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Mayor of London awards £350K to AI firms battling poverty

Written by Tue 25 Jul 2023

The Mayor of London has awarded tech companies and AI firms with funding to support Londonders at risk of poverty. Seven projects have been awarded up to £50,000 each to tackle the cost of living crisis.

Among the winners as part of the ‘Poverty Prevention Challenge’ are AI firms helping renters refugees, and families struggling with food insecurity.

“The cost of living crisis continues to hit Londoners hard and these innovative projects will help thousands who are struggling to make ends meet in the wake of soaring energy costs and food prices,” said Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The money will fund innovations that will help Londoners reach financial independence and public sectors support people at risk of falling into financial hardship.

“Local government and community groups are working tirelessly to support residents during the cost of living crisis. But as a city we must continue to innovate, and AI and new digital services have a real role to play in assisting that,” added Khan.

City Hall data shows that 54% of Londoners are either ‘financially struggling’ or ‘just about managing’. The Mayor of London believed that supporting open calls to London’s tech sector can drive new approaches to tackle the challenges people face.

And the winners are…

Mealia, an AI grocery assistant designed to help households at risk of food insecurity maximise their food budget. Once consumers enter the meal they would like to prepare, the service finds the cheapest ingredients from supermarkets. Melia has a partnership with Asda, and hopes to add support for for Tesco, Morrisons, Aldi, and Sainsbury’s. The will be used to direct their expansion across London.

“[The financial backing] will support our ongoing efforts to combat poverty and alleviate food insecurity,” said Gabriel Corbet, Founder of Mealia.

Mendee won funding to support refugees in London, standing at more than 130,000 individuals. The majority of refugees (70%) are at risk of poverty. The Mendee service provides refugees with digital and literacy support tools in an effort to help overwhelmed non-profits. The startup was built using OpenAI’s ChatGPT and can translate websites in more than 50 languages.

“This signifies an endorsement of our dedication towards social change and validates our belief in the power of technology to combat poverty,” said Alex Choybsonov, Founder of Mendee.

Mortar Works will use its AI system Rent Response to flag and identify late rental payments.  The startup supports renters  in or at risk of rent arrears, protecting them from seeking out high-cost debt to make payments.

“At such a crucial time … we will be working to ensure that Rent Response improves access for renters to money advice services and creates the affordable rent schedules needed to help keep the most vulnerable safe and secure in their homes,” said George Unsworth, Founder of Mortar Works.

MatchingMind is a mental health platform that pairs people with therapists based on their lived experiences. According to the Poverty Prevention Challenge, it is a psychologically-informed approach that is designed with minority communities in mind. The funding will be used to further the company’s mission of connecting and matching Londoners for buddy support, enabling individuals to feel heard and understood.

“In the wake of the pandemic and a mounting cost of living crisis, mental health has been significantly affected people, with nearly half of the population experiencing elevated levels of stress and anxiety,” said Dr. Bela Prasad, Co-Founder of MatchingMind.

The Centre for the Advancement of Development and Human Rights (CAD-HR) provides free legal services, management, and admin services to residents and voluntary organisations across South East London. Their work focuses on migrant and deprived communities who cannot access mainstream services, but face health, social, and financial inequalities and exclusions.

“[The funding is] a validation of our concept … creating a positive impact by enhancing the economic well-being of struggling families, particularly women facing skills gaps and childcare challenges,” said Askia Ibrahim Warne, Founder of CAD-HR.

SuperFi help the 45% of UK adults who are struggling to pay their bills and credit commitments due to the rising cost of living. They support those  who are more likely to live in cities, people between 18-45,  and earn below average incomes. Their app helps Londoners struggling to pay their bills, manage their finances, and access services and resources most suited to their individual needs.

“Together, we will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of Londoners facing financial challenges, bolstering poverty prevention efforts in the capital,” said Tom Barltrop, Founder of SuperFi.

Time to Spare is a data management platform created by a small team of four. The platform allows charities to share their information with councils. As a result, councils can gain a broader reach into their area, and charities are able to provide more effective support for the people they work with.

“This funding enables us to bring together five councils from boroughs across London to develop, test and roll out our innovative prototype that will help them partner more closely with the voluntary sector to identify and reach vulnerable people that need support,” said Will Thompson, Founder of Time to Spare.

Phasing out poverty and phasing in AI

The ‘Poverty Prevention Challenge’ is part of Challenge LDN, which was launched by City Hall in partnership with Barnet Council. Challenge LDN has invested more than £2.5 million in supporting startups and small businesses scale up across London.

‘Poverty Prevention Challenge’ is the latest in more than 20 challenges set since 2018.

“This has allowed us to be bolder and work more collaboratively with London’s startups and scaleups. Seeking and testing new ideas and learning from others is an important part of London’s new way of working,” said Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer for London.

The awarding of AI firms comes just a week after the UN Security Council considered the ‘double-edged’ sword of AI in a ‘historic’ first meeting. The UK Foreign Secretary stressed that the challenges that AI poses must be grasped in order to unlock its potential benefits.

“Let us work together to ensure peace and security as we pass across the threshold of an unfamiliar world,” said UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at UN Security Council meeting.

Image Credit: David Holt

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Written by Tue 25 Jul 2023

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