Press release: our launch and introduction of our mission!

Knowledge institute helps solve world problems with data analysis

ORTEC and professors UvA and MIT establish Analytics for a Better World Institute 

AMSTERDAM, January 25, 2022 – The Amsterdam Business School of the University of Amsterdam and analytics and technology company ORTEC have founded the Analytics for a Better World Institute (ABW) in collaboration with Professor Bertsimas of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The institute will work with NGOs, governments and non-profit organizations to help tackle global problems such as climate change, hunger, poverty, deforestation and the extinction of flora and fauna using data and analytics.

Data analysis via algorithms and artificial intelligence is successfully applied by all kinds of commercial companies, for example in logistics and advertising. In those sectors, it has improved performance by 10% to 15%. ABW works on a non-profit basis and wants to use the same techniques for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. If those effects can be translated to the non-profit sector, it can have a major impact. The Netherlands spends 5 billion euros annually on development aid. If a performance improvement of 10% to 15% could be achieved, 600 million more help could be provided.

Examples are everywhere. AI models can be used to better analyze satellite images of illegal logging and deforestation, so that a rapid response can be made. By analyzing weather forecasts and historical impact data, the consequences of hurricanes can be better understood, and aid organizations can deliver the necessary aid to the right place faster.

With predictive algorithms, researchers were able to help accelerate clinical trials while developing the COVID-19 vaccine, getting the vaccine much faster to the market and saving thousands of extra lives. By dealing more efficiently with food aid, millions of additional mouths are fed. Better soil analysis through machine learning improves agricultural yields in African countries.

Co-initiator Dick den Hertog, professor of Operations Research at the University of Amsterdam, has been working on the application of analytics for the UN sustainable development goals for years. With his models, he helped the World Bank locate the best places for medical centers in East Timor and Vietnam, so that people could access medical care nearby at the lowest possible investment. He participated in a study for UNHRD to optimize the locations of their depots so that relief supplies can be delivered as quickly as possible in the event of a disaster. In the context of climate adaptation, he calculated the height of dikes required for the Dutch government to protect people against flooding in rivers. This saved an amount of 8 billion euros.

Den Hertog was triggered after reading two books: ‘Excellence without a Soul’ and ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’. The first argues in favor of making university education more inspiring and meaningful, the second shows how data science also has a dark side and can have negative consequences for society. “I came to the conclusion that it might be better to use all those smart minds and data science for a better world,” he says. Dimitris Bertsimas, professor of Business Analytics at MIT, thought the same and together they started a research theme, courses and seminars at MIT and the UvA. To make it more scalable and more impactful, they involved professional parties such as international analytics and technology company ORTEC and the ABW Institute was established.

The invitation is for NGOs, governments, non-profit organizations, companies and charities around the world to join and make use of ABW’s knowledge and experience. The institute is not for profit: income is immediately reinvested to support ABW’s mission. For example, there will be a free and publicly available digital marketplace with solutions and tools, where NGOs can look around and reuse solutions that have worked well elsewhere, free of charge. This helps them to save costs and to achieve results faster. The ABW academy will organize summer and winter schools for NGO employees to teach them how to work with data and analytics. In addition, ABW will conduct research, start a scientific journal and organize seminars.

“I believe that this institute can contribute to solving the major challenges facing humanity”, says director Robert Monné of ABW. “We’ve already seen the tremendous value analytics can bring to commercial organizations. The time is now right to use this power to solve these problems.”

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