In the TRANSFORM Support Hub, we have the privilege of working with leading social entrepreneurs from over 100 countries.
As these enterprises grow their organizations and impact, they turn to the TRANSFORM Support Hub and our global cross-sector network for support building higher-impact partnerships, finding new revenue opportunities, and capturing insights to help them get to the next level – and increasingly, they are looking to Artificial Intelligence (AI) for support doing the same.
In providing this support to entrepreneurs, we have begun to catalog some of the lessons learned from this innovative community. Based on the first half of this year, here are our findings:
Note: AI was used to help proof-read and find content for this article, however it is built on research conducted by MovingWorlds and our own findings.
The Benefits of AI For Social Enterprises
There are three primary reasons social enterprises should be using AI:
Customized Solutions at Scale
AI enables social enterprises to cost-effectively develop highly tailored solutions that meet the specific needs of their customers. With the help of AI, social enterprises can provide more support to each person, and personalize that support at scale. AI can also help social enterprises reach more people by improving accessibility via translation and alternative communication methods. In parallel, within organizations, individual team members can use AI to improve decision making and outcomes.
Increased Opportunities for System Change
By lowering the cost of analysis, translation, and information, AI makes it easier to manage partnerships – a key ingredient for systems change. Also, AI’s force on the market will make organizations more transparent, which will further support partnership building. And because AI also opens up new business models, this means social enterprises can engage more stakeholders in their primary operations.
Business Potential and Competitive Advantage:
AI technologies can optimize internal processes, reduce costs, and enhance operational efficiency. By automating tasks, organizations can free up resources to focus on strategic initiatives, expand their reach, and scale their impact. Moreover, AI-driven innovations can unlock new revenue streams and business models, opening up opportunities for growth and sustainability. Lastly, AI can help leaders learn faster by making it easier to run new experiments and process the data they get from it. According to a McKinsey research article titled, The economic potential of generative AI: The next productivity frontier, “generative AI could add the equivalent of $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion annually across the 63 use cases we analyzed—by comparison, the United Kingdom’s entire GDP in 2021 was $3.1 trillion.”
How Are the Leading Social Enterprises Using AI?
There are four ways we are seeing social enterprises implement AI to expand their bottom-line and impact potential. Below, we’ll provide more details and examples for each:
- Using AI to improve operational efficiency and reduce costs.
- Enhancing current products and/or services with AI to improve user experience and satisfaction.
- Implementing new AI solutions to deliver services/products in a way that was not previously scalable.
- Reinventing their organizations by building new AI technology and platforms for new business models
Within each category, AI is being implemented in either a user-facing bot, and/or is being implemented on internal operations while user interfaces remain unchanged.
#1: Using AI to Improve Operational Efficiency and Reduce Costs:
Social enterprises can leverage AI to streamline their operations and increase efficiency, leading to cost savings. By automating repetitive tasks, optimizing resource allocation, and enhancing workflow processes, organizations can free up valuable time and resources. This allows them to redirect their efforts toward their core missions and deliver greater impact with limited resources. In a great research paper from Georg von Richthofen, Nicole Siebold, and Ali Aslan Gümüsay, the authors note that, “AI promises both new ways to perform organisational activities, and novel outcomes that were previously unattainable but now offer breakthrough progress.” For example, one social enterprise in our network is focused on cataloging waste, then reporting to governments and corporations about the companies contributing to it. By using image recognition, it was able to do this at a far greater scale while lowering costs.
Other ways AI is helping enterprises improve internal operations include:
- Using AI chatbots in support centers
- Equipping internal team members with data sets and data analysis to improve their own workflows
- Implementing AI to support content creation, and then scaling it across different mediums and languages
#2: Enhancing Current Products and/or Services with AI to Improve User Experience and Satisfaction:
AI can be utilized to enhance the quality and effectiveness of existing products and services offered by social enterprises. By integrating AI-powered features such as personalized recommendations, intelligent customer support, or data-driven insights, organizations can improve user experiences and overall satisfaction. This approach allows social enterprises to better meet the evolving needs and expectations of their customers. According to Richthofen, Siebold, and Gümüsay, “Ventures are able to deliver a service or product that is highly customised to each individual client’s need without incurring high costs.” A great example of this is Malaica, a Kenyan healthtech social enterprise using AI to make prenatal health information accessible and personalized at scale.
In addition, AI’s ability to process and analyze data (both qualitative and quantitative) means that social enterprise leaders can improve their impact analysis and use those insights to improve their service.
Other ways AI is helping enterprises improve customer success include:
- Using AI to translate web pages and content
- Updating clumsy user interfaces into natural language processing
- Implementing AI-driven recommendation engines
#3: Implementing New AI Solutions to Deliver Services/Products in a Way That Was Not Previously Scalable:
AI opens up new possibilities for social enterprises to deliver services and/or products at a larger scale than ever before. Through the use of AI-driven automation, organizations can extend their reach and impact more individuals or communities efficiently. This empowers social enterprises to support individuals at a scale that was previously impossible. As reported by Richthofen, Siebold, and Gümüsay, “This means that AI allows ventures to benefit from economies of scale while maintaining high levels of individualised outputs.” For example, check out this video from the Khan Academy to see how it is using AI to tutor students.
Other ways AI is helping enterprises increase impact include:
- Using AI tools to create new bots that individualize feedback
- Enabling users to interact with AI via web, mobile, or speech to receive information faster, and in a way that is easier to process
- Accessing their own data in a way that improves outcomes
#4: Reinventing Their Organizations by Building New AI Technology and Platforms for New Business Models:
Social enterprises can embrace AI as a catalyst for organizational transformation and the creation of new business models. By building AI technology and platforms, organizations can foster innovation and develop novel approaches to social entrepreneurship. This may involve exploring AI-driven data marketplaces, collaborative platforms, or AI-powered ecosystems that enable greater collaboration and collective impact. As an example, one venture created a mobile app that uses image recognition and classification to help smallholder farmers increase yields by making it easy to detect plant diseases, pests, and soil deficiencies – something it was not able to previously do at scale, and which is driving both impact and financial growth.
Ethical Considerations in Implementing AI
Any new technology carries along potential risks, and the same is true for AI. According to Richthofen, Siebold, and Gümüsay, using AI exposes social enterprises to perils, most notably systemic bias. It is widely reported that bias in data sets will be further propagated by AI, and implementing AI in certain instances without enough analysis and testing could easily create more harm than good.
A growing number of entities, like Research Initiative on Combatting Systemic Racism, The Algorithmic Justice League, and AI for Social Progress, are creating guidance to address these problems. But they will be unlikely to keep up with the evolving challenges unless they receive more support and promotion. Closer to the social enterprise ecosystem, we also recommend reviewing the Omidyar Network’s Ethical Explorer Pack.
Social enterprises must also be aware that there will be impacts to jobs and earnings available to current and future employees. And this is where social enterprises really distinguish themselves from a normal business that is attempting to be socially responsible. By definition, social enterprises not only create a positive impact through their core operations, but they also focus on highly ethical and sustainable internal operations, too. So implementing AI must be done with care to sustain their goals for employee equity and community impact.
How to Start Using AI at Your Social Enterprise
Across our network, entrepreneurs reported using the following methods to explore the potential of AI:
- Experimentation. The best way to start learning about AI is to actually use it. Social enterprises are operating their own internal hackathons, or having “hack chats” (like a coffee chat, but instead get together, share one problem you are working on at work, and then try to use AI to help solve it).
- Monitoring. People are subscribing to different newsletters and thought-leaders to track the progress of AI. The number of these is growing rapidly, so we recommend you ask influencers in your own geography AND industry to find the content creators most relevant for you.
- Data analysis. Research new tools that can easily plug into your existing data sets in an ethical and compliant way, and that can enable you to improve analysis of your surveys, user actions, and feedback you receive.
- Learning. Leaders are identifying the aspects of their business model that have the greatest potential to improve by using AI, and then sponsoring their employees to engage in learning – either classroom based learning (like this free resource from Microsoft), or by finding mentors or pro bono consultants (like you can find on the TRANSFORM Support Hub).
AI is revolutionizing the way we do business, in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come. But social entrepreneurs are by definition leaders of change – and by experimenting with AI tools in an ethical and human-centered way, we have an opportunity to expand both our businesses and our impact. Looking for support exploring the possibilities of AI for your enterprise? Join us on the TRANSFORM Support Hub to find the right expert for your needs!