by Noah D'Mello

Where governance, NGOs and data science converge

Mar 21, 2016
AnalyticsBig DataBudgeting

Implementing data analytics solutions in the non-governmental sector is not the top priority, but DataKind, a non-profit organization, is helping other NGOs in India change this notion.

Non-profit organizations using enterprise technology like data analytics is something that is rare, the main reason being the lack of funds. So what do you do when technology is all around you, but you just can’t touch it? Call in DataKind, a non-profit organization for non-profit organizations.  

DataKind, headquartered in New York and started in 2011, provides data analytics solutions for non-profit organizations working in sectors such as urban governance, civic engagement, and microfinance. The organization has six chapters around the world, namely, Bangalore, Dublin, San Francisco, Singapore, the UK and Washington DC.

Devangana Khokhar, one of the four chapter leaders in Bangalore, said that as NGOs are becoming tech savvy, providing technology solutions to them is becoming imperative. However, she said technology implementation is not the same as that in enterprises.

“With our interaction with non-profits, we see that organizations do not have much of data literacy, they are miles behind in this,” she added.

In a country like India, the potential for solutions in the social sector is plentiful. This was one of the reasons why DataKind decided to open a chapter in India in 2014, with Bangalore as its hub.

Khokhar, who also works with ThoughtWorks as an application developer in Bangalore, said that volunteers have to squeeze time out of their day jobs to be part of “technology for the social good.”

Since the start of DataKind’s Bangalore chapter, the organization has worked with a plethora of organizations.

With Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, DataKind is helping to bring impactful storytelling based on the union and state budget data of the past 10 years. While with Daksh, a civil society organisation that promotes accountability and better governance in India, DataKind is helping visualize data around various cases across several courts, to understand and depict the current state of judiciary systems in India.

Other organizations that DataKind is actively involved in are social investing platform Rang De and urban governance organization eGovernments.

Also read: When disaster strikes, can big data save us?

Analytics in enterprises always face issues when it comes to the availability of data. Khokhar said that the struggle is even harder for DataKind because a few years ago not many NGOs were aware of the importance of data, and hence do not have a repository of data. Even if they do, the data points are not sufficient. Another challenge that they face is the lack of human resources to complete the task.

Going global

In December 2015, the Bangalore chapter leaders were part of a summit called The Big Data and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Practitioners of data science from various Southeast Asian countries discussed ways to develop a shared understanding on the challenges, opportunities and current state-of-play of big data for sustainable development policy.

Organizations like DataKind are not present in every corner of the earth. She said that such opportunities help data science practitioners understand the global scenario and something that can be implemented in one part of the world can be replicated in another as well.

Advocating technology is something that every engineer does, but using the same advocacy to pass on a social message is what DataKind would want every engineer to do.

“You come out of your shell from being a technologist and in the end, you are happy that you’re doing something good for the society,” she concluded.