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How USAID and Partners Can Use AI to Advance Development

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Looking down at a smartphone displaying the welcome screen of ChatGPT.
Photo credit: Airam Dato-on
Mar 28, 2023

Technology has the power to improve international development activities by creating jobs, influencing economies, and promoting education—and now it can generate thoughtful answers to challenging development questions, thanks to a tool titled ChatGPT. USAID’s Partnerships Incubator attended a webinar session for the AidKonekt/Konektid USAID Market Series: ChaptGPT, AI & USAID: What it means for USAID Partners

During this session, AidKonekt/Konektid Chief Executive Officer Mike Shanley interviewed the Founder of the Global Innovation Exchange and former USAID Chief Innovation Officer, Alexis Bonnell, to understand her perspective on the impact of tools like ChatGPT on USAID and its potential and current partners. Continue reading to explore what we learned and how partners and the Agency can benefit from this artificial intelligence (AI) advancement.

What is ChatGPT?

OpenAI developed and launched this innovative chatbot tool, which generates responses to text queries. The tool quickly was regarded as a powerful AI-language tool for its ability to capture the essence of a natural dialogue.

When users first join, they are notified that its purpose is to help enhance systems by sharing information and that trainers may review conversations to help improve the tool. This tool has been used for a range of topics, from creating a movie script to generating website codes to understanding complex theories. 

How does AI impact the development sector?

As development professionals, we harness information to create sustainable, innovative, and effective solutions for communities in need. The culture of development is innovative, and this session highlighted that using AI should be a natural and positive progression in our programming, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and reporting. By using an AI-language tool such as this, we’re streamlining our access to the knowledge and experience that is already publicized. During the webinar session, Bonnell mentioned a surprising statistic, “87 percent of the information, reports, research, project summaries, etc., that are created in international development are never read by more than 30 people.”

A tool that automates the knowledge-gathering process can enable partners and the Agency to take full advantage of work that has already been done. Combine that with AI’s improvements to language translations, and we also have the potential to see this positively impact the localization agenda. 

How can partners and USAID employ AI for sustainable solutions?

USAID has a long track record of implementing AI and exploring its capabilities for solutions. These practices exist both internally with Agency staff and externally in partner activities and communication. Take WorkwithUSAID.org as an example—a first-of-its-kind website that was launched by USAID to guide organizations through the process of understanding how to obtain and successfully implement partnerships. By leaning into the use of technology, this platform was created and now showcases more than 4,000 global development organizations, of which more than half are locally led new partners. This technology opened a digital front door to a plethora of solutions and conversations with the Agency—helping USAID and partner organizations better understand the complexities of partnerships, ongoing activities in local communities, and how to close knowledge gaps.

Screenshot of ChaptGPT answer to “What is USAID?”

As USAID works to foster locally led development, tools like ChatGPT and other AI can potentially advance localization. In the webinar, Bonnell provided an example of how a government service’s call center hours were inaccessible to people in the community who needed support. The implementation of an automated chatbot, which also incorporated language translation, unlocked benefits for a group of people who had previously been excluded. "This idea of customer intimacy and feedback, I think, is going to be something that is the next...iteration of localization," Bonnell shared.

On the Agency and donor side, tools like ChatGPT offer efficiencies in information gathering to help guide decisions, establish partnerships, create projects, and understand community needs. For partners, challenge yourself to find information about USAID’s past work, what solutions exist for your community, what funding mechanisms can best apply to your organization, and how to support your responses to solicitations. The Agency is looking to local organizations to enhance its solutions and have more dynamic development conversations, and AI may help them both curate the information needed to get started. 

To test this out, we asked ChatGPT a development question, “How can my organization improve girls' education in rural Guatemala?” The answers included improving education access, eliminating cultural and social barriers, providing mentorship, focusing on girls’ health, and more. These answers can serve as a baseline for gathering more information to start a development activity. From here, the Agency and organizations can dive deeper into what research has been conducted on the correlation between girls’ health and education, how to create a youth clinic in Guatemala, what education programs have been effective in Guatemala, and the costs of creating education programs in this region. The answers to one question created a list of new questions that better guided us down the path of potential solutions.

*It is important to note that these tools are not all-encompassing and may lack accuracy or include biases. The human edge to using AI is our ability to discern the answers we receive and let it help us to ask better questions and make better decisions.

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