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USAID’s Equitable Challenge project wins EQUALS in Tech Award

Itad, with consortium partners, has won the 2023 EQUALS in Tech Award in the category of Research for its work to address gender inequity in artificial intelligence (AI).


The award winning research is helping to mitigate AI gender bias in one of Mexico’s leading education pilots – and provided important insights for the wider development sector to enable more equitable, inclusive, and transparent programming.

The trophy

About the prize

The EQUALS in Tech Awards celebrate initiatives, projects, movements, organisations and institutions around the world working to bridge the gender digital divide.

It is organised and presented by the EQUALS Global Partnership – a network of 100+ NGOs, private sector companies, international organisations and research institutions who work in partnership to bring the benefits of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to women and girls.

The USAID Equitable Challenge project was selected from more than 132 nominated initiatives from 54 countries from around the world. The winners were announced at the  EQUALS in Tech Awards ceremony on 12 December 2023 during Partner2Connect Annual Meeting in Geneva.

Mike Klein, US Director of Itad, said:

“We are delighted to receive this award. I hope that the resources developed through this project, benefit other development and humanitarian programmes, enabling them to mitigate bias in low- and-middle-income country datasets while ensuring their AI projects become more equitable, inclusive, and transparent.”

About the research

Each year, about 40,000 students drop out of the education system in Guanajuato, Mexico. To help address this urgent social challenge, the Mexican Government, in partnership with the World Bank via the Educational Trajectories initiative, created an AI-based early alert system aimed at improving school retention and graduation rates by identifying and then supporting at-risk students.

The pilot serves as a meaningful example of how government agencies are increasingly turning to AI to address pressing social challenges.

Itad – in partnership with Women in Digital TransformationPIT Policy Lab, and Athena Infonomics – collaborated with the Mexican State of Guanajuato’s Ministry of Education to identify and mitigate gender bias within the pilot.

The consortium’s work was supported by a grant from USAID’s Equitable AI Challenge which seeks to foster an equitable and inclusive digital ecosystem by helping decision-makers address gender biases, harms, and inequitable outcomes resulting from AI technology.

Collaborating with the Secretariat of Education of the State of Guanajuato, Itad and partners reviewed anonymised data used to train the early alert system’s AI model. Leveraging IBM-developed open-source tools for detecting and mitigating bias in AI systems, Itad and partners stressed the need to incorporate frameworks that went well beyond the Secretariat’s initial focus on privacy and person data protection. By facilitating a series of comprehensive workshops, the consortium strengthened Secretariat staff’s technical expertise in the ethical, responsible, and inclusive use of AI in the public sector.

As a result or the project, the consortium identified a critical gender bias that would have prevented the Secretariat from accurately identifying up to four per cent of at-risk girls who were in jeopardy of interrupting their studies. In short, four out of 100 girls would have missed the help they needed to keep them in school.

Read more about the research and its impacts, and access our AI ethical guidance tools.