Published 2 years ago.
About a 3 minute read.
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What if artificial intelligence could be help solve some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges, such as water access? That is what DataRobot is trying to enable through its AI For Good program.
When we hear about artificial intelligence (AI), many people often think of
complex programs that process and analyze massive amounts of data and
information for surveillance, financial engineering or defense. But what if AI
could be used to solve some of the world’s most pressing social and
environmental challenges, such as water access?
That is what DataRobot, an enterprise AI
technology provider that works across several major global industries, is trying
to enable through its AI for Good
launched in July 2019.
“The program was designed to address many of the challenges that often arise
with other data-for-good initiatives,” Chandler McCann, Head of AI for Good
at DataRobot, told Sustainable Brands™. “We wanted to offer
nonprofits more than a one-time event like a hackathon or a difficult to
maintain custom-code solution.”
DataRobot’s program takes a unique approach, going beyond providing nonprofits
access to their platform — providing six months of hands-on engagement and
support to ensure organizations can best utilize these tools in their important
program work, including helping develop nonprofit-specific platforms.
“Implementing an AI
can be difficult,” McCann says. “We want to make sure that an organization that
applies for this program has the capacity and support from leadership to make
the project successful.”
The program aims to make the same AI technology used by large global
corporations available to nonprofits. Current and previous partners include
Kiva, DonorsChoose and Anacostia Rivershed. One of the early pilot
partners of this program was Global Water
Challenge — a global nonprofit that aims
to provide safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education worldwide. It
had previously participated in other data-for-good programs, but found the
As Katy Sill, Water Point Data Exchange Program Director at Global Water
Challenge, told SB: “Some of the findings were quite interesting, but none
really had the impact we were hoping for; and in most cases – since we did not
have a team of data scientists – we couldn’t easily work with the code-based
products that were developed.”
This wasn’t due to lack of need, but capacity. Water access and water quality
are two major developmental challenges, and key components of the UN
Goals. Global Water
Challenge knew that one of the main issues was the breakdown of water access
points — hand pumps and taps that nearly one billion people around the world
depend on for their daily water needs. They had data, but did not know how to
use that data to better utilize limited resources and understand what’s driving
For Global Water Challenge, DataRobot’s hands-on, collaborative approach
provided nearly instant returns.
“With DataRobot ... we were able to upload the data from Water Point Data
Exchange and build a model which provides key insights on the important
questions we had been looking for,” Sill said.
The initial pilot, in Sierra Leone, has proved successful so far — and also
enabled Global Water Challenge to better engage with the government.
“After these initial successful deployments, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Water
Resources worked with the Ministry of Finance to pass a national directive that
requires the use of data in decisions about water services,” Sill explained.
“The government is using the output from the platform to inform the planning
process for repairs, maintenance and new construction of water points, impacting
nearly two million citizens across the country.”
Sill hopes to take what they’ve developed for Sierra Leone and utilize it in
other countries with water access challenges.
“There is a huge opportunity to improve water access around the world using this
data and the models we built with DataRobot,” she says.
Meanwhile, DataRobot sees opportunities beyond water — including in health and
The potential is limitless; though it’ll be key to continue expanding the
capabilities of nonprofits to utilize and integrate AI into their work.
“The focus of the AI for Good program extends to any major societal issue or
global challenge,” McCann said. “It’s incredibly rewarding to work with
nonprofits ... to deliver success with AI.”
Published Mar 22, 2021 11am EDT / 8am PDT / 3pm GMT / 4pm CET
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.