Mining Big Data and the Social Impact

162422588One of the best outcomes of Wharton’s first student-run social impact conference that we put together at Wharton | San Francisco in April was that we got Deepak Puri, director of business development at tech firm VMware and a volunteer at CauseBrigade, interested in organizing another one for us. His efforts, along with those of Paul Arnpriester, nonprofit business development manager at IT services company CDW, resulted in an engaging set of presentations in November about how crowdsourcing and best practices from the big data corporate world can be used for social impact. 

Douglas Collom, vice dean of Wharton | San Francisco, kicked off the proceedings at the Social Impact Through Crowd Sourcing and Big Data workshop, and Katherine Klein, Edward H. Bowman Professor of Management and vice dean of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, starred at the event as well.  There were more than 100 attendees from different walks of life—startups, big companies, nonprofits—as well as current students and alumni from the Wharton MBA Program. 

Ari Gesher from Palantir Technologies delivered a fascinating presentation around how the software firm—through its technology and its employees—made an immediate difference to several disaster-struck areas in the United States It was heartening to see how technology could immediately mitigate the impact of disasters by assigning volunteers with the right skills and tools to the most needy, as well as identifying stores with supplies and medicines during emergencies. 

Professor Peter Fader, Wharton’s Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia Professor and co-director of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, used the state-of-the-art Wharton-Cisco telepresence system to call in from Philly and broadcast a riveting presentation on fundraising at nonprofits. He showed, through simple Excel models available for download from his website, how nonprofits can estimate which donors are most valuable, and how nonprofits can use that information to prune donor lists and decide whom to reach out to during the holiday season. Having spent a few years at nonprofits, I understand how this could be a great idea to improve the ROI from fundraising campaigns at nonprofits that are always cash-strapped for marketing and have to prioritize donor outreach.

There were other interesting speakers as well, including Peter Skomoroch, a principal data scientist at LinkedIn, and Katherine Townsend from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The social impact workshop was a great way for the thought leaders and technologists in the big data industry to talk about how their technologies are making a difference, even outside the realm of for-profit technology, and how their technology is having a larger impact on lives all over the world.

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