Social Startups and Data Science
By Aditi Bhat
In India, we are constantly exposed to the inequalities and man-made problems of the world, be it hunger, poverty, lack of infrastructure, or pollution. With millennials turning their focus towards work that gives them a sense of purpose, there is now a generation of people empowered with technological skills needed to make the world a slightly better place. They are working for and setting up organisations, large and small, to harness the power of data to find trends, predict outcomes, and prescribe solutions to social issues worldwide.
Making a difference
Organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Change.org, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, invest heavily in data science and analytics for many reasons. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation uses data science internally to analyse opportunities, find gaps that need to be filled, figure out how much to invest in solving the problem they found, and track their progress.
They also host and publicly share the data they gather because they believe that they can better, identify opportunities, assess evidence, learn from each other’s experiences and build trust by relying on an open exchange of ideas and information. For example, earlier this year they invested in gathering data about women and girls to improve their representation and visibility to advance gender equality.
Bringing about a change
Change.org allows users to create and distribute petitions to submit to governments and policy makers. They use data science to help improve their user experience because they know that their users are the ones whose actions will help make a difference. One of their goals is to bridge the gap between parsing search parameters and truly understanding what a user is looking for in their database.
Change.org is able to engage with their audience better and have them sign more relevant petitions by improving their search results and tailoring them for each user. For example, by analysing data about their users and petitions, they found that localizing their website for non-English speakers gave a voice to the people who were not otherwise able to influence policy makers in their communities.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development analyses data about a variety of topics to help governments and policy makers tackle social and economic issues in their regions. By aggregating and analysing big data, they are able to make predictions, and set standards about topics ranging from agriculture and fisheries to bribery and corruption to help governments accelerate their work.
We, millennials, are a generation that does not need to second guess a hunch we have about a problem in the world. With the power of information at our fingertips, opportunities do not need years of research or a great sense of intuition any more. We can just look online for the reassurance we need and dive right into solving the problems we see.