The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a group of nearly 50 grant recipients who are developing global health and development solutions for their communities using AI-enabled large language models (LLMs). The grant recipients submitted successful entries to the Grand Challenges request for proposals.
Guided by the goal of reducing global inequity, the call for proposals specifically targeted researchers and innovators in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Responsible and safe use of AI-driven LLM technology has the potential to help solve some of the world’s toughest health and development challenges. However, for these models to be useful in LMICs, researchers in LMICs need to participate in the design, application, and testing of this technology as it rapidly evolves. A robust evidence base will fill gaps in access and our knowledge about the application of such tools to address problems across LMICs in an equitable way.
“Too often, advances in technology deliver uneven benefits in many parts of the world due to existing patterns of discrimination, inequality, and bias,” said Juliana Rotich, co-founder of iHub, an incubator for Nairobi’s young technology entrepreneurs and who has agreed to serve on the foundation’s new AI Ethics and Safety Advisory committee. “AI is no different, with most of the tools being developed in the Global North using data from lower-resourced regions that is often incomplete or inaccurate. To realize the full potential of AI, it must be developed responsibly and ethically, with the needs of the end user in mind. Solutions can be transformative when they are locally inspired.”
The announcement is part of the foundation’s Grand Challenges program, a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve pressing global health and development problems. The foundation received more than 1,300 proposals, more than 80% of which were from LMICs, within two weeks of posting its request for proposals. The nearly 50 selected projects from 17 LMICs are aligned with the foundation’s goal of fostering a global innovation ecosystem in places where it will have the most impact. Each recipient will receive up to $100,000 to advance its research project, for a total of $5 million in grants. The findings of these projects will be shared at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Dakar, Senegal, this October.
“The vibrant energy, boundless creativity, and unwavering commitment from innovators to tackle the most vexing challenges has sparked a wave of interest and excitement in the positive impact AI can have in the lives of the vulnerable,” said Zameer Brey, interim deputy director for Technology Diffusion at the Gates Foundation. “These local innovators are harnessing the seismic power of AI and LLMs in ways that can be paradigm-shifting for their local communities and beyond. We believe the most impactful technological advancements include those that begin and end with the people they affect most.”
Prompted by Grand Challenges to build upon existing technologies, researchers will work to address a wide range of health and development challenges throughout LMICs. Examples include how LLMs can help frontline health workers in India, where one woman dies every 20 minutes in childbirth, improve the management of high-risk pregnancies; tailor agricultural advice to individual smallholder farmers in Uganda, who are exposed to the devastating effects of crop diseases and pests; provide teacher coaching to improve educational outcomes in Mali; and give critical financial advice through a voice-to-text interface to rural women farmers and business owners in Nigeria.
The list of grant recipients includes five entries from Kenya. These are:
“For 20 years, the foundation has sought and seeded innovation to solve the world’s hardest problems. We believe that accelerating progress in health and development requires collaboration among innovators from as many disciplines and as many countries as possible,” said Kedest Tesfagiorgis, deputy director of Global Partnerships & Grand Challenges at the Gates Foundation. “Maximizing the potential of AI requires a global community of creative thinkers bringing their unique perspectives and learning from each other.”
As these projects get underway, the foundation is eager to continue working with and learning from partners around the world to ensure the benefits of AI are relevant, affordable, and accessible to everyone, with an emphasis on LMIC communities, in a manner that upholds safety, ethics, and equity.
The Grand Challenges family of programs stems from a century-old idea that crowdsourcing solutions to a defined set of unsolved problems can spark innovation and accelerate progress. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its Grand Challenges funding partners first used Challenges – open requests for grant proposals – in 2003 to focus attention and effort on pressing global health and development problems for those most in need. Together, Grand Challenges partners have awarded more than 3,600 grants to a diverse pool of problem solvers in more than 100 countries, while at the same time fostering a global innovation ecosystem in places where it will have the most impact. The foundation and its Grand Challenges partners will continue to launch RFPs to support innovators from around the world in tackling the hardest, most urgent Grand Challenges.
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, the foundation focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the US, it seeks to ensure that all people – especially those with the fewest resources – have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of co-chairs Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates and the board of trustees.