Not Just Numbers: Driving Social Good with Data

If knowledge is power, then data should an engine for making the world a better place. Finding good news about technology can be hard in a world full of cyber threats and shrinking privacy. It’s out there, though, and here’s the proof. Businesses and organizations of all sizes really are working to put data science to work on solving large scale social challenges.

From identifying biases that impact minorities and women to innovative ways of showing people how to lead healthier lives, these creative uses of data are turning business intelligence into the new superhero of social movements.

The following organizations represent the advance guard of those transforming data into philanthropy.

Safety Nets Come in All Sizes
When you think about what people need in the developing world, you probably think of water, food, shelter, medicine, etc. What you probably don’t think about is low-income insurance. This once traditional industry is waking up the need for applying data science to improving the lives of people living under dangerous conditions. MicroEnsure has already paid out more than $28 million in claims and pledged to serve at least five million more low-income households by 2020.

Outwitting Bias in Hiring
HR managers are pulling in more data from social media into their hiring practices, but that’s not necessarily helping to bring more women and minorities into the business world. Big data can do a better job of blinding the natural hiring bias, as long as businesses follow the best practices laid out at the EEOC’s panel on big data in the workplace. Marko Mrkonich of Littler Mendelson told the forum that the latest data-driven software “expands the applicant pool beyond those who even apply…. Big data, used correctly, eliminates discrimination in many of its most egregious forms.”

Freedom from Debt Traps
More than half the US is struggling with financial problems due to subprime credit. Lack of credit drives people into debt traps like pawn shops and payday loans. This not only makes life harder, it has a substantial dampening effect on the national spending. LendUp is one of the new breed of FinTech providers using big data analytics to help people improve their credit and open up more life choices for tens of millions of Americans.

Improving Health and Bolstering Resilience
If video games made kids healthier, there might be no public health crisis in the country. That kind of thinking was exactly what drove the makers of HopeLab to build a video game that fights cancer. Since that success, they have broadened their mission to build apps that improve public health based on data science.

Connecting the Data Points
There are many social programs in need of digital guidance and many technologists who want to do more with their skills, but bringing them together on projects where they can sync up the strengths has not been easy. DataKind is at the forefront of organizations that are bringing data science needs and resources into alignment.

The Next Wave
My own experiences in helping those in need as part of Living Water International changed how I view the world in ways I never imagined. I still carry a rock that came from a well near Saba, Honduras, as a reminder of what we can accomplish when we work together. Looking around, I can now see that there are endless ways to bring data into the social responsibility sphere and no limit to the number of non-profits in need of advanced business intelligence. Now is a great time to get involved, but there’s no time to waste. Data and technology have made communication and coordination far easier than any time in history. All that’s missing is the willpower to turn data into meaningful answers.


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