Category: Nonprofit

MEANS: Matching Excess with Need

Two students had an idea: match excess food with people in need. Maria Rose Belding and Grant Nelson created MEANS, a nonprofit database where people list a donation, food banks and pantries get notified about food near them, and then they claim and pick up the food.

MEANS is now in 49 states and territories and has successfully matched over a million pounds of food in the past two years since launch, helping divert food from the trash to local emergency feeding services with the ease and speed of the internet.

“When we were choosing what tools and platforms to use, we focused on ease of adoption. We wanted to be able to quickly and easily iterate versions,” said Grant, cofounder and founding CTO of MEANS, “AWS makes it easy to get something from an idea on a notepad to actually serving web traffic.”

Dealing with urgency, as the donated food may be someone’s only chance of food for the day, or even the week, availability and reliability were key elements when Maria Rose and Grant were looking to build their nonprofit in the cloud.

MEANS was built out and integrated on AWS using services including Amazon CloudFront for content delivery, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for storage, Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) for data validation, and Amazon Machine Learning to predict which food pantry they should be calling to maximize the chance of a donation finding a home.

“Most developers are already familiar with AWS toolsets and there is a depth of tutorials available for users. For someone like me who was juggling law school while founding a nonprofit, I built and deployed the database and was able to have a 14% MoM user growth for 18 months straight,” said Grant. With a group of 16 volunteers, the technology side had to be easy so they could focus on wasting less and feeding more.

Making the match

For MEANS, the core job is to distribute information, so the fewer times people have to visit the site the better. Using Amazon CloudFront, MEANS sends out notifications when food is available near you, but only when the food is something you want. When you create an account, you specify how far you are willing to go to get food, and which categories of food you want to be notified about. MEANS’ notification algorithm makes sure that the people most likely to pick up a donation fastest are notified first.

The MEANS team found that many of the phone numbers of the food pantries publicly listed were inaccurate. By using mTurk as well as their volunteers, they were able to build an accurate pantry relationship manager.

Whether it is five pounds of pizza sauce, 250 rutabagas, or 100,000 pounds of lemonade, MEANS uses the AWS Cloud to quickly, easily, and cost-effectively connect food distributors with those in the area most in need.

Reliability and availability – plus scalability

“One of the upsides of AWS is our ability to turn up capacity based on web traffic,” said Maria Rose, Co-Founder and Executive Director of MEANS. “Last year, the Daily Show aired a clip of me filmed by Starbucks’ Upstander Series. When I heard, I was in various stages of joy and panic, but then I remembered that with AWS, all would be fine.”

Learn more about donation made easy with MEANS and how AWS can take your idea from design to implementation.

Imagine: A Better World – A Global Nonprofit Conference Recap

To further the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, we presented Imagine: A Better World – a global nonprofit conference where over 270 nonprofit leaders from around the globe convened at the Amazon Meeting Center in Seattle for a unique and collaborative learning experience.

There were three high-level conference themes:

  1. Overcoming global challenges through technology
  2. Increasing scale and reach through effective marketing and fundraising
  3. Powering mission and marketing efforts through Amazon’s social good community

AWS hosted the Smart Technology and the Sustainable Development Goals track, where attendees learned best practices and engaged in interactive dialogues around technology’s role in ensuring everyone has the opportunity to live a life of dignity on a healthy planet.

AWS, American Heart Association, AARP Foundation, and Global Citizen took the stage and delivered keynotes that outlined their vision, work, and possibilities for the future in a world that can be changed.

Track sessions included: hosted concurrent sessions where Amazon specialists and nonprofit thought leaders shared learnings and best practices in social media, digital presence, and community engagement. Networking events closed out each day where all participants collaborated with one another and had the opportunity to engage with the various teams across Amazon dedicated to driving impact in the social sector. These included AWS Open Data, AmazonSmile, Amazon Media Group, AWS Cloud Credits for Research, We Power Tech, Amazon Business, Amazon Pay, Amazon Web Services, AWS Educate, and Merch by Amazon.

Learn more about how AWS can help your organization.

Recap of the AWS Public Sector Summit – Canberra

We just wrapped the AWS Public Sector Summit in Canberra, Australia where 900+ attendees participated in workshops, roundtables, bootcamps, breakout sessions, and a keynote delivered by Teresa Carlson, Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector at AWS.

Teresa was joined onstage by Australia Post, Geoscience Australia, and an adviser to the Australian government, who shared how they use the AWS Cloud to strengthen cyber security, improve service delivery to the public, and innovate faster.

Watch the keynote video on-demand.

Throughout the packed day, attendees could opt for sessions spanning Data and Analytics, Security, Industry & Innovation, and Developer tracks, based on their business and technical interests.

A few featured sessions include:

  • How Novel Compute Technology Transforms Medical and Life Science Research: Genomic research has leapfrogged to the forefront of big data and cloud solutions. This session outlined how to deal with “big” (many samples) and “wide” (many features per sample) data on Apache Spark. Attendees also learned best practices for keeping runtime constant by using automatically scalable micro services such as AWS Lambda, as well as how AWS technology has powered research at CSIRO.
  • Terraforming Geoscience with Infracode: Geoscience Australia welds science and technology with tools such as Terraform on AWS, to examine the geology and geography of Australia. The organization gave us an inside look at how it secures Australia’s natural resources, builds Earth Observation infrastructure, and analyzes geoscientific data. Learn how Geoscience Australia is taking advantage of this and other innovations – including Packer and CI/CD – to drive change, improve developer experience, and deliver value to users.
  • Robots: The Fading Line Between Real and Virtual Worlds: Our Summit audience got to witness how live, virtual 3D worlds rendered with Amazon Lumberyard – a complimentary, cross-platform, 3D game engine – interconnects with IoT devices in the real world. This session illustrated how AWS IoT can be used to remotely control inanimate objects such as Sphero robots, using Bluetooth. Attendees observed how AWS IoT and AWS Lambda empower users to create bi-directional communication between moving robots, which can detect collisions in a virtual world created through Amazon’s game engine. Learn how voice commands control physical and virtual robots using AWS IoT through Alexa Skills Kit and the Amazon Echo.

View all breakout sessions videos.

Interested in attending more AWS Summits? Find them in cities near you.

Automatically Discover, Classify, and Protect Your Data

In our post, Building a Cloud-Specific Incident Response Plan, we walked through a hypothetical incident response (IR) managed on AWS with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). With the recent launch of Amazon Macie, a new data classification and security service, you have additional controls to understand the type of data stored in your Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Amazon Macie can also help you meet your compliance objectives, with the ability to set up automated mechanisms to track and report security incidents.

Amazon Macie is a security service that uses machine learning to automatically discover, classify, and protect sensitive data in AWS. Amazon Macie recognizes sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII) or intellectual property, and provides you with dashboards and alerts that give visibility into how this data is being accessed or stored. The fully managed service continuously monitors data access activity for anomalies, and generates detailed alerts when it detects risk of unauthorized access or inadvertent data leaks.

Benefits of Amazon Macie for public sector organizations include:

  • Superior Visibility of Your Data – Amazon Macie makes it easy for security administrators to have management visibility into data storage environments, beginning with Amazon S3, with additional AWS data stores coming soon.
  • Simple to Set Up, Easy to Manage – Getting started with Amazon Macie is fast and easy. Log into the AWS console, select the Amazon Macie service, and provide the AWS accounts you would like to protect.
  • Data Security Automation Through Machine Learning – Amazon Macie uses machine learning to automate the process of discovering, classifying, and protecting data stored in AWS. This helps you better understand where sensitive information is stored and how it’s being accessed, including user authentications and access patterns.
  • Custom Alert Monitoring with Cloudwatch – Amazon Macie can send all findings to Amazon CloudWatch Events. This allows you to build custom remediation and alert management for your existing security ticketing systems.

Customers including Edmunds, Netflix, and Autodesk are using Amazon Macie to provide insights that will help them tackle security challenges. Learn more about how to get started with Amazon Macie. If you are a first-time user of Amazon Macie, we recommend that you begin by reading the Macie documentation.

Global Expansion of the AWS Nonprofit Credit Program with TechSoup

AWS, through TechSoup Global, makes a grant of $2,000 in AWS Promotional Credits to eligible nonprofit organizations. Organizations can now apply these service credits toward usage fees for all AWS on-demand cloud services, as available by region for 12 months. AWS credits are not valid for Reserved Instances (RIs), Mechanical Turk, Route53 domain purchases, or support launch fees. They are valid for monthly support fees. Customers can request these service credits here.

In addition to the U.S., the AWS Nonprofit Credit Program with TechSoup is now available in the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Spain, Hungary, Japan, Iceland, Greece, Portugal, Costa Rica, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway.

The program will be rolled out in more countries in the near future, so check back for more updates.


From issue advocacy to charitable causes, from health and welfare to wildlife, tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations are already using AWS to radically reduce infrastructure costs, build their capacity, and reduce waste. With AWS, nonprofits don’t have to make large upfront investments in hardware and spend time and effort managing that hardware.

Getting started on AWS is simple. Learn more by watching our featured video and sign up to get started today!

Nonprofits Dedicated to Health: Speeding Time to Cure

At AWS, we put our customers first, meaning we want to make your day-to-day business operations efficient and effective. Using AWS means spending less time worrying about technology needs and more time caring for what matters most: your patients.

Healthcare organizations around the world are using the AWS Cloud to enable rapid recovery of their IT infrastructure and vital data, like Protected Health Information (PHI), and are leveraging AWS to break down silos in research and expand their computing capabilities to greatly speed up time to cures.

In previous posts, we have spotlighted nonprofits dedicated to helping the environment and we shared stories of nonprofits who use the AWS Cloud for humanitarian causes. Below are four nonprofits dedicated to furthering medical research and providing the best patient care possible.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research: The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease through an aggressively funded research agenda and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today. As part of a research initiative to evaluate the use of wearable technology to measure and track Parkinson’s symptoms, MJFF partnered with Intel and is utilizing their big data analytics platform to run a number of research projects. This platform is hosted on AWS’s infrastructure, using various scalable big data and IoT technologies, to collect, process and store large streams of de-identified data from the smartphones and wearable devices of study participants.

“The Foundation is working in collaboration with AWS and Intel to ensure that we have a robust technology platform to run effective research studies. Partnering with AWS and Intel ensures that our data is stored securely and efficiently, and allows us to not have to worry about the IT components of the project and really focus on the objective at hand,” said Lauren Bataille, Senior Associate Director, Research Partnerships, The Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Watch this video to learn more about how the Foundation is using big data to gain new insights into Parkinson’s disease and accelerate a cure.

American Heart Association: American Heart Association (AHA), the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke—the two leading causes of death in the world—is building its Precision Medicine Platform on the AWS Cloud.

The AHA Precision Medicine Platform will include a vast array of curated datasets that are centrally stored, easily searched and accessible, and managed on the AWS Cloud. The platform enables researchers and clinicians to aggregate and analyze a rich breadth and depth of data, including longitudinal cohorts, proteomic, genomic, and gene-expression data using a precision medicine approach. This data and analysis will in turn allow researchers to uncover critical cardiovascular disease insights that translate into medical innovations and positively impact millions of lives.

“By using the AWS Cloud, the Platform will harness the power of big data to revolutionize the way cardiovascular research is performed and speed the promise of precision cardiovascular medicine,” said Nancy Brown, CEO, AHA. “The AHA remains steadfast in its commitment to eliminate the tragic global burden cardiovascular disease places on individuals, families, healthcare systems, and entire nations by mapping scientific discovery to the dramatic advances in biomedical research and technology innovation.”

Watch this video featuring Nancy Brown speaking at the AWS Worldwide Government, Education, Nonprofit Breakfast at re:Invent 2016.

Medic Mobile: Medic Mobile is a nonprofit organization with the mission to improve health in the communities that are hardest to reach. The Medic Mobile app, currently in 23 countries in Africa and Asia, is in the hands of 16,000 health workers, each of them surrounded by about 100 households that they give care to. Without the local health workers supported by the app, these patients would have to walk 30-100 miles for medical care.

Since they operate mostly in rural areas, the app runs offline for months if needed. Healthcare workers securely input data about the families and are guided through care by the app, which then smartly syncs the data when they get mobile internet access. Often, this is the first time people are registered into the healthcare system or any system for essential services. Almost 100% of Medic Mobile’s data is hosted in the AWS Cloud.

“With the goal of serving 100 million people in the next five years, we are focused on scalability. AWS allows us to scale up confidently and get our toolkit to the smallest clinics in the most remote areas,” said Josh Nesbit, CEO, Medic Mobile.

Ohio Health: Ohio Health, a nonprofit health organization, is utilizing evolving speech recognition and natural language processing technology to enhance the lives of its customers.

“Amazon Lex represents a great opportunity for us to deliver a better experience to our patients. Everything we do at OhioHealth is ultimately about providing the right care to our patients at the right time and in the right place. Amazon Lex’s next generation technology and the innovative applications we are developing using it will help provide an improved customer experience. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible,” said Michael Krouse, Senior Vice President Operational Support and Chief Information Officer, Ohio Health.

Learn more about what is possible with the AWS Cloud by visiting our Nonprofits & NGOs in the Cloud webpage and check out the healthcare-focused videos from our AWS Public Sector Summit.

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:

“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.

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:

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.

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