DataKind 2019: A Year in Photos

January 7, 2020

Happy New Year data do-gooders! We can’t believe 2020 marks eight years since the DataKind community first came together.

In just seven short years, we’ve built a global chapter network across New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Bangalore, Singapore, and the United Kingdom of more than 20,000 data scientists, AI engineers, and kindhearted technologists. These dedicated folks have used their skills to successfully complete over 300 projects across all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and delivered over $35 million in pro bono data science services to their communities. 

As we look back at 2019, we can’t help but reflect on the groundswell of activity that has taken place at the local level around the world. From DataKind UK creating a digital ethics framework for health charities and launching an ethics (virtual) book club to DataKind San Francisco working with eight mission-driven organizations to DataKind Singapore partnering with Effective Altruism and developing a primer on AI governance to DataKind Washington DC hosting its first-ever Citizen Science DataDive to DataKind Bangalore leading a 3-part DataJam series on analyzing transit in cities with open data… wow, 2019 was a stellar year! And these are just some of the highlights.

Our volunteers represent some of the leading data scientists and forward-thinking social innovators around the globe, spearheading the data for good movement in their communities, organizing events, and connecting other data scientists with social sector organizations to uncover world-changing answers through data. Here are just a few highlights from our excellent volunteers in 2019:

  • Over 420 DataKind volunteers from 39 countries and across 19 time zones worked alongside Google.org to help select and vet proposals, as well as support the winners of the Google AI Impact Challenge. Volunteers reviewed more than 2,600 “AI for good” applications from 119 countries. 
  • We completed a project with SOIL Haiti, a nonprofit which promotes the use of ecological sanitation. They convert human waste into valuable compost via no-flush toilets that are transported to sites for use, the regularly collected, cleaned and recirculated back to partnering communities. The DataKind volunteer team built a route optimization model to increase the efficiency of SOIL’s fleet of vehicles involved in waste collection, which reduces their operating costs, lowers their carbon footprint, and provides greater dignity for the participating communities. Working on this project revealed that route optimization is a challenge for logistics across the social sector. DataKind is now developing a general, open source, version of the model for other organizations looking to find the shortest route while still passing through a select set of points.
  • More than 100 DataKind volunteers from around the world, hailing from 5 continents and 8 time zones, showed up for our first-ever virtual DataDive in partnership with Microsoft, donating their time and talent to 8 amazing organizations working in important issues facing metropolitan areas.
  • To provide a dignified and more efficient experience for the approximately 40 million people who visit charitable food programs in the US each year, Plentiful created an app designed to help both users and pantries. The app helps manage client check-ins during service periods, helps reduce client wait-time for food pantry visitors, and locates food providers that best suit an individual’s needs. The DataKind volunteer team created a series of interactive dashboards at both the macro and micro levels to track and monitor trends in Plentiful data, allowing them to respond to issues faster, connect more people to food, and improve operational efficiencies. These dashboards allow Plentiful to identify trends over time and by geography and customer segment, giving them the insights which will help inform future initiatives and investments. The team also built an automatic alert system to notify Plentiful of anomalies in cancellations (such as an above average frequency), which will direct staff to investigate the matter more closely to see if it requires a rapid response. We’ve seen that building interactive dashboards can make it considerably easier for a data-rich, but resource-constrained, organization to make decisions about how to allocate their capacity more effectively. 
  • According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse, nearly half of all students entering college are at risk of leaving without earning a degree. John Jay College, located in New York City, inquired how existing student data and machine learning techniques could be combined to address challenges surrounding  graduation completion rates. John Jay looked to DataKind volunteer data scientists back in 2017 to help answer these questions and develop a tool to support their efforts to improve graduation rates. Sponsored by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, with additional support from the Robin Hood Foundation, DataKind’s volunteer team analyzed more than ten years of historical student data, identifying features associated with at risk students. The predictive model and insights were used to design effective interventions to reduce dropout, as well as a novel software application that allows the John Jay administration to identify students at risk for drop out, so that the students can receive proactive outreach and support from the College. In its first year, the tool has analyzed roughly 1,114 advanced credit students to identify students who were most at-risk of stop-out or drop-out. Through targeted and strategic interventions, John Jay has already helped 818 of those students graduate over one year, or approximately 73%, compared to a projected graduation rate of 54% over two years for similar students without the tool and interventions. 
  • Additionally, we’ve teamed up with amazing partners to launch the first cohort of DataCorps projects under our Community Health Workers (CHW) Impact Practice. Jacaranda Health, Medic Mobile, and Riders for Health work with CHWs to deliver life-saving primary healthcare to the hardest-to-reach communities and most vulnerable populations. What makes this portfolio of work unique is that it’s DataKind’s first Impact Practice: a whole new way to advance a sector with cutting-edge technology. We’ve surfaced a number of opportunities for the development of data science, machine learning, and AI tools that will not only advance the missions of our partners, but also deliver insights to drive sector-wide impact and improve health outcomes for millions of people.
  • And remember that with each project, there's always a frontline social change organization prepared to boost their mission with the power of data science and AI. These partner organizations are vital to all projects, as they take the outputs created by our volunteer data science community and use them to produce real-world impact. We don't have space to list everyone we worked with in 2019, but some of those who haven't been referenced elsewhere in this post include Bloc, Boston University, CleanCoalition, Code for Miami, Communities Thrive Challenge, Conservation International, CrossBoundary, FracTracker, Sanergy, Solutions Journalism Network, Solstice, Teach for America, USA for UNHCR, WeRobotics, and there were many more across the globe! We're thrilled to have worked with so many new and returning mission-driven partners this year, and we're especially grateful to their staff that gave their time and expertise to help shape the projects, answer thousands of questions, and ultimately guide the volunteer project teams to success.

To say 2019 was a transformational year is an understatement. We’re so humbled by everyone that has dedicated their time, talent, and treasure to ethically harnessing the power of data science and AI in the service of humanity. 

This year, we’ll continue to shift our work from executing projects across the social sector to supporting full system change that digitally transforms entire sectors. We have a long quest ahead of us, so if you’re new here, a longtime DataKinder, an interested advisor, someone who might want to work at DataKind (we launched the search for 7 new roles!), a data scientist or nonprofit who believes in creating a world where data science and AI are used for good, or just a fellow traveler on this path, come join us

In the meantime, we’d love for you to celebrate the many adventures and accomplishments from 2019. Enjoy the photos below. We hope that everyone had a great end of the year, and here’s to an even better 2020!