AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

AWS Serve Provides Nonprofits with the Cloud Resources to Power their Mission

AWS Serve is an initiative to provide nonprofits with the cloud resources they need to power their mission, workforce, and the communities they serve. These resources include training, nonprofit office hours, and access to AWS Promotional Credits, which provide a dollar-for-dollar subsidy of an organization’s on-demand infrastructure spend on AWS.

Emerging and established nonprofits can effectively leverage the AWS platform to improve program outcomes by harnessing the power, flexibility, security, and performance of AWS cloud services. Eligible nonprofit organizations will be able to access the program annually.

Program benefits include:

  • $2,000 in AWS Promotional Credits annually
  • Training and labs
  • Nonprofit Office Hours
  • Event speaking opportunities
  • Partner special offers

The AWS Serve program, in collaboration with Technology Affinity Group (TAG), provides a gateway for the next generation of IT capabilities within the nonprofit community. This program is exclusively available to TAG member foundations and their nonprofit grantees.

TAG is a nonprofit membership organization that promotes the power of technology to advance the goals of the philanthropic sector. Not a TAG member? For more information on how to become a TAG member and access the program, please visit: www.tagtech.org.

“The Technology Affinity Group is excited to work with Amazon Web Services to provide this unique opportunity for our members and their grantees to access AWS’s state-of-the-art infrastructure at reduced costs,” said Lisa Pool, Executive Director, TAG. “We think infrastructure and software as a service is a great model for our members, who typically don’t have many dedicated in-house technology staff.”

The AWS Serve program also collaborates with partners, like SmartSimple and Linux Academy, to further optimize the program offerings:

SmartSimple: SmartSimple offers nonprofits cloud-based platforms to manage and automate critical organizational processes, including grants management. A common pain point in leveraging traditional grants management systems is that they are one size fits all and can’t accommodate organization-specific needs. With SmartSimple’s GMS360° platform, nonprofits are able to configure the tool’s features and functions to address their exact needs, no matter how specific or unique. As part of the AWS Serve program, they will be offering two months free use of the platform.

“We’re delighted to be selected by AWS to participate in the AWS Serve program. Our inclusion demonstrates our continued commitment to drive cloud innovation and empower the entire granting community,” said Alex Wong, Director of Marketing, SmartSimple. “With AWS, we’re proud to deliver best-in-class grants management solutions to help organizations minimize costs, become more efficient and agile, all while equipping them with the tools to share their impact story with the broader community.”

Linux Academy: Linux Academy is an online, AWS training platform with engineered course content and labs that facilitate skill building for all levels, from novice to expert. Users gain real-world experience with the AWS Cloud with hands-on learning. Through the AWS Serve program, participants will have access to a 45-day free access to all of the platforms certification and training courses on AWS and additional technologies, such as Linux and OpenStack.

“Organizations and individuals are rushing to ensure they can handle the technologies available today on the cloud,” said Anthony James, CEO, Linux Academy. “We are excited about this new collaboration with AWS. It creates an affordable and efficient option for nonprofit organizations, which have limited budgets, to keep up with rapidly expanding technologies, as well as for people to find or progress within cloud tech careers.”

Learn more about AWS Serve here.

AWS EdStart Fueling the EdTech Startup Community

To help startups build innovative teaching and learning solutions using the AWS Cloud, AWS, along with the National Science Foundation (NSF), Education Technology Industry Netwrk (ETIN), and AT&T, sponsored the Start-up Pavilion and Pitch Fest at ISTE 2017. The Edtech Start-up Pavilion and Pitch Fest offers up-and-coming companies the opportunity to participate at ISTE. Pitch Fest contestants and winners received AWS Promotional Credits to accelerate their businesses and enhance the education industry.

AWS EdStart is an AWS program committed to the growth of educational technology (EdTech) companies who are building the next generation of online learning, analytics, and campus management solutions on the AWS Cloud.

Congratulations to the winners of the Pitch Fest: BrainCo and CodeSpark.

BrainCo: BrianCo’s Focus EDU product is an integrated classroom system that improves education outcomes through real-time attention level reports. BrainCo’s devices detect brain waves and use the AWS Cloud to host the data from these IoT wearables with the aim of building the world’s largest brain wave database. Their product allows educators to quantify student engagement in real-time. With this information, they can create strategies to increase classroom engagement, identify students who need extra attention, track improvements over time, and increase student attention.

“BrainCo specializes in Brain Machine Interface (BMI) wearables and our products are changing the way we interact with the world,” said Max Newlon, research scientist, BrainCo.

BrainCo will use AWS to enhance its platform’s ability to use Machine Learning (ML) and also to scale globally as BrainCo sees an increase in demand for their product and solutions in international markets.

CodeSpark: CodeSpark introduces kids as young as four to fundamental computer science and coding concepts. Their app, codeSpark Academy with The Foos, uses a “no words” interface to turn programing into play. With fresh content added every month, kid coders can stretch the limits of their creativity and sharpen their skills.

“AWS is where all of our crucial customer data, progress, and creative output is stored. Since kids are designing and coding thousands of games a day on our platform in every country in the world, it’s critical that our backend infrastructure be reliable, fast, and easy to deploy. AWS is a critical component of our tech stack and allows a small team to have global ambitions,” said Grant Hosford, Founder, CodeSpark.

CodeSpark will use their AWS Promotional Credits to host their player database, website, and app data for millions of players worldwide.

Startups and established EdTechs, like Remind, Instructure, Desire2Learn (D2L), and Ellucian, are not only scaling on AWS but also accelerating their market share through the AWS Education Competency program. Learn more.

Unlocking Healthcare and Life Sciences Research with AWS

From introductory material to in-depth architectures, the AWS Public Sector Summit featured sessions relevant to healthcare and life science researchers.

The full set of session videos are located here, along with slides to match, but in this post, we will recap healthcare and life sciences sessions with a focus on our customers, such as the American Heart Association, the NIH National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Marrow Donor Program, and how they use the AWS Cloud to unlock the value of data and share insights.

Harmonize, Search, Analyze, and Share Scientific Datasets on AWS

Cardiovascular researchers face a challenge: how to make multi-generational clinical research studies more broadly accessible for discovery and analysis than they are today. Many datasets have been created by different people at different times and don’t conform to a common standard. With varying naming conventions, units of measurement, and categories, datasets can have data quality issues.

To support dataset harmonization, search, analysis, and sharing of results and insights, the American Heart Association created the AHA Precision Medicine Platform using a combination of managed and serverless services such as Jupyter Notebooks and Apache Spark on Amazon EMR, Amazon Elasticsearch, Amazon S3, Amazon Athena, and Amazon Quicksight. AHA and AWS have worked together to implement these techniques to bring together researchers and practitioners from around the globe to access, analyze, and share volumes of cardiovascular and stroke data. They are working to accelerate research and generate evidence around the care of patients at risk of cardiovascular disease – the number one killer in the United States and a leading global health threat.

Watch the Harmonize, Search, Analyze, and Share Scientific Datasets on AWS video with Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, representing the American Heart Association (AHA), to learn more about datasets on AWS and this video on how AHA leveraged Amazon Alexa and Lex chat bots as part of a new initiative to engage communities and individuals to promote better heart health by easy voice-enabled tracking of activities and diet.

Next-Generation Medical Analysis

The NIH National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases is working to make microbial genetics data available to microbiome researchers. They developed Nephele, a platform that allows researchers to perform large-scale analysis of data. Nephele uses standard infrastructure services, such as Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3, but also integrates serverless technologies like AWS Lambda for a cost-effective control-plane and resource provisioning.

Similarly, Dr. Caleb Kennedy from the National Marrow Donor Program defined a system for collecting vital information across a diverse set of participating clinics using standard data formats. They are looking to transform transplantation healthcare by integrating even more data into the system.

Watch the Next-Generation Medical Analysis video here to learn about how technology is enabling disruptive innovation in biomedical research and care.

IoT and AI Services in Healthcare

To help support the healthcare industry, AWS has Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) services enabling transformative new capabilities in healthcare. Learn more about IoT and AI Services in Healthcare and how these services can be applied in different scenarios. For instance, one AWS-savvy father is using Amazon Polly, Lex, and IoT buttons to create a verbal assistant for his autistic son.

Watch more of our sessions from the AWS Public Sector Summit here and learn more about genomics in the cloud at: https://aws.amazon.com/public-datasets/

AWS Joins the U.S. Department of State and the Unreasonable Group to Support the UN Sustainable Development Goals

World leaders at the United Nations agreed on a universal set of goals and indicators that would bring government, civil society, and the private sector together to end extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change by 2030.

Technology and cloud-based solutions will be a critical part of achieving the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs). AWS has teamed up with the Unreasonable Group and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Partnerships to support the first cohort of startups participating in the Unreasonable Goals Sustainable Development Goals Accelerator program.

This program is focused on accelerating the achievement of the SDGs by bringing together 16 innovators from around the world who have developed highly scalable entrepreneurial solutions, each one positioned to solve one of the Global Goals.

With a commitment to making the world a better place, AWS experts spent three days on-site at the Aspen Institute’s Wye River resort with a team of corporate innovators, government influencers, and entrepreneurs. AWS advised and coached these business leaders on a range of topics including:

Participating businesses in the Accelerator will be enrolled in the AWS Activate program for startups, which includes $15,000 in AWS Promotional Credits as well as access to training.

Meeting DFARS Requirements with AWS

A growing number of military customers are adopting AWS’s utility-based cloud services to process, store, and transmit all types of unclassified Department of Defense (DoD) data. AWS enables DoD and its contractors to leverage the secure AWS environment to meet critical mission needs in supporting the security and welfare of our country.

Strengthening our commitment to the DoD, AWS services allow customers to fully comply with the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) regulations governing the safeguarding of DoD data, including data in the cloud. This includes the DFARS provision governing “Covered Defense Information” under DFARS 252.204.7012 (“Safeguarding Covered Defense Information and Cyber Incident Reporting”) as well as “Government data” under DFARS 252.239.7010 (“Cloud Computing Services”).

As an AWS customer deploying an application on the AWS infrastructure, you fully inherit the security controls pertaining to our physical, environmental, and media protection controls, and no longer need to provide a detailed description as to how you comply with these control families. The remaining DoD Risk Management Framework (RMF) controls are shared between AWS and its customers, as each organization retains responsibility for implementation of these controls within their portion of the shared IT security model.

AWS customers also inherit all the benefits of our experience, including the best practices of our security policies, architecture, and operational processes proven to meet the strict standards and compliance requirements of third-party assurance frameworks.

In supporting DFARS requirements, we work with customers and their assessors to assist in the planning, deploying, certifying, and accrediting of customer DoD workloads running on AWS. Mission owners have the tools, like AWS CloudTrail and Amazon CloudWatch, to help improve their own compliance oversight with the services and features made available by AWS.

With AWS, you can also leverage security investments you have already made by working with technology partners you know and trust, using highly vetted solutions from our Marketplace and Partner Network.

Learn practical guidance on how DoD and defense contracting organizations can meet DFARS requirements using AWS GovCloud (US) in this video here. And visit our AWS Cloud Compliance page to learn more.

Traverse in Action: See the Whole Picture of Case History

The best predictor of future safety is a thorough understanding of the past. Traverse, a protective services case discovery platform from the AWS Public Sector Partner Program member Northwoods, uncovers dark data and uses it to present a comprehensive case story.

It allows child and adult protective services agencies to leverage the power of big data and the information they already have to make well informed, more confident decisions. The tool helps to analyze years of information and volumes of case records to build connections that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Northwoods launched Traverse earlier this year to be able to take advantage of this big data and provide protective services agencies insight into information and data they’ve never had before. Using natural language processing and text analytics tools, these empower workers to learn about key topics, people, and events in a case to make informed decisions about safety. Because it analyzes information that workers are already collecting, there is no additional work required.

Traverse is all-in on AWS, using services such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), and Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS).

In order to store and handle sensitive data, Traverse uses the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256) algorithm to encrypt all data at rest and utilizes TLS 1.2 to secure all data in transit. Cloud resources are provisioned in a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) network, giving customers a logically isolated section in the cloud.

From foster care to CPS investigations to transportation, Traverse is used by protective services agencies to help caseworkers and social workers quickly understand major topics that impact their cases, such as domestic violence or substance abuse. Because Traverse also surfaces people connected to the case, workers are better able to identify placement options or positive supports for vulnerable children or adults. Traverse not only gives workers the information they need to make the best decisions possible to protect safety, it improves productivity because finding critical information is possible in minutes, versus hours or even days, depending on the complexity of the case.

 “Often times we have to go back and look at history before we make a decision. The ability to navigate through a case using the search function is really important because if there’s information to find, Traverse narrows it down without having to read everything. That’s a huge timesaver and a huge benefit to the agency because we’re able to use our time very effectively,” said Jacob Meetze, Investigation and Assessment Social Worker, Beaufort County Department of Social Services, NC. Read more user stories here.

Watch this On Demand Webinar from the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and Northwoods to learn how Fairfield County Child and Adult Protective Services is embracing “dark data” to make informed, confident safety decisions.

In addition to Traverse, Northwoods also offers document management solutions (DMS) for human services agencies that are used in 12 states and one territory, serving over 36 million people. For agencies that are cloud-based, information that previously would be thousands of pages long in a large printed case file is now stored electronically in AWS. Caseworkers and social workers can easily store and retrieve documents, complete forms, and capture more accurate and timely case notes and narratives to improve service delivery, compliance, and audit-readiness. Field-based social workers use a mobile app in disconnected mode and can also capture high-resolution, color images of clients and living conditions.

Learn more about how Health and Human services (HHS) agencies at the state and local government level are leveraging the AWS Cloud for initiatives ranging from the optimization of everyday administrative tasks to delivering a more personalized digital experience for their citizens.

Accelerating Developer Tools and Platforms in Government

A guest blog by Andrew McMahon, Dcode42

Digital transformation – changing processes and information into a digital form has been a popular trend. It is causing changes in industries from automotive to healthcare to government.

To be able to move forward in digital transformation and the DevOps space, organizations can hire people with more modern technology skill sets. And, in order to support this new civil servant, the appropriate tools and technologies should be in place.

Dcode42 incubates emerging technology companies, providing them with what they need to succeed in the federal market through our comprehensive accelerator programs. We recently announced our newest cohort that focuses on delivering the most promising developer tools and platforms to the government.

By bringing together Dcode42 and AWS, we offer a powerful launching pad for technology companies of all sizes to succeed quickly. Companies accepted into this three-month program receive concentrated guidance and support on crucial aspects of entering the federal market, including:

  • Courses with renowned industry subject matter experts on the inner workings of government – from marketing and sales to compliance, procurement, pricing and more;
  • Exclusive briefings with key government buyers and industry leaders;
  • Access to industry specialists and mentors for expert guidance and networking connections;
  • Exposure to an extensive partner network of large and small partners to increase revenue opportunities; and
  • Hands on strategic planning and go-to-market support to maximize your resources.

Along with the programming that Dcode42 companies receive, this particular cohort will have the opportunity to work with AWS public sector teams to further speed their time to market. Companies leave the program with tactical plans, close integration with AWS teams, and, in many cases, immediate opportunities for revenue.

Join The Digital Transformation Movement

The Dcode42 program is for established companies with commercial traction. The program has two tracks for companies of different sizes: the startups track, for companies with $1-14M in revenue and/or funding; and the emerging growth track, for companies with $14-150M in revenue and/or funding. Our program is designed for two types of companies:

  • Those with some traction in the federal market, but who are still developing a government practice. These companies may have a few contracts or a dedicated federal team with prior experience.
  • Companies new to the federal government looking to succeed more quickly who are not sure the best approach to take.

The deadline to apply for the upcoming cohort is July 17th. Companies that wish to apply can visit www.dcode42.com/apply or find more information at www.dcode42.com/programs.

Sharing Vital Information to Improve Lives Around the World, Without Access to the Internet

There are 500 million smallholder farmers in the world, most of whom live on less than $1 a day. Small-scale farmers are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change – and they face many challenges including lack of access to traditional markets, agricultural inputs, and finance. Every day small-scale farmers develop a diverse range of innovative, low-cost solutions in response to the many challenges that they face. But with the majority of farmers living in remote areas without internet access, they could not share this information with other farmers, until now.

Created in 2016 as a project for the Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation (CPF), a UK-based non-profit, WeFarm has since spun out to form its own venture-capital backed social enterprise. WeFarm is a free peer-to-peer knowledge sharing service that enables farmers to exchange information via SMS – without the internet and without having to leave their farm. Farmers can ask questions about anything agricultural and receive crowd-sourced answers from other farmers around the world in minutes.

How WeFarm works

How WeFarm works is simple. Take, for example, farmer Rose in Kenya.

Rose’s crop is suffering from a disease, so she sends a simple, free SMS to the local WeFarm number, outlining the symptoms of her problem.

Her question is instantly posted online and sent to selected members of the WeFarm community via SMS. Joseph, who is suffering the same problem in Uganda, poses a solution he has recently found for that very thing. Rose receives useful, relevant knowledge within minutes – and Victor receives confirmation that his knowledge is valuable.

To be able to quickly provide responses, WeFarm is bringing machine learning and crowd-sourcing to these offline populations since 99% of users are using WeFarm through SMS.

The lifecycle of a question

When a farmer asks a question it goes through an SMS aggregator. An API then allows WeFarm to consolidate the aggregator into a uniformed method. AWS Lambda takes the inbound messages and creates a queue. Then there is the process of cleaning the data and spell-checking, which can be a challenge since a lot of these questions are in exotic languages, like Swahili. The question is run through a series of filters and algorithms such as the location, intention, and the use that information in order to direct that question to 10 people in the network who would be best able to answer the question. Then, they also rate responders tagging them with timeliness, language, and who has responded well in the past. So whether a farmer in Peru has a problem with coffee plants or another farmer in Uganda has a problem with diseased sweet potato plants, they can get the answers they need.

Using AWS services like AWS Lambda, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon API Gateway, and Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), WeFarm is able to interact with 7000-8000 users per day and has reached over 24 million interactions since it launched. They keep a live activity tracker here.

“AWS has been a tremendous asset for our ability to scale quickly and still maintain quality of service. Without efficient and effective back-end technology, it would be impossible for us to bring our services to the world’s small holder farmers,” said Kenny Ewan, CEO, WeFarm.

Deriving socially valuable data

Currently, WeFarm is serving one of the largest populations in the world of agriculture with a mandate to scale their network, but looking ahead they see commercial use of the data produced from the more than 24 million pieces of information exchanged via SMS. WeFarm plans to turn the data collected into socially-valuable insight – focusing on everything from tracking disease to predicting global food crises.

Learn more about WeFarm here.

Photo credit: Lam Thuy Vo

Prince George’s County Teaches Students to Develop Apps Using Amazon Alexa

Prince George’s County created a summer internship for 20+ underserved high school and college students, focused on teaching the students how to develop apps using Amazon Alexa, Amazon Lex, Echo Dot, and Echo Show.

The program is being led by the Prince George’s County IT Department as part of the Tech Prince George’s initiative focused on the development of a career pipeline and interceptive strategies to improve student matriculation and eventual career success in technology fields. AWS is collaborating with Prince George’s County to help build a pipeline of technical talent and expose more students to emerging technologies from Amazon.

Starting this week, the 24 interns will work in teams of six to develop an application based on Amazon Alexa, Echo, Dot, and Show, utilizing AWS Lambda and other AWS cloud services. The applications will address challenges faced by some public school students, such as reading impairments. The teams will be led by six college students (all computer science majors) acting as mentors and advisors.

The teams will have five weeks to develop the program with the goal to roll the winning app out in schools within the county. This is a competition-based internship, with the winning application selected by a panel including the County Executive, County CAO, a School Board Member, an AWS representative, and others. The winning team will also have the opportunity to publish the skills on the Amazon Alexa site.

“This is the best part of my job working with the young adults and watching the light bulb come on and seeing the growth in them as well as confidence as professionals. The fact that we are using a concept that they can personally connect with is a winning strategy. When I shared with the teams that the device was the Amazon Alexa this year, they were so excited and that same day the brainstorming process was in motion. I can’t wait for everyone to see how amazing my students are and what creative ideas come from these future IT Professionals,” said Sandra Longs Hasty, Program Director, Prince George’s County.

AWS Educate, Amazon’s global initiative to provide students and educators with the resources needed to accelerate cloud-related learning endeavors, is offering developer account credits and online education accounts through mentors for the interns as part of the program.

Good luck to all of the interns!

Learn more about AWS Educate here and how we work to build skills, get engaged with the community, and inspire the next generation here.

Call for Proposals for the Amazon Research Awards

Amazon has opened a call for proposals for the 2017 round of Amazon Research Awards (ARA) in a number of areas, including machine translation, natural language understanding, search, robotics, and more. The program is open to faculty members at academic institutions in North America and Europe and awards up to 80,000 USD in cash and 20,000 USD in AWS promotional credits. ARA aims to fund projects leading to a PhD degree or conducted as a part of post-doctoral work. Check our Call for Proposals page for a list of focus areas supported this year. Proposal submissions are accepted until September 15, 2017.

AWS is working with ARA to help researchers process complex workloads by providing the cost-effective, scalable and secure compute, storage and database capabilities needed to accelerate time-to-science.

From Open Earth Observation to the Human Genome project to studying social media sentiment, researchers have used the AWS Cloud for their groundbreaking research. With AWS, scientists can quickly analyze massive data pipelines, store petabytes of data and share their results with collaborators around the world, focusing on science not servers. Learn more about AWS for research here.

For ARA call for proposal details and to apply, visit https://ara.amazon-ml.com/proposals/#apply or contact research-awards@amazon.com.