RIA to Collaborate with Gates Foundation to Strengthen AI Research and Ethical Practices

Research ICT Africa
30 Aug 2023

Research ICT Africa (RIA) has been appointed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to collaborate on strengthening the capabilities of the Grand Challenges AI awardees in research methodologies, gender-sensitive design and assessment, monitoring, learning and evaluation, and ethical practices related to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models (LLMs). This partnership is aimed at improving the ability of grantees to conduct high-quality research, monitor and evaluate the benefits and risks of AI or LLMs effectively, and to implement ethical practices, including specifically in relation to gender. 

As new and emerging AI technologies proliferate in use across the globe, efforts are needed to ensure these technologies are used for the good, and that design and use respect human rights, equity, fair access and gender inclusivity. 

Grand Challenges, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is aimed at fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. The BMGF launched the Grand Challenge initiative on Catalyzing Equitable AI Use, which seeks to promote equitable and intentionally responsible approaches to the use of AI, specifically LLMs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This is in a bid to build an evidence base across the BMGF Divisions of Global Health, Gender Equality, Global Growth and Opportunity (including Global Education), and Global Development contexts in LMICs. 

Grand Challenges stem from the idea from over a century ago that crowdsourcing a defined set of unsolved problems can spark innovation and accelerate progress. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its Grand Challenges funding partners use Challenges – launched in 2003 as open requests for grant proposals – to focus attention and effort on solving pressing global health and development problems for those most in need. Together they have awarded over 3 600 grants by engaging a diverse pool of problem-solvers in over 100 countries, and fostering a global innovation ecosystem where it will have the most impact. The foundation and its Grand Challenges partners will continue to launch Request For Proposals to support innovators from around the world in tackling the hardest, most urgent, grand challenges. To learn more, visit grand challenges.org.

A total of 48 grantee projects received the Grand Challenges award. The projects range from AI in health applications, gender and women economic empowerment, agriculture, climate policy, and educational applications, among others. The grantee projects and specific details can be accessed here.

RIA will work in partnership with Digital Futures Lab, a multidisciplinary research collective based in Goa, India, and will be supported by a global network of experts to provide bespoke advisory services to the Grand Challenges grantees tailored to complement and enrich their expertise and address any specific ethical, methodological, technical or gender concerns that may arise during their project journey. This will constitute a critical step in widening the evidence base to understand how generative AI can responsibly serve the realisation of developmental priorities, such as those set out in the Sustainable Development Goals. 

We believe in the transformative power of AI for social development and recognise the importance of taking into account ethical considerations and gender inclusivity in shaping AI solutions. We look forward to working on this project and to robustly support the grantees’ projects. 

RIA is an African think-tank that has operated for over a decade to fill a strategic gap in the development of a sustainable information society and digital economy. It has done so by building the multidisciplinary research capacity needed to inform evidence-based policy and effective regulation Africa. RIA’s dynamic and evolving research agenda examines the uneven distribution of the benefits and harms of the intensifying global processes of digitalisation and datafication. To learn more about RIA, visit researchictafrica.net

For media queries contact Zara Schroeder, Research ICT Africa Researcher and Communications Coordinator, at zschroeder@researchictafrica.net