On the 5th of March, Global Compact Network Lebanon (GCNL), and the network representative for Lebanon Dr. Dima Jamali hosted a round table discussion during the AUB Stanford Women in Data science conference held at the American University of Beirut (AUB). The round table “Data science and the UN Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs” (room 433 from 4:00-5:00 PM), was co-moderated by Ms. Marie Wallace, Analyst strategist and solution architect at IBM, in Ireland and Professor Dima Jamali, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at AUB, and National Representative of Global Compact Network Lebanon.
The AUBxStanford Women in Data Science (WiDS) conference is an initiative with the aim to inspire and educate data scientists, regardless of gender, and support Arab women working in this important field. The full day provided ample opportunities to learn about the latest data science innovations in different fields; interact with leading-edge companies who are leveraging data science for success, and connect with potential mentors, analysts and collaborators.
The round table started with brief opening remarks by Dr. Dima Jamali (National Representative of Global Compact Network Lebanon). Dr. Jamali introduced the GCNL and the need to leverage big data and data science more effectively to make progress in relation to the SDGs in Lebanon. Dr. Jamali also explained briefly the foundations of big data and raised some questions to guide and direct the panel discussion:
-How can big data support the SDGs?
-Can big data help us track progress on the SDGs?
-What are the opportunities and challenges faced when adopting big data for the SDGs particularly in Lebanon?
-How can we leverage big data for the greater social good?
-How can big data serve society in the broader sense?
Ms. Wallace started her intervention in turn by talking about the load of data being collected in recent years. She indicated that as we collect this data, we need to keep in mind that there are myriad challenges along the way, including primarily the lack of analysis and effective utilization of the data. Some companies still don’t know how to leverage the load of data they are collecting and that they have at their disposal. The same goes for large UN agencies. Companies are massively excited by the big data projects but when it comes to sharing they are always reluctant as they don’t understand the value of data and there are also privacy concerns. For the SDGs, the need for data is fundamental especially due to the interlinked nature of the SDGs. Education innovation and environmental components cannot be achieved without effective data mobilization and analysis. In this sense, collecting data is not enough but there is a need to also develop skills in relation to how to analyze it. “When we can understand the problem we can devise effective solutions and encourage people to start working on implementing these solutions and putting them in action.”
The session was followed by a rich roundtable discussion with all the participants in the room. Many interesting topics were covered by concerned participants such as the need to find a solution to the data gaps, the lack of governmental and public institutions cooperation with NGOs and private sector companies about sharing the data. The need for the public sector to also make this data as transparent and accessible as possible to the public was discussed as an important and relevant challenge particularly in the Lebanese context. Also there is a need for private sector institutions to start mobilizing data for the SDGs, and the need for academic institutions to provide platforms for data processing and analysis beyond simple transmission to actual added value data that can be put to action by relevant stakeholders in the field. The session ended by highlighting that the topic of big data is immensely fashionable, but nowhere is it more pressing and relevant than in the case of the SDGs, particularly given that Lebanon has signed up to the Lebanon 2030 agenda, and made a firm commitment to make progress on the SDGs across both public and private sector spheres.