Big Data for Good

Now more than ever, organizations of every size across every sector recognize the value of data and analytics to improve what they do and drive business value. This being my seventh Strata+Hadoop World conference since 2013, I’ve witnessed this movement dramatically increase in strength and size. Past conference sessions describing the potential value delivered with this “big data” concept and related technologies have been replaced with those describing actual applications of big data concepts delivering measurable value for a variety of organizations.

Within Mastercard Advisors, the professional services arm of Mastercard, we help public and private sector entities produce meaningful results that drive business forward through technology, data, and analytics. Our international reach and regional presence provide us with a remarkable position and deep experience on a global scale. We bring a depth and breadth of expertise resulting from operating a global technology organization to bear for every customer we serve.

Over the past several years, Mastercard has been utilizing its technology and data analytics expertise to help humanitarian organizations around the world improve the delivery of aid. Working with public and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), we have empowered more than 2.5 million vulnerable people with faster, safer, and more efficient aid distribution.

I can think of few places where incremental improvement to how an organization works matters more than those organizations serving in the humanitarian relief sector. Doing things better in this context means more lives are improved and fewer people suffer. It means more starving children are fed, more families avoid life-threatening diseases, more children are educated, and more lives are saved after disasters.

That data analytics should be used for program delivery is not news to this community.  Response assessment, measurement, and evaluation, and program analysis have been some of several long-standing practices that employ data analytics. The last few years have seen significant advances in the ways this next generation of big data capabilities and enabling technologies can improve the effectiveness of humanitarian missions before, during, and after execution.  

The human implications of such enablement have compelled thoughtful review of how this should be implemented. Yes, NGOs can now understand significantly more insights about the vulnerable populations they serve, wherever they are in the world. NGOs can also better act upon those insights to more accurately deliver aid, locate displaced populations, and improve efficient program execution. But, NGOs must now also consider the responsible management of the information they collect and they must ensure that they have sound practices in place for the protection of their beneficiaries’ personal data. This is true for any organization, public or private, that collects personal data—and just as critical when working with at-risk and vulnerable populations reliant on the services being offered.

At Mastercard, we have worked with our partners to think through some critical questions as they are developing best practices around their data management:

  • Do I really need to collect all of this data for my mission, and do I need to keep it for as long as I have been?
  • Is it possible that I or anyone else will ever use this data inappropriately?
  • Are the affected people really capable of providing informed consent given the context and their current circumstances?
  • What do my donors require for data security and individual privacy, and what are their rights to this data?
  • Am I putting anyone in danger by collecting and using the data with the tools and services I’ve chosen to use?
  • What will happen to the persons whose data I’m collecting, myself, or my team if this gets into the wrong hands?

At Strata + Hadoop World San Jose, I’m privileged to join other leaders in the humanitarian sector’s Data for Good movement, including Mike Olson (CSO,  Cloudera), David Goodman (CIO, NetHope), and Laura Eisenhardt (EVP, iKnow Solutions Europe). During this session (Big Data as a Force for Good), we’ll discuss the unique challenges humanitarian organizations and NGOs face in the big data world and the work under way to meet both current and future demands.

I invite you to attend our conference session, and join us in the discussion of Data for Good, and the larger conversation taking place in the humanitarian community.

To learn more about Mastercard’s support of the humanitarian sector, please visit our website. I also invite you to learn more about NetHope’s mission to enable cross-sector collaboration between nonprofits and innovative companies to develop better programs, mitigate risks, and scale benefits for greater impact in the communities in which they work by visiting them at

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