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Can Artificial Intelligence be a force for good? That’s what VOCAL-NY and the People’s Action Rural Cohort set out to explore with volunteer AI experts at the Cooperative Impact Labs’ AI 4 Organizing Hackathon in San Francisco on May 31.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), which harnesses computer power to expand human abilities to gather and produce knowledge, seems to increasingly dominate our lives as tools like Chat GPT go mainstream and large corporations harvest as much as they can of our personal information. 

Yet can AI also be a force for good? 

That’s the question more than 100 developers, designers, organizers and campaigners set out to answer in San Francisco on May 31, where they gathered for the Cooperative Impact Labs’ AI 4 Organizing Hackathon.

VOCAL-NY and the People’s Action Rural Cohort were chosen as one of four Challenge Partners in the event, where AI pros offered their skills and expertise, which have long been available only to deep-pocketed corporations, so grassroots groups could create data-driven solutions for their organizing challenges. 

At the event, VOCAL successfully designed an AI tool to recruit  small-dollar, grassroots  donors eager to support VOCAL’s efforts to end  the racialized war on drugs, the AIDS epidemic, mass incarceration, and homelessness.

“We had a small but mighty team who were deeply invested in using AI to expand our grassroots donor base,” said Tatiana Nobels Lee, VOCAL-NY’s Director of Operations & Data.  “The experience was transformative, providing us with new tools and strategies that will significantly enhance our fundraising efforts.”

Another of the Hackathon’s Challenge Partners, Fair Count, used easily accessible programming tools – Framer, Chat GPT, Figma and Google Slides – to create a mobile app that could analyze the sentiments of canvass participants in real time. The Hackathon’s volunteer developers and designers were able to create the app in less than four hours.

Participating in this event drove home the lesson that when used in the right ways, AI can help streamline data processing and analysis for grassroots groups, freeing up organizers to focus on the  fundamental work of building relationships and creating strategies to advance the priorities of impacted communities.

“AI can do so many other menial tasks, freeing up member leaders and organizers to spend more time designing strategies and organizing in person,” said Kellon Patey,  Rural Strategies Lead Organizer for People’s Action. “We are immensely grateful to the team of AI analysts, developers, and campaign strategists who dedicated six hours to our rural power analysis challenge.”

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