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Unboxing AI: Fostering Transparency and Accountability

As a startup advisor at Platform Calgary, I provide coaching and guidance to innovators who helm their respective social enterprises. Their trajectories are self-chosen, shaped by a shared dedication to address the gaps left by conventional social service providers.

A significant aspect of their endeavours involves dealing with the intricacies of AI systems. This includes the 'Black Box' problem - a term referring to the opaque nature of AI decision-making processes devoid of clear reasoning or accountability. As AI systems become more complex, comprehending the rationale behind their decisions grows challenging but remains vital.

Addressing the 'Black Box' problem requires an approach grounded in community involvement rather than elusive technical breakthroughs. The key lies in inclusion, specifically incorporating those with lived experiences in all aspects of AI tool design. This community-driven participation in the development and deployment of AI is pivotal to ensuring transparency and accountability. It empowers those who understand the issues most intimately to devise innovative solutions deeply connected to their community's needs.

Consider Hong Phuc (HP) of Kibbi Technologies Inc., a first-generation immigrant who faced difficulties securing employment despite being well-educated. HP took her personal experiences, identified a pervasive problem, and crafted a novel solution. By leveraging technology, she devised a way for newcomers like her to access jobs and resources in their local areas. Her journey illustrates the power of solutions born from the heart of the lived experience.

Similarly, Sean Crump, a person living with disabilities, launched Included by Design to assist others dealing with similar challenges. His service enhances accessibility, allowing people with disabilities easier access to restaurants and public spaces. Crump's own experiences offered a profound understanding of the issues, enabling him to design a solution that was not only effective but also empathetic.

The message here is clear: Those who experience the problem firsthand are often best placed to craft its solution. As such, it is not just important but crucial to involve these individuals in decision-making processes and equip them with the necessary capital, resources, and partnerships to realize their solutions. Consider the case of Crisis Text Line, a free 24/7 crisis counseling service available via text message. When developing their AI system, the team at Crisis Text Line was faced with a challenge: how to prioritize incoming messages to ensure those in most urgent need received immediate attention. To solve this problem, they used historical data and included crisis counselors in the design process to create an AI model that could effectively triage incoming texts. The AI uses natural language processing to identify keywords and phrases that signal an immediate crisis. By including the input of those directly involved in crisis intervention — people with lived experience —, they were able to create a system that more accurately assessed the urgency of a situation. This resulted in quicker response times for high-risk texts and better outcomes for those in crisis. This example underscores the effectiveness and importance of inclusive AI development.

While nonprofits may have noble intentions, they often need to catch up due to bureaucratic inertia, funding constraints, and a resistant mindset. Meanwhile, community-driven social enterprises demonstrate agility and a solution-focused approach that promises more immediate and significant impacts. These startups offer a compelling model for the nonprofit sector to emulate and learn from.

Our collective journey toward achieving transparency and accountable AI requires collaboration. It necessitates amplifying the voices of those directly impacted by the issues we're striving to address and supporting their innovative solutions. As we look towards the future of technology, we must remember that the power to guide its development and impact lies with us. After all, technology best serves us when it serves us all.


Mina brings over 14 years of business development, analysis, and strategic growth-execution experience. Working as a trusted partner/advisor for a wide range of clients in the for-profit, non-profit, and charitable sectors, his experience has proved invaluable in sales and funding growth and the identification of new opportunities. His experience is accompanied by considerable knowledge surrounding public policy, government relationship management, social enterprise management, community engagement and data collection/analysis to help maximize social impact. Mina holds an Executive Master of Business Administration degree (University of Fredericton), a bachelor’s degree in Social Science with Honours in Political Science from the University of Ottawa and studied post-graduate-level political science at the University of Calgary.

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