People often say that this is the era of data; after all, data mining and extraction often prove essential for widescale business operations and more. Still, even as the demand for data analysts and data scientists rises every year, projects focusing on social change do not get the same advantages in this field as large private enterprises. Expansive tech corporations still hold most of the resources and information when using data analysis as a tool for operative efficiency.
However, many organizations seek to change this. One of them is DataKind, a volunteer-based organization dedicated to putting data in the service of others. The organization works on short and long-term projects addressing topics from poverty and access to services in developing countries to health care and education.
DataKind works with nonprofit organizations that have access to large quantities of gathered information and delivers high-quality analyses. These analyses help effectively streamline resources, creating new goals for NGOs and nonprofits so that more people can receive aid. In this way, DataKind has shifted the trends of big data and data analysis toward humanitarian projects.
CEO Jake Porway stated, “In 2010, we had the big-data boom, but the things that people would do with it seemed so frivolous — they would build apps to help them park their car or find a local bar. I just thought, ‘This is crazy, we need to do something more.’ ” After realizing that data analysis has a place in the nonprofit realm, Porway founded DataKind in 2010. Based in New York City, it originally had part-time data scientist volunteers working on short-term projects, but now the organization collaborates with more than a dozen international bodies such as the U.N.’s Global Pulse and the World Bank.
GiveDirect is an organization that focuses on transferring money to the poorest communities in Kenya and Uganda. These funds can go into communities, helping individuals pursue their own goals. To identify which villages will benefit from this, DataKind stepped in to analyze data from satellite images. It identified which households and villages were the poorest in each region. A programmed algorithm detected the materials of individual homes; thatched or metal roofs can be an indicator of a community’s needs. This proved to be more efficient and less costly than a traditional census in these remote areas.
This organization has a dedication to amplifying the voices of marginalized groups in West Africa by using mobile surveys in local languages. It targets remote communities’ main necessities, gathering insight on groups typically not represented in common censuses. DataKind enhanced data repositories and built interactive data models for VotoMobile to use for future data collection. With DataKind’s help, VotoMobile is now focussing on standardizing its surveys so they are easier to analyze and compare. When this stage is complete, VotoMobile will be able to take many more voices into account, prioritizing specific types of aid for rural villages in Uganda and Senegal.
The World Bank: Anti-Corruption Solutions
To effectively tackle poverty, it is necessary to root out corruption in development projects. In one of its most ambitious projects, DataKind collaborated with The World Bank, working with collected data from across the globe to identify possible corruption cases and create innovative solutions. It closely studied food prices, inflation rates, vis-a-vis surveys and phone data. Participants in this project have carefully mapped what variables are missing in the data. These strategies are not limited exclusively to future frameworks in data collection. They can also contribute to ingenious solutions for rampant corruption around the globe.
In the future, DataKind hopes to keep delivering new data-based solutions for international organizations and institutions, bringing new volunteers into the era of philanthropic data analysis.
– Araí Yegros