Start-up trains underskilled women in AI for free in partnership with UN Women


WITH the Philippines bracing itself for the impact of artificial intelligence (AI), one social impact tech start-up is making sure that Filipino women are prepared for the inevitable changes.

Philippines-based start-up Connected Women (www.connectedwomen.co) creates opportunities for both skilled and underskilled women by training them to be data annotators, which are considered to be essential in any program that uses AI.

Labeling and categorizing images can earn data annotators around P500 per day, depending on their output. This is more than what many Filipino women earn in the informal economy due to lack of education or access to decent jobs. Outside NCR, the minimum wage ranges from P200 to P400 a day. The training is part of the #WomenRiseAboveCovid program in partnership with the joint EU-UN Women program WeEmpowerAsia. This initiative is one of two tracks with the other focused on helping women business owners during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

Founder Gina Romero said that the reputation of Filipinos for being hard working will help us stand out in this fast-growth market.

Connected Women plans to train 200 women by the end of the year and 1,000 more by next year.

With more and more companies around the world using AI for their operations, the reality is that these machines still need to “learn”. This is where data labeling comes in. The process uses human intervention to train AI applications by labeling data such as images, text, or voice. The data is then labeled by the AI and verified by a human so that it can further improve its accuracy.

This industry is expected to be valued at more than $1 billion at the end of 2023 and $1.6 billion by the end of 2025. Google, Microsoft, Walmart and General Motors are only some of the global companies that have leveraged this community. 

Connected Women started as a platform where entrepreneurs from all over the world can look for high-quality Filipina talent. Foreseeing this new demand from tech giants who need the services of data labelers, they have expanded their programs to include training women to become adept data annotators.

The Connected Women community consists of over 70,000 members with the majority coming from Philippine megacities like Manila, Cebu and Davao. Connected Women are trying to reach smaller communities too, with the help of private sector partners and local government units.

During this pandemic, however, there is one uniting factor among these women—most of them were affected by the lockdown and sought other means of income during these trying times.

Seventy members were selected to be part of the initial pilot training for “Elevate AIDA [Artificial Intelligence Data Annotation],” where they were trained in basic data labeling skills such as image identification, classification and categorization. These are women who previously did not have any knowledge of AI or data labeling.

UN Women’s Ma. Rosalyn Mesina, WeEmpowerAsia Philippines Country Program Manager, said that she is very happy to support this project and provide more opportunities for Filipino women to access decent and fair jobs that will enable them to contribute to the socio-economic wellbeing of their families and communities.

With the strengthening of the country’s Internet infrastructure presenting a growing opportunity for those in far-flung communities who benefit from online work the most, Connected Women also partnered with the likes of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, Globe Telecom and Facebook to provide access to the necessary training, tools and connectivity to make their initiative a success.

According to Yoly Crisanto, Globe Sustainability Officer and SVP for Corporate Communications, developing skills in digital technology becomes more important and those who can learn this will reap the benefits, especially because of the new normal. 

“Globe is at the forefront of enabling digitalization, and we believe this initiative will help empower women by providing them with the necessary tools that can aid their training even while they are at home,” Crisanto said.

One of the participants of the pilot test was Ida, a single mother and a working student. Because of the lockdown, Ida not only needs to provide for her two young children but also take care of them and do her daily chores around the house.

Her greatest challenge was looking for work that would allow her to stay home with her children.

“It gives opportunities to single mothers like me who have a hard time looking for work,” she said.

With a daily pay of around P500 for categorizing batches of images, all the participants in the pilot test agreed that this was a reasonable rate. Tasks can be carried out at any time.

Experts are saying that flexible work is the future of most industries in the “new normal” which has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Romero said that more and more women are seeing this type of work as an alternative to their corporate jobs. In fact, the whole country seems to be considering this “new normal” as a viable career option. The Philippines is currently ranked as the 6th fastest-growing freelance market, with a 35% growth from 2019.

“Technology is a game-changer for women and providing access to remote and flexible work means having a choice between staying in the workforce or being forced to drop out.”

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