Could Data Save the World?

Your company might have donated money to help solve humanitarian issues, but you could have something even more useful to offer: your data.

South African philanthropy is entering a new era. A hotbed of innovation, it can make a purposeful contribution to addressing the country’s challenges, and perhaps inspire work in other parts of the world.

Philanthropy is a complex term within the South African context. The history of the country has had a significant effect on shaping philanthropy from charitable giving (welfare philanthropy) to strategic philanthropy, by communities and families, to highly specialised Foundations.

These days, formalised strategic philanthropy in South Africa indicates that there is a huge contribution being made to support those in need by making data more public and shareable.

Foundations all over the world are grappling with their role in the emerging field of data and artificial intelligence. Data has the ability to help us work at a larger scale than ever before, be more efficient, and solve problems more effectively.

What’s required is the capacity or technical knowledge to either shape innovations or make sense of which ones to back, and for organisations to face complex challenges about transparency, ownership and ethics. While there are many promising initiatives in the field of data for social good, the social sector as a whole plays a relatively minor role, and many initiatives struggle to scale beyond small pilots.

Several examples have come to light during the ongoing West African Ebola virus outbreak of 2014, which has catalysed international efforts to improve the continent’s disease surveillance infrastructure. One particular innovation is an attempt to crowdsource contributions to OpenStreetMap, the self-described “Wikipedia for Maps” that anyone can edit. OpenStreetMap volunteers are using satellite images to manually identify roads, buildings, bodies of water, and other features in rural areas of West Africa, which can help aid workers and local public health officials better plan their interventions and ensure every village has been checked for the disease. How cool is that?

In the video below, Mallory Freeman shows us how private sector companies can help make real progress on big problems – from the refugee crisis to world hunger – by donating untapped data and decision scientists.

What might your company be able to contribute?

Share with us in the comments below.

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