Wired Magazine covered our work in Togo in the article, “A Clever Strategy to Distribute Covid Aid—With Satellite Data”
Lawson was proud to see government aid sent so fast, but as Covid-19 spread she also worried her program wasn’t able to target the people most in need of help, in part because she didn’t know where to find them. Government officials contacted Joshua Blumenstock, codirector of University of UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action, who’d been researching how big data can fill information gaps facing countries like Togo. His lab had shown that phone records could predict individual wealth in Rwanda about as well as in-person surveys, and that satellite images could track areas of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.
Blumenstock offered to adapt his technology to help and enlisted a team that came to include Berkeley grad students, two faculty members from Northwestern, and the nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action. He also connected Lawson with GiveDirectly, which distributes cash payments in poor countries. GiveDirectly had talked with Blumenstock before about using his work to prioritize aid and now saw a chance to put the idea into action.