Using data analysis to increase the impact NGOs and the public sector can have on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - that is the goal of the new Analytics for a Better World Institute from the UvA’s Amsterdam Business School and analytics and technology company ORTEC, in collaboration with Prof. Dimitris Bertsimas of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The new institute will, among other things, help organisations with the implementation of analytics in projects, but will also focus on, for example, knowledge sharing, research and the professionalisation of NGOs.
‘Humanity is facing enormous challenges: climate change, poverty and hunger, the extinction of flora and fauna, you name it. That is why the SDGs are so important. In order to achieve the goals, it is crucial that the impact of NGOs and public organisations is as large as possible,’ says Robert Monné, director of Analytics for a Better World. ‘When it comes to creating impact, data analysis has more than proven its worth, so far mainly in the commercial world. But valuable research results, technology and knowledge don’t always find their way to non-commercial organisations.’ Dimitris Bertsimas, professor of Business Analytics at MIT, agrees: ‘The financial rewards in the non-profit sector are less attractive, so data analysis in that sector is under-developed and there are still great gains to be made.’
Science and practice come together in the Analytics for a Better World Institute. ‘A lot of research has been done into data analysis via algorithms and artificial intelligence and how this can play a role in the SDGs,’ says Dick den Hertog, UvA professor of Operations Research and director of Science-to-Impact at the institute. ‘But to make data, mathematics and statistics work in practice, you also need analytics, technology and business skills, and ORTEC will brings years of experience in those areas.’
Plenty of opportunities
The new institute will help organisations carry out projects and develop analytics techniques and applications for the benefit of the SDGs. Den Hertog: 'Data models can be used, for example, to better analyse satellite images of deforestation, so that a rapid response can be made. By analysing weather forecasts and historical impact data, the consequences of hurricanes can be better understood and aid organisations can deliver the necessary aid to the right place faster. Soil analysis through machine learning can improve agricultural yields. There are plenty of opportunities for us to get involved.’ There are already a number of projects in which the Analytics for a Better World Institute is involved, including work with the World Bank, Amref Flying Doctors and 510, an initiative of the Dutch Red Cross.
But the plans go further. An open-source database will be created, where NGOs can access free of charge tools and solutions that have already been developed. Analytics for a Better World will also help organisations train and educate their employees, for example during summer and winter schools. Applied research will carried out, and there will be meet-ups and seminars, in addition to the institute’s own scientific journal.
Towards a global movement
The Amsterdam Business School and ORTEC are making a start-up budget available for the institute for the next three years. ‘We will operate on a not-for-profit basis. And income will immediately be invested back into the institute to support our mission,' says Monné. In the initial period, the focus will be mainly on expanding the partner network of corporate sponsors, NGOs and non-profit organisations, and on starting new joint projects. Monné: 'We do not want to limit ourselves to a single SDG; the scope of the problems we are dealing with is of course global. In five years, we hope Analytics for a Better World will have become a major movement with measurable impact on the SDGs.’
This article was first published on 26 January by UvA.