I am really excited about the Imagine Cup 2011 competition…not only because the worldwide finals will be held in my hometown of New York City…but because we are launching a new program called Imagine Cup Solve This to provide students with a marketplace of real-world problems that global inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), non-government organizations (NGOs) and non-profit organizations need help solving. Students will be able to search through a library of problems to find project ideas that will inspire them to create solutions that matter to them most.

The initial set of organizations who have submitted problems include NetHope, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Programme on Youth (UNPY), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Robin Hood Foundation.

By providing students with real problems to solve in areas such as disaster relief, literacy, education, environmental sustainability and global healthcare…we hope to create a unique learning scenario. We have seen interest and excitement increase when students see how their work can make a difference in the world. Students who want to compete don’t have to choose a project from this list, the only real requirement Imagine Cup projects must adhere to is to create technology that helps solve the world’s toughest problems.

As I’ve blogged about many times before, there is tremendous potential with programs like Imagine Cup to help students not only make a difference, but get real-world experience and build marketable skills that can help them get a job and sustain a career. It's not just about programming in C++ or Visual Studio. Participating in Imagine Cup builds some very fundamental core skills that I think students will take away from the contest, regardless of the technology back-end…skills such as learning how to build a business, develop a marketing plan, and how to better collaborate and work on a team-based project.

Kids typically get excited about technology as a social tool or gaming tool, but I think we need to do a better job of actually exposing kids to the power of technology…to get them interested in technology as an entry point to become an entrepreneur so they can form career options and choices down the road. Imagine Cup is a great platform for exposing the possibilities of the future to students in high school and college. I think it inspires and motivates students…and shows our faith in students to deliver big ideas for the world.