Pairing Data with Social Justice for Greater Impact

March 5, 2020 | By Amen Ra Mashariki

Pursuing impact is at the core of everything I’ve done in my career since my nephew Sam was diagnosed with leukemia 18 years ago. I left my job as a software engineer at Motorola and enrolled in a Ph.D. program with a focus in bioinformatics and cancer research. In the course of that research I developed open source software that I called System Agnostic Medical Middleware (S.A.M.M.) in honor of my nephew. From that moment on, I have only sought work where my science and tech skill set would be used to make lives better. I am excited to take all of those experiences, best practices, and lessons learned over the past 18 years and apply them to big, complex, timely, and meaningful problems as a fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University.

young boy and man standing in office
The author and his nephew Sam at the Univ. of Chicago Cancer Research Center.

I’ve lived my entire life in communities where residents experienced any number of socioeconomic challenges — I grew up in New York City, and over the past 20 years I have lived, worked, and gone to school in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. I have experienced the variety of challenges these different communities faced, and the ways government, academic, non-profit, and private sector organizations have attempted to solve complex issues facing these modern, fast-growing communities. 

At the Beeck Center, I will work at the forefront of the movement to utilize data and data science to ameliorate many of these issues. I look forward to researching and writing about the current landscape of how we can use data science and artificial intelligence to make lives better for people across the world in many different circumstances. And as the use of data and data science to solve problems grows in the social justice space, I will delve into new challenges and work with institutions and organizations to identify novel and appropriate solutions. I also look forward to spending time discerning, defining and documenting the difference between analytics, data science, and artificial intelligence, and when, where and how it can be used in these sectors in order to maximize impact.

As a presidentially-appointed White House Fellow in 2012, and subsequently the Chief Technology Officer for a federal agency, I had a front row seat to how public sector leadership took on challenges facing people in communities across this nation. Later, while serving as the Chief Analytics Officer of New York City, I had the opportunity to tackle the myriad of challenges facing local residents head on and learn how data and data science could be harnessed as an effective solution to local problems. These experiences, along with my time as an urban analytics executive at a large tech company engaging with international municipal leadership around the world, gave me a deeper understanding of core issues facing today’s communities and how governments leadership can use data-driven solutions to address them. 

Over the last few years I’ve published articles, blogs, and thought leadership pieces that illustrate how data science can have a clear and quantitative impact on government services, covering topics such as, developing a data-driven approach to solving homelessness in your city, how a chief analytics officer can strengthen the quality of services in local government, and how open data can connect citizens to their government. I am looking forward to taking those thoughts off of paper and putting them to action by shaping policy conversations with Tyler Kleykamp and the State Chief Data Officers Network housed at the Beeck Center. I will also collaborate with other fellows on the Beeck Center’s Data + Digital team to consider data-focused solutions that can address some of society’s most challenging issues and to support civic engagement with public institutions.

In everything we do in life, community is key. But when looking to be a catalyst for building non-trivial solutions to complex societal challenges, community is imperative. The Beeck Center community is one where I can contribute thoughtful insight that will no doubt have an impact on society at large, but most importantly,it is a community where I can listen, learn, and foster strong relationships. I am more than excited to grow as a member of the Beeck Center community while driving the technology and data science toward greater social impact. 

Amen Ra Mashariki joined the Beeck Center as a fellow in February 2020. He will support data projects as part of the Data + Digital portfolio. Follow him on Twitter at @AMashariki

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