Over a decade of working in emergency relief in nine countries left me discouraged, hopeless and cynical. I had seen the effects of war, managed crises and experienced abuses of power. I struggled to see the impact of my work, to the point of noticing the detriment and potential harms of aid. Situations were bleak, and all I could see and feel was sorrow. I was on the verge of burnout.
My world turned around one day when a colleague introduced me to AI, and I subsequently began reading online posts and articles about Appreciative Inquiry, specifically applications of AI in the international aid and development context.
While explaining my doctoral dissertation ideas to a colleague in the early days of its formation, our conversation turned to AI. My dissertation focused on promoting positive male-gender socialisation among male refugees living in East Africa, as a means of preventing gender-based violence. Male-gender socialisation, the development of one’s gender identity, is a relational construct that refers to social expectations and ideals about how men are meant to behave.1 In this initial AI conversation with my colleague, she encouraged me to explore AI as a possible approach to uncovering this best-case scenario amid complex environments. My research was initially an attempt to challenge my inner cynic to grasp one last chance of a tangible hope; the outcome, with AI as my method, greatly exceeded these expectations.
AI was the reset button to my ‘hope meter’
AI complemented my world view as a follower of Jesus, and provided a practical application of gratitude: seeing positive change in unexpected places. AI, in many ways, was the reset button to my “hope meter”, and my vision suddenly opened from a myopic perspective of deficit details to the bigger picture of possibilities.
Today I apply AI to global health consulting efforts in East Africa and the Middle East, challenging the status quo of needs-based programming and community problem solving to promote creative, generative thinking that links what works to achieving the dream. I love seeing people’s faces light up when asked what they appreciate about their community or organisation, as well as the transformation that takes place when one tells a story and realises that the answer lies within themselves or their community. Furthermore, with each AI experience, I also learn something new: from the art of the right question to the power of storytelling to the transformative potential of dreaming.
While dreaming was a foreign concept to me before being introduced to AI, today dreaming is a way of thinking; a way of life. I recognise through AI that transformation is not only accessible for the people with whom I work, but I also have begun to thrive and flourish in all aspects of life. I have embraced the joy of working amid complexity, for possibilities for positive change are amplified by the generative power in such environments. Indeed, transformation among individuals and communities embracing the AI mindset is often palpable in these settings, restoring my own hope in the potential for positive change in complex environments.
Dunkle KL, Decker MR. Gender-bBsed Violence and HIV: Reviewing the evidence for links and causal pathways in the general population and high-risk groups. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology. 2013; 69:20–26.