Using Big Data for the Greater Good

by David Peterson

While applications of big data have become an integral part of the majority of major corporations looking for business intelligence and boosting profit, more and more charitable organizations are also turning to big data to aid their philanthropic missions, like NoSchoolViolence.org. 

Here are two examples of how big data can help change lives.

charity: water

charity: water is a nonprofit created to address the 1 billion people without readily accessible clean water. Because of this, individuals (often women and children) have to travel hours each day to reach the nearest water supply, which is often plagued with bacteria. The extreme allotment of time spent every day toward obtaining water unfortunately takes the place of education or work, which results in widespread poverty. To combat this, charity: water has funded over 21,000 water projects affecting 6.4 million people in 24 countries.

To maximize impact and productivity, charity: water has incorporated big data into their strategy. Instead of having to manually monitor water projects in remote and hazardous locations, the status of each site can be monitored from online. They’ve partnered with Pivotal.io to build Dispatch Monitor, a web-based dashboard with a Google Maps integration to provide an at-a-glance status summary of their implemented water projects around the world and generate tickets to help facilitate the repairs and draw attention to issues. In addition to using big data to improve efficiency, donors can track the ongoing impact of their charitable contributions for years to come.

Jane Goodall Institute

Named after the pioneering animal rights activist, the Jane Goodall Institute seeks to conserve the rapidly declining population of chimpanzees and other wildlife. Due to the rise of disease, deforestation, and illegal hunting practices, the chimpanzee population has declined from 2 million in the early 20th century, to under 300,000 today.

Jane Goodall had little more than notebooks, pencils, and secondhand binoculars when she first observed wildlife in Africa during the 1960s, but her institute in recent years has begun taking advantage of technological advances and crowdsourced data for faster and more comprehensive reporting. JGI has empowered locals in environmentally threatened areas by equipping them with smartphones to take pictures of early signs of deforestation, damaged trees, or other environmental concerns. Such reports can immediately be uploaded with the coordinates and any additional notes and inserted into a crowdsourced map. With the instantaneous ability to upload alerts and images, members at JGI can easily identify areas with the greatest need in real time. With this crowdsourced big data powered by the submissions from local community members, the Jane Goodall Institute believes they can save 85% of chimp population that would be lost to deforestation or over-farming.

The Jane Goodall Institute and charity: water are just two of non-profits that utilizing big data to help their respective causes, however big data is becoming a bigger part of more and more charitable causes, whether that be through more enhanced reporting, increased fundraising, or deeper insights.

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