Volunteer Spotlight: Priyanka Kalmane

April 30, 2021

Let us introduce you to Priyanka Kalmane! She started off as a volunteer with DataKind DC, but after returning to India, is now a volunteer with DataKind Bangalore. Harnessing the power of data science for good is what inspires her. Priyanka’s a Data Specialist at Quality Education and Skills Training (QUEST Alliance), a nonprofit that focuses on research-led innovation and advocacy in the field of teaching and learning. She’s been working in the social sector for a few years and understands the challenges in using data for decision-making. This learning has made her look at the projects at DataKind with more empathy and humility. These are the kinds of qualities she’d like to nurture further, which is why she’s a DataKinder. Read more about Priyanka and her story below!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. 

I started volunteering at various nonprofits at the age of 19. I realized quite early the importance of data management, analysis, and insight generation in the social space. After a brief stint in the corporate sector and finishing my Master’s in Business Analytics, I had a strong inclination to use my data skills in the social sector. Volunteering at DataKind DC allowed me to learn the mechanics of onboarding a partner, understanding the needs of an NGO, and delivering on their requirements, keeping the safety of the end-user or the constituency at the center at all times. After returning to India, I joined a nonprofit organization, and I've been working there for nearly two years now, designing the data pipeline and also as a data viz designer.  

What tips do you have about communicating data science findings to nonprofits most effectively?

I've learned the hard way, both as a volunteer and professionally, that the impact is directly related to the fashion in which the insights are communicated. Data storytelling is a crucial skill to develop, especially when data literacy is still developing across many nonprofits, at least in India. Exploring newer ways to communicate findings other than presentations and data visualization is definitely something we (in the data science community) need to increasingly embrace. Data inclusivity is another area that needs more attention. How much of our biases are we letting get in our way when we present our findings? How participative is our insight generation process? Are we ensuring the hypothesis laid out by our partners is guiding our insight generation process or are we letting our own privilege/bias get in the way? These are just a few things to keep in mind. 

What was the most interesting observation you made about challenges that nonprofits face?

I've been fortunate enough to be a part of DataKind DC and DataKind Bangalore. Over the past years, I've noticed a geographical pattern in the challenges faced by nonprofits. In the US, most nonprofits that I had the opportunity to engage with were quite data mature. Their problem statements needed data science to be used to arrive at a solution. However, in the case of nonprofits in India, barring a few, I've noticed that data literacy is still on the rise. A lot more work with respect to data management, storage, and building a reporting system needs to be done before machine learning can be used as a tool to tackle problems. The needs of both these locations are quite different. However, one common aspect across nonprofits have always been the enthusiasm with which they're willing to engage and the trust they place with DataKind to partner with them and find solutions to their data needs.  

Who inspires you?

My father - his razor sharp focus, strong moral compass, and pragmatism are a few of the many things I always look up to.

What’s the best concert that you ever attended?

Coldplay in New York, 2018

What’s the last book you read?

"How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" by Bill Gates

Do you have a quote, song, or a piece of poetry that really inspires you? (Points if you have it memorized.)

A four line poetry by DV Gundappa, a titan of Kannada literature (Southern Indian language), which goes like this:

Hullagu Bettadadi, manege malligeyagu
Kallagu kashtagala, maleya vidhi suriye
bella sakkareyagu dheena durbalaringe
ellarolagondagu mankuthimma.

English Translation:

Be a (gentle) blade of grass at the foot of the mountain; and jasmine flower at home
Be (strong) like a rock when the fate pours (torrential) rain of difficulties on you
Be sweet like sugar and jaggery to the poor and weak
Be one with all.

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.