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As part of our USAID-funded Syria Livelihoods Program (SLP) in Northeast Syria, Proximity is creating employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. SLP focuses on equitable income generation and access to services for women, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups, creating an inclusive enabling environment or economic recovery.


USAID has recently highlighted some of the individual success stories of the project on their USAID Syria Facebook account. These success stories are part of the 200 access to capital awards SLP is issuing to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Northeast Syria.

 

Story 1

“In order to be the breadwinner for myself and my family, I must work and never stop," says Montaha, 38 years old and mother of three, in Raqqa City.


Montaha is one of hundreds of job seekers with disabilities in Raqqa governorate for whom SLP has found paid work placements.


“USAID found me employment in a bakery making pastries and sweets. When I am working, I appear to myself and to others as stronger and of more value to the community.”



 

Story 2

Aisha, 45 years old and originally from Homs, owns a clothing retail business in Tabqa City. Like hundreds of other women with disabilities in Raqqa governorate, SLP is helping Aisha to grow her small business.


“USAID has helped me develop a business plan for an expansion,” says Aisha. “I applied for financial support to grow my business, expand my shop and improve the position of my products on the local market – receiving the financial support will really improve my psychological and financial situation.”



 

Story 3

“USAID supported me with a financial award to open a small sewing workshop near my house in my village. This support provided me with permanent professional stability and provides a convenient local service for women in my community. I have a lot of customers!” says Aya, 28, from rural Raqqa governorate.



 

About the project: SLP fosters resilience and stability in conflict-affected communities across Syria, by reviving livelihoods and restoring local economies. Low income and prevailing unemployment are principal drivers of instability in Northeast Syria, and SLP directly addresses this through job creation and increased income generation. SLP provides market-led support to entrepreneurs and MSMEs in Northeast Syria to catalyze economic growth through targeted demand driven interventions believed to be foundational for stabilizing the economy of Northeast Syria.

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With current analysis suggesting that ChatGPT is the fastest growing app in Internet history, we wanted to consider its potential uses for development, and M&E in particular.


We were thinking about which expert to speak with – and then realized that we might as well talk to ChatGPT directly about what it offers!


So we created an account on ChatGPT and asked it a number of questions. The artificial intelligence chatbot provided the following answers (which we have not edited).



Proximity: Do you think ChatGPT can be used to benefit international development work?

ChatGPT: Yes, I believe ChatGPT has the potential to benefit international development work in various ways. For instance, it can help facilitate communication and information-sharing among stakeholders and partners involved in development projects. Its natural language processing capabilities can also help in the development of chatbots that can provide helpful information and assistance to beneficiaries in remote or hard-to-reach areas. Additionally, ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities can be utilized to analyze and make sense of complex data sets, allowing for more informed decision-making in the field of international development.

Proximity: Can you provide any examples of this data set analysis?

ChatGPT: Sure, one example of using ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities in international development work could be in analyzing large datasets related to food security. By training ChatGPT on existing data and using it to identify patterns and trends in food production, consumption, and distribution, we could better understand food security challenges in different regions and design more effective interventions. Another example could be in analyzing data related to disease outbreaks or public health issues, allowing us to identify risk factors and take preventive measures. In both cases, ChatGPT's ability to learn from large datasets and make sense of complex information could be incredibly valuable in informing decision-making and improving outcomes in international development work.


Proximity: And what role could ChatGPT play in emergency contexts?

ChatGPT: In emergency contexts, ChatGPT could be a valuable tool in providing timely and accurate information to affected communities. For example, ChatGPT could help facilitate communication between responders and communities by translating messages in different languages, which can be essential in multilingual communities. ChatGPT's natural language processing capabilities could also be utilized to develop chatbots that can provide personalized information to individuals, such as tips on staying safe during an emergency or information on how to access essential services.

Moreover, ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities can help in analyzing data related to emergency situations, such as social media or satellite imagery, which can provide valuable insights into the extent of the damage and the needs of affected communities. This information can be used to improve emergency response efforts, by providing responders with a more comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground, and by allowing them to target their efforts and resources more effectively. Overall, ChatGPT has the potential to make a significant impact in emergency contexts, by improving communication and facilitating better decision-making.


Proximity: Are there any uses of ChatGPT for monitoring and evaluation, in particular?

ChatGPT: Yes, ChatGPT can be used for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in international development. One way it could be used is by analyzing data from various sources to identify patterns and trends that can help inform program design and implementation. For example, ChatGPT can be used to analyze social media posts, news articles, and other online sources to assess the impact of a particular program or intervention. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used to conduct real-time sentiment analysis, allowing us to understand how people feel about specific issues related to international development.

Furthermore, ChatGPT's natural language processing capabilities can help in the development of chatbots that can provide real-time feedback and support to program beneficiaries. This can help us track progress towards program goals and identify areas where improvements can be made. By leveraging ChatGPT for M&E, we can make data-driven decisions that lead to more effective programs and better outcomes for the communities we serve.

Proximity: Would ChatGPT still be helpful in complex contexts where collecting primary data is risky and difficult?

ChatGPT: Yes, ChatGPT could be particularly helpful in complex development contexts where collecting primary data is risky and difficult. In such contexts, secondary data sources like news articles, social media posts, and reports from other organizations may be the only viable sources of information. ChatGPT's natural language processing capabilities can help us make sense of this data, identify trends and patterns, and inform decision-making even in the absence of primary data.

Proximity: Could ChatGPT help organizations to learn from monitoring and evaluation data they have collected?

ChatGPT: Yes, ChatGPT could be used to help development organizations learn from monitoring and evaluation (M&E) data they have collected. By analyzing M&E data using natural language processing techniques, ChatGPT could help identify patterns and trends that might not be apparent through traditional data analysis methods. It could also help identify potential causal relationships between program interventions and outcomes, enabling organizations to better understand what works and what doesn't.

Furthermore, ChatGPT could be used to develop chatbots that provide real-time feedback to program beneficiaries, allowing organizations to monitor progress towards program goals and identify areas where improvements can be made. By collecting feedback in real-time, organizations can respond quickly to emerging issues and make necessary adjustments to program design or implementation.

Overall, by leveraging ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities and natural language processing abilities, development organizations can gain deeper insights from their M&E data and make more informed decisions about program design and implementation.

Proximity: Are there any risks of using ChatGPT that organizations should be aware of? ChatGPT: Yes, there are some risks that development organizations should be aware of when using ChatGPT or any other machine learning technology. One of the main risks is bias. Machine learning algorithms like ChatGPT learn from existing data, which means that they may perpetuate existing biases in the data. This could lead to discriminatory or unfair outcomes, particularly if the data used to train ChatGPT is not diverse or representative.

Another risk is privacy and security. ChatGPT may be trained on sensitive or confidential data, which could be compromised if the algorithm is not properly secured. Organizations should take appropriate measures to ensure that data privacy and security are maintained at all times. Furthermore, there is a risk of overreliance on machine learning technology like ChatGPT. While it can be a powerful tool, it should not be used as a replacement for human expertise and judgement. Development organizations should ensure that they have the necessary human capacity to interpret and act on the insights provided by ChatGPT.

Finally, development organizations should be transparent about their use of ChatGPT and other machine learning technologies, particularly if they are using them to make decisions that impact people's lives. This includes being transparent about the data being used to train ChatGPT, the algorithms being used, and how decisions are being made based on its output.

Proximity: What first steps would you suggest for organizations wanting to leverage ChatGBT? ChatGPT: The first step for international development organizations wanting to leverage ChatGPT would be to assess their data needs and capabilities. This would involve identifying the specific challenges they are trying to address and the types of data that are relevant to those challenges. They would also need to assess their capacity for collecting and analyzing data, as well as their readiness to adopt machine learning technologies like ChatGPT.

Once they have a clear understanding of their data needs and capabilities, organizations could start exploring the use of ChatGPT for specific applications. This could involve starting with a small pilot project to test the technology and assess its potential impact. For example, they could use ChatGPT to analyze social media data related to a specific development issue or to develop a chatbot that provides information and support to program beneficiaries.

As they begin to use ChatGPT, organizations should be mindful of the risks and limitations of the technology, as well as the need to maintain transparency and accountability. They should also be prepared to invest in the necessary infrastructure and human resources to support the use of ChatGPT and other machine learning technologies.

Finally, international development organizations should collaborate with other organizations and stakeholders in the development sector to share best practices and ensure that the use of ChatGPT and other technologies is aligned with the broader goals of sustainable development.



Proximity: Thanks you very much for all the information! ChatGPT: You're welcome! It was my pleasure to help. If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask!



This interview was conducted by Ezra Karmel and Haitham Abdallah. Ezra is the Director of the Proximity Lab, and Haitham is an RMEL and program development expert working in the MENA region who as worked on several Proximity projects.

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Rapid assessments are identifying crucial humanitarian needs in the aftermath of the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, but they could benefit from closer reflection on how to support the recovery of urgently needed livelihoods, particularly for the most vulnerable.


Following the devastating earthquakes that struck Syria and Türkiye on February 6, rapid assessments were quickly launched to identify needs in affected communities, track displacement patterns, and assess availability of essential services. Using traditional data-collection methods and more innovative solutions, such as drones and satellite images, detailed overviews and analysis were available within days to identify some of the dire needs in the affected communities.


With seemingly insurmountable needs captured in the rapid assessments, humanitarian actors are endeavoring to find solutions and strategies that will have quick results. These organizations are delivering according to the identified needs. For instance, there is data showing that while functioning markets remain in Northwest Syria, many households lack sufficient funds to purchase goods from those markets. As such, humanitarian actors are focusing, inter alia, on providing multipurpose cash assistance and cash for protection for vulnerable, women-headed households. While this type of assistance is needed, it is inherently unsustainable. After limited rounds of assistance, households will not be able to meet their needs.


Integrated and immediate humanitarian aid programs are indispensable, but they can create dependencies – especially for the most vulnerable members of the affected communities. Prior to the earthquake, many families were already highly dependent on aid and able neither to meet basic needs nor access sufficient public services without humanitarian funding. To mitigate the dependency on external assistance, which is also being stretched thin in the face of other global crises (such as Ukraine and Afghanistan), humanitarian actors and donors need deeper insight about how to allocate resources for not only the coming days, but also the months and years ahead.


These insights are essential as the pressure mounts on community members – particularly vulnerable ones – to create incomes that can cover their needs as aid declines. This pressure could spiral into protection risks, and we will likely result in an increase in early marriage, child labor, and other concerns affecting women and girls. We have observed over the past years that protection risks are linked to the families’ livelihoods, which means that women-headed households with lower incomes are particularly at risk.


These women-headed households face not only the pressure of earning the family’s income, but also of unpaid care duties, which may hinder their abilities to re-start their livelihoods – or force older children, especially girls, to drop out of school to take care of younger siblings. In turn, this dynamic places these school drop-outs in a difficult position when looking to find employment in the coming years.


Therefore, even in the immediate wake of the earthquakes, needs assessments should reflect the ideas, needs, and preferences of (women-headed) households for building and recovering livelihoods. These assessments will be crucial for providing the international community with guidance on how to shape responses by providing suitable and sustainable livelihood and income-generation opportunities.


As a result of the devastating consequences of the earthquakes, households may require loans or grants to re-start their previous businesses. Families may also decide to settle in rural areas but face challenges entering the agriculture sector without owning their own land. Families may also turn to running home-based business but lack the requisite start-up capital or marketing skills. But we won’t be sure – not until we ask the affected communities.


The earthquakes have pushed people to leave their homes in search of safety and stability. Temporary shelters and reliance on relatives may provide safety. However, humanitarian programs will need to step in for stability, supporting emergency livelihood opportunities for the affected people. Humanitarian programs are unlikely to focus their resources in this area – unless we collect data on these needs and provide evidence of their importance.



Katharina is Proximity's Strategic Development Lead and Program Manager. She was previously based in Hatay where she worked with the Syrian organization Violet, supporting Northwest Syria's humanitarian response.


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