ESCWA was awarded a Champion Prize by the World Summit Information Society (WSIS) for its project on “Understanding the Needs of Refugees Through Harnessing Big Data”, carried out in cooperation with the Central Administration of Statistics in Lebanon (CAS), Qatar Computing Research Institute and Data Pop Alliance. This was announced today in a special ceremony held during the final week of the WSIS Forum 2021.
The winning project was aimed at harnessing non-traditional data sources for the production of data and information on the social and demographic characteristics of Syrian refugees in their host communities in Lebanon, in support of evidence-based policymaking. It included an analytical study on the predictive power of data obtained from the Ministry of Telecommunications in Lebanon, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and search engines such as Google, while preserving users’ privacy.
ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti considered the project as “a pioneer for the Arab region and the world thanks to its innovative methodology”, commending cooperation with Lebanon’s CAS and Ministry of Telecommunications, international organizations and the private sector. “The results of this project are very satisfying, as Lebanon became one of the first countries to use big data in official statistics,” she added.
The project comes at a time when producing data for official statistics has become overly expensive and time consuming, leading to delayed outcomes and hampered access for policymakers. It has become necessary to find alternative and complementary non-traditional data sources enabled by information and communications technologies (ICTs), such as geographic information systems (GIS), call data records, social media, open data and others.
Dashti explained that the execution of the project required efforts from a diverse team comprising experts in the fields of ICTs, big data and artificial intelligence, statisticians and researchers on conflict issues.
The WSIS prize contest was developed as a mechanism to promote projects and activities that leverage the power of ICTs to advance sustainable development. The call for applications was open from 1 November 2020 to 1 February 2021; more than 1,200 projects were submitted, of which 360 were casted for voting during the month of March, and 11 of them won, each in a category.
One of five United Nations regional commissions, ESCWA supports inclusive and sustainable economic and social development in Arab States, and works on enhancing regional integration.
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