July 29, 2022

Meet 2022 Datanami Person to Watch Lauren Woodman

Big data and AI give corporations incredible power to grow their businesses and improve profits, but the same techniques can also be used to promote social good. One of the people who’s doing more than most to promote the technology for society is Lauren Woodman, the CEO of Datakind and a Datanami Person to Watch for 2022.

DataKind was founded more than a decade ago to help non-profit organizations and social change groups make the most out of their data. Woodman joind the New York City group last year, and was kind enough to spend time with Datanami to discuss the organization’s work, the state of big data for good programs, and her role in it.

Datanami: We have more data than ever before, but much of it is being exploited by for-profit companies. What responsibilities does a society bear to ensure the fruits of technological progress accrue equally?

Woodman: We’ve seen the power of data science and AI radically transform companies and industries. Too many mission-driven organizations still can’t get access to the funding, talent, skills, or training to utilize data science and AI to benefit the important work they do. In 2022, I’m looking forward to partnering with more companies, foundations, and individuals to build a world where all those who fight on the frontlines of social change can use data science and AI to accelerate the pace of their impact.

Do you think our government institutions are making the necessary investments to be able to use big data tech for the greater public good? Or perhaps these investments should be made by third-party organizations, such as nonprofits and NGOs?

What single organization has the technological capacity to build innovative solutions, that will prioritize solutions that are effective over profitable, that can make transparent, do-no-harm solutions, and that communities have oversight over? It’s crucial that multistakeholder partnerships come together to provide those necessary components of tech talent, problem expertise, local involvement, and funding that aren’t otherwise working in concert. At DataKind, we believe in putting data science and AI in the hands of NGOs and human-rights-friendly governments because they’re the most values-aligned institutions we know of. Certain multistakeholder partnerships could meet this criteria of ethical, values-aligned work.

What do you hope to see from the big data community in the coming year?

Similarly to the above, thoughtfully constructed partnerships, where each member brings its resources and skills to bear on a common endeavor, tend to be the most successful. And just as every project is unique, so too is every collaboration. In the coming year, I’m looking forward to connecting with previous and new partners to discuss the most effective way to direct affordable technical capacity into the social sector. Whether it’s a foundation keen to find a new way to tackle a stubborn problem or a corporation developing their own Data Science and AI for Good strategy, DataKind’s decade of doing this work (we celebrate our 10 year anniversary this year!) means that we bring an unrivaled depth of experience to any partnership.

Outside of the professional sphere, what can you share about yourself that your colleagues might be surprised to learn – any unique hobbies or stories?

Oh, I wish I was more interesting, but mostly I like trying something new. Over the years, that’s been everything from triathlons to bread baking to playing drums. I end up being pretty mediocre at most of them, but I love the challenge of something new. This year, I’m committed to improving my golf game, a hobby I picked up during the pandemic, and I’m decidedly very bad at.

You can read the rest of the interviews with the 2022 People to Watch here.

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