Social Change through Data Science

Fireside Chat with Paul Duan, CEO of Bayes Impact

Apart of our vision at Blueprint is to “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi once said. At the same time, it takes experience and time in order to find and implement the correct solution. That’s why we hosted a fireside chat with the CEO of Bayes Impact, Paul Duan. Through Duan we learned about his insight and creativity on how to create social change through one’s vision. We were thrilled to see a positive and passionate response from those who attended.

Duan notes the seemingly infinite amount of problems that may occur in any type of social work. How then, does he manage to keep a single vision on what he can do within the industry? He highlights how his mission entails “understanding the problem they’re solving,” by “find[ing] one well-defined problem in order to improve it.” For example, the government transfers physical copies of data from one sector to another for workers to review, resulting in data transfer back-logging. As a result his solution is to build algorithms and use machine-learning to make decisions in order to look at the majority of the claims and decide on a solution; the rest 5% of the claims that are more complicated can then be left for humans to decide.

He notes how while there is a “high barrier to entry to social work, to go beyond a case study and build operational technologies, you need more.” Duan’s most important ideas within a successful start-up or non-profit organization are therefore the following:

I. Scalability. Duan suggests to build systemic solutions that will allow the organization to “create value in order to have a sustainable business model.” As a non-profit, without equity, it’s hard to raise money. As a result, Duan says to rely on having a growth mindset, and an aim for low turnover rate. The idea behind scalability is to create more value than what’s required in order to keep improving.

II. Networking. Making a network is highly integral to make a cheaper and solid foundation for non-profits to rely on. It’s rare to find everything that’s needed with the resources you have. Organizations must surround themselves with a constantly developing network.

III. Identifying and focusing on one crucial problem to solve. By having a single drive, focus and vision, everyone is able to work together to tackle the problem together and potentially cover all of which can go wrong.

IV. Disrupt how NGO’s currently work. Duan mentions how the median age of NGO’s are a century old while the median age in the private sectors is much lower as a result of private companies competing against each other, akin to ‘survival of the fittest,’ that allows technology to continue developing. Consequently, Duan’s goal is to disrupt the world of NGO’s and build the next World Bank or the next Red Cross, etc., in order to strive for high growth, potential, and change the way things are done.

All in all, how do we effectively apply technology to create social change? The difficulty of doing meaningful work in the social sector that will create a long-lasting impact is a problem that’s still being tackled. However, as Duan mentions, we can build, use and open-source the solutions that we do have in order to maintain a continuity of knowledge within our organization. Regardless, Duan notes how it’s still a work-in-progress problem. People who want to build something meaningful must care more about the outcome rather than the menial tasks they may be assigned daily, and the low pay. In order to do meaningful work, the product created must have value in order to create change and improve efficiency.

Check out our recording from the event to listen for yourself!