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For Applicants | Focus AreasMultiple Countries / PEER Advanced Digital Tools

Applicant Resources

PDF version of RFA (Request for Applications)
Eligible Countries:

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Botswana
  • Burkina Faso
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Liberia
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali
 
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Africa
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zambia 

Additional Criteria for Applicants:


Please see Section V of the Solicitation for General Eligibility requirements.For this focus area, applicants must be based at or have an affiliation with an institution of higher education (university) in one of the PEER-eligible countries listed above.

Objectives:


The U.S. Global Development Lab (The Lab) at USAID brings together a diverse set of partners to discover, test, and scale breakthrough solutions to address critical challenges in international development (http://www.usaid.gov/GlobalDevLab). A key element of this strategy is the support of scientific and technological research through the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) program.

USAID’s approach to development is one committed to building local capacity on the Journey to Self Reliance using 21st Century approaches and technologies. This includes improving digital tools and systems, as well as the enabling environment that allows research and innovation to function robustly, inclusively, and to reach all of their intended recipients. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already playing a critical role in how cities, regions, and countries collect large sets of data, analyze context-specific needs, and distribute targeted information or resources across a variety of areas and actors. The power of these approaches has the potential to transform how we monitor land use and ecosystems, provide critical societal services, distribute natural resources, work, communicate, and raise people out of poverty.

USAID has seen an emerging need to improve and tailor AI models and training data sets for developing world partners, contexts, and actors; and expand efforts to be inclusive of marginalized or minority populations. For example, in the field of Machine Vision (MV) training images are largely taken from developed world populations and geographies, resulting in MV models that may underperform or fail in developing country contexts. Similarly, the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) currently relies heavily on the English written language, hindering advances in nearly all of the non-written, spoken languages throughout the developing world, and further excluding individuals that speak these languages. These examples of bias and lack of fair representation are increasingly apparent as AI applications become widespread, and underscore the importance of inclusivity and ethical concerns that will be at the core of developing AI systems and approaches as they move forward.

In order to improve solutions and fill gaps in AI approaches in the developing world, PEER will support in-country researchers to design and create research projects under the Advanced Digital Tools call. Research proposals can address needs across a variety of sectors, including: biodiversity, health, agriculture, environment, climate variability, clean energy, disaster mitigation and response, food security, water/sanitation, urbanization, democracy and governance, and education, and must focus on developing, improving, or utilizing AI approaches specifically in MV or NLP to solve development challenges. Proposals on selected health-related topics may also be appropriate for submission under the focus area Multiple Countries/Family Planning and Reproductive Health and all proposals are also appropriate for submission under the PEER Multiple Countries/Any Development-Related Research call.

Through this RFA, USAID is looking to support locally driven research projects using advanced digital tools. This is a space that is opening and expanding quickly behind the significant investments and efforts of private sector technology companies, big and small. These investments have established a base of infrastructure and expertise on which we hope to build. Therefore, applicants will be required to partner with appropriate local, private sector companies in order to guarantee that the resources and expertise already developed in the advanced digital tools space is leveraged to bring lasting impact. Applicants that are proposing research that builds on advancements already made by themselves or partners must clearly show how the new research will address a development-relevant need not currently being met or funded through ongoing research.

Activities under this award could include, but are not limited to:
  • Satellite-based approaches to land use or resource management using automation and machine learning
  • Real-time mobile phone image analysis for agriculture- or health-related diagnostics
  • MV or NLP approaches that improve the management, health, and education of migrants and refugees in displaced persons camps
  • MV or NLP Curriculum development to increase youth education and workforce development
  • NLP approaches in local spoken languages to improve applications for populations with low literacy
  • NLP approaches in local written languages to enable mining of information from open data resources leading to new learning
  • Investigating a new application for the use of MV or NLP in addressing development challenges

Proposed budgets should emphasize research generation and utilization over purely infrastructure-related needs or activities.

Essential to any applications is a detailed explanation of the ethical implications related to the proposed work. Applicants must thoughtfully consider inclusion of marginalized and vulnerable populations in their proposals and provide an analysis of the implications of the study on marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as women, youth, certain ethnic groups, gender and sexual minorities (e.g., LGBTI persons), people with disabilities, indigenous communities, low-income or low-status groups, the elderly, and other socially relevant categories. Project proposals should take into account questions like: Are these groups of people affected differently by the research question, or how the research is being conducted? Are there any potential harmful and/or unintended consequences or risks of this research, or the subsequent findings and recommendations on participants or impacted communities? Are there any potential benefits of participating in the research that would favor one group over another? If these populations are NOT the target of the research, researchers must articulate why, and still address any and all potential unintended consequences on these populations as part of the application. Additionally, applicants should describe how their project aligns with USAID’s work in digital principles.

*For further information on USAID’s work in digital principles please visit: https://digitalprinciples.org/principles/

**For more information on USAID’s work on artificial intelligence and machine learning visit: https://www.rtachesn.org/blog/digital-tools-and-the-future-of-international-development.

***To view USAID’s Digital Strategy Public Draft please visit: https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/15396/USAID_Digital_Strategy_Draft.pdf

Duration of Project:

Projects should be designed to be implemented in one to two years with budgets of $40,000 to $80,000 (USD) per year for one institution (single institution award) and $100,000 (USD) per year for awards involving support for more than one institution (multiple institution awards). Proposals received for projects greater than two years in length will not be considered for funding. Women are strongly encouraged to apply.
 
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