SXSW Preview: How Big Data and Big Ideas are Solving Social Challenges


SXSW starts this weekend in Austin. / Credit: Stuart Seeger, Flickr.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will host a panel at SXSW on how data and innovation can beat hunger.
AUSTIN, Texas – The global surge of data is transforming our world. Some may fear it, others may believe it to be trivial. But for the homeless District of Columbia woman or the Haitian man needing to feed his children, big data represents a powerful tool to connect those in need with those able to help.

Next week at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is teaming up with three innovators in the business of battling hunger and the social challenges at its core. They see a problem that is not simply about a lack of resources. Rather, it is about ineffective processes that lead to a lack of access to those resources – in this case, food for those in need.

Maria Belding’s MEANS Database connects food donors to pantries and kitchens. Her entrepreneurial team of college students believes that excess food needs to find the right home at the right time to feed the right person, and they're using advanced algorithms to make that possible.

For Alex Moore’s DC Central Kitchen, hunger is one of many symptoms of poverty. Not only do they turn leftover food into meals, but they help the incarcerated, homeless, and addicted become chefs themselves. Their kitchen is a social enterprise that functions much like a business. Data and innovation help them address underserved markets and more quickly scale their operations.

Brian MacNair’s World Central Kitchen (an effort cooked up with world-renowned chef José Andres) focuses on smart, sustainable solutions to fight hunger and poverty around the world. Education and food resources are scarce in the mountains of Haiti, yet every day, World Central Kitchen helps find these resources, while also building smart kitchens and smart schools.

MacNair, Moore and Belding aren’t alone, nor are hunger and poverty the only areas where innovators are tackling civic and social challenges using big data and big ideas. Others are using data and innovation to, for instance, bring energy and electricity to remote parts of the world, expand access to clean water in developing countries, and create more affordable health care solutions. The Innovation That Matters project, a joint initiative between our team and global startup incubator 1776, supports ambitious entrepreneurs who are creating businesses based on such solutions.

Our world is becoming increasingly digital and connected, and while that creates a number of new challenges, it also provides new opportunities to address some of the most important and longstanding problems in the world, including hunger. One person out of eight worldwide goes to bed hungry every night. We must find sustainable solutions for every one of them. Through innovative uses of data and the hard work of entrepreneurs such as these, we stand a chance.

To learn more about (or register to attend) the SXSW panel event the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will be hosting on Monday, check out the event page here: How Data and Innovation are Helping Beat Hunger. For full coverage of SXSW, head to the Above the Fold SXSW homepage.