AI For Social Impact: Google.org And The Trevor Project
Google.org’s experts had heard from nonprofit partners who saw the potential to revolutionize their work through technology, but struggled to find staff with the skills to do so without competitive salaries. At the same time, Googlers had expressed a desire to do more to give back to their communities and leverage their expertise to tackle important global issues. At the nexus of these goals, Google.org launched a set of programs to empower nonprofits to transform their relationship with technology; the AI for Social Impact program offers direct funding and the best-in-class skills of Googlers through the Google.org Fellowship. From the first round of more than 2,600 applicants, Google selected The Trevor Project as one of only 20 winners to test the efficacy of this model in creating measurable social impact.
Google.org’s goals included demonstrating the power of AI to drive social change — and showcase Google’s unique impact, empowering Googlers to use their expertise to give back and engaging Google’s Pride@ and Trans@ ERGs in a full 360 experience.
The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) young people whose research has shown that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth consider suicide every year in the
US alone. Over the past three years, Trevor had seen a significant increase in the number of people reaching out for crisis counseling via text and chat; last year saw a 75% increase in crisis contacts than the year before.
As Trevor has grown, the organization recognized a substantial need for innovation in order to reach all the LGBTQ youth who need services with a high quality of care. Through the Google.org partnership, Trevor sought to:
- Build artificial intelligence programs that would empower growth and improve the efficacy of services — from serving youth at highest risk of suicide more quickly to training more crisis counseling volunteers to automating moderation on its TrevorSpace platform to create a safe online networking space for more young people.
- To build and maintain these new systems, Trevor needed to increase its expertise with a wide variety of technologies, from natural language processing to user experience research. Centering the experience of the youth served, Trevor sought to upskill existing staff and attract high-quality talent in new positions on its Technology team.
- Position the organization as a thought leader in leveraging technology to scale impact.
- Increase the reach of Trevor’s life-saving services, while enhancing the user experience and quality of care for the young people who rely on Trevor’s services.
Through two AI for Social Good grants, Google.org has invested more than $2.7 million in innovation at Trevor. These transformative funds have made possible three artificial
intelligence projects that empower Trevor to better serve LGBTQ youth. Google.org’s significant funding has enabled Trevor to grow its technology team and allowed the organization to continue pioneering new solutions for social good.
AI projects included:
- Using machine learning and natural language processing to place youth at higher risk of suicide in a priority queue for TrevorText and TrevorChat to ensure they receive a response most quickly
- An AI-powered tool to simulate crisis conversations with trainees, saving hours of staff time previously spent on role plays and making training program more flexible and scalable
- An automated moderation system to flag content that indicate LGBTQ youth on TrevorSpace are in crisis, helping Trevor more quickly connect users in need to its crisis intervention services.
In 2020, 26 Google Employees joined the Trevor team for 6-months: 21 Google.org Fellows who worked with Trevor full-time, and 5 Google employees who devoted 20% of their work time to Trevor. The Google.org Fellows became a part of Trevor’s team, helping to complete the AI-focused projects in the present while leaving Trevor’s team with best-in-class knowledge for the future.
Trevor also rolled out a program by which Googlers could become crisis counselors, counselors who would ultimately use the exact tools that were being built through the partnership.
As a result, Trevor has transformed its technology department and integrated leading-edge technology into all aspects of its programs. The experience with the Google.org Fellows inspired Trevor’s decision to bring on its first-ever UX Researcher and UX Designer, and increased its team’s leadership on product management, user experience research, software engineering, machine learning, and AI-fairness. In 2017, Trevor had only one dedicated technology staffer at Trevor; now, just 4 years later, Trevor has a team of over 20 talented professionals.
The Trevor Project’s profile as a technologically innovative nonprofit has skyrocketed in the last year. The organization has had multiple large-scale grants and partnerships launch as a direct result of press on its partnership with Google, and were recently featured for the first time
in the MIT Technology Review.
Further, Trevor can now more accurately predict risk-level for text/chat crisis contacts and more quickly serve LGBTQ youth at high risk of suicide. From September – December 2020, Trevor served more than 3x high/imminent risk crisis contacts as were served prior to launching the queue bifurcation model. Trevor has also experienced a 79% decrease in wait times for high/imminent risk contacts reaching out via text and entering the priority queue.
Additionally, Google.org crisis counselors have volunteered for over 250 hours in 2020, and have served more than 300 LGBTQ youth directly with free and confidential crisis counseling.