I made it happen

Gaya Sarin: Big Data for Social Good

Making ideas happen is tough; it takes confidence, discipline and passion. It’s not always easy, but is it worth it? ‘I made it happen’ celebrates those who are leading innovation projects and making new ideas happen. Below you will find a personal account from Gaya Sarin at Deloitte who is turning her idea into reality.

Why did you make it happen?

I believe social impact work is really important to younger talent. If you have two similar companies, and one gives you the opportunity to do work that makes a real social impact, the choice is easy.

What’s the idea?

Over the past year, we have been helping the GSMA to develop and implement a Purpose for the mobile industry. GSMA unites 800 member operators active in 220+ countries that together, connect two-thirds of the world’s population through mobile. A key part of this Purpose is a commitment to increase the industry’s impact on the Sustainable Development Goals.

As part of our programme of support, Deloitte assessed the impact of the mobile industry on the Sustainable Development Goals. From there, we helped GSMA identify where mobile operators could add value and together developed the Big Data for Social Good initiative.

This initiative will focus on enhancing the management of humanitarian crises in public health (epidemics) and from natural disasters. Mobility data in combination with third-party data sources will help to monitor, alert and predict/manage the spread of diseases. This will be a great help to humanitarian agencies who can use this information to know when and where to deploy resources and communicate with impacted individuals (e.g. with warnings and preventative measures they can take). The initiative is made up of a partnership with 16 global operators, representing 2 billion mobile connections, and the UN Foundation.

How did you make it happen?

In the beginning, my role was to map out what value mobile operators can bring in responding to natural disasters.

I facilitated workshops where the operators could hash out the scope of the collaboration, the maturity of the technology, and their ability to create impact. I had to bring these operators together and discuss how they would share their data. I led several virtual workshops where people dialled in from all over the world including Korea, Japan, Africa and the US. These workshops allowed us to create a vision, form a working group, and determine how we’d structure the pilot to ensure it was scalable.

As a result, we built a prototype for a virtual hub where mobile operators could upload their data without compromising confidential information about their customers.

What has been the highlight so far?

It was really exciting to see the head of the GSMA go up on stage at the Mobile World Congress, in front of the banners of all 16 mobile operators we had brought together to put their weight behind this initiative. In the week leading up to the Congress, we had the operators’ CEOs work wonders to ensure their company signed up to this great initiative.

What have been the challenges?

One of the toughest aspects of the project was managing the potential risk of a privacy breach. Within the context of an increasingly connected world where data / knowledge is power, it was vital to assure operators that their data would be protected. We were able to secure an agreement to ensure whatever data sharing model was used would require the data to be de-identified and aggregated.

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