The World Data Lab (WDL) is a predictive and analytical NGO that uses public sector data to forecast life expectancy and income for every country in the world. Their goal is to make this data accessible and personal and make everyone in the world count.

Data’s the new frontier and the demand for WDL’s products is exploding. Their predictive data can help NGOs and Governments better forecast demographic trends to plan more effective projects. Fueled by WDL’s mission and maybe a cup of coffee or two, Sara took the time to sit down and talk about the beginnings of the WDL, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and how they want to help solve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

How did the WDL come together?

The World Data Lab was founded by Wolfgang Fengler, Lead Economist at The World Bank, and Homi Kharas, the Interim Vice-President and Director of Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution. They were former colleagues at The World Bank who wanted to expand beyond the boundaries of large institutions and do something new with data. They wanted to predict and measure data better than its ever been done before.

What are the goals of the WDL?

One of our missions is to apply data to help measure and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, international development organizations and governments are often a step behind. They have old data, or it’s past-looking data, or the numbers aren’t updated regularly. We want to use forward-looking data to create a new approach and bring problem-solving into the 21st century for the developing world. We also support the private sector in finding new and emerging markets.

World Poverty Clock

What is the value proposition of the WDL?

Our value proposition is the democratization of data. We want to make sure that everyone has access to the power of Big Data, and to make it meaningful to non-data people who might be overwhelmed by the vastness of data out there.

What are some of your current projects?

Currently, we are working on merging our income and demographic data to create a new data set that no one’s created before. We want to give organizations the ability to see income distribution by age for every country. For example, how many men or women in Guangzhou, China will make 50 to 75 dollars a day in the year 2025? That is something that doesn’t exist and we’re working really hard to make that happen. We have incorporated this and other data forecasts into our private sector webtool, the Market Pro. This tool allows private sector companies to explore future emerging markets and calculate future market size.

We are also working on a project that will provide income and age estimates from space using earth observation (i.e. satellite) imagery. We, along with our Austrian partner GeoVille, got a grant from the European Space Agency to do this project. We combine our econometric and demographic data modeling techniques with earth observation photos to create a more robust data set. We have other geospatial data modeling projects where we use this methodology to provide income and age estimates for North Korea which is a place where nobody has any solid data.

What impact would you like to see the WDL have?

We would like to empower institutions with cutting edge tools to solve SDG issues. Because we’re smaller and faster, we can develop these tools quickly without the bureaucratic red tape and put them in the hands of those who can make the most out of them.

What are the some of the challenges you’ve faced to get to where you are now?

We’re a small team that wants to make a big impact and we have an ambitious goal. One challenge was proving ourselves alongside the giant institutions with larger resources such as The Economist but we’ve managed to do that.

Sustaining funding, as with any young organization, is also a challenge. Our solution has been to develop products for the private sector which will help us fund our public sector projects and keep us afloat. We do receive public sector grants, but they are often given out piecemeal which sometimes doesn’t align with a rapidly developing organization.

What are some of the milestones you want to hit over the next year?

We would like to begin development on the World Water Clock (SDG-6), the World Hunger Clock (SDG-2), and the World Education Clock (SDG-4). We are in the early stages of developing partnerships with large international organizations to tackle these projects, so this takes some time.

We currently have 4 global hubs responsible for subnational data collection as well as modeling: Kenya, Pakistan, and Indonesia. We’ve just on-boarded Brazil, and later this year we hope to have Mexico, Rwanda, Uganda, and Iran secured.

How can members of Impact Hub help?

We need some more connections to private sector companies who could use our products. If anyone knows someone who needs income or demographic forecasts, please send them our way! Our products are designed to help marketers find and develop new markets on a very granular level. This is really important because building out our private sector client base will give us more breathing room and more time to do the research we need to do to create the tools that can help the world.

Header Photo Credit: Lea Fabienne