Rockefeller Foundation and Mastercard Are Leveraging Advanced Data for Social Impact

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The Rockefeller Foundation and Mastercard announced at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos on Thursday that they are restarting data.org on the same platform as data.org, the organization started by U2’s Bono and a group of social entrepreneurs and anti-poverty activists in 2002.

Data (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) eventually joined forces with another organization and became ONE, a group seeking to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases by 2030. Bono virtually passed the torch on the website he began 18 years ago at a launch session via a selfie video shown before a gathering held during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos.

“We were looking for democracy, accountability, and transparency in Africa,” Bono said in the video, saying the initial group were “data nerds” determined to deal with facts and evidence-based analysis to address development issues. “It is a joy for this data nerd that data.org is being revived, to catalyze the data science movement towards serving our global society’s most marginalized.” 

In an initiative funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and Mastercard, through its center for inclusive growth, data.org aims to continue a similar mission by leveraging advanced data science tools—such as predictive analytics and machine learning—to advance social impact. The website grew out of a collaboration between the foundation and Mastercard announced at Davos last year with an initial commitment of US$50 million over five years.  

Rajiv Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, called data the “new oil,” in the sense that a fossil-fuel based economy “has, in fact, lifted the living standards of billions of people and transformed the way humanity exists, including some of the threats we now face,” Shah says. In the same way, “a data-driven economy will in fact, is in fact already, transforming the way we live. But it will profoundly change the nature of humanity and it probably will create its own threats and challenges to our common future.”

Examples of how data can accelerate social impact were offered up at the session, including the New York-based DataKind’s efforts to help John Jay College administrators better understand, and predict, why its students were struggling, allowing the school to reverse significant drop-out rates. DataKind received US$20 million in funding from Mastercard and Rockefeller last January, allowing the global nonprofit to support more organizations focused on community health and inclusive growth.

In March, data.org will issue a US$10 million challenge “to identify the most interesting, important, and best-executed applications of data science for social impact,” Shah said after the event. The idea is to crowdsource scalable and sustainable data science solutions for non-profit, civic, and government organizations, the organization said.

The grants also will likely seek to find institutions that are “trying to, or have the potential to, build capacity in people,” Shah says. 

An example of what the grants could do can be found with Benefits Data Trust (BDT), a national nonprofit that ensures people get access to needed benefits and services. In October, BDT received a US$5 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and another US$2.5 million grant from Mastercard to scale up its services using digital products, machine learning, and new partnerships with an aim of delivering US$2.5 billion in benefits.

One goal is “to effectively turn its call centers into a hyper-targeted national platform, to make sure everyone in America who qualifies for benefits accesses those benefits,” Shah says. “You can never do that with 40 people in a call center if you are doing it rote.” 

This article is part of our ongoing coverage of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

This article was originally published on Barrons.

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