Meet the AI4D Africa partners leading innovation research
This article is part of a series describing the three pillars of activities undertaken by the Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa (AI4D Africa) initiative since its launch in December 2020.
The AI4D initiative is built on three pillars of activities:
- Policy research to promote and support responsible artificial intelligence (AI)
- Supporting responsible innovation to address Africa’s development challenges
- Amplifying African talent to develop and deploy responsible AI
Building the innovation pillar
Since 2020, AI4D Africa released open, competitive calls for proposals to recruit African partners to organize AI innovation research networks around five themes:
- climate action;
- agriculture and food systems;
- gender equality and inclusion; and
- sexual, reproductive and maternal health.
Each network is coordinated by an institution that assumes the role of the network hub, which develops and supports a network of researchers and practitioners working on AI-based innovations.
The following partners were selected to act as regional network hubs. They are launching their own open and competitive processes to identify innovation research projects that will develop, deploy, test and seek to scale responsible and African-led AI innovations.
- AI4D Africa seeks to improve the quality of life for all in Africa and beyond by partnering with Africa’s science and policy communities to leverage AI through support to high-quality research, responsible innovation and local talent.
- The innovation stream builds the networks and ecosystems that support AI innovation in gender and inclusion, agriculture and food systems, climate action, education, and sexual, reproductive and maternal health, while enhancing the knowledge and capacity to deliver these innovations responsibly and contribute to development outcomes.
- The initiative supports five AI innovation research hubs, each of which will develop a wide network of partners. It also supports two small grants initiatives to enhance the capacity of ecosystem actors to understand and scale responsible AI innovations.
The regional AI for Climate Action Innovation network hub is led by the West African Science Centre Service on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL) in Ghana and managed in collaboration with the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) based in Uganda and AKADEMIYA2063 in Rwanda and Senegal.
The hub and network support the development and scaling of responsible AI innovations for climate action in sub-Saharan Africa, build the capacity of African innovators and researchers and increase the contributions of African research to international AI policy and practice by integrating them into a global network on machine learning and AI. The hub funds and supports 8–10 climate-change innovation research projects and 8–10 master’s students focused on the intersection of machine learning and climate change.
“This innovative research network will implement climate action in Africa through the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence innovations. WASCAL and its partners RUFORUM and AKADEMIYA2063 will support the activities through a laboratory in Burkina Faso as well with a supercomputer in Cote d’Ivoire to run models in different areas.”
Professor Koné, director of WASCAL’s capacity building department
This hub and network are led by the African Technology Policy Studies network (ATPS) in Nigeria, in collaboration with ICIPE and Kumasi Hive in Ghana. The hub advances the responsible development, deployment and scaling of homegrown AI research and innovations to tackle pressing challenges in agriculture and food systems in Africa. They are building a network of 10 innovation research projects that develop, deploy, test, and seek to scale responsible and African-led artificial intelligence research and innovations.
“The ATPS Network will … develop, domesticate and deploy AI technologies and innovations along the agriculture and food systems for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 2 [End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture], the ‘Africa We Want’ under the African Union Agenda 2063, alongside other regional and national development targets in the agricultural sector.”
Dr. Nicholas Ozor, executive director, African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS)
The EduAI Hub, led by the University of Lagos in consortium with the Université d’Abomey Calavi in Benin and Data Science Nigeria, will establish a research network for responsible AI for education innovation to advance innovations that strengthen teaching, learning and school administrative functions in sub-Saharan Africa. The network will bring together researchers, developers and designers to create relevant, responsible and scalable AI models and solutions to improve sustainable and inclusive education in Africa.
“EduAI hub is bringing together innovators and researchers at the intersection of AI and education to advance quality and inclusive education across sub-Saharan African countries through the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence-enabled innovations.”
Dr. Oladipupo Sennaike, University of Lagos
Innovation Hub on Artificial Intelligence for Sexual, Reproductive and Maternal Health (SRMH) in Africa
“The AI Innovation Hub on SRMH in Africa is led by a consortium comprising the Infectious Disease Institute at Makerere University, Makerere University AI Lab and Sunbird AI in Uganda. In response to concerns about the potential harms and risks of using digital technology in this sector, this project will establish a research hub whose aim is to advance maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights while strengthening health systems in sub-Saharan Africa through the responsible development and deployment of AI innovations.
By bringing together policymakers, academics, entrepreneurs and health workers in the two fields of AI and MSRH, we hope to bring about a common understanding and greater good by exploring possibilities not explored before. We are excited about the opportunity for ethical impact in MSRH through this hub.”
Dr. Rosalind Parkes Ratanshi, director of the Academy for Health Innovation Uganda
This hub and research network, led collaboratively by Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR) in Senegal, SunbirdAI in Uganda, and the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) in Nigeria, focuses on building the field to promote a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within Africa’s research and policy communities to use AI for gender equality and inclusion, including within specific domains such as agriculture, government service delivery and social policy. Innovation research projects develop, deploy, test and seek to scale responsible and African-led AI innovations, strengthening the capacity of AI researchers, especially women, to use AI to tackle important development challenges with local communities.
“Our network members will have the role of gender and AI “translators” who are able to navigate both worlds and find common language between gender equality experts, ethicists and technologists to facilitate transdisciplinary research and solutions.”
Dr. Laure Tall, director of research, IPAR
Beyond supporting thematic innovation hubs and networks, the AI4D Africa program is also supporting the wider innovation ecosystem in the region through small grants provided to entrepreneurs and start ups and through research awards to junior researchers and academics.
This initiative, led by Villgro Africa, runs a small grants and mentorship program for entrepreneurs and innovators deploying AI in Africa. Their call for proposals titled “Harnessing the Power of AI for Africa’s Development” aimed to identify African-led AI innovations that will catalyze the emerging AI ecosystem towards responsible development of technology while strengthening the capacity of innovators to commercialize and scale their impact. There was a strong response to the call, which ultimately resulted in selecting 11 exciting innovations. Read more about the winners here. Additional start-ups focusing on healthcare solutions will be selected in a second phase.
Data Science Africa and Deep Learning Indaba are leading an initiative to build an AI learning community across Africa, increasing the appetite for scientific communications to key stakeholders and cultivating a network of academics that can complement private sector initiatives. They support early-career and junior researchers to develop AI innovations to address development-focused challenges and receive mentorship from networks of experienced practitioners. This project also supports the sustainability of ongoing research communities that help make AI training accessible across the continent.