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Top Female Data Executives Make the Case for Prioritizing ‘Data for Good’

Three executives unpack the ethical case for using data to drive positive social outcomes in a recent Business of Data Leading Female Data Executives panel discussion on LinkedIn



‘Data for good’ is a growing priority for data-focused executives. The concept refers to the practice of using data to drive positive social impact, either through using it to develop fairer business practices or to rollout new initiatives designed to achieve positive outcomes.

As three data-focused executives point out in one of our monthly Leading Female Data Executives panel discussions, enterprises are delivering a wide range of initiatives in the name of ‘data for good’.

“We’ve been on a journey at Mastercard, as we created our Center for Inclusive Growth,” says JoAnn Stonier, Chief Data Officer at Mastercard. “We really have a commitment towards improving society overall.”

For Maritza Curry, Head of Data at consumer finance company RCS, one example of using data for good can be found in the way financial institutions use data to extend credit to people who are financially underserved.

She says: “We exclude a lot of people from products such as credit cards and loans because we still use traditional risk scorecards and risk modeling, which require full credit checks and records. We can use data to fill in some of those gaps and find alternative ways to determine creditworthiness.”

But for Sathya Bala, Founder and CEO of management consultancy True Change, it’s also important to use data to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of an organization.

Bala notes that enterprises worldwide struggle with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. As such, she sees these things as business outcomes to be met and encourages data leaders to initiate conversations with diversity teams about how to deliver them with data.

“As data leaders, let's not wait for our [diversity, equity and inclusion] teams to call on us,” Bala implores. “We should go to them, because we understand the complexity around collecting data, reporting on it and how to use it for metrics.”

Using Data to Drive Social Impact

As organizations across the globe succeed in developing mature analytics capabilities, their potential to use data to advance good causes is increasing. But our panelists are keen to point out that it’s up to data leaders to serve as the bridge between different teams in the organization to find and champion opportunities to do this.

“As a South African and living in a young democracy, I'm really excited about the opportunities presented by data,” Curry says. “We can use it to create visibility around what government is doing with our tax money, for example. There are also organizations doing amazing work visualizing complex data and making it accessible to everyone. I expect this will drive a responsible, accountable and well-governed society.”

“Lots of organizations have a commitment to using their financial assets or their people assets [to drive social impact],” Stonier adds. “Mastercard also then began looking at its technology assets. And the last group of assets that we began realizing were going to be of use in this conversation were our data assets.”

Mastercard launched its Center for Inclusive Growth in 2014. The platform allows companies including Mastercard to share datasets or insights with NGOs and other organizations to help them solve societal problems. The impact of this initiative stretches well beyond the financial sphere.

Stonier explains: “When natural disasters strike, we can tell which areas are coming back online as people start to transact. We can then share that information with first responders and tell them you can go there for lodging or for gasoline or for food.”

Recognizing that the first step is often the hardest to take, Bala says data leaders can start the ‘data for good’ journey by reaching out to their organizations' social investment departments. She recommends that executives volunteer their time and skills to find solutions to problems that may have fallen through the cracks, such as underserved communities.

She concludes that prioritizing ‘data for good’ isn’t just a good thing to do. It’s also in many companies’ business interests.

“Social good is not separate from commercial benefit,” Bala says. “It doesn’t matter how amazing your organization is, if you are not serving all of those communities that require your service or your product.”

Stonier concludes: “If we want data to be inclusive, we must think more inclusively. The more we do that, the better our information will get, and it will begin to cater to everybody.”