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Istanbul, November 16, 2020 - As it is not yet clear when the COVID-19 situation and measures will end, the demand for online volunteer assistance to accelerate the SDGs around the world is increasing. United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programme and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Istanbul International Centre for Private Sector in Development (IICPSD) have partnered to facilitate digital transformation through SDG AI Lab initiative, which introduces big data and artificial intelligence into the everyday work of the UN agencies and other development partners.

The SDG AI Lab has mobilized volunteer data scientists, and among more than 200 applicants established 7 research teams, now collaborating with onsite UN Volunteers in developing and implementing digital transformation projects.

The data scientists who are working on these projects specialize in machine learning and artificial intelligence and come from diverse backgrounds and different countries. They are delivering services ranging from social media content analysis during crises to portfolio sense-making software to improve efficiency in UNDP programmes.

We would like to give a peek at two of the SDG AI Lab projects lead by volunteer data scientists. The first project is called “Twitter Analysis Framework: COVID-19 use”, it analyses Twitter posts using Big Data techniques to explore the trends and correlation between social media usage and crisis response. The other one which is called “UNDP Project and Programme Portfolio Sensemaking” uses topic-modelling techniques to analyse UNDP project portfolios. This allows the automatic creation of cluster insights and key features from past projects to revisit the results and reframe the strategic direction of the organization for the future.

The value of online volunteerism lies in the opportunity it provides to gain problem-solving skills without limitations like distance or time difference. These obstacles do not exist in a virtual environment. Online volunteers spare time in exchange for their contribution to the public good and can use this experience to diversify their data science projects portfolio.  

The SDG AI Lab will continue to enable young volunteers to gain experience in data science and help them to develop their careers, while simultaneously contributing to the achievement of the SDGs. Thus, UNV Turkey and UNDP IICPSD/SDG AI Lab plan to explore how to leverage their complementary strengths in managing projects, AI technologies, volunteers’ deployment to bring digital solutions to UNDP country offices, starting with Turkey.

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