Social Change: How Data Analytics Became a Force for Good by Henry Kistler

As a privately held software corporation with roots at North Carolina State University, SAS is one of the largest data analytics companies in the world. Its suite of analytical software underpins most of the Fortune 500 companies, many governments, and a whole host of important customers. SAS understands that it customers face enormous challenges, and bases its business on helping them to divine the solutions they need via its proprietary data analytics technology. SAS takes a two-pronged approach to fostering social change; it sponsors local causes and initiatives it is passionate about and empowers the community to analyze and solve their own problems with its analytics software and expertise. “Data for good” is part of this second prong and a signature part of the SAS Institute’s efforts to improve our world; an initiative that joins a larger movement to use data analytics to solve global humanitarian problems like poverty and climate change.

At home, it is easy to see how SAS’s efforts for social change have paid immediate dividends to its workers and its community. SAS engages with its local community and empowers its workers to devote their time and money to causes they are passionate about. SAS promotes this culture through its Employee Volunteer Fund, which offers money to nonprofit organizations focused on education after an employee has provided at least 50 hours of volunteering to the organization over a period of 12 months. SAS employees donated almost 25,000 hours of their time through the program and the company gave more than 91,000 dollars in 2017. In addition, SAS volunteers globally have contributed to causes of their choice, such as collecting professional clothing for needy individuals seeking employment in France or collecting toys and gifts for low income families in Scotland. These are just a few examples of initiatives that SAS encourages its employees to take part in.

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Education is a fundamental part of SAS’s focus on building capacity at the local level. SAS’s primary charitable focus has been sponsoring programs that encourage children to learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related fields. In particular, it offers a lot of resources to help students learn data analytics and prepare themselves for computer related careers after they graduate. At its headquarters in Cary, North Carolina, SAS hosts a STEM Career day where employees visit schools and describe their careers to students. The idea is to excite kids about a career path in a STEM field and expose them to the options they have. SAS helped found the SummerSTEM experience, where it hosts immersion experiences related to STEM for teachers in conjunction with other corporations. These initiatives empower employees to contribute to causes they are passionate about, and the company itself has pushed STEM education initiatives to help prepare the local community for a globalized economy.

SAS’s efforts are most powerful when seen through the second prong of its approach to social change. Due to its business focus on analytics software, it makes an enormous difference when it uses that expertise to focus on humanitarian and social challenges. This effort is a part of the “Data for Good” movement, where SAS showcases its belief that the best solutions to vexing issues comes from deeper analysis. This movement attempts to match analytics expertise to issues and communities that do not have access to such technology. Examples of such projects can be found on its website, and include efforts to improve child welfare and prevent abuse by using data and analytics to allocate resources more effectively, or text mining to help the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau protect consumers more effectively. SAS wants to incorporate data analytics into public policy making so decision makers can create more informed policies. The potential for this initiative is seen in the wide variety of applications of data analytics detailed on its website, as its software helps assist local people in fields as diverse as counterterrorism and chemistry. The “Data for Good” movement connects SAS’ advantages to the people who need them most.

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As part of my work here at SAS, I have been learning about Corporate Social Responsibility in the setting of a private corporation. SAS’s two pronged approach to social change is readily detailed on its new CSR website. The website showcases SAS’ main focuses in the realm of CSR, including but not limited to responsible governance, environmental awareness and responsibility, and the “Data for Good” movement. The CSR strategy is good for the community and the company because it contributes tangibly to the community and makes employees happy.

I think that SAS has an effective and unique approach to social change highlighted by its CSR initiatives. Its philanthropic and educational initiatives, as well as its contributions of data analytics expertise to the “Data for Good” movement show this ethos. As the world becomes more interconnected each year by data, SAS should be positioned to help achieve effective social change by increasing awareness of the efficacy of incorporating data analysis into public policy making and problem solving.