AWS Public Sector Blog

What you missed at the AWS IMAGINE: Nonprofit conference

The IMAGINE: Nonprofit conference in Washington, DC brought together leaders, technologists, and mission-driven innovators in the nonprofit sector to learn, connect, and inspire. Over the course of the conference, attendees explored the ways technology helps nonprofits make a positive impact around the world. At the keynote, Dave Levy, vice president of US government, nonprofits, and healthcare at Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Allyson Fryhoff, managing director of nonprofits at AWS, highlighted how nonprofits are on the front lines of addressing some of society’s greatest needs, and how harnessing the power of data can be a force multiplier for change.

Nonprofits digitally transform to meet dynamic needs

“Like it or not, we live in interesting times,” said Dave, quoting Robert F. Kennedy. “They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” Dave highlighted how harnessing emerging technology in creative ways can help nonprofits think bigger, reach more, and set their sights on not only imagining a better world—but actively building it.

For example, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) uses AWS to transform the digital media experience, seamlessly delivering petabytes upon petabytes of content to viewers and learners around the globe, including a recent film festival that supported a virtual reality (VR) viewing experience. Stop Soldier Suicide uses data insights to enable real-time identification of at-risk service members and provide barrier-free access to life-saving resources for those who need them most. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) uses AWS to support its rice genome project to help develop rice varieties that can withstand drought, flooding, disease, and other potentially damaging events

These organizations—and many more—understand the need to innovate to better serve communities. “Transformation isn’t an if,” Dave emphasized, “it’s a when.” The needs of communities are evolving, and expectations of donors and advocates are shifting. To meet this dynamic landscape, nonprofits need technology that can provide precision and scale.

Nonprofits innovate with data to change lives

Organizations have different needs and concerns: How can I do better for my beneficiaries? How can I increase member engagement? How can I accelerate research insights? But there is one common solution, and that’s data. “Data is everywhere. [It’s] increasing, valuable, and powerful,” Allyson said.

To leverage the power of data, Allyson recommends that nonprofits break down data silos and think about data as an organizational asset. One way is by building a data lake, which “allows you to unify all your data from multiple sources into one place, to make it available—and secure—for those who need it to enable data-driven decisions across your organization,” Allyson said. By bringing data together, it becomes powerful and actionable; identifying relationships in data can help respond with greater impact.

Past IMAGINE Grant winner the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a nonprofit leading the fight against Type 1 diabetes, created a critical dataset pulling from research all over the world to connect analytical insights and accelerate life changing breakthroughs. JDRF’s story shows that “when you unify data, you can get powerful and actionable insights that can truly change lives,” Allyson said.

Be the Match is the global leader in matching donors and patients in need for bone marrow transplantation, and they’re transforming patient outcomes with a collaborative data platform to accelerate research and increase patient survival rates. PATH works to end homelessness for individuals, families, and communities; they built a web app that uses real-time data and machine learning to help people about to enter homelessness find open housing, faster.

“You’re using tech in ways we never could have imagined,” Allyson said to the nonprofit leaders and technologists in the audience, “and we’re building a portfolio of nonprofit solutions for you.” Check out the tools and resources AWS provides for nonprofits here.

The 2022 AWS Imagine Grant application period is open now

One of these resources is the AWS IMAGINE Grant, which is now open and accepting applications. The AWS IMAGINE Grant is designed to support nonprofits pursuing high-impact, innovative technology projects with vital financial and technical resources. Now in its fifth year, the program offers two distinct award categories for nonprofits to receive support based on their organizational goals and stage of their technology adoption journey. Learn more about the AWS IMAGINE Grant and how to apply here.

Nonprofits use data to create powerful stories for change

In a fireside chat, Dave spoke with Jay Carney, senior vice president for global corporate affairs at Amazon. Dave and Jay acknowledged how nonprofits are responding to multiple simultaneous crises and inflection points, like the pandemic, racial injustice, Ukraine, and more.

As the former press secretary for the Obama Administration from February 2011 through June 2014, director of communications for then Vice President Joe Biden, and various roles at Time magazine over 20 years—Jay understands the power and impact of narrative in times of crisis. Jay told the IMAGINE: Nonprofit audience that in times of crisis and stress, it’s important to take a breath, mind the instinct to get defensive, and instead figure out the story you want to be able to tell as you make your way through a crisis event. One of the ways nonprofit leaders can create powerful and effective stories is by leveraging data. “If you can demonstrate through data and engagement the real-world impact you’re having on people’s lives, that’s how you get more momentum, more support, more members—and then it’s a reinforcing cycle that allows you to do more good in the world,” Jay said.

Humanitarian José Andrés encourages nonprofits to come together

In a video message, José Andrés—chef, restaurateur, and humanitarian—delivered an inspiring address on the ground from Poland, where he is currently helping Ukrainian refugees. He said that he saw the best in humanity in Poland, where everyone is coming together to provide relief for Ukrainians fleeing their homes to find safety. “If we have an army of people who want to do good, we can overcome anyone who wants to do harm,” he said.

José reminded the audience that it’s important for nonprofits to embrace working together, especially when it comes to data. José pointed out that even businesses in the private sector share data. “Data helps everyone be more strategic. If the private sector is doing it, and the private sector is competitive, why wouldn’t we do it in the public sector and nonprofits too?”

In closing, José said that everyone has a gift they can share to make the world a better place. For José, it’s by creating and sharing one plate of food at a time. José asked the audience, “I’m inviting all of you to find: What’s your one plate of food?”

Learn more about AWS for nonprofits

Dive deep into more AWS resources for nonprofits, from grants and credits, to open data access and strategy, cloud training, and more. Learn more about how AWS helps support nonprofits at the AWS for Nonprofits and NGOs hub.

Want more in-person public sector content? Register now for the AWS Summit in Washington, DC.

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