LISTEN NOW: AI and start-ups in low and middle income countries – progress, promises and perils


Author: Nqobile Khumalo

In this webinar, Susanna Acland, Kate Kallot, Sam Ajadi and Segun Adeyemi led the conversation on the current landscape of AI start-ups in low- and middle-income countries, along with recent trends, challenges and the potential impact of AI in a post-COVID world.

Research conducted by the GSMA examined the current use of AI in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) across Africa and Asia. The report maps a sample of 450 start-ups by sector in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, based on interviews with AI experts in LMICs. The report explores trends and challenges in business models, barriers to innovation and the ethical and responsible use of AI.

India has a very strong portion of the developing market share of AI start-ups. The countries that have a high proportion of AI start-ups usually have a top-down approach in which government understands potential of AI. Recently, most of the funding raised has been for financial services, food and agriculture, healthcare and business intelligence and analytics.

Many companies are incorporating AI in every stage of the product development- from origination to collection. In the financial sector, use cases include lending, chatbots, KYC onboarding (identifying risk/fraud) and insurance claims management. Outside finance, AI is increasingly being used in healthcare and agriculture.

The COVID 19 pandemic gave governments an opportunity to accelerate the use of AI (for example to disseminate covid related information).

Jumo is an African based fintech company that uses AI and machine learning . Jumo partners with the largest sources of data in the markets in which they operate (usually telco’s) to integrate their systems to gain access to data. This data is then used for example to generate predictions on loan repayments and allows a suitable credit product to be offered to customers. The use of AI has given Jumo the ability to make data driven decisions to scale, whilst at the same time giving them the opportunity to serve the underserved who would ordinarily have no access to traditional financial services. The importance of building synergies between mobile operators and start-ups is explored more on this report.

NVIDIA is one of the largest AI companies in the world. The core business is GPUs (hardware systems that can be used to process and build AI applications) and the mission is to democratise AI and make it accessible and useful for everyone and they achieve this by working top-down with Governments on national strategy and also bottom-up with start-up and teaching students. NVIDIA wants to support and innovate to bring everyone on the AI innovation journey.

AI enables new technologies to improve efficiency and productivity and has helped the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDGs). However, the increased use of data introduces further privacy and ethical concerns, AI solutions should be guided by sound privacy and ethical principles.

AI applications should be ethical by design to prevent and mitigate any potential negative impact, and should support sustainability and societal well-being. Thought needs to be given right at the beginning to ensure that the use of data and algorithms are fair, do no harm and are inclusive and transparent.

In terms of gender, AI can contribute to gender equality. When looking to Jumo, their target customers are in the informal sector in which a lot of women participate. 51% of the customers at Jumo are female and they have taken time to ensure they algorithms do not have a gender bias.