DataKind’s Response to COVID-19

April 6, 2020

Dear DataKind Community,

Like all of you, we’re grappling with the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation. What may have appeared as a temporary disruption to our work lives has shown itself to be a long-term battle to be waged on many fronts, from health, to the economy, to civil stability. We know that many of you have felt this impact for months now, like our partners in DataKind Singapore who have been dealing with mitigation since January, while others are just now beginning to feel the weight of shelter-in-place orders in the US, UK, and India, and still others will experience their own versions in the coming months. Regardless of what stage you’re in, it’s likely we’ll all be affected in many ways over the next year, and our hearts go out to every one of you that has had to contend with these hardships.

Many companies have written about the way COVID-19 has affected their policies, how they’re changing their services, or what you can expect from them moving forward. You’ll find that information in this blog post as well, but it’s at the end for a reason. As important as it is to us to continue to pursue our mission of harnessing the power of data science and AI in the service of humanity, our first priority is looking after the wellbeing of every DataKinder in our global community. We want you to be healthy, cared for, and to focus on what is most critical to you during this time. 

At DataKind, we’ll be channeling our energy into fighting this fight, but we want to make clear that DataKind isn’t an essential service. Caring for yourself, for your family, and for your community is an essential service. If it didn’t go without saying, we want you to focus on those things first and then join us if you have remaining energy. To that end, over the past three weeks:

  • We’ve checked in with our project partners to see what we can do that’s most helpful for them. Many of our nonprofit friends, who were already stretched thin fighting on the frontlines of social change, have had their priorities dramatically shift. For those who want to continue working with us on their existing projects or new projects, we’re game. However, we’ll do whatever our partners need right now, even if that’s pivoting, delaying, or canceling a project. 
  • We’ve asked volunteers to let DataKind project managers know if they need to step back because of other priorities. We feel so fortunate to have our volunteers donate time to our cause when conditions are normal. We fully understand if their capacity for extra volunteering activities is diminished while we all get through this.
  • Like many organizations, we moved our staff to work-from-home and our activities to virtual starting in early March. We’ll continue to run projects and events online for the foreseeable future.

We’re also very fortunate to have generous funders and are in a strong financial standing at DataKind. We’ll be able to support data science activities for COVID-19 relief however needed. We feel very lucky to be in a position to ensure you all have what you need first and foremost. 

Of course, DataKinders are an enthusiastic and dedicated sort, and the next question we have all turned our attention to is how we can help support the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. We’ve moved very deliberately over the last month before responding to COVID-19 on account of our concern for introducing data innovations at times of crisis. It’s likely that many of the most high impact interventions one could make are either non-technological (e.g. limiting physical contact) or in the realm of assistive technologies (e.g. helping doctors use video conferencing more effectively). Without proper scoping of the problem, it’s unlikely that hacking at this situation will create solutions that do more good than harm. 

Moreover, from our conversations with similar tech for good and data for good efforts, the biggest blocker to deploying tech and data to the COVID response is the time and energy to start and nurture relationships with new partners. On a good day, you can’t just knock on a hospital’s door and say, “I’ve got data scientists. What can they do?” Given the incredible stress and high stakes people are under, that could be downright harmful right now. All that said, we’ve identified a few areas where we believe DataKinders could help in this fight:

  • Prior to COVID-19, DataKind was focusing data science efforts in supporting frontline health workers and beginning work in strengthening economic resilience. Those two areas are going to need continued support during and after COVID-19. We’ll continue working with our existing partners in those areas, pivoting as needed in this new reality. The solutions we’re developing were already designed to help our project partners operate more efficiently to increase their impact, and we're honored to carry on the support in this way. Please be on the lookout for calls for volunteers in the two areas above in the near future.
  • We’ll be carefully selecting COVID-19-related response efforts to take part in. We’re specifically scanning for opportunities where we can offer high impact support, namely initiatives where an organization is asking for help, where short-term tech capacity could unblock operations quickly, where the solution doesn’t need long-term maintenance assistance, and where the risk for harm or unethical outcomes is low. Keep an eye out for these opportunities as well.

Though we’re being deliberate about opportunities, we’ll still aim to thoughtfully involve as many DataKinders as we can. Nevertheless, many of you no doubt want to help in this fight ASAP. To that end, here are a few trusted opportunities for technologists and non-technologists alike:

  • The Coronavirus Tech Handbook is a compendium of COVID-19-related tech solutions, as well as projects people can help with.
  • US Digital Response, started by a trio of former US Deputy CTOs, is providing volunteer opportunities for technologists in the US to help government agencies with their tech needs.
  • Fast Forward, a wonderful group supporting tech-focused nonprofits, has a list of organizations using tech for COVID-19 that one could help with/fund/support.
  • Luminary Labs runs an informative digest at CovidX.org, detailing the latest innovation opportunities for battling COVID-19.
  • If you want to do something non-technical, coronavolunteer.org has a collection of volunteer opportunities in multiple countries.

Whether you volunteer or not, with us or any other group, we just want to remind everyone to be kind to each other. All signs point to us going through some rather unpredictable times in the coming months, and we'll need each other to get through this no matter what happens. DataKind formed because of the strong community of kind-hearted mission-driven organizations and data scientists who believed a better world was possible and who deeply, deeply cared for other people's wellbeing. Even if we couldn't do a single DataKind activity over the next year, we'll need the kind, community-driven, and generous spirit of DataKinders on the frontlines more than ever. 

If you have any questions or would like to submit other opportunities that you think could be of interest to the greater data for good community, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at contact@datakind.org. We’d love to know what other projects you or your companies are working on and may be able to support promising work in other ways. If there's anything at all that we can help with, let us know. We’ll send other updates through these channels as we have them.

Wishing you health and safety during these trying times,
The DataKind Global Team