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Dreamforce 2023 - Salesforce gives $2 million to education non-profits to ensure underserved communities don’t miss out on gen AI benefits

Madeline Bennett Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett September 13, 2023
Summary:
Organizations will develop AI coaches for students and teachers.

Salesforce
Naomi Morenzoni

Salesforce has selected six non-profits that will share a $2 million fund to develop equitable and trusted generative AI systems in the education sector.

The Salesforce Accelerator – AI for Impact is a philanthropic initiative to bring the power of AI technology to purpose-driven organizations. The tech vendor announced the fund in June, and at Dreamforce this week has announced the initial successful candidates.

According to Salesforce research, over 74% of non-profit organizations see digital transformation as a 'need to have' or a 'must have' to achieve their core missions. However, the majority don’t have the resources to use cutting-edge technology like AI. Sunya Norman, Head of ESG Strategy and Engagement at Salesforce, adds:

They're left with clunky legacy systems and tools that almost are never customized for their specific use case.  

As AI comes more and more into our everyday lives, we need to ensure that no one is left behind.”

To help close this gap, Salesforce’s AI for Impact accelerator will support six non-profits tackling challenges in the fields of education and workforce development. Norman says:

Salesforce continues to be deeply committed to bringing our values to life, especially as we embrace generative AI. This is about making sure that we're tackling some of the world's biggest problems and providing support to some of the world's most underserved stakeholders.

The chosen 

Non-profits across the US, UK and Canada were invited to apply for the AI for Impact fund, and the six chosen for this cohort are:

  • Beyond 12, which has helped 150,000+ students from under-resourced communities across the US graduate from college. As part of the Salesforce program, it will automate and create tailored content sourced from more than 4,000 college websites to help thousands of college students achieve their academic, personal and career goals.
  • CareerVillage.org, which has equipped millions of learners across 190 countries with personalized career advice. The program will support its ‘AI Career Coach,’ which aims to democratize access to career information.
  • CodePath.org, which has supported 20,000 students at more than 500 US colleges, helping to create a more diverse technology workforce. It will focus on accelerating internal AI applications through AI-trained ‘co-workers’ and build a streamlined data terminal to scale the organization's work to eliminate inequities in the tech ecosystem.
  • College Possible, which has served almost 86,000 US students, boosting college degree attainment rates by 3x. It will implement an AI-driven platform with personalized recommendations so coaches can more adequately serve students from underinvested communities.
  • Per Scholas, which has launched more than 20,000 graduates into successful tech careers. The organization will experiment with GenAI to open up careers in tech by speeding up the development of resumes and cover letters that are customized for diverse skills and experiences.
  • Teacher Development Trust, which reaches over 4,000 educators across the UK, will focus on creating immersive, AI-powered role-playing scenarios tailored for teachers and their coaches.

The six organizations will take part in a program that includes six months of coaching from Salesforce experts and pro-bono volunteers, along with 1-on-1 consulting access for 12 months on topics ranging from generative AI, product design and solution architecture. The grantees also get access to a 24-month contract for donated Salesforce products to support the development of their proposed AI-driven initiatives.

Teachers

While non-profits and charities often view AI as critical to serving their missions, Salesforce SVP of Philanthropy, Naomi Morenzoni, notes that most of them are not in a position where they can lean in to the technology:

They don't have the resources, they don't have the capacity, they need to go out and fundraise for this, and frankly, they're not sure how successful it'll be.

Creating an environment like the Accelerator, where they're getting not just the financial resources but the donated technology and one-on-one coaching, that's where they can really have the space to innovate and to push what they need to do to serve their communities.

As a former teacher, Morenzoni highlighted the Teacher Development Trust for its potential to help the professional development of teachers so that students, particularly those from underserved communities, can succeed. She explains:

When this application came through, I got really excited. Anyone who's done teaching knows that it can be a pretty lonely place, you're the sole adult in a room full of kids. Something maybe doesn't go the way that we had hoped it would, and in your break or as you try to fall asleep that night, you might be thinking, how could I have done that better? What their solution is doing is bringing the power of AI simulations to those teachers in an on-demand way.

The way the tech would work is, after a teacher has experienced a challenging classroom situation, they can go into the chat tool, enter the dynamics of the class and outline what happened. The tool would give feedback and run a simulation so teachers can practise a different way they could have handled situations. Morenzoni adds:

It brings that power of one-on-one coaching that's so effective for teachers, and it does it in an on-demand way. Because oftentimes a teacher's principal or their coach won't be available until later on that month or week.

When you think about the way flight simulation has transformed how we train pilots, what could we do with our teachers using AI simulations to transform the way they teach, doing it in this reactive, dynamic, personalized way to improve their teaching. Frankly, as a former teacher, I would've loved to have something like this when I was in the classroom.

When it came to selecting the successful candidates from all the applications, Salesforce decided to support non-profits focusing on teachers and college access in this first round of funding. Morenzoni explains:

We ultimately ended up focusing on education and workforce and career because we saw a really great mix of organizations with solutions and ideas that could come together and work in this six-month cohort together.

We looked at feasibility: is this project based on where we know our technology is and where it's advancing; is this a good fit; are these solutions that we think these organizations will be able to build and support within the timeframe of this grant? Then a really important part of that selection process was a member from our own ethical use team looking at AI and the trust commitment that we have, as well as making sure that the way that information might be stored, the way that chatbots might be interacting, making sure that is aligned with our established policies around trusted AI.

When it comes to allocating the funding, Salesforce’s intention is to share out the $2 million  evenly. Morenzoni adds:

But at the end of the cohort period, at the end of the six months, we are going to step back and look at the solutions, what they might need. There may be a slight variation in the grant size within the organizations, but ultimately our goal is that our participants would be getting significant support that will help them advance their goals.

Salesforce plans to continue running additional Accelerators, and is currently thinking about and shaping the focus of its next one.

My take

Just like Morenzoni, I’m a former teacher, and used to teach English to 11-18 year olds in various London schools. Here in the UK, the education sector is facing a barrage of challenges, including a shortfall of teachers, funding cuts to schools, unsafe buildings, and students sent into school hungry and without appropriate clothing.

Anything that can help teachers and make their jobs slightly easier, so they can instead turn their attention to supporting the welfare of their students and keeping schools running, is a boon. This is somewhere generative AI could really make an impact, and I’m pleased to see Salesforce directing funding and attention to non-profits in the education sector.

 

For all the highlights from Dreamforce 2023, check out our dedicated events hub here.

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