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Breaking Barriers: Empowering Women in AI Development with the Gender Equitable AI Toolkit

Empowering Equity and Equality for Nonprofit Professionals

March 25, 2024

By Nicholas Kerastas, The NetHope Center for the Digital Nonprofit

Setting the Stage for Equitable AI

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions have the potential to help us tackle some of the toughest problems and transform how we live and work, the use of AI can also further exacerbate inequity and digital divides. In fact, we know that women and girls are disproportionately affected by AI. Mirroring existing societal biases, and thereby representing one of the aspects of the new digital divide, AI solutions have already perpetuated discrimination and harm based on gender.

The NetHope AI Working Group has developed the Gender Equitable AI Toolkit to provide practical guidance and tools to nonprofit professionals and their partners to intentionally focus on gender equity as a component of AI development. Fundamentally this means empowering female participation for identifying pressing problems, and deploying AI solutions that are ethical, impactful, and gender equitable.

Gender Equitable AI Toolkit
download the toolkit (pdf)

The Gender Equitable AI Toolkit

Developed with support from the Collective Action Fund and the Partners of the Center for the Digital Nonprofit, the toolkit crystallizes insights from 30+ consultations within the NetHope community. This collaborative effort synthesizes best practices from diverse subject matter experts across the sector.

Microsoft, Okta, Box, Avanade, and ServiceNow are founding partners of The NetHope Center for the Digital Nonprofit .

The gender equitable AI toolkit is created for both technical and non-technical staff at NGOs and provides actionable steps for gender equitable AI solutions, as well as additional learning resources on Kaya for those who work for NetHope Member organizations and wish to delve deeper into the technical aspects of development.

A Collaborative Effort

Our journey in developing this toolkit involved deep dives into our Members’ use of AI solutions in their program implementation. These efforts revealed several key insights:

  • Data Collection and Governance: The need for representative data that reflect gender and other socioeconomic identities is paramount. Traditional data collection often mirrors societal bias therein emphasizing the necessity for data practices that more effectively represents local communities.
  • Design Principles: Beyond aesthetic user interfaces solutions must prioritize and implement feminist design practices. This involves participatory design processes that account for the unique needs and experiences of gender.
  • Scaling with Care: As solutions reach more diverse audiences, maintaining ethical standards and gender representation becomes more challenging yet more crucial. Open sourcing, cross-sector collaborations, and continuous verification with human-in-the-loop processes become vital but are not supported.

The Toolkit

The toolkit defines principles of gender equitable AI, presents case studies, and most importantly provides a breakdown of each stage in AI development with the key steps to take and questions to ask project teams and vendors. On top of that, it provides resources with additional toolsets and expert guidance. Using the NetHope IDEA (Imagine, Dream, Execute, Assess) Journey methodology, it supports a human centered approach to the development of AI solutions that ensures gender equity.

Where to Start

The toolkit is available as an e-learning course through NetHope’s Digital Leadership Institute (NDLI), and downloadable PDF document is available above. Nonprofit professionals should leverage this resource when embarking on an AI project or when reviewing existing solutions for gender equity.

A Call to Action

The Gender Equitable AI Toolkit is more than a resource. It's a call to action for our community. This toolkit encourages NGOs to consider gender equity as a fundamental aspect of AI program development. In doing so, it lays the groundwork for technologies that not only innovate but do so with an unwavering commitment to inclusivity and equity.

For more information on the development of this toolkit or to support future iterations of its development please contact the NetHope Center for the Digital Nonprofit.

NetHope’s New Strategic Plan – Digital Transformation & Innovation – AI Program Highlight
NetHope has launched its 2024-2030 strategy. A generation ago, the Digital Divide described the gap in access first to computers, and then to the internet and essential technologies. But today, new digital challenges threaten international NGO mission advancement as organizations are forced to grapple with the widening gap between available resources and growing needs. These new challenges – what NetHope calls the new Digital Divides – represent critical gaps in infrastructure, systems, capabilities, and knowledge. Over the next decade, will lead collective action to bridge the New Digital Divides – skills and leadership, inclusion, protection, transformation and innovation, and climate adaptation and resilience - leveraging our powerful, proven model for advance global good.

Bridging the New Digital Divides Spotlight: Digital Transformation and Innovation
The innovation required to meet emerging and existing challenges to the nonprofit sector and the communities we serve only happens when it is made a priority. NetHope works within our network, data, and history of catalyzing collective action to see complex problems are met with insights, policies, and advice that are context-appropriate, efficient and scalable. NetHope will use our influence, networks, data, and history of catalyzing new and high-potential ideas to ensure complex problems are met with insights, policies, guidance, and technology solutions.

Program Spotlight: Augmenting Generative AI Skills and Practices for Nonprofits
NetHope’s work in AI dates back to 2018 as much of our work begins, a gathering of Members and collective desire for action. Now, our program focuses on generative AI skills and practice building addresses the unique needs of nonprofits, their staff, and implementation partners. Training, as well as market scanning for sector appropriate solutions, and the exchange of knowledge and experiences are important elements of this program. NetHope has also published several resources on AI. Check out NetHope’s recent Strategic Conversation: AI Ethics Today along with resources such as NetHope’s Guide to Usefulness of Existing AI Solutions in Nonprofit Organizations, The AI Suitability Toolkit for Nonprofits, and the Artificial Intelligence Ethics for Nonprofits Toolkit.

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