Volunteer Spotlight: Ratri Maria

Meet Ratri! She’s the founder of ChangeMakr Asia and DataKind Singapore Chapter Leader. Originally from Indonesia, Ratri has been living in Singapore for 15 years, and her day job is in social impact, sustainability, and tech. Her organization works with groups to help them measure their progress toward the SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals) with regional benchmarking data. She’s also a mom to a seven year old daughter. Check out Ratri’s DataKind story below!

When did you first become involved with DataKind, and what motivated you to do that?

Well, I’ve just completed two years as the Chapter Leader for DataKind Singapore, but I think the first time I heard of DataKind was in 2020. Singapore was hit hard by a lot of very strict COVID rules that really stopped things. I was looking for a way to keep up my work with the Data for Good movement, and when I reached out to DataKind, they let me know that they were actually looking for a Chapter lead, and looking for someone who could bring both technical and nontechnical skills. I wanted to use my tech skills for something other than…I mean, I didn’t want to just create another shopping cart, you know?

Absolutely. That’s a great segue to my next question, which is, what nontechnical skills have you found helpful in your work with DataKind?

Empathy and conflict resolution. It’s not that there’s anything bad, but it’s just always the case when you work with different people in different time zones, with diverse backgrounds and cultural differences. You have to be ready to handle any conflict that comes up in a positive and friendly manner, managing each other’s expectations of how we’ll work together, ensuring that we can have good communication among the technical and nontechnical people on the project. 

Are there one or two projects that have really stood out to you?

Yes, I’m assisting with the route optimization project with SOIL, optimizing routes for last mile deliveries. I started working on it in 2019 to support the first tool, and now we’re updating the tools and rolling it out more widely to other organizations. Currently, we have two organizations, one in Kenya and one in Peru, that we’re developing it for. This really stood out to me because the potential of the use case is so wide. It’s for water and sanitation, but the use case can go all the way to medical care, for example, for remote or otherwise geographically challenging places. 

As I mentioned, I’m originally from Indonesia, which is a place that has a lot of people living in isolated, remote areas and islands, and they’re very much still facing these challenges. So I have a real sense of how big the impact could be.

How has working with DataKind supported or influenced your career?

Oh in lots of ways! I think, overall, it’s strengthened both my technical and non technical skills. I’ve had to be much more hands on with the technical work because I’ve always had a team to do that. There are many times at DataKind where an NGO partner has come to me with a question, and I have to try to understand it from a technical perspective so that I can speak to the technical volunteer as well as communicate it to the nontechnical user, the NGO. It’s like a product management skill, but I feel like it’s more than that – you need to speak with empathy. 

I’m also currently working on the issue of gender and climate nexus in the global south, and being involved with DataKind for two years has really helped me to build my confidence about data, and everything that could be done with data to improve this. 

Other than data science, what else are you passionate about?

I like running. I have a habit of early morning running, and my reason for that is not about wanting to be the fastest or run a marathon or anything. Not at all! It’s more like a meditative thing for me, just enjoying the quiet and the stillness in the morning. I also like to travel, but not to tourist destinations, to less crowded, unknown places. I just really enjoy the tranquility of the space.

What advice would you give to someone looking to volunteer with DataKind?

You should do it! Come with an open mind and see, there’s always room for learning. You’ll really have the opportunity to challenge yourself because the work is complex. You won’t have all the answers right away. It’s about continually trying, testing over and over again. I think that’s how we improve the world. All tools, especially technology tools, are about improvement. It’s never about zero to one. It’s about how you get to one hundred.

About Volunteer Spotlights

Our volunteers are the lifeblood of our mission. They’ve inspired people to use their skills in ways they never dreamed of. They’ve slayed misconceptions. They’ve shown organizations trying to make the world a more humane place how data science and AI can change the game. We’re honored (and thrilled) to feature their stories in DataKind’s Volunteer Spotlight series. Follow this series to learn about their impeccable skill sets, their work with our brilliant project partners, and what inspires them to give their time, resources, and energy to causes that matter. 

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