The Salvation Army is a Christian based international movement that has been helping those in need since the 19th century. When the Salvation Army began they were in small towns, making it easy to determine who was in need of their assistance. Now that the movement is international, it is much more complicated to determine the areas most affected by poverty.

The Salvation Army has recently teamed up with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to combine the Salvation Army’s service data with the University’s analytics to provide a more accurate Human Needs Index. The Human Needs Index shows us where there is the most poverty and breaks that poverty down into different indicators that allow us to best assist those in need. The Human Needs Index is based on seven needs variables consisting of meals, groceries, housing, clothing, furniture, medical bills, and energy bills.

Instead of determining if an area is impoverished based on income, the Human Needs Index takes it to a different level by finding out why the area is struggling and how they can best help each individual family. This deeper look prevents organizations with good intentions assisting people in ways they don’t need help, such as giving a family clothes when they really need help with their medical bills.

With the Salvation Army providing large amounts of data on those in need and the University analyzing it to break it down into specific conditions, we are getting a much more accurate, almost real time, look at poverty. These insights allow us to track poverty trends affected by public policies and also determine where service efforts are actually making a difference.

The use of Big Data in philanthropy is leading to incredible progress in the mission to aid those in need. There are so many people who need help getting back on their feet and the fact that Big Data is being used to display individual needs is a huge step in the right direction. Many individuals struck by poverty feel as though they are not seen, which is why it is incredibly meaningful when an organization such as the Salvation Army can aid a family with the specific help they need.

Read how else Big Data is helping people! This great article on Energy Usage describes how Big Data can save you money on your next energy bill!


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