Guest blog: Heidi Hernandez Gatty, DataKind’s Senior Network Strategist
I’ve been here at DataKind for a little over a year now. But I’m not a data scientist. My background is in nonprofit infrastructure and networks of practice. For a little over 15 years, I’ve been looking at how nonprofits structure themselves from the inside out to maximize the good work they do in the world. It’s been a journey of helping nonprofit social entrepreneurs and infrastructure providers themselves learn from each other to increase the efficiencies and effectiveness of the nonprofits they serve.
At its heart, DataKind’s work depends on collaboration. For one of our projects to be successful, it takes input from experts of all walks – nonprofit leaders, subject matter experts, data scientists, coders, designers and more all come together on projects that apply data science to some of the toughest challenges out there. But these collaborations don’t just happen – they need space to take shape and encouragement to stick together.
From San Francisco to Singapore, our global network of Chapters exists to do just this. Primarily volunteer-led, our Chapters provide the space to mix and mingle and the great excuse for folks that don’t typically get to cross paths to come together, rub elbows and generate entirely new solutions together. Each DataKind Chapter has a small team of Chapter Leaders who are responsible for keeping the DataKind vision alive in their communities. They are supported by core volunteers who focus on finding new partners, bringing in new volunteers and planning events. They in turn recruit and engage thousands of data scientists and other technology enthusiasts who come to these events to meet people, share ideas, and work together to make the world a better place – one data science project at a time.
I get the pleasure and honor of helping these collaborations grow and thrive across our Chapter network. We sometimes call this role a “Network Weaver” as I have my eyes across the tapestry of DataKind’s work, pulling the right threads at the right time to make the pattern richer, more beautiful. While our volunteers already speak the same language of data science, they also have to learn the language of the nonprofit and charity sector, as well as the issue area they’re focused on to do their work effectively. In turn, our project partners – be they foundations, nonprofits, or social enterprises – become familiar with new lingo from Python to Pandas to p-values.
Deep collaboration like this takes time, trust, and engaged listening on all sides. Our Chapter Leaders enable this wonderful chemistry to take place by leading by example, representing some of the best servant leaders you could ever imagine. They exhibit compassion and caring – from helping two strangers strike up a conversation at a networking event, to demystifying the latest buzz words, to troubleshooting when a project has an obstacle to overcome. They are experts at bringing ideas to fruition and in following through to help seed the next stop on the journey.
What has been immensely exciting to see over the past year is the potential we have as a network to share learnings from our projects around the world. We can see patterns across cultures, over issue areas and in the work itself. We have the opportunity to make work in homelessness in the Bay Area of California relevant and useful to homelessness in the UK.
Our volunteer Chapter Leaders choose to spend their free time in communication with each other to build bridges and connections that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. At DataKind, we believe that data science, thoughtfully applied to humanity’s toughest issues, can make a real difference in the world. We continue to be in awe of our Chapter Leaders, who tirelessly dedicate their time to building relationships and bringing together talented, humble, awesome data science volunteers and social change-makers to tackle tough challenges and ultimately reach more people in need.
Want to help even more of this data-driven collaboration goodness happen worldwide? We’re hiring a Community Engagement Manager to join our Network team and help inspire even more data science volunteers to give back. Apply >