How we helped the UN use #dataviz for social change
BY Chloe Tseng | November 29, 2017
Working in the city of innovation, San Francisco, I’m surrounded by big tech giants and people who strive to make the world a better place. Early last year, Helena Price, a Silicon Valley photographer, started a project "Techies." She interviewed and took 100 portraits of underrepresented minorities who work in tech. Her project challenged the stereotypes and encouraged tech companies to hire a more diverse workforce.
Her message “everyone can leverage her/his own strength to make a difference” inspired me to initiate my personal project #VizforSocialGood. I created a series of data visualizations that illustrate challenges women face and shared them on Twitter to promote gender equality. After giving a talk about #VizforSocialGood at the Tableau Conference last November, I received a great amount of interest from the audience in contributing their skills. Therefore, I decided to transform my small project into a community that helps mission-driven organizations harness the power of data visualization for social change.
In the past 10 months, Viz for Social Good has grown into a community with more than 500 volunteers globally. We have partnered with several organizations, including the United Nations Children's Fund to visualize and increase awareness of the child refugee crisis; the United Nations Development Programme to analyze people’s views on poverty, inequality, and climate change to influence global leaders; and Stanford University to identify factors holding women back in science, technology engineering and math.
Getting the conversation started with the UN Development Group
During my quest to build partnerships with nonprofits, I stumbled upon the United Nations Development Group’s Data Visualization Contest sponsored by Tableau. I saw this as a sign that the UN was craving for data visualization, and thus I reached out and proposed a collaboration.
In the first conversation with the UNDG team, I was impressed by their enthusiasm for data. I also saw countless, untapped opportunities for data visualization that could empower staff to carry out their missions. This conversation ignited my desire to bridge the data literacy and technology gap for the UN. That’s how we started our journey!
The fun and not so fun bits
For this particular project with UNDG, our goal was to scope the UN Country Teams’ external partnerships and topics that they were working on in 2017. We quickly discovered that the data had 445 columns, and thus reshaping data was needed.
We also learned that some of the value in the data were entered manually by staff, so the data was not always consistent. Therefore, it took us some time to “clean up” the data and make sure that the value is consistent across the board (for more details you can check Michael Mixon blog Anatomy of a Viz).
Having said that, we truly enjoyed working with the UNDG team! They were genuinely curious about learning everything on data and data visualization (as proof, you can check the recording of our webinar where we got more than 200 participants!). Their passion was contagious and encouraged all of us to keep moving forward with this project. It’s certainly fulfilling to see how our visualizations have been used to educate people internally and externally, and have helped the team understand their own data.
Check out the selected data visualizations by clicking on the images!
Author: Neil Richards
Author: Chloe Tseng
Author: Michael Mixon
Author: Lilach Manheim
Author: Ivett Kovács
Getting involved with Viz for Social Good
First the good news: anyone can become a volunteer. Viz for Social Good is a community, not a competition, that allows everyone to enjoy creating visualization while making a positive impact. Each project is just like a virtual hackathon -- we receive a data visualization project request from nonprofit, we share the project with the community online, and anyone who is passionate about the social cause can jump in. People can then share their data visualizations on Twitter using the hashtag #VizforSocialGood. It’s always fun to see how each volunteer analyzes and interprets the same data in a very different way.
To join the community visit: https://www.vizforsocialgood.com/
Our future plans
Next year, for nonprofits, we want to scale our impact by not only designing visualizations for them but also strengthening their skills through presentations and trainings. Also, we would like to get involved with many other more social causes that we haven’t worked on this year, such as LGBT issues, racism, and wildlife.
For volunteers, we hope to provide them more growth opportunities through in-person hackathons in their areas. Our community mostly connects virtually, so we would like to have local events for people to get together, talk about a social cause, and visualize it.
Don’t be shy, come and join our community!
Why we’re turning to solar energy at the UN in Namibia
BY Caroline M Nkuziwalela, Saidu Kamara | August 2, 2017
On Saturday, 25 March 2017, UN Namibia took part in the global Earth Hour movement. We joined millions of people from every corner of the world to show support for climate action. Our participation in this movement proves critical in that, saving electricity today, we establish better energy saving habits which lead to a brighter, better future.
It’s easier said than done though. Did you know that in Namibia, between 40 to 80 percent of energy is imported from South Africa, which is facing shortages and has regular energy cuts? To tackle this, following the United Nations Partnership Framework agreement, we will assist the Government strategically to develop its own energy sources, prioritizing solar energy, for energy security and secure commitment towards a low carbon development pathway.
Turn on the lights, sustainably
What if we told you that the UN House in Windhoek is going to turn into a self-sustaining, energy efficient building? The UN House is comprised of 12 UN agencies, all of whom participate in the conversion to a solar photovoltaic PV system.
A photovoltaic system, or solar power system, is designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics and is being widely scaled as a primary source of renewable energy in many facilities across Africa. Imagine how much energy we could save if the lights at the office automatically switch off after 10 minutes of inactivity. Simple habits can make a difference in the way we use electricity.
For this reason, we launched last week a grid-interactive solar photovoltaic (PV) system at UN House. The facility will make up for a portion of electrical energy consumption and it will also help us save money. As Namibia receives a high amount of sunlight, this move towards renewable energy promotes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’ and is in line with the UN’s mission of Greening the Blue.
The recommended system size of 90 kWp will offset 19 percent annual energy use, with a 20 percent reduction in electricity costs annually. That’s a lot! The expected internal rate of return when this project is cash financed is 21.5 percent. This means we expect to break-even after five years. The solar panel system is not a backup solution but rather an energy subsidy system. When the solar panels produce more energy than is consumed, the difference is fed back into the national electric grid, increasing the availability of power distribution across the city of Windhoek.
Investing in Namibia’s Renewable Energy Plans
Due to poor insulation, inefficient lights, appliances, and heating and cooling equipment, we pay more for energy costs than we should. This is money we could save by investing in energy efficiency. In partnership with the Namibia Energy Institute, we plan to update the existing energy audit for the UN. We will also carry out a cost-benefit analysis to improve increasing energy efficiency by switching to energy-saving devices. Moreover, by installing a solar energy system, we can focus on renewable energy, particularly solar, without having to increase the price of our electricity.
With the help of renewable energy experts, we are supporting the government of the Republic of Namibia on a large-scale feasibility plan for Namibia’s first concentrated power plant. A concentrated power plant uses mirrors to focus the sun's light energy and convert it into heat to create steam to drive a turbine that generates electrical power.
In addition, we are also researching how to transfer this technology to the country, i.e. exploring the potential for manufacturing solar panels locally, PV parts/equipment, and building capacities and skills for the renewable energies industry. Given the size of the sector in Namibia, we also supported a project tasked with experimenting different approaches to generating bio-energy through the use of agricultural waste. Our main goal is to learn from the previous work and engage the Namibia Energy Institute in technical advisory and support capacity.
We’re excited about the possibilities that solar energy can bring to our work and Namibia. We will keep you posted on our journey there!