The leading Swiss AI start-up Unit8 gives something back to society – not just at Christmas, but throughout the year, too. Employees use 10% of their working time for projects dedicated to charitable purposes. Refugees, homeless people, children and young people, and forest fire prevention benefit from these efforts – and last but not least, the employees and customers of Unit8 do, too.
Artificial intelligence (AI) does not have the best reputation everywhere and is repeatedly stigmatised as unethical. ‘Like any other technology, AI is neutral in nature. Whether it has a positive or negative impact depends on the decisions made by the people who develop and use AI,’ says Dr Marcin Pietrzyk, CEO and co-founder of Unit8.
When he founded the start-up together with Michal Rachtan in 2017, they had a clear vision: ‘Our mission is to help companies, institutions and industries to accelerate the digital transformation. It’s not just about effectiveness and efficiency: the intention behind it also plays a role,’ says Pietrzyk. ‘We use data, advanced analytics and AI to make production processes more efficient and cleaner, for example, or to make financial institutions more robust. In turn, we help the pharmaceutical industry to find new and effective treatment methods.’ Another decision the two founders made early on: the benefits of these technologies should not only go to paying clientele.
‘We want to give back to society – not just on one day or two, but throughout the year,’
says Pietrzyk. ‘We therefore encourage our employees to dedicate ten percent of their working time to charitable projects.’
Artificial intelligence for good causes
When it comes to volunteering, Unit8’s ambition is to contribute to the principles of ‘AI for Good’. This initiative wants to use artificial intelligence as a force for good and is strongly aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including the fight against poverty, for healthy forests, better educational opportunities and taking action on climate change. Over the past four years, Unit8 employees have supported numerous projects at home and abroad, including the following:
Powercoders Switzerland: there are millions of refugees worldwide, and, at the same time, there is a great shortage of personnel in IT. Unit8 supports the Swiss non-profit program Powercoders, which gives refugees free programming training. Powercoders’ success rate is impressive: 90% of participants go on to get an internship, 60% find a job.
WWF Bolivia: forest fires threaten ecosystems all over the world, but, in South America, the consequences for people and the environment are particularly serious. Unit8 supports WWF Bolivia and the Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN) in predicting how fast a wildfire will spread, and in which direction. The AI-based models help those responsible to make the best possible decisions under pressure in order to keep the damage to both humans and nature as small as possible, evacuating the local population at the right time.
Kinderhilfswerk Rupert-Mayer-Stiftung Poland: since the very beginning of Unit8, the company has supported an orphanage that helps kids without parents or from rough backgrounds, e.g. by volunteering there for the summer camp.
Aeris Futuro Poland: the ‘Time for a Forest’ project run by the Polish Aeris Futuro Foundation compensates for CO2 emissions with species-rich reforestation throughout the country. Its services are aimed at both private individuals and companies. From spring 2022, Unit8 will be supporting the organisation with forest-based work such as planting trees, cleaning the forest around Krakow, and participating in environmental events raising awareness of our carbon footprint and its effect on the climate.
Unit8 wants to solve urgent problems not only by using AI, but also through year-round participation in volunteering projects. Michal Rachtan (CTO & co-founder) adds: ‘Addressing societal and environmental challenges is a huge source of fulfilment and purpose in our work. That’s one of the reasons the new generation of tech talents is choosing Unit8 over large and established tech companies.’