• Public Service Analytics
  • Experfy Editor
  • MAY 06, 2014

SumAll: Big Data Lends a Humanitarian Hand

Most of the big data contributions people have heard about involve improved business processes, better risk management, and enhanced customer service. But how many people have heard about the admirable impact of big data on humanitarian work?

SumAll Foundation, a social-welfare firm based out of New York City, started as a spin-off from SumAll.com, a social media analytics service. Since its inception a year ago, the organization is actively using big data to help the poor and needy tackle homelessness, human trade, prescription-drug abuse, and war atrocities.

Problems addressed by SumAll Foundation

This newly emerged social-welfare firm has made considerable progress with problems of homelessness in New York City, prescription drug abuse across the nation, and public sharing of gruesome details of the Syrian War.

Doing the most with a limited operating budget

The American Labor market regulations have made it very difficult for this organization to hire volunteers, but when concerned individuals hear about the noble causes uplifted here, they are more than willing to offer their free time to give back.

Stefan Heike, the Executive Director of SumAll.org, admitted to Datanami that they lacked an operating budget for such critical tasks as paying for a data scientist, which made their job harder. So they often have to rely on the charitable efforts of technology companies like TIBCO to provide tools, skills, and advice on getting the most out of their big data mines.

Heike’s wish list includes a Twitter fire hose, an advanced marketing tool, and specialized data visualization tool, but he has to wait for companies like TIBCO to help.

Data management methodology

Operating on a limited budget, SumAll often depends on donations from technology companies. TIBCO, for instance, has donated SpotFire licenses to enable the analytics team perform data discovery on big data sets.

Typically, a big data exercise here begins with a proprietary source of big data, and then moves onto public data repositories. The analytics team combines Python with R to blend data and build algorithms for advanced analytics. Additionally, they use a set of Java tools for visualization.

Helping the homeless

As an extension of their role in helping the homelessness cause in the city of New York, SumAll has created an application for making advanced predictions about households that are most likely to lose homes. For this work, the organization relies on data from a proprietary list of householders admitted to shelter homes, and public data such as eviction notices and crime data. The whole objective behind these efforts is to provide the city’s social workers with actionable information, without which the thoughtful citizens cannot take the next step towards helping out the homeless.

Tackling prescription drug abuse

Recently, SumAll.org worked with the Clinton Foundation to build a dashboard that clearly showed a widespread menace of prescription drug abuse across the United States. In this case, the analytics team began with statistics available on government databases, but as the time intervals provided on those were not sufficient for big data analytics, data from social media had to be extracted and added to the existing data pile. Twitter was substantially leveraged for detecting words indicative of “use of prescription drugs.”

Covering the Syrian War

SumAll.org has exploited the hidden power of big data—along with its in-house social media expertise—to help journalists cover the Syrian war atrocities. Western journalists have not been given entry into the war zone; thus the western world has been kept out of most of the details of the war front.

As an effort to change that, this organization utilized the the Humanitarian Tracker website to build a list of casualties in the Syrian war. This list provides first names, last names, and vocations of dead individuals along with the cause of death like stabbing, bombardment, chemical weapon, or artillery. Even available photographs or Facebook pages have been added to this database to share facts related to the war.

Technologically, the Humanitarian Tracker is capable of showing patterns.  One such emerged pattern proved that civilians were forced into the war through military-guided, sniper killings.

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