Interview with Brennan Lake, Senior Director of Research Partnerships & Data for Good at Cuebiq

Brennan Lake, Senior Director of Research Partnerships & Data for Good at Cuebiq shares a few insights on key CSR practices in tech and what it takes for companies to ensure their programs are more effective:


Hi Brennan, welcome to V3 Media! How has your journey been over the years…tell us about the Cuebiq platform and the story behind its growth…

Cuebiq was founded in 2016 as a privacy-first location intelligence and measurement platform that provides insights on human mobility. On the commercial side, this is used for things like analysing footfall to retail locations and measuring the effectiveness of ads in driving offline consumer visitation behaviour.

In its early days, however, Cuebiq’s co-founders recognized the incredible untapped potential for mobility data to improve lives – from creating more equitable public spaces to helping emergency managers understand how people move before, during, and after natural disasters. 

With a background in international development and SaaS platforms, I personally was drawn to Cuebiq given its early stage focus on corporate social responsibility, while also recognizing how big-data sources like mobility data can provide vast troves of real-time insights for a number of high-impact use cases.

We’d like to know more about your Data for Good program…

Through our Data for Good program, Cuebiq provides access to aggregated data for academic research and humanitarian initiatives related to human mobility, such as urban development, disaster response and epidemiology.

Our initial focus was on developing strong relationships with a number of universities – which we continue to do today. With a firm belief in the power of innovation and academic independence, we’ve provided millions of dollars worth of data, pro-bono, for academic research. In turn, these researchers have applied mobility data in novel ways to solve real world challenges, like predicting which communities are most likely to evacuate during hurricanes, or whether public advisories during the Zika epidemic were effective in curbing travel to risky areas.

One of our program’s top priorities is for this research to not just sit on a shelf, but rather to be translated into public and private sector policies to improve lives. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic was a turning point, where we were able to build on our existing Data for Good program in order to create a COVID-19 Data Collaborative, where dozens of researchers used aggregated and privacy-preserving mobility data to model the spread of the pandemic and measure the impact of social distancing on society, among many other use cases.

These activities allowed us to create COVID-19 specific metrics that provide situational awareness to the public sector at federal, state, and local levels in the US and abroad.

In today’s business and economic environment, it’s essential for more tech companies and teams to focus on social good with the help of their products and services, can you talk about some leading brands that have stood out in your opinion, for their initiatives?

Absolutely! I’ve always been impressed by Facebook’s Data for Good program. They have leveraged their massive global presence to create highly aggregated – and therefore highly privacy preserving – datasets to provide real-time insights during natural disasters, among other focus areas. They have also done fantastic work in addressing the digital divide in low-income countries by combining alternative datasets, such as satellite imagery, to supplement their first-party data.

Microsoft has also done important work within the realm of data privacy, including by providing pro-bono support to adopt cutting edge differential privacy technologies. Aimed at data-centric organizations that generate positive social impact, Microsoft’s is enabling big-data to be used for social good, without compromising the privacy of the individual users who entrust organizations with their data. 

Can you share your views on how should smaller to mid-sized tech also be focusing on social initiatives a bit more deeply?

No matter the size of your organization, creating value for stakeholders beyond just your shareholders should always be a priority, and not just because it’s the right thing to do; it’s good for business too. By creating a positive social impact, you can distinguish yourself from competition, provide purposeful motivation for employees, and attract value-driven clients.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating shared value. If your company specializes in big data, for example, you can donate data to organizations with the capacity to process big data, or alternatively you can create free or low-cost analytics products that make it easier for lean non-profits to glean insights and take action on your data.

No matter the approach you take, in order to create long-term, sustained value, it’s critical to incorporate social-impact into your company’s overall strategic plan, and to measure your performance in creating shared value alongside other strategic objectives.

What are some interesting ways in which you’ve seen tech providers help meet health emergency related issues in the past few years with updated features (and products)?

It’s been heartening to see the private-sector response to COVID-19, especially when companies go beyond empathetic messaging in their marketing activities by actually putting skin in the game and providing products, services and other resources for COVID-19 response.

Within the field of big-data, we’ve seen a lot of companies open up access to privacy-preserving datasets which, especially when combined with complementary datasets, can provide decision makers with new tools for monitoring and combatting the pandemic. For example, researchers have used smart-thermometer data in combination with Cuebiq data to evaluate the effectiveness of social distancing measures.

I think it’s also important to point out that, outside of corporate social responsibility initiatives, some companies’ core business activities can prove extremely valuable during public health emergencies. Take Biobot, for example, a start-up that monitors community health by analysing wastewater, which has proven to be an effective method of monitoring presence of COVID-19 in communities. While it’s a private company, they’ve built social responsibility into their mission to help build healthier communities through the data they collect. As a result, when a global health emergency emerged, they were able to provide invaluable data and insights without having to stand-up an adhoc CSR program.

And lastly, what are a few must-dos that every marketing team should be following when implementing a new CSR practice?

In order for CSR programs to be effective it’s crucial to get widespread buy-in across your organization. Too often, CSR programs are treated as pet projects that fade with turnover, and therefore fail in creating positive social impact, let alone value for the company. Whether through surveys, workshops or focus groups, solicit input from your organization on the causes and issues that matter to them. 

In parallel, try to identify issues that might also be relevant to external stakeholders (customers, supplies, communities you work in). Once focus areas are defined, consider how your organization can create value for these causes, whether through existing or new products, services, procurement practices, or initiatives.

Finally, consider how you will measure and communicate performance, both internally and externally. 

Thank you Brennan for answering all our questions!

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