Left to right: Naveen Senthilkumar, Tian Bao, Liyang Song, Peter Zhu, Howard Zhang, Sampoorna Dasgupta, Amit Banik (not pictured: Wyatt Clarke, Mike Donnelly)
Left to right: Naveen Senthilkumar, Tian Bao, Liyang Song, Peter Zhu, Howard Zhang, Sampoorna Dasgupta, Amit Banik (not pictured: Wyatt Clarke, Mike Donnelly)
Left to right: Naveen Senthilkumar, Tian Bao, Liyang Song, Peter Zhu, Howard Zhang, Sampoorna Dasgupta, Amit Banik (not pictured: Wyatt Clarke, Mike Donnelly)
Left to right: Naveen Senthilkumar, Tian Bao, Liyang Song, Peter Zhu, Howard Zhang, Sampoorna Dasgupta, Amit Banik (not pictured: Wyatt Clarke, Mike Donnelly)

Would a new bus route in a specific location benefit underserved communities?

Answers to questions like that are at the heart of a project—led by IBM volunteers with expertise in analytics—for United Way of Westchester and Putnam (UWWP), a charitable organization in the United States.

In a video, members of the team—who received the 2018 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award—talk about the effort to help people in the two counties north of New York City who live above the poverty line, but on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis.

Amit Banik, a managing strategy consultant in the IBM Chief Analytics Office and team leader for the effort, says it began with the team asking how they could use their core skills in analytics and consulting to help the community. That led to the project with UWWP.

Members of the award-winning team talk about
the project with UWWP in this video.
Members of the award-winning team talk about the project with UWWP in this video.

“It’s personally satisfying to see our skills used to help improve people’s lives,” he says.

The idea is to use machine learning techniques to identify key social service gaps—based on factors that hadn’t been considered before—to evaluate enhanced service delivery to specific populations.

“Everyone came together to make this project a huge success,” says Howard Zhang, the development lead for the first phase of the project on the proof of concept, along with Wyatt Clarke, Sampoorna Dasgupta and Naveen Senthilkumar.

Their initial model showed that UWWP could achieve 35% greater impact and help 9,000 more families with limited access to basic social services.

The project now turns to the phase two team with the vital objective to pilot the model in a real town. The award-winning volunteers working on that step are Tian Bao, Mike Donnelly, Louis Monteagudo, Liyang Song and Peter Zhu.

“They created a breakthrough in our way of seeing and thinking,” said a UWWP officer.

Watch the video.


The volunteer team from New York is among 15 IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the fourteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees. It includes an IBM grant for the associated not-for-profit partner or school.

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