OpenGov Voices: Hacking for women’s empowerment

An image of Derek Schwabe, Research Associate at Bread for the World Institute
Derek Schwabe, Research Associate at Bread for the World Institute. Image credit: Bread for the World Institute

For most of us in the opengov world, it is a given that transparent and accountable governments have a far greater incentive to work for the good of the people they serve. That’s why we often focus on making government datasets publicly available and creating online applications that bring those datasets to life. But what would you do if the data on basic human development issues in your country simply didn’t exist? That is the reality in far too many countries across the developing world — and it’s a growing barrier to progress on human development.

Opengov advocates are always eager to get their hands on a government dataset to find a story, but for citizens of developing countries, missing data is the story that most urgently needs to be told. Gaping holes in data on critical issues like poverty, hunger and women’s empowerment mean that citizens and the global community have no standardized system for tracking whether national governments are delivering the basic needs that their people demand. On some issues, like women’s empowerment, even the leading global data sources like the World Bank and the United Nations come up empty. For poor countries, the problem isn’t data access; it’s availability.

Shedding light on gaps in women’s empowerment data

Over the past few decades, we have learned a lot about the steep costs of gender inequality around the world. Globally, women remain socially, economically and politically disempowered at a staggering estimated cost of between 4 and 37 percent of world GDP per annum. Empowering women starts with consistent, nation-level data that can adequately measure how women are doing from one country to another. The World Bank and the United Nations have set out to develop holistic ways of gauging the status of women, defining a minimum set of 52 indicators for doing so. But naming a list of indicators means little if quality data on those indicators isn’t regularly collected. Huge gaps remain in women’s empowerment data and it’s time to expose them.

An image of participants at the women empowerment hackathon
Participants at a women empowerment hackathon. Image credit: Bread for the World Institute

Bread for the World Institute — a DC-based nonprofit that researches policy solutions to hunger — is excited to host its first live HelpMeViz hackathon event. On Saturday, June 28, the Institute — in partnership with the website HelpMeViz — will bring together coders, data scientists and data visualizers in Washington, DC to visualize the untold story of data gaps on women’s empowerment for its upcoming 2015 Hunger Report, which will be launched in November.

Through a mash up of government open data and data from multinational organizations, the hackathon will connect the dots on the importance of open and easy to access government data and how that levels the playing field for women in countries with fledgling democracies.

The Hunger Report, currently being drafted, is the Institute’s annual book-length publication on policy recommendations for ending global hunger. Effective visualizations developed at the hackathon will be featured in the 2015 Hunger Report, in print or online at They will help the Institute point out where the biggest gaps are and make the case to policy-makers for the absolute necessity of rock solid data on women’s empowerment and other key development issues.

HelpMeViz is a website open to anyone who is searching for feedback on visualization designs, from seasoned designers and data visualization specialists to individuals seeking to improve their graphic displays. It offers an online community where all types of visualizations are welcome, including simple bar or single-line charts, full-blown infographics and interactive visualizations.

 Join Us!

Up to 25 guests will be invited to the HelpMeViz/Bread for the World Institute Hackathon. All necessary datasets, wifi, work space as well as breakfast and lunch will be provided. Participants will also get a printed copy of the 2015 Hunger Report when it is released and an invitation to the report’s launch at the National Press Club in November, 2014.

The event will be blogged live on HelpMeViz so that interested people all over the world can lend their voices and skills to the discussion. Data will be made available when the event begins and visualizations, conversations and comments will be posted to the site in real time.

If you would like to attend the event in Washington, DC, email helpmeviz with a short paragraph that describes your interest and your skillset (statistics, programming, design, etc.) with the phrase “Bread for the World” in the subject line.

You can check out the most recent 2014 Hunger Report, complete with interactive stories and data, infographics and featured stories online at

Derek Schwabe is the Research Associate at Bread for the World Institute where he writes about policy strategies to help end hunger in the United States and around the world. Derek is most interested in finding compelling ways to show the human impact of policy through data visualization. You can reach him at or @DerekSchwabe.

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