Article on Prof. Dick den Hertog in HetParool!

Article on Prof. Dick den Hertog in HetParool!

On November 30th, 2023 the Het Parool newspaper published an article about Prof. Dick den Hertog, written by Peter de Jong, highlighting his work and his recent win of the 2023 Impact Awards.

The full article can  be found here:

The article is in Dutch, so we decided to translate it here.

Eradicating hunger and a cleaner environment: this Amsterdam-based data scientist uses his knowledge for good causes 

Peter de Jong 30 November 2023, 03:00 

Mathematician and data specialist Dick den Hertog could make a lot of money in the business world with his expertise. Instead, he makes his algorithms available to the world’s charities, with a non-profit institution: Analytics for a Better World.  

Until 2010, Dick den Hertog was a hard-working, anonymous scientist. The book Excellence Without a Soul by Harvard professor Harry Lewis changed everything, says the brand-new laureate; he is one of the winners of the Amsterdam Impact Awards. “Lewis made it clear to me that universities should not only produce brilliant students, but especially young people who take responsibility in society. From that moment on, I was awake. Since then, I have also been teaching my students how they can give something back to society later on.”  

After Den Hertog had already helped with charities on his own, such as fighting hunger in the world with the Zero Hunger Lab, he founded Analytics for a Better World (ABW) in 2021. An institution that receives accommodation and funding from the UvA. Another sponsor and co-founder is the technology company ORTEC. Den Hertog: “They give money, but they also help with the development of software, because our algorithms have to be integrated into the work process of the aid organization.”  

Since its inception, Analytics for a Better World has completed more than 26 projects with 14 non-profit partners in Timor-Leste, Vietnam, Nepal, Ukraine, Sudan, Kenya and the Netherlands. Currently, 14 projects are still ongoing.  

What exactly does ABW do?  

“We adhere to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to ensure that by 2030 there is no hunger, poverty or inequality in the world, and that nature remains intact. At the moment we are working on a project for The Ocean Cleanup. They fish the gigantic amount of plastic out of the oceans. We help them develop an optimal sailing schedule, in which the boats collect as much plastic as possible.”  

 “This is complicated because the amount of plastic is not the same everywhere, and is constantly moving as a result of the ocean current. Of course you want to fish in the places where the most plastic is, but also collect as much plastic as possible on the way there. Compare it to the Pac-Mans game from the 80s.”  

 “At ABW, we don’t just come up with algorithms, we also train the people who work on location for the charities in data analysis. So that they can do it themselves. This year we had 100 students. At the end of the training, the students have to come up with their own project, for which we provide support. I find that really heartwarming.”  

Data analysis and algorithms are rather abstract concepts. Please explain.  

“Due to the rise of the computer and the internet, there is now a huge amount of data available. The challenge is to combine all that data in such a way that you can use it to solve problems. You do that with a step-by-step plan, an algorithm.”  

“Here’s an example. In East Timor, we ran a health project together with the World Bank. The goal was for at least 95 percent of the Timorese to live within 5 kilometers of a GP post. Then you start collecting data: where do people live, where are health centres already located? And you have to know all the roads that the people walk and drive to get to the doctors. The latter was not easy, they did not have very good documentation of it.”  

“We then developed an algorithm that allowed us to calculate where all those GP surgeries should be located. But that’s not the end of the story as far as I’m concerned. I would like to optimise the capacity at those health centres. So that the waiting time is as short as possible.”  

“With the same type of algorithm as in East Timor, we are now working in Sudan to place the wells in such a way that every Sudanese lives at a maximum of 500 meters walk from such a well. In Nairobi, Kenya, there is a gigantic slum. There we calculate what the best route is for the garbage trucks, and where the waste bins should be located.”  

It is noble that you are helping the developing countries in this way. Do you also work in the Netherlands?  

“Absolutely. For example, we have developed a system for cities where they can best place their park-and-ride hubs. These are the places where people from outside the city can switch from their cars to bicycles, so that the inner cities have less car traffic. We are always up for good ideas from people who make the world a better place.”  

How is ABW’s business going?  

“Very good, the demand is huge. Students, PhD candidates and other scientists at the UvA are working hard for ABW, but we could still use some help in terms of money and manpower, so that we can expand our projects. We work at cost-covering rates, so that it remains affordable for our clients. If there is no other option, we will do it for free. And anyone with a good idea for the world can use the algorithms we’ve already developed, we work open source.”  

Amsterdam Impact Award  

Dick den Hertog (UvA) received the Amsterdam Impact Award 2023 in the Society category. The Impact Awards are presented annually to scientists at educational institutions in Amsterdam who achieve the most impact in society with their initiative. Other winners were the American Toby Kiers of the VU for her research into fungi underground, and Guus van Dongen of Amsterdam UMC for the development of a radioactive tomtom that allows you to see what medicines do in our bodies.  


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