Salesforce Launches Accelerator to Help Bring AI to Education-Related Nonprofits

Staff Writer

A new accelerator launched by the customer relationship management software giant Salesforce is backing six education-related nonprofits with the goal of helping them gain equitable access to new generative AI technology.

As part of AI for Impact, which started in June, the first cohort of companies will go through six months of coaching from Salesforce experts and other volunteers, as well as one-on-one consulting for a year.

Salesforce is also distributing $2 million across the organizations, and will donate products for companies to use for two years to develop their AI initiatives.

The goal is to get this new, evolving — and in many quarters, controversial — technology into the hands of mission-driven organizations, which may not otherwise have the resources to fully access and invest in emerging technologies, said Naomi Morenzoni, senior vice president of philanthropy for Salesforce, in an interview.

“This AI revolution that’s going on, it’s taking the world by storm,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that the organizations that are really supporting our communities, that are doing that frontline work, weren’t being left behind.”

The nonprofits in the AI For Impact cohort are:

This comes at a time when companies across sectors are competing to find new and innovative ways to incorporate new generative AI technology into products and services. While some educators are excited about the potential uses of AI in the classroom, others remain skeptical, with concerns about the potential for AI tools to perpetuate bias or make it easier for students to plagiarize.

Before selecting the cohort, Morenzoni said Salesforce spend six months talking with students and educators about their thoughts on AI, including through a series of “innovation sessions.”

“Generally speaking, what we’ve heard is a lot of excitement,” she said. “Generative AI, in particular, really can augment the superpowers of a teacher or administrator, allow them to do the things that they’re really good at — connecting one-on-one — [rather than] grading papers or doing manual tasks.”

Some of the goals of the nonprofits in the accelerator cohort include using AI to give students access to career coaching, personalized college recommendations, expediting the development of resumes and cover letters, and creating role-playing scenarios tailored for teacher development.

As for concerns about the potential for such technology to introduce bias or plagiarism into the classroom, Morenzoni said the organizations will have access to Salesforce’s ethical and humane use team, and use its “trusted AI principles” as a guide. The principles ask organizations to question how AI will be used, how it will be monitored, and how to ensure it’s being used the right way, she said.

Rollout of Grants to Districts

Salesforce also announced a continuation of its education and workforce development grants. The company is allocating $14 million across districts in San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Chicago, and Indianapolis — bringing the company’s total support since 2012 to $233 million.

Last year, Salesforce gave $25 million in grants to school districts and education nonprofits that included funding efforts to expand social-emotional learning in K-12 schools and improve teacher recruitment, retention, and diversity.

The new AI-focused accelerator is the companies second such program. It launched its first in December, for climate-focused nonprofits.

The plan is for Salesforce to do “more of these accelerators” going forward, Morenzoni said.

“We are in a middle middle of incredible transformation and disruption right now that’s happening in the education space, both from the last three years, and now with the AI revolution that we’re in,” she said. “We need to make sure that our schools and our teachers and our students can really participate so they can use and take advantage of this incredible technology.”

Image by Getty

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