Big Data, Machine Learning(ML), Artificial Intelligence(AI)…
As you know, data has changed the world, and it will change the world more. But there might be something that you don’t realize and would like to learn about. That is what we quote from the DataKind website.
“The same algorithms and techniques that companies use to boost profits can be leveraged by mission-driven organizations to improve the world, from battling hunger to advocating for child well-being and more. However, most social change organizations don’t have the budget or staff to take full advantage of this data revolution, and most data scientists don’t realize just how valuable their skills can be.”
This article, inspired by the words above, will introduce you to several communities and programs that are harnessing the great power of data to make the world a better place. And it will go one step further by showing you how to get involved in the field of Data Science for Social Good(DSSG) or Data Science for Social Impact (DSSI). Your interest and skills in data science can bring a social impact that you may not have imagined before.
First, let’s assume a few scenarios that you may be in.
If you are a data scientist, data analyst, data engineer, or machine learning engineer, with more or less experienced, you can engage in DSSG in a variety of ways. For example, you can work as a volunteer in mission-driven organizations, participate in real-world projects or hackathons to resolve social problems, or even contribute through competition.
If you are a job seeker having a passion for supporting NPO, NGOs, or Social Enterprise to make data-driven decisions, you may find some job search platforms that particularly focus on providing social-impact opportunities.
If you are a student or someone without a strong tech background, a DSSG fellowship program or a program with limited prerequisites should be a good fit for you.
If you define yourself as a data enthusiast and want to play with data for social good, or if you would just like to learn more about how data science, machine learning, and AI shape society in a positive way, you will find several interesting websites in this article, which is for your information.
Working as a Volunteer for Mission-driven Organizations
DataKind is a digital activism organization that brings together data scientists with social change organizations to maximize social impact. If you sign up to volunteer for DataKind, you need to tell them about the data-related work you’ve done. As presented on DataKind’s website, from data science to coding, from project management to event coordinating, all skills are welcome. Just be sure to show your interest! One thing you need to know is that DataKind is headquartered in New York City, with chapters located in Washington DC, San Francisco, Bengaluru, Singapore, and the United Kingdom; their events or projects are primarily completed in person with local volunteers. But they also have virtual volunteer opportunities, so if you are not located near a chapter location, you can sign up for their newsletter as well. DataKind will reach out to you once they launch an online project and look for volunteers collaborating virtually.
Catchafire is another platform where you can volunteer your data-related skills to make a difference. On Catchfire, you can choose to volunteer in various ways ranging from a 1-hour phone call to a 3-month pre-scoped project and work remotely from anywhere. For instance, a professional with skills in data analysis, digital marketing, and/or information technology, can help Latin American Association track activity on their website to get a clear sense of their visitors, products, and services. By contributing 20-30 hours over 4-6 weeks, you will save the organization up to $6,772, allowing them to put more money into empowering Latinos to adapt, integrate and thrive. For the projects that require an interview, Catchafire will reach out to schedule a two-way conversation between you and the organization.
Some social impact organizations want voluntary work in a perticific field. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) is an international team dedicated to humanitarian action and community development through open mapping. They post their volunteer opportunities on the website so that you can know how to help HOT. For example, you can start the volunteer mappers’ role by learning to map very easily online. You also can contact the HOT team by filling out HOT General Interest Form as well as uploading your CV, so they are able to better understand your relevant skills and reach out to you to discuss where you can contribute to HOT’s global operations.
Participating in Real-world projects or Hackathons with Social Impact
Omdena is a platform where a global community collaboratively builds real-world problems by solving social, environmental, and healthcare-related challenges. Omdena launches a new project every week with detailed information about the project goal, problem identification, and requirements. You can apply to any project as a Junior ML Engineer (0-2 years experience), ML Engineer (2-5 years experience), Lead ML Engineer (5+ years experience), Product Manager/Product Leader, or Domain Expert. Similar to DataKind, if you are applying for your first Omdena project, you need to submit your application by answering several questions to show your interest and experience. Each project lasts two months, and you will receive a certificate after completing it. Besides that, Omdena community and Omdena local chapters welcome all the changemakers from the world. You can solve challenges that the local community faces and get learning resources, career support, scholarship, speaking and writing opportunities, and more.
As the home for hackathons, Devpost aims to help tech professionals build products, learn and practice skills, win prizes, and grow networks. For those who are interested in leveraging their Machine Learning or AI skills for social good, simply select Social Good and Machine Learning/AI as your interest tags, along with your level preferences, like Beginner Friendly, or domain preferences, like Education or Fintech. The hackathons listed on Devpost could be held online or in-person, ranging in length from one week to more than one month.
Contributing to Social Good by Attending Competition
Kaggle is well-known as an online community offering data scientists with machine learning competitions, some of which are for social good or with social impact. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank asked the Kaggle community for help with income qualifications for some of the world’s poorest families. Kiva, an online crowdfunding platform, invited Kagglers to help them build models for assessing borrower welfare levels and further help them extend financial services to poor and financially excluded people. In addition to launching competitions, Kaggle also works as a public data platform, where you can find Poverty and Equity Database hosted by World Bank, Multidimensional Poverty Measures Database hosted by Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, and more.
Compared with Kaggle, another competition platform, DrivenData, particularly focuses on projects connecting data science and social impact. In DrivenData, you can join one or more competitions to build a better world. There is an inspiring article posted on DrivenData website that introduces three ways to make machine learning useful for social impact organizations. Besides, if you have a DataCamp account, you can learn how machine learning competitions work and what methods win a DrivenData competition by attending the course: Case Study: School Budgeting with Machine Learning in Python.
Looking for a Job in a Social-changing Organization
There are a couple of platforms aiming to build bridges between mission-driven organizations with those who have the passion to develop a social impact career. Idealist is one of these unique platforms, where more than 100k+ opportunities are posted by NPOs, NGOs, or Social Enterprises. Besides job opportunities, you also can find your role as an intern or a volunteer in these organizations, join mutual aid groups to support one another and share resources, attend a grad program, and so forth.
Impactpool is a global career platform to gather talents to solve worldwide challenges. On Impactpool website, you may find fittable positions in International Rescue Committee (IRC), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and many more high-impact international organizations. Impactpool also provides a variety of career resources (free) and coaching services (paid).
In addition to a job board, 80,000HOURS emphasizes in-depth guides to help people compare career paths in terms of impact and make a plan. You can start with their summary article: what makes for a high-impact career? A small tip about filtering job vacancies: because 80,000HOURS focuses on impact areas, not job titles, you may find that it’s not as easy as other general job-seeking platforms to find a data science-related role. So you can try filtering the positions by selecting AI Safety & Policy under the Problem Area or selecting Engineering under the Role Type.
Attending a Fellowship Program as Student
Data Science for Social Good Fellowship (DSSG) is a full-time, project-based summer program that launched in 2013 at the University of Chicago and has now expanded to multiple locations globally. This program accepts fellow applications from current (or recent) graduate and undergraduate students from quantitative and computational fields. If you are an expert with a strong technical background and several years of industry/government experience, you can apply for the data science mentor role. They also accept the applications as a project manager and a project partner. Notes: The 2022 program will be run at Carnegie Mellon University, US; the application has been closed. You can join their mailing list to get updates. Or if you’re interested in this program but beyond the summer fellows coming to it, this Hitchhiker’s Guide gives you a full view of how the program trains fellows to do data science for social good work.
University of Warwick, UK joined the DSSG Fellowship Program in 2019 and organized the DSSGx UK Summer Programme. The program was held online in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic but will come back in person in 2022 (The application for 2022 is closed now). Prakhar Rathi, a previous fellow of DSSGx UK Summer Programme, shared his experience and the application process in this article. You also can check Frequently Asked Questions for further information.
Other Data Science for Social Good Fellowship Program includes but is not limited to: Stanford Data Science for Social Good Summer Research Program, University of Washington Data Science for Social Good Summer Program.
Attending a Program with Limited Prerequisites
If you have no previous experience as a data scientist or machine learning engineer, or if you have left school for many years, but you are passionate enough about leveraging data to tackle social challenges and are willing to learn from scratch, you may start with the MITx MicroMasters Program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP). This program involves three core courses and three electives, covering microeconomics, development economics, data analysis, probability, and statistics, and designing and running randomized evaluations. You can audit all the courses for free; you also can upgrade by paying tuition fees and getting credentials if you pass the proctored exam, and furtherly will be able to pursue an accelerated on-campus Master’s degree at MIT if eligible.
In the case that you want to focus on data analysis, you can take the course of Data Analysis for Social Scientists only. Please note: this course includes two parts–one for probability and statistics and one for data analysis; No prior preparation in probability and statistics is required, but it assumes the learner be familiarity with algebra and calculus; R is used as the programming tool in the class but not required to pass the exam.
Learning More about DSSG/DSSI
Want to learn more about how to get involved in Data Science for Social Good (DSSG) or Data Science for Social Impact (DSSI)? Type the keywords in your search engine, or simply check out the following websites.
AI for Good is the leading action-oriented platform, which is organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in partnership with other United Nations sister agencies. AI for Good hosts all-year-round programmes, launches challenges, builds networks, and does much more.
Tool + Solution is the unique part of datascienceforsocialgood.org, where you can find an open-source machine learning toolkit, open-source bias audit toolkit, data science project scoping guide, data maturity assessment, etc… All of the resources are related to the aforementioned Data Science for Social Good Fellowship (DSSG).
Before you leave here to visit any of the above websites, please move to Gapminder. They are fighting devastating misconceptions and promoting a fact-based worldview, of course, through data, and in a fun way.
Did you forget what appeals to you to read this article? No worries, just recall the words quoted from DataKind:
“The same algorithms and techniques that companies use to boost profits can be leveraged by mission-driven organizations to improve the world, from battling hunger to advocating for child well-being and more. However, most social change organizations don’t have the budget or staff to take full advantage of this data revolution and most data scientists don’t realize just how valuable their skills can be.”
Some of the links referenced in this article:
- Working as a Volunteer for Mission-driven Organizations: DataKind, Catchafire, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT)
- Participating in Real-world projects or Hackathons with Social Impact: Omdena, Devpost
- Contributing to Social Good by Attending Competition: Kaggle, DrivenData
- Looking for a Job in a Social-changing Organization: Idealist, Impactpool, 80,000HOURS
- Attending a Fellowship Program as a Student: Data Science for Social Good Fellowship (DSSG), DSSGx UK Summer Programme, Stanford Data Science for Social Good Summer Research Program, University of Washington Data Science for Social Good Summer Program
- Attending a Program with Limited Prerequisites: MITx MicroMasters Program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP)
- Learning More about DSSG/DSSI: AI for Good, Tool + Solution on datascienceforsocialgood.org
- Having Fun: Gapminder