NetHope and Microsoft Garage, and I explored how technology can help nonprofits address a range of social and economic challenges.

My interest in this topic is two-fold:

  1. How can IYF's initiatives better prepare young people for careers in ICT-enabled jobs and technology?
  2. How can IYF better leverage technology, including cloud computing, to deliver workforce development programming more efficiently and effectively? This work includes everything from real-time training and interaction with young people as part of project implementation to data collection and measurement that allow us to analyze, learn, and quickly course-correct.

So, how can international development practitioners focused on preparing young people for work better take advantage of the opportunities that today's technological transformations present?

Talking with Jeff Ramos, fellow panelist and Senior Director of Microsoft Garage, the in-house incubator where staff explore self-described "experimental" projects, made me realize a bigger priority: how can we make progress happen on a two-way street, with tech entities and nonprofits understanding how to draw on one another's strengths as a means to achieve the common goal of social good?

An important initial step might be to start bridging the language gap between workers in the technology and nonprofit fields. We are two completely different worlds with pre-conceived ideas about what the other does without really understanding how we can effectively work together for social good. We need to better understand each other's values, what makes each other tick, and the knowledge and skills we bring to achieve our respective missions and visions for the world.

Nonprofits view "technology" as the somewhat mysterious newest things in computers, social media, and databases, rather than tools that could directly impact the social issues nonprofits seek to address. On the other hand, technology companies are often trying to find creative solutions to issues nonprofits have been addressing for decades. For example, nonprofits like IYF talk about getting young people better prepared for ICT-enabled jobs, while the technology world is actively recruiting and working with computer engineers who write code to develop applications that address the skills gap and enable young people to find work.

More than half the world's population lacks access to the internet. Being technologically disconnected creates a global divide that translates to missed opportunities in every aspect of life and development, including employment, education, and basic health. Better communication and collaboration between nonprofits and technology companies would go a long way to help us more effectively address today's global challenges. The pace of technological change makes it even more imperative to develop solid cross-sector relationships that can adapt and respond to this progress, which increasingly happens online. If we can, we'll be that much closer to making the web, and the opportunities it enables, truly go worldwide.

Matthew Breman is Regional Director, Africa.