Coalition – October 16th, 2018
We are proud to announce that the winner of the DCHI Jury Award for Best Humanitarian Innovation 2018 is the Optimus tool developed by the World Food Programme (WFP). A game changer for WFP, the aptly named optimization tool ‘Optimus’ serves as a great example and reminder of how data science can have a considerable impact on humanitarian assistance.
WFP staff member Koen Peters was very pleased with the award. “It’s amazing to see such an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone to a project that is techy in nature,” Koen shared upon receiving the DCHI award at the Partos Innovation Festival. “But by combining data, operational expertise, and mathematics, we are getting another step closer to Zero Hunger!”
WFP is the United Nations’ frontline humanitarian agency addressing hunger and malnutrition worldwide. Working to provide food assistance to more than 80 million people worldwide, often in very challenging operational contexts ranging from conflict zones to natural disasters, WFP’s supply chain is global, complex and demanding to manage.
Difficult and time-consuming decisions therefore constantly need to be made. These decisions involve the design of transfer modalities (food, cash or a combination of the two), composition of the food baskets, where and when to procure, how to transport and store the food, all the while factoring in the ever-evolving situation on the ground. Moreover, WFP has to balance its resources to ensure that those most in need are the first to be provided appropriate assistance. In other words, decision makers in WFP face the challenge of analyzing vast quantities of information to make optimal decisions quickly. Decisions which can often mean the difference between life and death.
Recognizing the importance of addressing this challenge, WFP worked together with partners from academia and the private sector, such as Tilburg University, Georgia Tech and UPS, to design ‘Optimus’, a powerful and innovative optimization tool now used by WFP to optimize its food assistance programs. Optimus simultaneously examines the composition of the food basket as well the sourcing and delivery plans to maximize beneficiary outcomes (e.g. dietary diversity, nutrient content and caloric intake), given operational constraints (e.g. lead times and funding). Using advanced analytics, Optimus accesses, integrates and analyzes data from dozens of sources, enabling WFP to make better decisions and continually improve operations.
Optimus has already proven very successful and is making great impact. Applications of Optimus in WFP operations in Iraq and Yemen have resulted in substantial efficiency and effectiveness gains. By optimizing the composition of the food basket, Optimus reduced the cost of the operation in Iraq by 17 percent, amounting to more than a million dollars of savings every month. These savings translated to a significant increase in the number of people WFP could assist globally, an undeniably meaningful impact in today’s humanitarian landscape defined by limited resources and a burgeoning need for assistance.
Such a massive impact, the jury for the DCHI Humanitarian Innovation Award felt, should not go unrewarded! Koen Peters (WFP) and Hein Fleuren (Tilburg University) therefore received the DCHI Jury Award for Best Humanitarian Innovation 2018. “We really hope that the DCHI-award helps in getting attention for using data science in Humanitarian Innovation,” Hein responded. “We think many other NGO’s can benefit from this field which, in the end, will help many beneficaries.”
Watch the pitch video about the Optimus project here: