Episode 64

64 — Mapping the Future: Geospatial Perspectives with Clara Mundia

Published on: 22nd May, 2023

Have you ever thought about the future of geospatial analytics in an increasingly AI-driven world?

Join us for an enlightening conversation with Clara Mundia, Ph.D, a talented geospatial analyst and data scientist based in Kenya, as well as a 2022 GreenBook Future List Honoree. Clara shares her inspiring journey into the field and highlights the profound impact of geospatial analytics in understanding complex problems and making data-informed decisions. Discover the significance of incorporating diverse perspectives, including indigenous knowledge, and explore the future implications of artificial intelligence. Clara also delves into her work in healthcare and climate solutions, her unwavering dedication to supporting vulnerable populations, and the importance of finding a balance between professionalism and creative expression.

You can reach out to Clara on LinkedIn.

Check out Women in Research WiRE

Many thanks to Clara for being our guest. Thanks also to our producer, Natalie Pusch; and our editor, James Carlisle.

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Transcript
Karen:

Hello, everybody. Welcome to another edition of the GreenBook Podcast. Thank you for being here today. I’m Karen Lynch, and I’m happy to be hosting today’s episode with one of our Future List Honorees. Clara Mundia is joining us today. She is the Director of Location Analytics at Dalberg Research Limited.

Clara:

Thank you, Karen. Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Karen:

I’d love for you to expand on what I just said by way of introduction, and share with our audience anything else you have kind of in your background so that, you know, we can highlight now that everyone’s paying attention because they’re like, “Oh, interesting.” [laugh].

Clara:

So, what many people might not know is that even though I [unintelligible 00:01:38] analytics, I actually come from an environmental science background. So, my area is largely geography, environment, climate, and my research has largely been in focusing on vulnerable populations and communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. And I’m one of the lucky people who get to do that, even in my career. So, the cool thing about the geospatial work is that it’s a really nifty tool that I apply in my research, and it does provide sort of like a third lens, to some of the work that we do in research, which is largely the locational aspect and how things change over a location. So, bringing those two things together has been fun and I’m so happy that I get to do that in my career.

Karen:

[I—look 00:02:27], there’s so much about your background that I want to talk about, but first, I want to bring people up to speed with what we were talking about just before we actually started, which is this idea of the type of work that you do. And explain what that is for people who are like, “Wait, what even is geospatial analytics? And how can I make sense of it in my life as a data and analytics professional?” Tell us what the field is all about, Clara.

Clara:

So, many people might know this field as being GIS, Geographic Information Systems, but I don’t prefer to use that term. I feel like it’s limiting because GIS is just a tool that we use in this field. But geospatial analytics is pretty much the power of where, right? Even when we review different phenomena, whether they are socio-economic, environmental, climatic, there is a difference about how these things change over time. And understanding how that change happens across space is important because what you might assume happens in one place doesn’t always happen in another place.

Karen:

I just love this so much. As somebody who has spent a lot of time uncovering the why through qualitative research methods where, you know, I really have dug into that, I think it’s a paradigm shift for me right now to be thinking about the where. We spend a lot of time in traditional research conversations talking about the difference between markets from a behavioral standpoint, and I don’t know that we—or at least that I have ever really considered location as separate and distinct from distance. And I think even that is a really interesting factor for me. So, how did you get into this field? And let’s get into your career a little bit. It’s fascinating to me.

Clara:

I’ll be honest, I got into it by accident [laugh]. I wanted to do research. I knew I wanted to do research in environment in the Sub-Saharan context. But geospatial analytics kind of crept up on me. It was one of my professors in college, an African, who really insisted that I do it.

Karen:

I love that. And you know, it’s interesting, we talk a lot about people’s journeys and how they get to where they are and what detours they took. You know, the last podcast episode that I recorded, actually, was speaking to somebody who started off in med school, and here he is working, you know, in the insights and analytics industry. So, you think like, “That’s interesting.” So, it doesn’t actually surprised me that much that an environmental scientist has now, you know, [laugh] fallen into the analytic space. It actually seems quite normal that that [laugh] happens.

Clara:

Quickly before I do answer that, what people might not know is that it lies in the environmental field, largely in terms of applications for GIS and geospatial work. And so, it is actually a natural segue for environmental scientists sort of pick that up. So, I don’t claim to be any special in that area at all [laugh]. But in terms of the projects, Dalberg Research is a social and market research company, so we do a lot of development work, but we also do a lot of market and commercial research.

Karen:

Well, that is one of the reasons why you are a Future List Honoree. I have to take pause and just say, you know, you embody a quality that we look for, and partially that is just giving back to the community, or your community in this case, which is just inspirational to a lot of people. So, I’m so glad that you are on that list, that the judges saw that in you and were able to highlight the importance of that in our world, and certainly in our community. So, thank you for that work you’re doing. You know, one of the bits of information that was shared with me before we got on here is that you are also paying it forward as a mentor to young African women in the field or in the wider STEM space. So, pause for a minute with me, and let’s go there. Like, how are you giving back in that way? That’s another specific way you are giving back.

Clara:

Yes. This is such a personal ambition and passion of mine. When I started in STEM, there wasn’t a lot of female role models that I could look up to. I sort of had to figure it on my own. And those that were there, were very competitive, very siloed, right? There was almost like we were competing for the same seat at the top.

Karen:

I cannot love that more, obviously, as a woman, myself, and many of the things that you were saying resonate with me across the ocean and things that I’ve noticed and observed in my career. I also have been a mentor, so to all of our listeners, if you are inclined to put yourself out there as a mentor, it is more rewarding than anything I can really put to words to offer that support to somebody at the earliest stages of their careers. And WIRe, Women in Research, here and, you know, across the world, actually, has a great mentorship program for young women. If you haven’t looked into it, please look into it, and I’ll encourage Natalie to add a link to that in our [show notes 00:13:43] as well because mentorship is how we can all aspire to becoming honorees at some point and make a difference in our world. So, thank you for leading that charge as well in your community, there as well as ours, Clara, it’s really fantastic.

Clara:

Yeah. Thanks, Karen. I’m going to start off with a disclaimer on the fact that I obviously don’t know everything that’s going on in the continent. But I do know that there is need. And sometimes it doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who are working on research in the continent are in the continent. They might be outside of it, but they come from the continent.

Karen:

I love that. Thank you so much for that description. Again, it’s my hope to our audiences taking this all in as we really consider work that we’re doing in Africa, and you know, considering how, if we’re not doing some work there, we think about it, and tap into this other skill set which you are sharing with us on some level because it really is an interesting layer over the type of work that many people in data and analytics are doing. So, talk to me about how you do what you do. Let’s get a little bit specific into the field itself. What are some ways that you either collect data or look at data, and ultimately analyze data from a very tactical level?

Clara:

So, geospatial analytics is largely focused on secondary data. So, this is data that was already collected for a specific purpose and is now being utilized. We also deal with remotely sensed data, so not data that—like satellite imageries, aerial photography, and now drones are big, so people use drones to collect data, photographs, right, even simple observations, previous maps, Google, everything. Anything that has been remotely collected, we utilize.

Karen:

Thank you. I love that high-level explanation of what you do. So, now a follow-up question is, for lack of a better phrase, how do you do that? And what I mean by that is, what skills did you either acquire or innately have that allow you to thrive in this field? What are some of the—whether they’re, you know, a hard skill or a soft skill, what attributes do you possess that allow you to do this work well?

Clara:

That’s actually a really interesting question because someone asked me that today [laugh]—

Karen:

You know, earlier you had mentioned this professor that [laugh] really, you know, shaped where you’re going with your career and kind of said, you need to do this, and you [laugh] respected him and said, you know, “Okay,” and pursued it, which I’m so glad he gave you that strong advice. Were there other people along the way of your journey that either you started to learn from or that helped you gather some of the knowledge that you currently have or skills that you currently have? Other influences in your life to bring you to where you are today?

Clara:

There is one person that’s been very influential in my life. He’s Professor Robert Snow. He… was one of my very first bosses. I hated him [laugh]. I really did. I hated working for him. He knows it. We talk about it all the time because he’s also now one of my best friends.

Karen:

I couldn’t love that more. Thank you for sharing all of that. And thank you for the shout out to these people. Because I believe that there are people who influence our careers in ways that stay with us for a long time, even before we have recognized what that influence is. And then hindsight, you notice something. I’ve had several of those people in my own life as well that looking back, I think, “Well, that was really formative and I’m grateful.”

Clara:

So, right now, as a company, we’re really trying to spearhead on two fronts. We want to do more work in the climate-slash-carbon space and still ramp up the health space. So, one of the things that became alarmingly clear during the Covid period was how scarce and fragmented health data was. And for decisions to be made, it was really hard for researchers and people who could actually utilize and investigate that data to do so because they didn’t have access. And so, one of the things that we’ve really been pushing is to try and see what data products, what kind of new information we can put together in the health space to sort of drive that thinking around the availability of data, understanding the health networks, making sure we’re able to make those locational connections. Like, are there underserved areas? Are there gaps? Are there vulnerable populations that are not being targeted, so areas that might have a high number of women and children, do not have access to maternal and child health care? You know, and things like that.

Karen:

I love that. Are some of your clients, then at your firm, are they indeed government entities? Are they nonprofits? Like, who are some of the people that hire you to do the work that you do or contract with you to do this work? And are they limited to those sectors or do you go into other sectors as well?

Clara:

For these large ticket items like the health as well as the carbon, we do find that donor organizations, NGOs, are largely the pioneers in that area. They have commitments and investments to support different countries in their different strategies, and so we do support in that area. But because the Dalberg Research is a social and market research company, we do work with a lot of small businesses, sometimes directly with government, and other, like, retail companies in helping them with their strategies. So, it really does depend on the work that we’re doing and what the ask is, but the major developmental ones do come from the NGO donor organization site.

Karen:

Let’s just talk about those small businesses for a moment and hover there because much of our audience is in that space, or even a retail establishment. What types of projects do you work on for them? And I’m not saying be specific because I’m sure a lot of it is proprietary, but what are some of the questions, the research questions, that a small business might have for you that you are able to answer using geospatial analytics?

Clara:

So, there are a few things that I would say are value propositions in this space. One is due diligence. So, there might be a few companies that are trying to either acquire other companies or they’re trying to make expansion decisions and need to understand what locations will be ideal for our product or for our store. And so, we do locational profiling and analytics to understand, like, who is your customer? You know, what age are they? What gender, what is their purchasing power?

Karen:

Yeah. I just love that so much. And it’s just—and I know, I mentioned this on our call; your work is a classic example to me, if you go back to, again, when I was in school, the difference between market research and marketing research. And you are really doing and providing such great market research services, really helping people understand the greater market there. I’m just so thrilled to be learning about it and hearing about it.

Clara:

Oh, well, that’s an obvious one, I think, to everyone. It’s AI [laugh]. It is AI. Someone asked me today, “What do you think is going to interrupt the geospatial field?” And I said, “It’s AI.” And it’s largely because, particularly—and I’ll give the African context—many Africans that go into this field go in as analysts, right? One, because majority of the jobs are at that level. There’s a lot of buy-in from government that geospatial research and analytics is the thing to invest in, and to be honest with you, the main employer of people like us is the government.

Karen:

Yeah hopefully, it does some of the work of the cleaning that we were talking about earlier, and you know, when you were talking about—

Clara:

I’m with you, [crosstalk 00:40:05].

Karen:

Yeah. Yeah. What’s next for you? What are you most excited for in your immediate future? What do you have planned for either the rest of 2023 or shortly thereafter?

Clara:

You know, when I started in this position, I was very much in the market research. I was doing a lot of work on trying to identify how to apply geospatial research in the industry aspects. And I have to say, I moved quite a bit of ways from climate and environment because that hasn’t been one of the heavy concerns in the African context. It’s more about poverty, vulnerability, trade, food security, and other things. And I did feel like it’s been a while since I’ve been in the climate and environmental space.

Karen:

How best might they reach out to you? What is your best point of contact? Is it on LinkedIn? Is it via email?

Clara:

Definitely LinkedIn. I’m very active there. I really do hate email. Recently, I’ve [laugh] just gotten tired of email. Like… it’s just [laugh], I spend hours just deleting things just because they annoy me. Like, when the number of emails just get so high, I’m like, “Why are we doing this? Like, why are we doing this?” So, please do not reach out to me on email. LinkedIn is perfectly fine. And then, happy to take the conversation to email if necessary or via WhatsApp or what have you. But yeah, LinkedIn is a really good place to find me.

Karen:

I love that. Thank you. And we’ll include that link in the show notes as well. Clara, is there anything that you wish I’d asked you that I didn’t have a chance to ask you, or didn’t ask you?

Clara:

Yes. My hobbies [laugh]. I know, so not relevant.

Karen:

I love it, though. As a Future List Honoree, we applaud all of you holistically. So yes, please share [laugh].

Clara:

Yeah, a lot of people don’t know that I do love to sew. I’m very a DIY crafter. I really hate that I haven’t been as involved in it as I was trying to build my career. But also, one of the things I am looking forward to in 2023 is to start going back into crafting. I have a sewing machine that I need to dust out and some old furniture that I need to restore, so I hope I’ll be busy doing most of that stuff. But it is a really important part of me and that’s why I’m talking about it because I do definitely need releases in my work and in the kinds of things that we do, and so I do lean on my hobbies quite a bit for that.

Karen:

I love that so much. And you know, when a lot of people don’t know about me is I actually, in addition to having this office where I’ve, you know, operated in the professional realm for years, I also have an art desk that is loaded with, like, watercolors and acrylics and lots of fibers for mixed media. And that is one of the things I love to do, so I’m like, “Yeah, I get it.” I probably will never give artwork away, really, or sell artwork, but it is something that I just love to do because I think it keeps me balanced in this world to create something. So, I’m so glad you shared that and brought it to people’s attention because find your hobby folks [laugh]. It really does matter to us, right?

Clara:

Thank you for having me. I am super happy that, first of all, you’re giving a platform for someone like me to come in and share with the world what I do. I do feel like many of us in Africa do need to have many more global platforms so that it is more clear what we can do and how we can partner with different people across the globe. So, thank you for that. I truly, truly appreciate it.

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Greenbook Podcast
Exploring the future of market research and consumer insights
Immerse yourself in the evolving world of market research, insights and analytics, as hosts Lenny Murphy and Karen Lynch explore factors impacting our industry with some of its most innovative, influential practitioners. Spend less than an hour weekly exploring the latest technologies, methodologies, strategies, and emerging ideas with Greenbook, your guide to the future of insights.

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