In 2011, says Jake Porway, the term “big data” was just entering the vernacular. Companies were starting to figure out what it meant to be data-driven. Porway was struggling with the question of how to bring data science to the not-for-profit sector. Part of his answer was to found DataKind, which he now describes as “Doctors Without Borders for data geeks,” matching data scientists with not-for-profits to help solve social problems.
“A lot of things we were talking about back in 2011 are just now coming to fruition,” Porway says, with many private companies becoming actively involved in data for good initiatives. Fittingly, Porway now has his sights set on 2025. “If we’re all excited about data for good, we need to be thinking about the next decade,” he says. “We don’t want this to be a passing trend. We want to put data science and artificial intelligence first and foremost for social good.”
That’s why, at the upcoming Data for Good Exchange 2018, which will be held on Sunday, September 16, 2018 at Bloomberg’s Global Headquarters in New York City, Porway will lead a workshop titled “Data for Good 2025: Building the Data Science Ecosystem We Need for Tomorrow, Today.” It is aimed at driving collaboration between different sectors in the data for good movement. This is the first year that the Data for Good Exchange will be offering four workshops where attendees can take a deep dive into a particular topic.
During the workshop, attendees will brainstorm the biggest advantages and challenges in their sectors, be that private, government, not-for-profit, or academia. Porway and his team will help participants pair the advantages and challenges in a constructive way across sectors. The goal: Find opportunities to leverage one sector’s strengths to solve challenges in another.
“If we’re going to be diving into the conference theme of ‘Our Data for Good?’, then we need everyone in the community contributing to this vision,” notes Porway.
And he is confident in this workshop model’s ability to produce results. “DataKind used to hold so many salons and meetups,” says Porway. “So much of the early days were about getting people from different sides of the aisle into a room to first listen and then to talk to each other. Honestly, this is a return to form.” Porway notes that DataKind recently received a grant from The Rockefeller Foundation looking at data for good in the social sector. DataKind will be using that grant to make sure the outcomes of the workshop live beyond the conference.
While Porway has led multiple collaborative efforts, holding a salon-on-steroids at the Data for Good Exchange is new. “I’m excited to host this workshop here, as we’ll now be able to collaborate with people we couldn’t otherwise get time with,” he says. No other event hosts quite the same cross-section of the data for good community, across every sector, and is equally welcoming to both visionaries and practitioners, he adds. “This is a conversation we want to have in the open, thereby enabling the community to wrestle with this together.”
If Porway could wave a magic wand, he jokes, the participants in the workshop would devise a concrete plan for data for good in 2025, and then, “everyone starts executing on it and all the world’s problems are solved.” More realistically, he expects the participants to develop at least three tangible initiatives.
The real work, he admits, is in the execution, and that happens later. But it can be fueled by the excitement generated at the Data for Good Exchange: “There is something that happens when you organize people around an idea that is ambitious and that they can build on, and when they really want to see something new.”
Register now for Data for Good Exchange 2018. We encourage you to invite colleagues who may wish to attend.