Creating Data Science Solutions to Serve the Good of Many: Highlights from DataKind’s Discovery Day

By Mallory Sheff, Portfolio Manager, Economic Resilience Impact Practice, DataKind

The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened inequalities in accessing economic opportunity around the world, impacting those who were previously economically disadvantaged the hardest. Globally, 150 million people are likely to be pushed into extreme poverty by the end of 2021, living at or below $3.20 USD a day. Within the US, 5 million people are at risk of losing their homes each year. People of color are twice as likely to have deferred or missed payments, putting them at higher risk of eviction and foreclosure.

We understand that the financial challenges faced by many across the globe didn’t start with the pandemic and that they won’t end with a single intervention. Designing solutions to help individuals, households, and communities out of this economic crisis and sustain them through other shocks that are sure to come is a top priority for policymakers, funders and philanthropists, business leaders, and the social sector. A stronger and more inclusive global economy is an imperative in our rapidly changing and increasingly connected world.

It’s with this focus that we set out to host a virtual Discovery Day to explore partnerships and projects focused on applying data science to pressing problems that impede individuals and communities from reaching economic stability and well being, such as access to credit and loans for small business investments and community revitalization. As one of our first touch points to engage with potential partner organizations, DataKind kicks off with project discovery – a chance for a deep conversation, or series of conversations, to explore pain points and how data science might help address them. Rather than holding these conversations over the course of multiple days, we hosted the Discovery Day in April 2021.

Read on to learn how we convened five organizations for this virtual event to not only explore the problems they were looking to address, but also learn about common challenges that, together, we aimed to unblock through the use of data science and AI.  

Identifying Cross-Cutting Challenges 

Designed as a multi-part event with one-on-one consultations, we teamed up participating organizations with volunteer expert data scientists to help them identify areas of opportunity for data science to help solve their pain points in operations, service delivery, or program understanding, and explore how we could generate project ideas on how this could fuel their work and missions. 

Discovery Days are one of DataKind’s key programmatic offerings and help us accomplish the following three primary objectives:

  1. Provide an opportunity to those working on the frontline to learn where cutting-edge technology can make their work easier
  2. Show us where we could play a role in tackling these problems
  3. Uncover hidden opportunities that bilateral conversations can overlook (Is there one solution/tool that would help multiple organizations?)

Below is an overview of our partner organizations, which support the resilience of the communities they serve.

Organization Mission
Bright Community Trust Bright Community Trust’s mission is to create healthy and sustainable neighborhoods so that hardworking families can thrive and achieve their goals. They build stronger communities across Florida by partnering with governments, for profits, and nonprofit entities. 
Opportunity International (Agricultural Finance Team & Education Finance Team) Opportunity International’s mission is to provide financial solutions and training to empower people living in poverty to transform their lives, their children’s futures, and their communities.
Rare (Fish Forever Program) Rare is the leading behavior change organization in conservation with a mission to help communities adopt sustainable behaviors toward their natural environment and resources.
UNDP Accelerator Labs, Bangladesh Accelerator Labs’ mission is to reimagine development for the 21st century by tapping into the relationships, resources, and expertise of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and its partners.
United Way Worldwide United Way Worldwide’s (UWW) mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good. They envision a world where every community is strong, with jobs that pay a livable wage, good schools, and a healthy environment. 

During two breakout sessions, volunteers from DataKind’s Scoping Squad guided organizations through discovery to explore their theory of change, discuss the obstacles they face in achieving their impact, and brainstorm potential data science solutions.


JamBoards were used as collaborative mechanisms to guide consultation sessions
JamBoards were used as collaborative mechanisms to guide consultation sessions

Insights from the Discovery Day

Our conversations with participating organizations were enlightening and highlighted various problem areas our partners face in achieving impact. 

While each organization supports different aspects of economic resilience and well-being – from access to safe and affordable housing to youth employment and the financial inclusion of smallholder farmers – many faced similar challenges:

  • Organizations keen to grow and expand are often held back because manual data entry is time-consuming and resource-draining
  • Organizations which want to leverage data science (by, for example, automating decision making to speed up processes) can’t because they don’t trust their data – usually for a good reason, and often because the data entry was done quickly and/or couldn’t be validated due to limited resources
  • Problem solving is often done in silos – few organizations are provided with the resources or support to design and create solutions that can boost their entire network or entire ecosystems (such as general data codebases or structures)

These challenges prevent organizations from making data-informed decisions to evaluate response, allocate resources, or even measure impact, resulting in lower impact to the communities served.

Looking Forward

We’re excited to dig deeper into these insights and themes to better understand how we can leverage data science in support of the economic resilience and well-being of individuals and communities around the world. Excited about participating in Discovery? We’re looking forward to hosting future Discovery Days. Follow us on social (Twitter | LinkedIn |Facebook) where we share upcoming opportunities to participate in our events.

As DataKind prepares to explore partnerships and projects addressing these challenges, we hope that you’ll join us in some capacity, whether that’s applying to volunteer for our upcoming  DataCorps® projects launching in the fall, sponsoring an upcoming Discovery Day or other event, or supporting our work. 


Mallory Sheff leads DataKind’s portfolio of work to support the economic resilience and wellbeing of individuals and communities around the world. She guides social impact organizations and pro bono experts to successfully design and execute projects that, taken together, ladder up to scalable solutions. 

Header image above courtesy of iStock/peeterv.

Quick Links

Join us in advancing the use of data science and AI to support causes that can help make the world a better place. 

Scroll to Top