Data can help us change the world, if we manage it right

Our world is dependent on data. Data influences our personal lives, our economic, political, and social systems. It is a part of our cultural identity and the way we interact. Worldwide, companies and governments rely on data to make decisions. 

“When anything online is free, you are not the customer, you are the product” – this aphorism captures the reality of how data is being used by some of the major tech companies. The numbers are shocking – Facebook has enough data on its average user to fill 400.000 word documents; Google – seven times that amount.

A part of the problem is that we often buy into the idea that the development and deployment of innovative tech is inherently good for society. However, that’s not necessarily true as the conversation about ethics and social impact often comes last. 

The current crisis highlighted the challenges associated with data science, data modelling, ethics and privacy. Worldwide, we are witnessing a wider recognition of the social, behavioural and political issues that unethical data manipulation can have. 

The time to hold ourselves accountable for whether our current efforts in the data industry are placed at serving communities around the globe is now.

The big picture shows that governments, businesses and citizens are focusing on the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Climate Action and overcoming the pandemic – these challenging tasks can make 2020s the decade for impact investing to go mainstream. 

Data science in particular and technology in general should help us move toward overcoming those challenges and achieving UN’s SDGs. These goals are universally applicable to all humanity – ending poverty, tackling climate change, giving healthcare to all. Data science is capable of giving us an understanding on how to realise them by 2030.

During the pandemic, everyone could see a devastating and disproportionate impact on industries and communities – we are yet to comprehend it’s breadth.

It’s not enough to have data science models, methods and strategies at place. To develop solutions, we need to align on our values and principles of handling data.

So, what can those values be?

These values may seem hard to achieve but positive change is in everyone’s capacity if we are thoughtful and creative enough to look beyond the profit-first approach. 


For example, one of the companies that will be presenting its achievements at DN Unlimited Conference, what3words, was created to help musicians and music events organisers be more efficient with corralling. Because of the poor addressing / GPS navigation system, what3words Founder Chris Sheldrick came up with the whole new addressing system based on 3 meter squares and 3 unique words assigned to each square. Who could have known that just a couple of years later, 170 countries and governments worldwide will use what2words system for more efficiency in emergency situations, humanitarian response, refugee camps supply and more. 

"When designing any solution, we have to think about most of the planet."

Green City Solutions

The Green City Solutions is an example of a Berlin-based startup that works with local authorities to better the air quality in cities. They solve the problem of air pollution by combining a special, vertical installed moss culture with IoT technology. The “CityTree” has the same effect as 275 urban trees, but requires 99% less space. It contains sensors collecting environmental and climatic data, to regulate and control the unit.

"To stop the Climate Change, we need to show the world that profits gained at the expense of our wellbeing & our environment have no future; sustainable business models can and should be successful."

Plan A

Another Berlin-based company Plan A is fighting Climate Change by helping companies to measure, reduce and offset their business carbon footprint. They have developed the first Emissions Reduction Software which allows businesses to calculate, monitor and reduce their carbon footprint on a monthly basis. The software provides personalised sustainability action plans and sustainable development focused offsetting scheme that responds to the companies carbon footprint analysis. 

"I believe in the power of data. We are going to be adding more and more data-driven perspectives to the issues we face as a society. Data will enable us to address these issues tangibly."

This year’s narrative focuses on assisting the digital transformation of businesses, governments, and communities by offering a fresh perspective on data technologies – from empowering organizations to revamp their business models to shed light on social inequalities and challenges like Climate Change and Healthcare accessibility.


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