Solving for People: Pivotal for Good and DataKind Connects Data Scientists and Social Organizations

October 17, 2013 Paul M. Davis

DataKind founder Jake Porway speaks to attendees at a Chicago DataDive. Photo by Paul M. Davis for Shareable Magazine.

DataKind founder Jake Porway speaks to attendees at a Chicago DataDive. Photo by Paul M. Davis for Shareable Magazine.

The power and value of sophisticated data analysis is demonstrable in many contexts. From Wall Street to the White House, social media to healthcare, the greatest challenge for data-deluged organizations is not collection or storage, but finding skilled data scientists in this still-emerging field. This challenge is particularly acute for non-profits and social service organizations that are awash in data yet lack the resources to effectively leverage and act upon that information. Pivotal for Good, a partnership between Pivotal and non-profit DataKind, aims to bridge that gap by connecting Pivotal’s top-flight data scientists with social organizations and communities in need of their skills.

Formed in 2009, DataKind pairs volunteer data scientists with social organizations that have huge troves of data yet lack the money, time, or the skills necessary to analyze them. Teams of volunteer data scientists take part in an ongoing engagement with each social organization, working closely with the organization to identify needs and data questions, determine project scope and selection, and undertake deep data dives.

Past DataKind projects have included an engagement with the World Bank to understand the factors of inflation driving a Kenyan food crisis that affected a million people; an effort with DC Action for Children to determine and visualize childhood well-being indicators for the three out of every ten children in the city who live in poverty; and a collaboration with the government transparency organization the Sunlight Foundation to track and model the impact of campaign contributions and special interests on legislation.

Pivotal for Good is a commitment on the part of Pivotal to contribute to the burgeoning data philanthropy field that DataKind occupies. Much like an academic internship, select Pivotal data scientists will identify a project and benefiting organization, and devote three months of volunteer data science time to work with DataKind and the selected organization. “It’s a big deal to donate three months of data science time,” says Annika Jimenez, global head of Pivotal’s Data Science team. Jimenez sees the effort as “a clear statement of Pivotal’s commitment to philanthropic work,” as well as “an opportunity to spread mass awareness of data philanthropy.”

Pivotal’s engagement with DataKind will offer the company’s industry-leading data scientists an opportunity “to create sustained and impactful change that will come from embedding data scientists into non-profit organizations,” Jimenez says. These engagements, and DataKind’s ongoing data philanthropy efforts, also illuminate Big Data’s potential to address difficult problems and affect positive social change. Moreover, the partnership gives Pivotal data scientists an opportunity to give back in a meaningful way.

“I’m hiring a certain type of very technically and analytically-enabled person who has a passion for problem solving, and wants to leverage those problem solving tools for good,” says Jimenez. “[Pivotal for Good] will provide an outlet for the natural inclinations of the people that we’re hiring, and give them a means to do something really impactful.”

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