Blog/

Can Social Impact Organizations Better Entice Data Talent?

Data professionals are a crucial part of helping organizations simplify complex problems. But due to their high demand across numerous sectors, data talent can be hard to acquire for nonprofit social impact organizations. This need to better understand how to create, attract, and retain data professionals is currently a crucial step in the future of social impact work and one that data.org, an organization co-founded by The Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, is excited to tackle in their recently released “Workforce Wanted” report.

Using Data Improves Lives

A robust body of evidence shows that the advanced use of data can improve human lives. We’ve seen it through the work of BlueConduit, which used predictive analytics to increase accuracy of identifying lead pipes by 60%, AtlasAI which used satellite imagery to determine distribution of water subsidy gaps in Ghana, and Benefits Data Trust which used automated chatbot technology to help over 11,000 students apply for federal student aid.

Help Wanted (and Needed)

Successful organizations are constantly being challenged to do what they do, but better. While the ability to utilize data does not solve all problems, it can lead to incredible gains for organizational efficiency and productivity. These gains are highly valued and have led to great demand for data professionals including analysts, scientists, and engineers.

For almost all social impact organizations (SIOs), data has the potential to exponentially increase the impact of their work and better understand opportunities, increase operational efficiency, and design solutions. But in order to entice data talent to join their teams, SIOs need to invest in leadership that understands the value of data and creates an organizational culture that promotes data professionals’ success.

Overcoming Barriers and Creating the Right Incentives

In order to better understand and share core opportunities available to growing the social impact data workforce globally, data.org, the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation (PJMF), and Dalberg, with the support of The Rockefeller Foundation, produced “Workforce Wanted: Data Talent for Social Impact.” This report not only examines how to drive more data talent into SIOs, but also digs into what keeps them originally from signing up including:

  • Wage Discrepancies: There are substantial wage discrepancies between data professionals in the private sector and those at nonprofit SIOs. Demand for data skills, and the current strong labor market, are only widening this gap. For example, the average annual salary for DSI data scientists in India is almost half of similar roles in private sector logistics.
  • Limited Collaboration Opportunities: SIO leaders often lack a network of data and workforce experts for advice and support. Shehzia Lilani, Country Director of the Amani Institute, noted: “The ability to be part of a network and share ideas and experiences (data use cases, what worked and what did not) is very powerful for nonprofit leaders.”
  • Lack of Diversity: Traditional data education programs have focused narrowly on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) goals and have led to a workforce that doesn’t reflect the general population. (Only 26% of global data professionals globally are women. In the U.S., Black Americans comprise 12% of the overall population but only 3% of data professionals). Representation is vital to ensure data use enriches lives, not diminishes them.

This first-of-its-kind report highlights the advantages of using data to increase SIO efficiency, work that only talented data professionals can achieve. To begin addressing this problem, “Workforce Wanted “identifies four critical first steps necessary to developing the social impact data workforce for nonprofits globally:

  • Recruiting new talent: Individuals new to the nonprofit SIOs workforce will have the opportunity to develop new, and improve existing, data education and training channels.
  • Bolstering existing talent: In order to build data skills of existing nonprofit talent, SIOs create training models and offer incentives for data talent to use acquired skills in their current organizations.
  • Enticing transitional talent: Motivate private sector data professionals to consider nonprofit SIOs by highlighting potential roles and the value of social impact work.
  • Installing Data-Informed Leadership: Drive new data workforce growth through collaborative efforts of SIO leaders, boards, and funders.

Workforce Wanted builds on the evidence of data’s power in supporting social impact work by further reviewing 200 data science talent initiatives, 970 articles and reports, and conducting interviews with over 30 experts to establish the case for growing the nonprofit SIO data workforce. After downloading “Workforce Wanted” from data.org’s website, organizations have an opportunity to take these learnings even further in the organization’s upcoming fall webinars on how to grow your own DSI workforce. More information on these webinars are available via the data.org newsletter. Additionally, organizations can understand the current status and next steps of their data journey by taking the interactive Data Maturity Assessment.

Moving Forward Together

Many SIO leaders have not had the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of their peers and apply that to their organizations. These shared challenges highlight the need to work collectively to build a solid and resilient DSI workforce which requires time, support, and coordinated efforts. The “Workforce Wanted” report offers a starting point from which nonprofit leaders, their organizations, and funders can collaborate on solutions. These collaborative first steps include actions such as:

  • Experiment early and evaluate often: SIO data workforce is developing and, therefore, malleable. Leaders and organizations should experiment and evaluate what works and what doesn’t and pivot accordingly.
  • Coordinate complementary efforts: SIO organizations can share and reuse existing tools and strategies to reduce overlapping efforts and speed innovation.
  • Link Training with Advancement: Staff development success should shift from “number of people trained in data” to “number of people playing an active role working within organizations using data” to encourage outcome-oriented results.
  • Invest in IDEA: Nonprofit SIO leaders are in the best positions to ensure that the new data workforce reflects their organizations and the people they serve. Ensure that the new data workforce reflects the diversity of the people they serve and overall workforce.

“The ‘Workforce Wanted’ report frames the problem and sets the table to further develop meaningful and actionable solutions to meet the ever-growing demand for data talent across the sector” said Ginger Zielinskie, Senior Advisor at data.org. “Success will require collaboration among funders, academia, technology firms, and, of course, social impact organizations and their leadership. These leaders are long-distance runners pursuing transformational change, and they’re an essential component to our collective success.”

Implementing recommendations from Workforce Wanted will require leaders with the vision to define data-driven strategies, staff to embrace change, and boards and funders that appreciate the value of using data to move outcomes. But together, these effects have the power to change the way data talent is recruited and maintained in the social impact field and in turn, deeply increase the reach of organizations working to help people around the world.

Back to Top