The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Wednesday its lineup of grant recipients in response to its recent Grand Challenges request for proposals, highlighting a collection of nearly 50 projects from around the world, including five innovative initiatives hailing from Kenya.
The foundation called upon researchers and innovators in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to harness the power of AI-driven large language models (LLMs) to develop solutions that tackle pressing global health and development issues. The chosen Kenyan projects span a range of critical areas, from healthcare to education, offering transformative potential for communities facing various challenges.
“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.”
Among the standout Kenyan projects are:
- An application-supported LLM to enhance understanding and awareness of non-communicable disease risk factors among young Kenyans, led by Martin Mwangi of Intellisoft Consulting Limited in Nairobi.
- A virtual clinic application called mDaktari that integrates ChatGPT into its patient communication system, empowering clinicians to provide better responses to patient inquiries, led by Daphne Ngunjiri of Access Afya in Nairobi.
- A hybrid approach that combines AI capabilities with human interaction to streamline consultations and provide swift and accurate health information, integrating ChatGPT-4 into Penda Health’s patient communication system, led by Robert Korom of Penda Health Limited in Nairobi.
- A comprehensive AI-powered mobile application that offers personalized education to every student in Kenya, leveraging ChatGPT-4 to deliver tailored content, adaptive learning experiences, and interactive guidance, called SOMANASI, led by Tonee Ndungu of Kytabu Company Limited.
- A platform that makes official public health data insights more accessible through AI, leveraging AI-driven LLMs to provide valuable data insights for improved decision-making in public health, called VIDA PLUS, led by Christophe Bocquet of Dalberg Global Development Advisors (K) Ltd.
The selected projects, each receiving up to US$100,000, represent a total investment of US$500,000. They are part of the foundation’s Grand Challenges program, which seeks to ignite groundbreaking innovations that address complex issues on a global scale.
The Gates Foundation said it received more than 1,300 submitted proposals for this round of Grand Challenges, with more than 80% originating from LMICs. The foundation said it plans to launch more Grand Challenges in the future, focusing on different themes and topics.
“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.”