Doris Sullivan with co-workers Lucia Zhou and G. Terrell Seabrooks at the United Nations for the AI for the Planet Conference in May 2023. (Photo Courtesy of Doris Sullivan)

When I think of unexpected outcomes, I can’t help but think of my own winding career path.

My technical journey began in computational science research, a topic I chose at 21 because I was fascinated by the idea of using math and computer programming to complement traditional lab-based research.

After completing a Ph.D. from Boston University on modeling quantum phenomena in chemical matter, I landed my first gig in New York City at a design agency, programming websites and databases. Later I focused on non-profit work that included online projects in global activism, tallying car emissions, and eco-labeling products.

While data was the connector between job descriptions, what led me from job to job – including product safety testing – was the idea that the right analysis of the right data can lead to knowledge that improves people’s lives.

In 2019, I talked to The Rockefeller Foundation about joining its organization. I was excited by the Foundation’s workforce composition of over 50 percent women, including in the Innovation team. I joined the following year. Integrating more women’s voices as co-workers in data science to improve equity deeply resonated with me personally.

The Right Kinds of Data and Modeling Methods

In talking about this work, I’m often met with the misconception that a massive amount of data can solve any problem. In fact, it is all about the right kind of data and modeling methods.

Man recording data from a solar farm

For the last 110 years, The Rockefeller Foundation has pushed scientific frontiers to tackle and solve our biggest challenges, with a core emphasis on being both equitable and data-driven. This focus has deeply defined the work of my team.

Advancing Climate Solutions

Alongside our more technical work, our grants team manages a portfolio using statistics, machine learning, and Artificial IntelligenceI to advance analytics for equity – including addressing climate change, poverty, clean water access, and more.

Last year, we made a 5-year commitment to advance climate solutions across the Foundation. From our portfolio,  AtlasAI, Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) and Earth Genome are grantees dedicated to using unique and innovative data science practices and share their perspectives on the importance of advancing climate, equity, and environmental justice below.

We’re so proud to be supporting all of our Innovation grantees and grateful for their dedication and drive to reach equity as an expected outcome.

I’m particularly interested in rooting out bias in data, which can emerge unintended through language preferences or gender stereotypes, as well as through a scarcity of data that impacts some communities.

In our analytics team, we work on developing products and providing technical assistance to Innovation grantees where equity is centered through using data analytics to the benefit of often overlooked communities.

With a passion for making our learnings accessible, the team started the year with a new monthly column titled Matter of Data featuring content capturing their unique perspectives, challenges, and solutions, such as talking about subjectivity in maps.