Data and artificial intelligence (AI) can be a powerful tool for the common good, with the potential to counter rising inequality, climate change, threats to democracy and public health, and other global challenges.
Fully utilizing these tools requires investing in a diverse global workforce of skilled data practitioners while bridging funding challenges and a digital divide between affluent and developing countries where a third of the world’s population still lacks internet access.
These are some of the findings of a 68-page white paper on using data for social impact (DSI) released by data.org on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“Accelerate Efforts: Moving Together to Achieve System Change” was compiled from a July 2022 survey and stakeholder interviews with representatives from 775 public, private, and not-for-profit organizations working in the field of social impact.
The report builds on the findings of last year’s data.org report, “Workers wanted: Data talent for social impact”, which identified 3.5 million data-related job opportunities in developing countries.
Researchers involved in this latest report found that despite the ongoing digital divide and gap in global internet connectivity, the increasing use of internet-enabled mobile phones and smartphones in low- and middle-income countries is driving the use of more data and AI-based technology drives interventions and solutions worldwide.
The report’s authors also documented how DSI continues its transformation, providing new ways to analyze huge data sets, advance predictive models, and leverage machine learning for societal and environmental benefits.
Researchers found that 90 percent of respondents to the July 2022 survey are committed to supporting ongoing investments in new data tools, training, and human resources, but lack the infrastructure, capacity, and resources to sustain such commitment over the long term.
“Resources are scarce for an area that requires expensive tools and skills to succeed,” the authors write. “These ongoing challenges are leading to work at the activity and project levels, but failing to create coherent building blocks to form a strong and healthy field capable of solving a new class of system-level problems.”
To address this challenge, data.org is implementing a plan to create knowledge centers that will be used to train 1 million data practitioners around the world over the next 10 years.
“We have the power to build — and fund — a data-driven social impact sector that drives affordable and innovative ways to address the multitude of challenges we face,” said Danil Mikhailov, executive director of data.org. “But to do that, we have to be thoughtful, open and courageous. As this emerging sector develops, we also need to ensure that it is better coordinated and built on the principles of Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA).”
Stronger funding models with longer time horizons, more flexible funding, and better coordination will sustain this commitment, the authors wrote. “A more diverse, global workforce with interdisciplinary perspectives can provide a foundation of data for social impact work that is both effective and equitable,” Mikhailov said.
data.org is a joint initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth dedicated to increasing the use of data science to address societal and global challenges.
For the full report and executive summary, see www.data.org/reports/accelerate.
The organization is also hosting a public webinar on January 24 on the findings of the report. For details see www.data.org/events.