It is commonly accepted that data scientists are the smartest people in every field and a hot commodity for every industry. However, high compensation rates, ready access data without onerous red tape and advanced computing environments, are not enough to keep them engaged. Data scientists hope to apply their minds beyond financial modelling since they love hard puzzles and are motivated by solving challenging problems. Therefore, businesses have to provide them with less tangible benefits since most of them seek for a sense of purpose in their practice. This purpose can be found in volunteering for NGOs that leverage the power of data science to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.
ING WB Advanced Analytics consists of both competent and socially-minded data scientists that next to their demanding tasks, work on projects which contribute to the betterment of society. Androniki Menelaou is one of our team’s brilliant minds leading the Katana Lens project. Apart from her busy schedule, she works as a volunteer at the Cyprus Refugee Council. She said regarding her motivations to contribute in such a cause:
“Working in the corporate world, I have the opportunity to learn and develop skills that are of paramount importance not only for ING but for many other parts of the society. I wanted to give back to the country I was born and raised and to the society as a whole. Talking to a young Somali girl who never went to school but could find a job matching her interests and give her the opportunity and hope to build a better future, gave me the hope that if all of us could help one person, we can make this a better world”.
The Cyprus Refugee Council (CRc), is an NGO that focuses on promoting human rights and social justice, contributing towards an inclusive society, advocating for the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, addressing social inequalities, poverty and exclusion and combating racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. Cyprus, where Androniki comes from, lands in the crossroads of three continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and is close to areas of conflict. Over the years many refugees have reached Cyprus from countries including Somalia, Palestine, Syria and other. Being a small country and an island, with a relatively conservative society, Cyprus has done different steps on accommodating refugees but not enough on integrating refugees in the society. Employment is an integrative part of humans and a way to integrate in a country and build a normal life. To help the employment of refugees, the CRc has worked towards developing a platform that would enable them to sign up for trainee ships and jobs positions. At the same time, employers are approached and involved in employing more refugees. Progressively companies have included the notion of getting refugees in their workforce and embodied it in their corporate social responsibility strategy (e.g. Starbucks, IKEA, IBM, ACCENTURE). Androniki said:
“The platform has been on an early stage when I have joined the team in Cyprus, with around 100 refugees signed up and 10 employers in the platform. The goal is to increase engagement from both the refugee and employers side as well as ensuring the jobs posted and the skills match. In a way, this is a “LinkedIn” for refugees”.
Apparently by constructing this platform and preparing refugees for employment allows resisting dominant constructions of refugees as lazy or as a drain on the economy. Androniki explains how she used her expertise to help them be positioned as proactive, entrepreneurial individuals who are preparing for the workplace:
“Using the learnings and the approach of building a product in ING I approached this as an early prototype of the platform. Elements of design thinking have played important role in redefining the problem and prioritizing what to do. We started by first better understanding how the refugees are using the platform and how we can best engage the refugees. Up to that moment, refugees receive help in signing up in the platform and received emails on the updates. Discussing with refugees, we understood that emails are not really part of their daily routine, even though the majority has smartphones. We experimented by contacting them with different channels (for example viber, whatsapp, text message) and using different language (elaborate description of the process versus simple language). We saw the response rate increasing when we used viber and simple language. Personalizing the messages also make the refugees responding to the messages. We also developed user guides to help refugees sign up by themselves without assistance, and we updated the user guide after a few interviews we had. Using analytics, we have then mapped the skills and the districts of refugees and defined the focus areas and sectors we should focus on onboarding employers from. This is a small analytical step in terms of data science but it really helped us focus on the areas and sectors to lobby the platform. It ensures we have matching of job posts and refugees skills and thus increases the matching. Last but not least, we have also identified the mismatches between job posts and skills. For example, many employers requested Greek as a necessary skill, and many refugees have basic Greek language skills. We then were able to identify which programs can offer Greek lessons and incorporated them on the platform so we can help refugees enhance basic skills that can increase their chance for finding a job”.
However, this is not the only proof point which shows how WBAA people harness data science also for world-transforming causes. Recently our data scientists dedicated an experimentation day to help War Child, an International organisation that helps children in war zones. Androniki said:
“The world can use some of the data science for good — and sometimes use the same techniques we know very well in banking. For example, an experimentation day with War Child to help them improve their fundraising and donations programs, in line with marketing techniques we use in ING. Or a recent Kaggle competition where Kiva, a peer-to-peer lending platform to help alleviate poverty, used public data and internal data to identify areas where the most help is needed”.
Volunteering in public-spirited causes can also be a great opportunity for data scientists to sharpen their skills and network with their colleagues from around the world. WBAA data scientists have also participated at the Beyond the banking Hackathon in the fight against skin cancer.