As the son of political exiles, Dr. Andrei Serbin Pont’s passion for justice and the protection of human rights runs deep. We sat down to talk about his latest projects at CRIES, the social and environmental research organization he is leading, and about his experience and vision of how AI can transform the work of nonprofits working with advocacy for vulnerable communities.

CRIES organization was a participant in the pro-bono GenAI Hackathon organized by Tech To The Rescue, where we matched them with SimplicityNext, a digital company from Singapore, for an impactful AI project. Does your tech company want to work on an impact project? Find out more here.

Setting the Scene: Struggles in Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean are regions rich in culture and history, yet they face immense socio-economic challenges. Despite rapid growth, the area is marked by political and social turmoil. Countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua grapple with authoritarian regimes, leading to mass protests and violent crackdowns. Corruption and economic instability deepen poverty and inequality, fueling widespread unrest. These struggles reveal the complex dance between governance, economic conditions, and human rights, setting the stage for the critical work of organizations like CRIES.

La Trocha Cucuta (Columbia) – One of the unofficial border crossings (trochas) between Colombia and Venezuela. Source: CRIES 

Turning Personal Experiences into Advocacy Efforts

Those circumstances played a pivotal role in shaping Dr. Andrei Serbin Pont’s worldview and aspirations. Dr. Serbin Pont currently serves as the President of  “Regional Coordinator of Economic and Social Research” (CRIES). He is also active as a regional representative at the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and a Senior Fellow at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy. As the son of social activists with personal experience of migration due to his parents’ activist engagement, he fully understands the importance of promoting social awareness and civil society principles. 

“I was born in Venezuela because my parents were political exiles from Argentina. Argentina had a very cruel dictatorship in the ’70s and ’80s. Venezuela, at the time, was the longest-standing democracy in the region. It was very stable, and it was a good opportunity. I stayed in Venezuela until 2001. It really marked me; it was very important for my formative years. Many times you have memories from your childhood, and sometimes it’s really hard to tell exactly when those memories happened. But I have one memory that I know was one of the first I could put a date on, and it’s combat airplanes flying over my house during 1992.” Dr. Andrei Serbin Pont says. 

Growing up in a socially conscious household and experiencing times of political unrest motivated him to pursue a career in promoting civil rights and becoming involved in CRIES. Since his father was actively working for the organization and served as President for several years, Andrei chose to continue his legacy.

Dr. Andrei Serbin-Pont and Andres at La Trocha Cucuta (Columbia). Source: CRIES

First AI initiative: Shedding light on the problem of firearms trafficking across Latin America

One of Andrei’s key initiatives as President of CRIES was introducing new technologies to the organization’s workflow to enhance its operations and conserve resources. This process began while working on the Small Arms and Light Weapons Dashboard for Latin America. As the region struggles with incidents of gun violence and illegal weapons trade, there is a need for a common methodology for registering these incidents. The project involved creating a comprehensive database of all small weapons incidents in a specific region, helping to ascertain the scale of weapons circulation and serving as a resource for local NGOs, who previously relied on government sources with unclear methodologies.

Building the database required researchers to meticulously comb through reports, articles, and news about weapon incidents by hand, which took up a significant portion of the overall project time. Each entry needed to have as much detailed information as possible, along with a verifiable source, date, and location.

A screenshot of small arms and light weapons incidents plotted on a map, as seen in the SALW Dashboard. Source

 

Andrei’s idea was to use Open Source Investigation methodologies to automate the web scraping process and streamline information gathering. It was the first CRIES project to feature AI, pioneering the use of new technologies in the research team’s operations. This not only saved hours of work for the researchers, allowing them to focus on analyzing the outcomes rather than manually scraping the web, but also set a precedent for other organizations conducting similar activities and in need of technological support. Currently, the database has gathered over 3,500 documented incidents over a two-and-a-half-year period.

Beyond Automation: AI to Empower Advocacy for Indigenous Communities across Latin America

The learnings from the previous project were applied to the BACAB project, which focuses on recording incidents against Indigenous communities and building an organized database of acts of violence against them, helping to assess the scale of the problem. Indigenous communities are especially vulnerable, as their livelihoods are often connected with valuable natural resources. They also seek various degrees of independence, which often leads to clashes with authoritarian government forces.  Indigenous peoples in Latin America face significant vulnerabilities due to historical injustices that continue through discriminatory practices and land dispossession, greatly impacting their well-being.

This project utilizes Open Source Investigation tools and regional researchers to identify and categorize incidents for inclusion in a publicly accessible database. This resource aims to support researchers in the fields of human rights and mass atrocity prevention. The project is currently underway and the dashboard will be publicly available in the summer of 2024.

Dr. Andrei Serbin-Pont at the Association of American States (OAS) event. Source: CRIES

The role of Tech To The Rescue in finding a pro-bono AI partner 

For the CRIES team, a crucial moment in getting their AI project off the ground was their participation in the pro-bono GenAI Hackathon, organized by Tech To The Rescue in collaboration with AWS. 

Our team was happy to facilitate this impactful partnership between CRIES and Simplify Next (SN), an experienced software team from Singapore. The hackathon match has now become an impactful, long-term collaboration, with the SN team guiding CRIES through the challenges of implementing artificial intelligence in their projects and enabling them to pioneer AI solutions for future initiatives.

“After the hackathon, we have meetings on a regular basis with SN and are positively surprised with how much effort and professionalism they have put into the project. In this way, we have been able to have a working AI that scrapes the internet to find the data we need, it includes a dashboard with extremely user-friendly for us to upload all the data that we had collected manually in the past.” says Fermin Selva, Program coordinator at CRIES. 

Exploring Open Source Investigation tools allowed CRIES to optimize their workforce, address large-scale issues at a micro-level, and share valuable information with other NGOs, setting a precedent for the adoption of advanced technology by similar organizations in the future.

Says Andrei: “It is a learning process in both instances. As we continue to refine the AI’s capabilities and approach the launch of our online dashboard {n.red. for monitoring crimes against Indigenous communities}, our excitement is palpable. This tool will not only serve experts in the field but also herald a new era of informed, data-driven advocacy for Indigenous rights.” 

Is your organization ready to join the AI revolution? Find out more about the AI for Changemakers accelerator program, and apply as an NGO in one of the upcoming cohorts. 

AI for Changemakers Accelerator Program

 

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