The social enterprise teaching tech to refugees in Bulgaria
A social enterprise in Bulgaria is helping change the lives of 100 refugees in the country, by providing them with the skills to work in the booming artificial intelligence industry.
Humans In The Loop (HITL) teaches refugees – mostly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who have settled in Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member, where state aid is almost non-existent – how to collect, sort and categorize the various types of images and data needed to power algorithms essential to AI technology.
The work is project-based, requires only a computer and internet connection and requires no specific language skills. The collected data are then used for products such as augmented reality games, smart drones, CCTV face recognition and even self-driving cars for clients around the world.
HITL is the brainchild of Iva Gumnishka, 25, who trains the refugees in a classroom in Sofia, until they can do the work from home.
"We mostly insist that these people are really very well prepared and trained, that they work in small, dedicated teams, that they have supervisors working with them, so our quality that we provide to our clients is the most important thing," she told AFP.
Gumnishka began the project two years ago after returning to Bulgaria from studying human rights at Columbia University in New York, teaching digital skills to a handful of refugees in a bid to help them find freelance work. That number has swelled to more than 100 displaced families now being able to find regular work.
"Before, I couldn't take any job because I had to take care of the kids. Now, I can work from home and the job is easy," said single mother-of-two Sara Faizi, a former bank branch operations manager from Afghanistan. When she arrived in Bulgaria, she neither spoke the local language, nor had any contacts to find work.
HITL has tapped into such a "very specific niche" in a blossoming marketplace, according to Gumnishka. It has partnered with further non-profit organizations on similar projects in Syria, Turkey and Iraq.