The Rockefeller Foundation invests in satellite data and AI to accelerate economic development and climate resilience in Africa

The Rockefeller Foundation invests in satellite data and AI to accelerate economic development and climate resilience in Africa

Anticipated release in 2021 of a collaboration examining AI analysis of human settlements activity in Nairobi

The Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation announced a new $5.5 million collaboration with e-GUIDE and Atlas AI to accelerate economic development and promote investment in climate-resilient infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. Leveraging satellite data and machine learning technologies, this three-year effort will produce unprecedented insight into community wellbeing through a groundbreaking digital platform, which draws on new research and accessible datasets. to the public covering the link between agriculture, energy and transport. sector development conditions. Initially covering Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, the platform will provide policymakers with in-depth cross-sector insight into areas where new infrastructure development can help alleviate community vulnerabilities and promote economic opportunity. , ultimately helping efforts to more effectively prioritize and sequence investments in these key sectors. sectors.

“While data science has been used to improve individual development projects, we have yet to unlock its potential to improve system-level development – ​​which is critical as efforts to drive change in the energy, agriculture and transportation must be integrated to make opportunity universal and sustainable,” said Zia Khan, senior vice president of innovation at the Rockefeller Foundation. “We are excited about the potential of this collaboration to give policymakers, investors and operators more dynamic situational awareness of local conditions and help them improve those conditions for the people they serve.”

Launched in 2018 by the Rockefeller Foundation alongside the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Colorado School of Mines, e-GUIDE (Electricity Growth and Use In Developing Economies Initiative) is an effort to apply data science to electricity demand forecasting in emerging energy-poor economies.

“We want to develop tools to measure how infrastructural developments such as roads, power systems and agriculture lead to economic development,” said Jay Taneja, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst and principal investigator of the project. . “We want to understand which combinations result in the most widespread and rapid economic development, primarily in sub-Saharan African countries.”

e-GUIDE, which has successfully harnessed AI to predict electricity consumption in Africa and measure the productive use of energy in Africa’s agricultural sector, is joined in the effort by Atlas AI, a tech startup public interest company based in Silicon Valley. Created in 2018 by the Rockefeller Foundation and a team of professors from Stanford University, Atlas AI uses data from a range of planetary sensors along with deep learning technologies to monitor changes in economic well-being. and global society. Atlas AI has extensive experience building hyperlocal socio-economic datasets, predictive analytics models, and software platforms to guide complex policy and investment decisions.

“For more than a decade, the scientific community has been demonstrating the use of data from new sensors such as satellites as well as AI technologies to measure specific development indicators such as staple crop performance, accumulation of household wealth and the pace of electrification,” said Abe Tarapani, CEO of Atlas AI. “Real-world investment decisions don’t map as well to any of these buckets, and we are excited to be part of this pioneering consortium to unlock a more dynamic and practical understanding of how limited resources can best support improved livelihoods in local communities.”

e-GUIDE and Atlas AI have also partnered with the Kigali Collaborative Research Center (KCRC) in Rwanda to leverage KCRC’s research and innovation leadership in energy systems, data science, artificial intelligence, transport and climate change across Africa.

Urgent action required:

  • Even though Africa’s share of carbon emissions is less than 3% of global emissions, it is expected to bear the brunt of the economic impact of climate change according to the African Development Bank.
  • According to the World Bank, current efforts to build resilience to climate change in African food systems are effective, but fall short when it comes to tackling the problem at scale.
  • Hundreds of millions of people lack access to safe and reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, hampering the development and climate resilience goals of many governments.
  • The lack of widespread data on transport infrastructure in Africa is limiting investment in resilient solutions in a sector that is responsible for around a quarter of all global emissions.

In response, the platform developed by e-GUIDE, Atlas AI and KCRC is the result of thousands of hours of computation on petabytes of data covering electrification, agriculture, transport and human settlement activities. , breaking the silo-centric approach prevalent in many traditional sector-specific development data platforms.

“We are starting with Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya,” Professor Taneja continued, “because these four countries represent places where we already have strong relationships and are already collaborating on projects. We look forward to extending the initiative’s coverage to more countries in the years to come.

In addition, an advisory board is being created which will initially be comprised of four independent experts with deep expertise in one or more areas of interest.

About Atlas AI

Atlas AI is a predictive analytics platform that enables organizations to optimize performance and extend reach by investing in underserved communities around the world. Founded by a team of scientists from Stanford University in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and with support from Airbus Ventures and Micron Technologies Inc., we leverage a range of planet-scale datasets and the latest advances in artificial intelligence to measure local socio-economic changes such as population demographics, access to infrastructure, household purchasing power and agricultural yields. We use this proprietary data to analyze, monitor and forecast regions of growth and untapped potential to offer insight into where organizations can grow most successfully and where investments can best drive economic progress. Visit

About eGUIDE

The Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economies (e-GUIDE) initiative aims to transform the approaches used for planning and operating electricity infrastructure in developing regions. We build scalable, cross-national, verified data measurement and analysis techniques using real-world electricity consumption and infrastructure data. We partner with electric utility companies to develop our techniques, deploy them at scale, and build data and analytics capabilities in the electric industry. The Initiative is funded by $5.8 million in grants from the Rockefeller Foundation. Learn more:

About the Rockefeller Foundation

The Rockefeller Foundation is a pioneering philanthropy founded on collaborative partnerships at the frontiers of science, technology and innovation to enable individuals, families and communities to flourish. We work to promote the well-being of humanity and make opportunity universal. Our goal is to develop renewable energies for all, to stimulate economic mobility and to ensure equitable access to healthy and nutritious food. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

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