Grant Applications in the AI Era: What African Grant Seekers Need To Know

March 5, 2024
min read

Securing grant funding is the lifeblood for African organizations with big dreams but empty pockets. It's what transforms an idea scribbled on the back of a napkin into a high-impact project or initiative. But the tides are changing. Artificial intelligence (AI) is marching into the grant review process, bringing both exciting opportunities and daunting challenges for grant seekers.

Will an algorithm determine the fate of your proposal? Could a robot reviewer make or break your chances of funding? This seismic shift is not speculation - some funders already leverage AI to assess applications. And this may soon become the norm.

Understanding this new AI-powered landscape is crucial. Especially for African startups and NGOs seeking grants to turn vision into reality. This guide examines the AI grant review revolution. We'll explore the pros and cons of automated systems and provide actionable tips to help African grant seekers adapt and succeed in the AI era.

The future is here. Are you ready?

Implications for African Grant Seekers

The adoption of AI in reviewing grant applications will have both positive and negative implications for grant seekers. Below are the implications. 

Positive Implications (Opportunities for Grantmakers)

  • Increased Objectivity: AI can evaluate grant applications based on predefined criteria without biases or preconceptions, leading to fairer assessments. AI has no friend or preferred applicant to favor during the application process. 

  • Efficiency and Speed: AI can process a large number of applications quickly and accurately, reducing the time and resources required for manual review by humans. Grant seekers no longer need to wait for months to know the fate of their application. 

  • Consistency in Review: AI systems apply the same evaluation criteria consistently to all applications, ensuring uniformity in the review process. As long as the funder does not change the criteria, AI will continue to use the same metric for evaluation year in and year out without failing. 

  • Effective fund distribution: With AI, funders can handle a higher volume of applications, reach more potential recipients, and distribute funds more effectively. This means more funding for the most deserving applicants. 

  • Comprehensive feedback on Applications: AI can analyze data from past successful applications to identify patterns and factors contributing to their success and failure. Reviews from AI can help applicants understand what reviewers are looking for.

Negative Implications (Challenges) of Automated Reviews

  • Bias in Algorithms: AI algorithms may inherit biases present in the data used to train them, leading to unfair outcomes, especially if the data reflects historical inequalities or prejudices. An American AI review algorithm can disqualify an application by default upon seeing “Russia” even if it was used as an example. This is because the AI could have been programmed against any application casting Russia in a favourable light.

  • Lack of Contextual Understanding: AI may struggle to comprehend the nuanced context of certain applications, particularly those involving complex social or cultural issues, leading to misinterpretations or oversights. An application heavy on the culture of the Egun community in Lagos or Sepeteri people in Oyo might not make it through AI since such places might not be included in the data used to build it. 

  • Transparency Concerns: The inner workings of AI can be complex and opaque, making it challenging to understand how decisions are reached and difficult to challenge or appeal against outcomes. While a human reviewer can give detailed reasons such as lack of conviction, it is quite hard or impossible to trace how an AI reaches its conclusion. It sometimes hallucinates. 

  • Tougher Standards: Weak applications are at a greater disadvantage when reviewed with AI. There are some mistakes or omissions that could be overlooked by human reviewers. However, with AI, something as tiny as not using a comma can ruin the chances of the application because the absence of the comma alters the meaning. 

  • Limited Flexibility: AI systems may lack the flexibility and adaptability of human reviewers to consider exceptional circumstances or unconventional proposals that fall outside predefined criteria. There are worst-case scenarios or waivers based on emotion when dealing with human reviewers. Since AI has no emotions, potential applications can be ruled out for not meeting imputed data and requirements. 

  • Human Oversight Requirements: Despite the automation provided by AI, human oversight is still necessary to ensure the integrity of the review process, address any biases or errors, and handle exceptional cases that AI may struggle with. Humans imputed the algorithm used by the AI and can bring it to order when it begins to go astray. 

Tips to Scale Through 

With the pros and cons of this method of review highlighted, grant seekers must follow these best practices to avoid early-stage rejection. 

Learn the Exact Evaluation Criteria

  • Carefully study the funder’s guidelines published in RFPs. 
  • Ensure you meet the eligibility criteria before considering applying for a grant. 
  • Tailor and structure your proposals to directly address stated objectives. 

Craft Clear, Concise, and Structured Proposals

  • Never assume the reviewers are familiar with what you are talking about. 
  • Explain all concepts using simple words with brevity. Leave no stone unturned. 
  • Start with the key information relevant to the evaluation criteria. 
  • Emphasize measurable outputs and outcomes. Use numbers if possible. 
  • Always take note and include keywords such as hunger, empowerment, etc, as contained in RFPs in your proposal. 

Follow All Instructions and Formatting Guidelines

  • Follow grant application guidelines carefully to avoid bot disqualification. 
  • Use consistent formatting. Stick to one pattern or style in your proposal. 
  • Save files correctly following naming conventions or instructions. 
  • Strictly adhere to page limits, word counts, document types, required tables and charts, and appendix formatting. 

Seek Expert Grant Writing Assistance

  • Consult with specialists familiar with the latest trends in the grant industry.
  • Seek expert feedback on initial drafts addressing potential review system pitfalls
  • Hire experts in grant writing to enhance the quality of your proposal.

Charting the Course Ahead

The winds of change are blowing in grant application reviews. AI is fundamentally disrupting established processes. This seismic shift brings both opportunities and obstacles for African organizations seeking funding.

But the future remains bright. By understanding the implications, embracing the positives, and proactively addressing the challenges, African grant seekers can adapt and thrive.

Success requires a balanced approach. Recognize AI's benefits, but don't rely on algorithms alone. Invest in human-centered proposal crafting and expert guidance. 

With a sound strategy, realistic mindset and unrelenting persistence, African grant seekers can still turn proposals into funded projects, dreams into reality.

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