AI Insights

How Can NGOs Make The Best of AI in 2024

January 9, 2024

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Introduction: AI – A Catalyst for Change in NGOs

As we step into 2024, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has unfolded as a vital tool for societal transformation. At Omdena, we see AI not just as a technological advancement but as a pivotal ally for NGOs in addressing global challenges. This guide aims to steer NGOs towards harnessing AI effectively, focusing on sustainable and ethical applications.

The Future is Now: Top AI Trends NGOs Must Watch in 2024

Reflecting on the past year, NGOs have navigated a learning curve in AI adoption. Key achievements include deploying AI in disaster response, enhancing community health services, and improving environmental conservation efforts. However, challenges such as data privacy and resource limitations were significant. Innovative solutions, like community-driven data collection and collaborative AI models, have shown how these obstacles can be transformed into opportunities for growth and learning. In short, we see the following key trends for 2024: 

Trend 1: Generative AI for Good for NGOs

While there’s considerable excitement around tools like ChatGPT and other Generative AI technologies, as discussed in our article “How NGOs can leverage Generative AI in 2024“, it’s important to recognize their limitations. Generative AI, including ChatGPT, doesn’t provide a one-size-fits-all solution, especially for NGOs facing complex, multifaceted problems. These tools are powerful for tasks like data analysis, content creation, and language translation, yet they fall short in areas requiring deep contextual understanding, cultural sensitivity, and ethical judgement. Below is an example of a GenerativeAI for Good project for carbon project management. 

Omdena Case Study Highlight: The project aimed to simplify the development of carbon projects. It focused on creating an AI platform that assists users in navigating the complexities of carbon registries, thus making it easier for a wider audience to engage in carbon reduction projects. The platform integrates GPT-4 and other AI models to generate project design documents and assess project feasibility, targeting various project types such as reforestation and soil carbon sequestration. For more details, visit the project page.

Trend 2: Community-driven data collection and collaborative AI models

The future of effective and impactful use of AI, particularly in the NGO sector, lies in embracing community-driven data collection and the development of collaborative AI models. This approach recognizes the importance of gathering data directly from the communities NGOs aim to serve, ensuring that the information used to train AI models is relevant, accurate, and representative of real-world scenarios. Collaborative AI models, developed through partnerships between NGOs, local communities, and technology experts, can lead to more inclusive and effective solutions. This method not only helps in mitigating biases in AI but also ensures that the solutions are tailored to the specific needs and contexts of the communities involved.

Omdena Case Study Highlight: A local workshop as part of USAID CSM Stand on AI for Media Literacy demonstrates this approach. Here, AI tools were developed with direct community input to address misinformation challenges, ensuring cultural relevance and efficacy.

The Ideathon Workshop on AI Projects for Social Impact

Source: Local Workshop as part of USAID CSM Stand: AI for Media Literacy

Trend 3: AI ethics needs to be built into the project life cycle 

For AI projects, especially in the NGO sector, the integration of ethical considerations throughout the project lifecycle is not just important, it’s essential. According to Omdena’s AI Code of Ethics, this involves a commitment to ensuring that AI solutions are developed and deployed in a manner that is transparent, fair, respectful of privacy, and inclusive of diverse perspectives. This approach necessitates a proactive stance in identifying and addressing potential ethical issues from the initial design phase through to deployment and beyond. For NGOs, this means not only using AI to solve problems but doing so in a way that aligns with their core values and the needs of the communities they serve.

Trend 4: Key sectors emerge 

AI is significantly impacting various sectors within the NGO realm:

  • Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response: NGOs are using AI for efficient resource allocation and predictive analytics in disaster-prone areas.
  • Environmental Conservation and Climate Action: AI is applied in monitoring ecosystems, predicting environmental changes, and aiding in conservation efforts.
  • Healthcare and Public Health: AI assists NGOs in disease outbreak prediction, health data analysis, and enhancing access to healthcare in underserved regions.
  • Education and Skills Training: AI is enabling personalized learning experiences and skills development, particularly in regions with limited educational resources.
  • Social Justice and Human Rights: AI is being used to analyze legal documents, track human rights violations, and support advocacy efforts.

These sectors highlight the diverse applications of AI in addressing global challenges and enhancing the efficacy of NGO initiatives.

AI Integration Playbook: Step-by-Step Guide for NGOs

As NGOs progress towards applying AI in their operations, the following is a template that Omdena has been implementing with our NGO partners. 

Step 1: Start with an Internal AI Orientation Workshop

  • Objective: Educate your team about AI and its potential applications in your field.
  • Action Plan:
    • Hire an AI Expert: Bring in a specialist to lead the workshop, ensuring they understand both AI and the specific needs of NGOs.  
    • Curate Relevant Content: Focus on case studies and examples where AI has been successfully implemented in the NGO sector.
    • Interactive Learning: Include hands-on sessions where team members can interact with AI tools and understand their basic functionalities.

Step 2: Ideate Initial Use Cases

  • Objective: Identify specific areas within your NGO where AI could be implemented effectively.
  • Action Plan:
    • Brainstorming Sessions: Organize sessions with different departments to brainstorm potential AI applications.
    • Feasibility Study: Conduct a feasibility study for each proposed use case to assess its practicality and potential impact.
    • Expert Consultation: Consult with AI experts to refine ideas and ensure they are technically viable.

Step 3: Run Pilot Projects

  • Objective: Test the effectiveness of AI in a controlled, small-scale environment.
  • Action Plan:
    • Select a Pilot Project: Choose one or two of the most promising use cases for initial implementation.
    • Set Clear Goals and Metrics: Define what success looks like and how it will be measured.
    • Monitor and Document: Keep detailed records of the project’s progress, challenges, and outcomes.

Step 4: Scale Initiatives

    • Objective: Expand successful AI applications to a larger scale.
  • Action Plan:
    • Evaluate Pilot Projects: Assess the results of the pilot projects against the predefined goals and metrics.
    • Develop a Scaling Plan: Based on the evaluation, develop a plan to scale the successful AI solutions.
    • Secure Resources and Partnerships: Allocate the necessary resources and seek partnerships, if needed, for scaling the AI solutions.

Collaborating for Impact: Success Stories in AI-NGO Partnerships

The collaboration between NGOs and AI initiatives has yielded inspiring success stories. For instance, Omdena’s Ideathon workshops showcase the power of AI in addressing complex social challenges. These projects illustrate how AI, when used in tandem with NGO expertise, can lead to significant long-term impacts in communities.

Key Highlights:

  • Global Collaboration: Omdena’s partnership with entities like The Asia Foundation and the UK FCDO illustrates the widespread impact of AI, with projects across Tanzania, Nepal, El Salvador, Mongolia, Bhutan, and others.
  • Environmental Conservation in Tanzania: A notable project in Tanzania, in collaboration with the UK FCDO, focused on mangrove deforestation. Here, AI tools were employed for environmental monitoring and forest management, empowering local citizens with skills for sustainable conservation.
  • Combating Misinformation and Enhancing Media Literacy: In countries like Mongolia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador, Omdena and CSM Stand worked together to address misinformation and media literacy, developing AI solutions to fight disinformation.
  • Technological Advancement in Bhutan: Omdena’s initiative in Bhutan played a significant role in upskilling 600 individuals, contributing to the country’s transformation into a technological hub and nurturing a new generation of AI experts.
  • Expansion of Local Chapters: Omdena expanded its reach by establishing over 25 new chapters worldwide, bringing their vision of AI for good to more communities.
  • Educational Partnerships: Collaboration with over 15 universities bolstered Omdena’s educational base, fostering sustainable progress through knowledge-sharing.
Omdena Tanzania Collaborators

Source: Snapshot from Omdena´s presentation at the British Embassy in Dar es Salaam in collaboration with UK FCDO

Action Calls: Moving Forward with AI in the NGO Sector

NGOs must embrace AI not just as a tool, but as a partner in their mission. The journey into AI adoption is marked by continuous learning, ethical considerations, and community engagement. By embracing these elements, NGOs can harness the full potential of AI for social good.

In conclusion, 2024 presents an exciting opportunity for NGOs to leverage AI in their quest for global good. With the right approach, partnerships, and resources, NGOs can harness AI’s power to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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