DataFest Tbilisi and the Importance of Data

DataFest Tbilisi and the Importance of Data

Data-oriented three-day-long event. For beginners and professionals who work with data (data scientists, journalists, developers, communication specialists etc). The event is hosting speakers from Google, Washington Post, etc.

Our team always tries to discover and spread the word for interesting events and projects. Therefore, it’s only logical that we interviewed Teona Tomashvili the co-founder and project coordinator of Forset one of DataFest Tbilisi’s organizers. She was more than happy to tell us more about Datafest and their work.

Before we move on to questions, let’s make a short introduction to the mentioned company: Forset is three years old. It was formed by former employees of JumpStart Georgia. This small team-oriented and socially responsible company consists of just ten people. So, what do they do?

“Our main value is doing something that has never been done in Georgia before.”

Teona Tomashvili

Based on this positive and ambitious goal we developed four directions to work in:

  1. Data storytelling, which incorporated data analysis and then data visualization.
  2. Educational programs, where we teach everything about data.
  3. Civic Tech – we create various web applications such as user-friendly data portals, in order to make it easier for everyone to access information.
  4. Community building – we connect people interested in data and strengthen their informal professional network.

On your site, it says that you are a socially conscious organization. What do you mean by this?

Teona: Social responsibility is the basis of all our projects. Before we start a new one, we always ask ourselves:

How important is this for society?

We don’t even get near the projects of any other kind. For example, we wouldn’t work on some bank’s commercial campaigns but is they were to develop a socially important project, like helping startups get on their feet or popularize them, then sure, we would be happy to work with them.

What’s your revenue source?

Teona: Forset has a hybrid model – It is a non-governmental as well as a commercial company. We have two sources of revenue: grants and money received from commercial activities. But, it should be noted that the money we earn is exclusively spent on fulfilling our mission – it’s like we have some kind of a social business model.

How was DataFest Tbilisi idea born?

Teona: Since the time of JumpStart Georgia, our team has been organizing events, but, obviously, back then the scale was very small, for example, a one-day-long exhibition, where we would present pieces of our data visualization and offer visitors some small masterclasses on the subject. Then we organized a two-day hackathon in data visualization, which received a huge feedback. And after that, they decided to go even further than Georgia and organize a regional event. This is how DataFest Tbilisi was born. This year, the third year of the event, we are expecting around 1000 visitors. About speakers, they will mostly be from western countries.

What is the goal of DataFest?

Teona: DataFest Tbilisi incorporates the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The reason is that this is where we saw a lack of the kinds of projects like DataFest. Moreover, not just the lack of events, but the inability of businesses and often governments to structurally store data – they don’t get the importance of doing this right. When we bumped into this problem, we realized that it was necessary to make the public see just how important properly stored and analyzed data was and also teach them how to work with it. The second goal is the make Tbilisi and Georgia a regional hub of data because we think our strategic location and achievements in this area certainly gives us the opportunity to do so.

Can’t you tell in just a few words, what is the main thing a visitor will learn here?

Teona: Collecting small and large quantities of data, their analysis, and visualization (or any other form of effective communication).

Thank you for the information, now to touch some general subjects…as you mentioned, you don’t limit yourself to Georgia. Working-with-data-wise, how different is our country from others?

Teona: If we are talking about the countries of our region, then I’ll say that the situation is different in each of them. In some countries, especially in the countries of Central Asia, data availability is still an issue, but, for example, in Ukraine it’s vice versa – large quantity of public data is available, but they are having problems with analyzing and putting it to use, although there are many organizations and startups that work in this direction. In our neighbor Armenia (where I was like a week ago and with the local partners organized some small events ) there is an AI sensation. Many startups, that also have offices in America and Europe, there are working on this.

It is thanks to Forset and our team that at least data visualization is developed in our country because in none of our neighboring countries is an organization specializing in data communication. We also have a strong network of specialists interested in data.

In this colorful region, Georgia has the opportunity to become the center and the bridge between representatives of the developed and developing countries.

You work with a huge database, which means it would be interesting to know your take on this subject: How developed is Georgia?

Teona:  If we take the last few years, then – yes, there is some progress. If 5-6 years ago we had to talk about the importance of having more data available and using visualization for communication, we no longer have to do this. Now we talk about different things, like data collection, storing it properly and the new methods of data analysis. In this respected field is growing at a pretty fast pace and it’s not to lag behind. This is one of the missions of DataFest Tbilisi – we need to constantly keep an eye on the development of data technologies and by doing this contribute to the development of the whole region.

How involved are you in the technological aspect?

Teona: Forset is a communication organisation, which uses design and technologies. In today’s world, almost in every field, it’s impossible to get far without using technologies and especially in such an important one of data collection, analysis and communication. Therefore, modern technologies play a huge part in what we do.

And lastly, what was the most memorable data you uncovered?

Teona: Every social subject is important to me, but I’m most sensitive about the data about women. By the way, we make a lot of content about the subject of women. It’s one thing to think that the situation is not the best and it’s another to look at the facts that confirm this. For me, it’s difficult to acknowledge this problem, so I always push the subject of women as hard as I can.

Translated by: Misho Zguladze

Mushroom Blue
Mushroom Blue

23 y/o Georgian girl born and raised in Tbilisi. Currently working as a blogger, translator, and editor. Interests include philosophy, art, and quantum physics (you read it right). I spend my free time writing fiction, painting and, of course, having fun.

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