A Step Change: DataKind Raises $20M Investment to Support the Data Science for Social Good Ecosystem

January 22, 2019

We’re thrilled to announce that DataKind is receiving major support from the new Data Science for Social Impact collaborative funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Impact Fund - administered by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Data Science for Social Impact is a transformational model for collaborative philanthropy to accelerate the use of data science by empowering nonprofit, civic, and government organizations with the tools, expertise, and other capabilities they need to help solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

The grant will allow DataKind to transition from a project to a platform-based model, thereby, supporting more organizations on a set of high impact areas, such as community health and inclusive growth. We’re humbled and honored that these two groups are supporting our mission with $20M over five years to help us grow to support the needs of the sector.

You helped us launch DataKind in 2011 to harness the upswell of people clamoring to use data science for social good. Over the last seven years, we built teams of pro bono data scientists and visionary nonprofits, governments, and social enterprises to collaborate around how to use data to better meet their missions. We watched with awe and excitement as volunteer teams and the Moulton Niguel Water District built algorithms to predict water demand, saving over $25M, and marveled when Global Witness’s analysis of corporate data with DataKind UK resulted in new government laws being passed to reduce corruption.

30,000 volunteers, 250 projects, and five global chapters later, we stepped back to think about how we could best drive our mission forward from here. In our quest to create a world where every social organization fighting for human prosperity can commission the data science solutions they need, we didn’t feel that more volunteer projects alone were the solution, especially given that more tech companies are providing their own pro bono data services. However, we did see that our pro bono projects were often the catalysts that drove nonprofits to embrace data science, foundations to fund more data science, or tech companies to adopt solutions we’d prototyped. We realized there was a way to use our ability to quickly scope and prototype data science solutions to not just support individual partners, but to also drive more capacity to the sector overall.

In this next phase of DataKind, we’ll work to support a thriving data science for social impact ecosystem writ large. We’ll still provide pro bono data science services to our partners, but these projects will now not be the end of our work, but just the beginning. Our four main activities will include:

  • Building data science projects that advance key issue areas: We’ll work directly with social organizations on data science projects within issue areas to learn more about the unmet data science needs that stretch beyond the individual organization to a coalition of interested and committed partners.

  • Identifying the brightest opportunities for data science: We’ll use our scoping abilities to identify the ways data science can be applied in social sector contexts, ensuring that data science solutions are designed thoughtfully, implemented ethically, and used effectively.

  • Connecting the social sector needs and private sector data science resources: With more institutions seeking ways to contribute to social impact through data science and more social organizations ready to use those resources, we’ll work to knock down barriers between them. We’ll elevate attention to the data science for good field with the goal of building social sector demand, data science talent resources, and philanthropic investment for all.

  • Catalyzing a thriving Data Science for Social Good ecosystem through partnerships: A healthy ecosystem requires forming the right “we” to deliver on a range of data science needs, and that “we” is completely dependent on the local context of those involved. While we’ll continue to deliver data science projects, we’ll also use partnerships wherever possible to foster an accessible ecosystem of data science resources.

It’s worth saying that we can only succeed in this work if we continue our work from a place of great humility. We know that we have support to offer, but it’s exactly that: support, and not an imposed solution. If we’ve succeeded at the end of five years, we’ll have made systemic shifts in data science capacity in three issue areas and greatly increased the amount of data science resourcing available to all.

We’re so pleased to be supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, who are helping us scale our work to this next phase. The Rockefeller Foundation was formed at a time when data was just beginning to be used to shape business and management processes, so analytical thinking and data-driven action is in their DNA. The Rockefeller Foundation also commits itself to tackling root causes, a philosophy that’s near and dear to our heart. The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth is a compatriot as well, sharing a vision of a social sector that can capably and ethically deploy data science to the world’s most pressing problems. Our project work with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth was some of the first long-term data science work we showed that created systemic change with organizations. They’ve committed a huge amount of time and energy to supporting the data for good movement, and we look forward to working with them.

We’re so excited for this next chapter. Over the next year, we’ll be hiring more folks to our leadership team, building out a new global strategy with our international chapter leaders, and diving deep into our first issue area in community health work. We have a long quest ahead of us, so if you’re an interested advisor, someone who might want to work at DataKind, a data scientist or nonprofit who believes in creating a world where data science is used for good, or just a fellow traveler on this path, come join us. If you haven’t already, sign up to stay in touch at datakind.org/get-involved, and stay tuned for volunteer projects, events, special requests to our community, live town halls, and more. We have lots to do and are ready to get started!