An Algorithm for Social Change

Prukalpa Sankar is using data power to bring about change in social world.

By Devika Singh  
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

If data is integral to the financial world in decision-making, why can't it be of use to the social world? To find out, Prukalpa Sankar, Founder, SocialCops, moved to India from Singapore with Co-founder Varun Banka and kicked off data research in India's social milieu. Thus, an epiphany, while working with an investment bank in Singapore, led a 21-year- old Sankar to set up a social data aggregation company SocialCops in 2013.

Fast forward to 2018. SocialCops now provides data help to several social projects and helps government and non-profit organisations make informed decisions. From working with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in monitoring LPG connections under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to analysing education data from 1.4 million schools across India for Oxfam India, their contribution to society is extensive.

SocialCops partnered with NGOs such as Deepalaya, Goonj, Bill and the Melinda Gates Foundation. It provides them data insights for better planning and implementation of outreach programmes. Quite recently, they started working with the Ministry of Rural Development on an initiative called Disha, which monitors 42 flagship govern-ment schemes and their progress.

"The intent is to provide a tool for MPs, to be able to see what is happening in their constituencies," says Sankar. The challenge is to extract data from various government sources and aggregate it. "Some data comes out of aanganvadi centres, gram panchayats, and from schemes such as MGNREGA. All of these are different units, so if we are looking to aggregate them on top of one another, it won't match. We have built a lot of internal tools to power this," she adds.

The company, with 150 partners across 26 countries, recently tied up with the UNDP and the Business Council of Papua New Guinea, to create a dashboard, which can track contribution of businesses to the country's development. It also launched a project to map the world so that it provides data insights based on the location.

"For example, we can identify the affluence of an area, and what kind of health patterns there. How many buildings are getting contracted in an area? How much growth is happening? Then you look at information from the satellites, and you can actually see how lighted up an area is in the night. This is a measure of economic growth. We can look at a lot of part healthcare data to actually start seeing in the future as to what kind of diseases may break out in an area," Sankar explains.

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