Your company’s data could help end world hunger | Mallory Freeman

Your company’s data could help end world hunger | Mallory Freeman


June 2010. I landed for the first time
in Rome, Italy. I wasn’t there to sightsee. I was there to solve world hunger. (Laughter) That’s right. I was a 25-year-old PhD student armed with a prototype tool
developed back at my university, and I was going to help
the World Food Programme fix hunger. So I strode into the headquarters building and my eyes scanned the row of UN flags, and I smiled as I thought to myself, “The engineer is here.” (Laughter) Give me your data. I’m going to optimize everything. (Laughter) Tell me the food that you’ve purchased, tell me where it’s going
and when it needs to be there, and I’m going to tell you
the shortest, fastest, cheapest, best set of routes to take for the food. We’re going to save money, we’re going to avoid
delays and disruptions, and bottom line,
we’re going to save lives. You’re welcome. (Laughter) I thought it was going to take 12 months, OK, maybe even 13. This is not quite how it panned out. Just a couple of months into the project,
my French boss, he told me, “You know, Mallory, it’s a good idea, but the data you need
for your algorithms is not there. It’s the right idea but at the wrong time, and the right idea at the wrong time is the wrong idea.” (Laughter) Project over. I was crushed. When I look back now on that first summer in Rome and I see how much has changed
over the past six years, it is an absolute transformation. It’s a coming of age for bringing data
into the humanitarian world. It’s exciting. It’s inspiring. But we’re not there yet. And brace yourself, executives, because I’m going to be putting companies on the hot seat to step up
and play the role that I know they can. My experiences back in Rome prove using data you can save lives. OK, not that first attempt, but eventually we got there. Let me paint the picture for you. Imagine that you have to plan
breakfast, lunch and dinner for 500,000 people, and you only have
a certain budget to do it, say 6.5 million dollars per month. Well, what should you do?
What’s the best way to handle it? Should you buy rice, wheat, chickpea, oil? How much? It sounds simple. It’s not. You have 30 possible foods,
and you have to pick five of them. That’s already over 140,000
different combinations. Then for each food that you pick, you need to decide how much you’ll buy, where you’re going to get it from, where you’re going to store it, how long it’s going to take to get there. You need to look at all of the different
transportation routes as well. And that’s already
over 900 million options. If you considered each option
for a single second, that would take you
over 28 years to get through. 900 million options. So we created a tool
that allowed decisionmakers to weed through all 900 million options in just a matter of days. It turned out to be incredibly successful. In an operation in Iraq, we saved 17 percent of the costs, and this meant that you had the ability
to feed an additional 80,000 people. It’s all thanks to the use of data
and modeling complex systems. But we didn’t do it alone. The unit that I worked with in Rome,
they were unique. They believed in collaboration. They brought in the academic world. They brought in companies. And if we really want to make big changes
in big problems like world hunger, we need everybody to the table. We need the data people
from humanitarian organizations leading the way, and orchestrating
just the right types of engagements with academics, with governments. And there’s one group that’s not being
leveraged in the way that it should be. Did you guess it? Companies. Companies have a major role to play
in fixing the big problems in our world. I’ve been in the private sector
for two years now. I’ve seen what companies can do,
and I’ve seen what companies aren’t doing, and I think there’s three main ways
that we can fill that gap: by donating data,
by donating decision scientists and by donating technology
to gather new sources of data. This is data philanthropy, and it’s the future of corporate
social responsibility. Bonus, it also makes good business sense. Companies today,
they collect mountains of data, so the first thing they can do
is start donating that data. Some companies are already doing it. Take, for example,
a major telecom company. They opened up their data
in Senegal and the Ivory Coast and researchers discovered that if you look at the patterns
in the pings to the cell phone towers, you can see where people are traveling. And that can tell you things like where malaria might spread,
and you can make predictions with it. Or take for example
an innovative satellite company. They opened up their data and donated it, and with that data you could track how droughts are impacting
food production. With that you can actually trigger
aid funding before a crisis can happen. This is a great start. There’s important insights
just locked away in company data. And yes, you need to be very careful. You need to respect privacy concerns,
for example by anonymizing the data. But even if the floodgates opened up, and even if all companies
donated their data to academics, to NGOs,
to humanitarian organizations, it wouldn’t be enough
to harness that full impact of data for humanitarian goals. Why? To unlock insights in data,
you need decision scientists. Decision scientists are people like me. They take the data, they clean it up, transform it and put it
into a useful algorithm that’s the best choice
to address the business need at hand. In the world of humanitarian aid,
there are very few decision scientists. Most of them work for companies. So that’s the second thing
that companies need to do. In addition to donating their data, they need to donate
their decision scientists. Now, companies will say, “Ah! Don’t take
our decision scientists from us. We need every spare second of their time.” But there’s a way. If a company was going to donate
a block of a decision scientist’s time, it would actually make more sense
to spread out that block of time over a long period,
say for example five years. This might only amount
to a couple of hours per month, which a company would hardly miss, but what it enables is really important:
long-term partnerships. Long-term partnerships
allow you to build relationships, to get to know the data,
to really understand it and to start to understand
the needs and challenges that the humanitarian
organization is facing. In Rome, at the World Food Programme,
this took us five years to do, five years. That first three years, OK,
that was just what we couldn’t solve for. Then there was two years after that
of refining and implementing the tool, like in the operations in Iraq
and other countries. I don’t think that’s
an unrealistic timeline when it comes to using data
to make operational changes. It’s an investment. It requires patience. But the types of results
that can be produced are undeniable. In our case, it was the ability
to feed tens of thousands more people. So we have donating data,
we have donating decision scientists, and there’s actually a third way
that companies can help: donating technology
to capture new sources of data. You see, there’s a lot of things
we just don’t have data on. Right now, Syrian refugees
are flooding into Greece, and the UN refugee agency,
they have their hands full. The current system for tracking people
is paper and pencil, and what that means is that when a mother and her five children
walk into the camp, headquarters is essentially
blind to this moment. That’s all going to change
in the next few weeks, thanks to private sector collaboration. There’s going to be a new system based
on donated package tracking technology from the logistics company
that I work for. With this new system,
there will be a data trail, so you know exactly the moment when that mother and her children
walk into the camp. And even more, you know
if she’s going to have supplies this month and the next. Information visibility drives efficiency. For companies, using technology
to gather important data, it’s like bread and butter. They’ve been doing it for years, and it’s led to major
operational efficiency improvements. Just try to imagine
your favorite beverage company trying to plan their inventory and not knowing how many bottles
were on the shelves. It’s absurd. Data drives better decisions. Now, if you’re representing a company, and you’re pragmatic
and not just idealistic, you might be saying to yourself,
“OK, this is all great, Mallory, but why should I want to be involved?” Well for one thing, beyond the good PR, humanitarian aid
is a 24-billion-dollar sector, and there’s over five billion people,
maybe your next customers, that live in the developing world. Further, companies that are engaging
in data philanthropy, they’re finding new insights
locked away in their data. Take, for example, a credit card company that’s opened up a center that functions as a hub for academics,
for NGOs and governments, all working together. They’re looking at information
in credit card swipes and using that to find insights
about how households in India live, work, earn and spend. For the humanitarian world,
this provides information about how you might
bring people out of poverty. But for companies, it’s providing
insights about your customers and potential customers in India. It’s a win all around. Now, for me, what I find
exciting about data philanthropy — donating data, donating decision
scientists and donating technology — it’s what it means
for young professionals like me who are choosing to work at companies. Studies show that
the next generation of the workforce care about having their work
make a bigger impact. We want to make a difference, and so through data philanthropy, companies can actually help engage
and retain their decision scientists. And that’s a big deal for a profession
that’s in high demand. Data philanthropy
makes good business sense, and it also can help
revolutionize the humanitarian world. If we coordinated
the planning and logistics across all of the major facets
of a humanitarian operation, we could feed, clothe and shelter
hundreds of thousands more people, and companies need to step up
and play the role that I know they can in bringing about this revolution. You’ve probably heard of the saying
“food for thought.” Well, this is literally thought for food. It finally is the right idea
at the right time. (Laughter) Très magnifique. Thank you. (Applause)

53 Replies to “Your company’s data could help end world hunger | Mallory Freeman

  1. Now THIS is an idea worth spreading, not stupid stuff about how fat people are being oppressed (but you shouldn't bully them).

  2. Doesn't this whole idea sound a ted bit, I mean a tad bit naive as well as unrealistic? With all do respect but sounds a lot like asking a six year old kid about what they want, and them saying I want a world peace and happiness for everyone? I don't meant to sound too cynical but I am very skeptical.

  3. Do these liberals really think hunger and poverty will end in Africa by just throwing money and aid there? These Aid-programs just hurt their industries ability to compete. People aren't going to buy your lets say shoes or rice if you can get it for free (or nearly free) from UN or some other organization. Only way to let Africa flourish is to stop all aid there and let the people figure out how to develope or die. Food aid just creates unstable growth in population. This unnatural population growth just creates more conflicts and poverty. We can't support them endlessly.

  4. So basically "I'll help the companies to undo like 1/1000000 of the harm they did"
    I appreciate that, really, but the very spirit of the discussion looks alot like euthanasia legalisation. Yes, it's a good desicion on its own, but it changes absolutely nothing in the greater scheme of things.

  5. Data? Does this data include a basic education? The simple solution is to teach birth control and farming. Don't give them fish. Teach them how.

  6. Allah guides, none can misguide, and whomsoever He misguides, none can guide. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah alone, without partner, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His slave and messenger. As for what follows.There is no God worthy of worship except Allah prophet Muhammad peace be upon him is the final messenger of Allah read Quran.com

  7. How to end world hunger in two steps 1 stop feeding 2 stop medicating the third world. Or if that is too mean, spay and neuter your pets. Your unwillingness to make a hard decision increases human suffering. O well divorce yourself from reality so you can feel good in the here and now, the future be damned.

  8. I bet most dislikers didn't even watch the video. It makes a lot of sense to me that the proper distribution of help is just as important as the amount of ressources.

  9. thats what these dam gmo's were supposed to do. they will never end world hunger until we get rid of them. take your propaganda somewhere else fuckers

  10. Sterilisation for food would end world hunger in the long run.
    Back in the 60-70's when "overpopulation" was all the craze, people were told to have less children, but offcourse that was when western nations were having kids, children that they could actually support mind you. Now that everyone else are having a ton of babies, without the means to feed them, the solution seems to be everything but having less kids.

  11. A tenth of the budget dedicated to hunting 75 phantom terrorists in Afghanistan could have ended world hunger. Wake up you fukkup hipsters.

  12. Private sector means FOR PROFIT!!!
    They have no place when it comes to charities!

    Unless they did it for free and NO corporation would do that!

  13. We currently grow enough food to feed OVER 10 billion people.

    It's given to cattle. THAT'S the cause of world hunger. Get a grip, eat beans, not meat.

  14. Consider tax credit incentives as an actionable motive for private industry; the people who drive our present companies are too short-lived, with a detrimental result of classifying indirect benefits as intangibles.

  15. I think people's anti-authoritarianism is causing the dislikes… but I don't think she ever actually said anything other than encouraging companies to DONATE anonymized data, which itself really poses no real threat to anyone.

    I kinda get the dislikes though because the whole time I was just waiiiting for her to say we needed to get our governments involved in making it happen. I still almost feel like that's what she was saying… she never said came out against that obvious notion… but I'm at least impressed she didn't actually say that, and with that in mind… yeah she's got a really interesting point.

    She should probably more properly distance herself from the notion that this could escalate to needing "reasonable" legislation to make it happen and I think she'd have a better reception. Other than feeling that lurking in the background, this was actually pretty insightful.

  16. This is extremely stupid, and idiots like this presenter should not be allowed to present. Do you really think a company's data is going to go to areas of poverty and provide food for starving people. At the end of the day, greed is the centre of poverty

  17. It sound like one step closer to the new world order. Corporations gonna rule the world and us. Bigger connections with them and us isn't good idea.

  18. World hunger will never end, until we all die… Thats science. There will always by people that have more kids than they can feed.

  19. Yeah, let's keep spending data and other resources getting food to people in need instead of helping them get on their own two legs. No. That's pointless. And no company would help with that. Because they're companies, and there's no money in dumping resources pointlessly.

  20. Thomas Malthus believed there are three things to control population: war, disease, famine. We can possible resolve the first two but at some point we won't be able to grow enough food.

  21. The problem with companies "sharing" anything is loosing competitive edge. But if that could somehow be turned into a win, then I think companies would follow. If not then: "no profit, no point"… Sadly.

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