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Combining forces for a new phase of AI for development: Africa and beyond

As a leading supporter of AI research and innovation in the Global South, IDRC is excited to announce it is combining forces with funders from around the world on a shared vision for AI for Development in Africa and beyond. This funders’ group includes the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID.
Shows a large group of African research and innovation partners in AI for Development gathered in a conference room at the 2023 AfricAI Conference in Kigali, Rwanda in July.
Research and innovation partners in AI for Development gathered in Kigali, Rwanda in July for the 2023 AfricAI Conference.

The group’s shared vision responds to the ambitions of Africa’s vibrant AI community, which is already developing innovations and carrying out research that will help people thrive across the continent and contribute to the promotion of inclusive and safe AI design in Africa and beyond.

Announced around the UK AI Safety Summit in London taking place November 1-2, this collaboration is backed by CAD130 million over the next five years.

“International collaboration is essential to ensure AI is used safely and responsibly around the world,” says François-Philippe Champagne, Canada's minister of innovation, science and industry. “Our government makes a point of working with like-minded partners and innovators to harness the potential of AI for sustainable economic development, aligned with global efforts to develop and use AI safely and responsibly.”

James Cleverly, the UK Foreign Secretary, says: "The transformative power of AI should have a global benefit. AI can change lives for the better around the world, including helping to develop new treatments for diseases and to tackle food insecurity."

As part of this collaboration, IDRC is partnering with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development office (FCDO) to launch a new phase of the AI for Development program with an initial focus on Africa. It aims to leverage AI’s capacity to reduce inequalities, strengthen health, education and food systems, as well as adapt to climate change. AI for Development builds on IDRC’s existing partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) — the AI for Development Africa, or AI4D Africa program — which already works closely with African’s AI science and policy communities.

“Canada is pleased to partner with the UK on the AI for Development initiative and strengthen the capacity for safe, responsible and inclusive AI in African countries,” says Ahmed Hussen, Minister of International Development. “Through Canada’s International Development Research Centre, we are bringing evidence and research to bear on this crucial issue. This work is a shining example of global collaboration to leverage the immense potential of AI for sustainable development while mitigating risks with rights-respecting design and regulation.”

The partnership with FCDO is worth nearly CAD70 million, with the IDRC contributing CAD11.2 million, bringing IDRC’s overall monetary contribution to AI research and innovations in the Global South to more than CAD45 million.

The AI for Development research ecosystem will go beyond Africa by pulling in IDRC-supported research and innovations from around the world to advance responsible AI in areas such as health, education, climate, governance and gender.

“This new collaboration with FCDO, a key ally in tackling development challenges, will build on IDRC's existing partnerships to drive inclusive development in the Global South through responsible AI,” says IDRC President Julie Delahanty. “This partnership's unique ecosystem approach will cultivate safe and responsible AI innovations and policy, while strengthening next-generation AI talent and skills. We look forward to building on existing innovations such as those that reach visually impaired learners in local African languages, help farmers identify and treat livestock diseases and more."

AI research and innovations supported by IDRC center on the concept of responsible AI: the practice of designing, developing and deploying AI systems that are ethical, inclusive and sustainable.

The AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park, the UK, in 2023 gathered together AI experts and policymakers from around the world.

Eliud Owallo, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for information, communications and the digital economy, said: "Through this broad coalition of partners, AI potential benefits will open opportunities and the risks preparedness broadened. This partnership will benefit all countries and ensure that developing countries are not left behind in the AI revolution."

Bosun Tijani, minister of communications, innovation and digital economy of Nigeria, said: "Artificial Intelligence offers an unprecedented opportunity to appropriate knowledge more quickly and seamlessly in addressing some of our pressing socio-economic challenges. Our duty as policymakers is to ensure that our nation can participate and mainstream value creation from AI."

Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: "From accelerating medical breakthroughs and expanding access to health care to boosting learning outcomes and increasing agricultural production, AI has the potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges."

James Manyika, senior vice president of research, technology and society at Google, said: "Getting AI right – that is, harnessing its potential to benefit society while addressing the complexities and risks – requires approaching it in a way that involves and benefits everyone. That means mobilising regional expertise, expanding infrastructure, supporting nonprofit innovators using AI, and making sure individuals can develop needed skills. Google has been supporting innovation and growth in Africa since 2005 when we made a big bet on the Seacom Cable, and we look forward to working with this consortium, the African Union, and other key stakeholders across the continent to unlock the promise of AI for all."