‘AI is for everyone’ – My time at Microsoft’s Global Nonprofit Leaders Summit

A few weeks ago, Cloud Direct had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s inaugural Global Nonprofit Leaders Summit in Seattle. As one of only two UK sponsors, we were honoured to be invited to exhibit and become a part of the conversation about AI as a force for good. Josh Hutchison, Senior Cloud Sales Executive at Cloud Direct, recounts his experiences at one of the industry’s biggest events.

Accompanied by our Sales Director Jon Shaw, our time at Microsoft’s Global Nonprofit Leaders Summit was a hugely insightful experience. Across the two days, we listened to talks and spoke to nonprofit IT leaders about Microsoft’s AI offering, and how it can change the landscape of nonprofits in achieving their mission and making a real difference.

There were some great points made by Microsoft, and further insight added by guest speakers throughout the event, so I’ve put together a rundown of the key highlights and happenings from Seattle.

This was also a great opportunity for us to take our mascot Eric on his first holiday! He doesn’t get to leave our Bath office very much, so we thought we’d spoil him. However, he didn’t seem too impressed when airport security told him he had to stay in my bag for the flight!

Key highlights

Bright and early, we took to the Grand Ballroom alongside 1400 attendees, representing 1192 nonprofit organisations from around the globe. First to take the stage was Kate Behncken, Global Head of Microsoft Philanthropies, who opened the summit.

“We’re in a transformative leap into an era where AI is accessible to everyone.” It was great to hear from Kate as she described Microsoft’s stance on Generative AI – that it’s not just for tech-savvy people, it’s for everyone.

We also got a glimpse into how AI is currently being used by nonprofits. It was insightful to hear about how the British Heart Foundation is using new AI-powered tools to predict and prevent heart attacks with double the accuracy of standard diagnostic tests. Using AI-powered tools can save 3000 clinician days a year by reducing their analysis time from minutes to seconds.

But it was particularly interesting to hear about how it’s not just the large nonprofits that can benefit, but organisations of all sizes can:

  • Boost efficiency and cost savings
  • Make smarter decisions
  • Personalise outreach and revolutionise fundraising
  • Improve security

“Ultimately our goal is to democratise AI, enable more people and organisations to benefit from the powerful technology, and help create a more equitable and inclusive society”.

Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft

After Kate, next up was a thought-provoking talk from Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft, who took a deep dive into the responsible use AI and reaffirmed Microsoft’s stance that AI is not only for everyone, but should benefit everyone.

He goes on to explain that AI services need to be built and used with six key principles in mind, something which struck a chord with most nonprofit leaders in the room as a big talking point:

  • Fairness
  • Reliability and safety
  • Privacy and security
  • Transparency
  • Inclusiveness
  • Accountability

“We serve the world’s nonprofits so that you can serve the world, let’s serve it together.” A great closing statement from Brad that explains why Microsoft Tech for Social Impact do what they do.

Eric ready to welcome attendees on our stand!

All eyes were then trained on Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President of Modern Work and Business Applications at Microsoft, as he gave a live demonstration of Microsoft Copilot, piquing a lot of interest in the room.

Getting laughs from the audience, Jared went on and demonstrated Copilot’s integration with Outlook and was using the ‘Sound like me’ feature to analyse his previously sent emails to create AI-generated responses to new emails in his inbox. Using previous data, within seconds he was also able to prompt Copilot to create a 10-page deployment guide for IT leaders in nonprofits for Microsoft 365 Copilot – these demos were just scratching the surface of how Copilot can be a nonprofit’s greatest companion.

During the networking breaks, Jon and I had the opportunity to speak to many nonprofit leaders who came to visit our Cloud Direct stand.

It was great to open up the conversation around the challenges they were facing in fostering innovation within their nonprofit. Many nonprofit IT leaders want to start using AI but just aren’t sure how to get started.

Many of our discussions led back to two things:

  • The importance of a well-executed cloud migration
  • Modernising their data and creating a clear data strategy

We had great conversations around the positive impact of a Microsoft Azure migration and the role it plays as the first step on the roadmap to using AI. Having your data and assets hosted in Microsoft Azure and enforcing a clear data strategy is key to ensuring that AI can be leveraged responsibly and make a big impact on your nonprofit processes, allowing your team and volunteers can spend more time on the mission.

If you’re interested in how your nonprofit organisation can unlock the value of artificial intelligence, then get in touch.