Charities net £300,000 each to develop AI chatbot support

The grants will help CALM (Campaign against Living Miserably) and Missing People to handle more enquiries and has prompted the creation of a charity sector wide artificial intelligence expert group.

Joe Lepper | 5th Oct 18

Two charities have scooped a £300,000 grant each to help them use artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the online support they offer vulnerable people.

Campaign against Living Miserably (CALM) and Missing People have been named joint winners of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologies (WCIT) Charity IT Award 2018. They were among 76 entries and judges decided to split the £600,000 grant award between the two charities  due to the high quality of both bids.

Both charities will use the money to help them deal with rising demand for online support with limited numbers of call handlers. This will see them develop chatbots that will prioritise calls and increase the number of enquiries they can handle.

CALM is focused on preventing male suicide and provides free anonymous support online and via a confidential helpline. It has 22 staff and 265 active volunteers.

Missing People, which as 98 staff and 217 volunteers, provide free 24 hour support to people who are missing and their families

Bids inspire creation of Artificial Intelligence Learning Exchange

The charities winning bids have also inspired WCIT to help more charities develop artificial intelligence through the creation of what is being provisionally titled The Artificial Intelligence Learning Exchange. This aims to utilise WCIT members’ skills in artificial intelligence and security to help the sector as well as work with the two winners to create momentum for such savvy use of tech among charities.

“Our creative approach has enabled us to make a life-changing difference to two charities rather than just one, and to build the opportunity to help many more in the future through enhanced collaboration,” said Lord Lieutenant of Greater London Sir Kenneth Olisa, who led the judging panel and is a past WCIT chairman.

Missing People Chief Executive Officer Jo Youle said: “We see huge opportunity to share learning that will have significant benefit for the voluntary sector, especially Helpline providers.”

CALM Chief Executive Officer Simon Gunning added: “The selection process was certainly gruelling and it’s a testament to the professionalism of the WCIT that we were made to hone every line of our plan to get through. We look forward to this rigour continuing as we embark on a partnership with the WCIT, throughout which we will be utilising the skills of the Company’s membership.”