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Lacuna Fund Announces its Second Round of Funding to Support a Community-led Movement Towards Locally Developed and Owned Language Datasets Across Africa

Supported projects will produce text and speech datasets for natural language processing (NLP) technologies that will have significant downstream impacts on education, financial inclusion, healthcare, agriculture, communication, and disaster response in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Lacuna Fund announces its second cohort of supported projects, whose teams will create openly accessible text and speech datasets that will fuel natural language processing (NLP) technologies in 29 languages across Africa. Funding recipients will produce training datasets in Eastern, Western, and Southern Africa that will support a range of needs for low resource languages, including machine translation, speech recognition, named entity recognition and part of speech tagging, sentiment analysis, and multi-modal datasets. All datasets produced will be locally developed and owned, and will be openly accessible to the international data community.

With over 50 impressive applications from, or in partnership with, organizations across Africa, there are many more initiatives poised for impact. This movement towards locally developed and owned datasets has only just begun, and with the right support and funding these initiatives will unlock the power of AI to deliver new social sector solutions and increase the presence of African countries on the international data map.

  • “In South Africa, the government uses chatbots to provide daily updates on COVID,” explains Vukosi Marivate, ABSA Chair of Data Science at University of Pretoria. “Right now, translating those updates to Latin languages is really easy, but the datasets necessary to translate those updates to a range of African languages don’t exist, which means that the government isn’t currently able to communicate with many of its people in their native languages. That is one of the many examples of why we need this work now.”
  • “The Rockefeller Foundation leverages science, innovation and technology to empower vulnerable families locked out of prosperity to improve their lives and prospects,” says William Asiko, Managing Director and Head of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa Regional Office. “We aim to enhance the delivery value to our key audiences through partnerships, meeting them where they are. In meeting the moment, embracing diversity and multiculturalism is precisely the kind of innovative, transformative change we seek to drive impact.”

Lacuna Fund began as a funder collaborative between The Rockefeller Foundation, Google.org, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre, with support from the German development agency GIZ on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) on this call for proposals. It has since evolved into a multi-stakeholder engagement composed of technical experts, thought leaders, local beneficiaries, and end users. Collectively, we are committed to creating and mobilizing training datasets that both solve urgent local problems and lead to a step change in machine learning’s potential worldwide.

See all the projects here.

 


About Lacuna Fund: Lacuna Fund is the world’s first collaborative effort to provide data scientists, researchers, and social entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income contexts globally with the resources they need to produce training datasets that address urgent problems in their communities. Lacuna Fund launched in July of 2020 with a pooled fund of $4 million to support the creation, expansion, and maintenance of datasets used for training or evaluation of machine learning models, initially in three key sectors: agriculture, health, and languages. Learn more at http://www.lacunafund.org.

About The Rockefeller Foundation: The Rockefeller Foundation advances new frontiers of science, data, policy and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power and economic mobility. As a science-driven philanthropy focused on building collaborative relationships with partners and grantees, the Foundation seeks to inspire and foster large-scale human impact that promotes the well-being of humanity throughout the world by identifying and accelerating breakthrough solutions, ideas and conversations. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

About Google.org: Google.org supports nonprofits that address humanitarian issues and apply scalable, data-driven innovation to solving the world’s biggest challenges. We accelerate their progress by connecting them with a unique blend of support that includes funding, products, and technical expertise from Google volunteers. We engage with these believers-turned-doers who make a significant impact on the communities they represent, and whose work has the potential to produce meaningful change. We want a world that works for everyone—and we believe technology and innovation can move the needle.

About Canada’s International Development Research Centre: The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) funds research in the Global South to promote growth, reduce poverty, and drive large-scale positive change. As part of Canada’s foreign affairs and development efforts, we are a Crown corporation that provides leading thinkers the resources, advice, and training they need to implement and share their solutions with those who need them most. In short, IDRC increases opportunities — and makes a real difference in people’s lives.

About GIZ and FAIR Forward — Artificial Intelligence for All: “FAIR Forward – Artificial Intelligence for All” is a German Development Cooperation initiative striving for a more open, inclusive and sustainable approach to AI on an international level. It is funded by Germany’s national AI strategy, and assists partner countries in building sustainable AI ecosystems, focusing on skills & education, access to AI training data and the development of ethical AI policies. In doing so, FAIR Forward supports the provision of open, non-discriminatory and inclusive training data and open-source AI applications, especially in local languages to empower marginalized groups.

About Meridian Institute: Meridian Institute is a mission-driven nonprofit that has helped our clients and partners develop and implement solutions to complicated, often controversial problems—big and small, global and local—for over two decades. Meridian serves as the secretariat and fiscal agent for Lacuna Fund. Learn more at merid.org.

 

Media Contacts:

Jennifer Pratt-Miles
Lacuna Fund Secretariat
+1 970.389.2442
JPrattMiles@merid.org

Ashley Chang
The Rockefeller Foundation
achang@rockfound.org
(212) 852-8451

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