Paul Duan wants to change the way we think about data

Posted by on August 08, 2014.

FWD.us sat down with Paul Duan, the 22-year-old data scientist and founder of Bayes Impact. Paul gave us the inside scoop on his plans to revolutionize the public sector and change the way we think about data.


FWD.us: What is Bayes Impact?

Paul: We are a non-profit that deploys teams of data scientists to work with civic and non-profit organizations to create data-driven solutions to tough social problems.

FWD.us: So, can you explain what “data-driven solutions” means?

Paul: There are all of these big problems that nobody is really tackling. I used to be a data scientist at Eventbrite and I was working on fraud detection. If you have a better algorithm that can reduce fraud by 5-10% -- that’s good, and you can save your company millions of dollars. But what if you could use the same kind of techniques to achieve similar improvements when the metric isn’t a company’s bottom line, but human lives? A good example is emergency responders. If you could use an algorithm to predict where an emergency will be, you can get emergency responders to the emergency faster. Right now, if you had a heart attack and called a Lyft, the Lyft will probably get to you faster than the ambulance.

Obviously these are not directly comparable situations, but the bottom line is that Lyft can predict demand and use this information to help optimize their dispatch system. Similarly, predicting where emergencies are more likely to happen can help us reduce response times for emergency responders. This is a clear example of where the tech industry has developed a solution that can be applied to the public sector.

FWD.us: Can you give us more examples of what you do?

Paul: Sure. Consider the example of organ transplants: In the U.S. there are currently more than 100,000 people waiting for an organ, but people get added to the list about twice as fast as organs become available and the result is that about 20 people die on average every day because of the shortage of organs. But if we could better predict who are the most critical patients and which transplants are most likely to be successful, then we could allocate the few organs we do have in a fairer and more efficient way. 

FWD.us: You’re from France, originally. How did you get to the U.S.?

Paul: I came to study abroad at U.C. Berkeley on a J-1 visa [an exchange-student visa], but then I won a scholarship to be a visiting scholar instead, which meant I had to switch to an F-1 visa [a student visa]. This seemed like an insignificant change at the time, but when I finished my year at Berkeley and wanted to go work in the tech industry, I learned the hard way that the F-1 visa actually has different restrictions than the J-1 in terms of work eligibility. That was my first brush with immigration. Next, I had a company offer me a job and to sponsor an H-1B visa [a foreign worker visa], but unfortunately I got the offer right after the H-1B visa cap was reached. So, I was prepared to stay and work in the United States, and suddenly I had to leave everything and go back to France.


I was later able to come back to the U.S. on a one-year J-1 visa, which was sponsored by my company, and hoped to be able to switch to an H-1B. But H-1B visas work on a lottery system -- and I lost the lottery. The company I was working for suggested I try to get an O-1 visa [a visa for individuals with extraordinary achievements or ability], which is difficult to qualify for. To bolster my application, I started entering some data science competitions and won a couple awards from Amazon and the Economist. I was written up in a few news publications and finally had enough to qualify for the O-1 and get back to the US.

I quickly got stuck again because O-1 visas are tied to your employer. So, when I wanted to leave my company to start Bayes Impact, I had to sacrifice my visa. I’m now in the process of getting a new one, but that’s a whole different story. 

FWD.us: How did being in Silicon Valley affect your idea for Bayes Impact?

Paul: What’s good about Silicon Valley is that an investor can give $1 million in seed money to a company, and that company can go on to create a $1 billion company. You can create value, because entrepreneurs build products and services that can scale. In the non-profit sector, you can compare that to multiplying impact. Not many people in the non-profit sector are really looking to use data to increase their impact; regrettably, non-profits are often more about redistributing money than they are about creating value through scalable solutions. I think in fifteen years, you will see most non-profits run very differently, and I want Bayes Impact to be on the forefront of that shift. 


FWD.us: What excites you about the work you do?

Paul: We haven’t quite seen the scrappy and entrepreneurial approach to non-profits yet. We’re lucky, because as the only non-profit currently at Y Combinator [a tech incubator in Silicon Valley], we are encouraged to explore an entrepreneurial side of non-profit work. What’s exciting about data is that you can find the commonalities between all of the problems you have with the public sector, and create general solutions to them. You can have an algorithm running right now, in production, that optimizes the way organ transplants are prioritized in the US by predicting the likelihood of rejection. It’s not just a lofty idea -- it’s something you can actually ship in the form of a tangible software product. And when you’ve done that once, nothing prevents you from implementing a similar solution somewhere else. To make a nonprofit like Bayes Impact work, we rely on the fact that we can get top talent -- people who would be really difficult to get in the for-profit space. We can sell them something totally different. We can tell them: Do you want to optimize the way people click ads for the rest of your life? Or do you want to change the world?


House Legislation A Disappointing Step That Would Hurt DREAMers

Posted by on August 01, 2014.

Today House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and effectively restart deportations of DREAMers.

The humanitarian crisis on the border continues to show the critical need for real and lasting immigration reform. Unfortunately, instead of taking the time to debate and vote on meaningful reform today, we saw the majority of House Republicans take a disappointing step in the wrong direction by even considering this legislation, which would hurt DREAMers and could restart deportations of these hardworking young people.

Americans of diverse backgrounds across the political spectrum agree that DREAMers - who were brought here at a young age and have known only our country as their home - contribute to our communities and our economy. In order to truly secure our border, create American jobs, and boost our economy, House Republicans must work toward a permanent legislative solution. We urge them to pass legislation to fix our broken immigration system as soon as possible.

Patients First: Immigrant Innovations in Health Tech

Posted by on July 07, 2014.

Last week, we hosted a roundtable discussion event on health technology at the Impact Hub in San Francisco, California. The discussion, Patients First: Immigrant Innovations in Health Tech, featured over 20 participants. The event focused on tech contributions from the immigrant community and defined clearly the connection between health technology and immigration reform. Attendees discussed specifically recent developments in primary care, predictive analytics, health-tech related legislation and mobile applications. 

The discussion was led by Rishi Misra of Archimedes, Tia Gao of One Medical Group, and Justin Ip of Kerros Health. Each spoke to their respective sub-sectors and as immigrants themselves, were all uniquely positioned to appreciate both immigration challenges associated with entrepreneurship and contributions to health technology.

Join our next conversation on technology and immigration reform at an event near you. 


Dallas Forum on the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform

Posted by on July 01, 2014.


Today, AT&T Inc., the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, FWD.us, the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Business Leadership Council hosted a forum to discuss the positive economic impact of immigration reform in the United States. The event was held at the George W. Bush Presidential Institute at The George W. Bush Presidential Center and brought together leaders from the business, media, faith and advocacy fields. Speakers included: Randall L. Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T Inc.; Joe Green, Founder and President, FWD.us; Bill Hammond, CEO, Texas Association of Business; Dr. Daniel Sanchez, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas; and Scott Braddock, The Quorum Report, who will moderate the event.

“Immigration reform in the United States is long overdue, and we are thrilled to host this event to discuss the positive impacts reform will have on the economy of Texas and nation as a whole,” said FWD.us President and Founder Joe Green. “Immigration reform will enable us to create an economy with opportunity for all. Further, it would grow our economy by $37 million every day, according to statistics from the Congressional Budget Office. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to fix our broken immigration system now and secure a brighter tomorrow for all Americans.”

Texas is home to over 4 million immigrants – or roughly 1 in 6 Texans – and immigrant entrepreneurs are vital to the state’s economy. Further, highly-skilled immigrant workers have a significant presence in the state and contribute to the success of employers based in Texas.

Expanding the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 36,400 new jobs in Texas by 2020, according to the American Immigration Council. By 2045, approximately $13 billion could be added to gross state product by expanding the high-skilled visa program. Finally, personal income could increase by more than $11 billion during that time.


Only Way to Fix Broken Immigration System is "Permanent Legislative Solution"

Posted by on June 30, 2014.

Joe Green, Founder and President of FWD.us, released the following statement today after President Obama announced that he would take executive action on immigration reform:

“It's been over one year since the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill, and we have long called on House Republican Leadership and members of the House GOP conference to take action on meaningful reform legislation to fix our fundamentally broken immigration system.

“More than 3 in 4 Americans across the political spectrum support fixing our broken immigration system - including a majority of self-identified Republicans - and understand that it's well past time for House Republicans to take action. Americans are deeply frustrated that House Republicans have thus far failed to bring legislation to a vote: every day without reform, our economy loses $37 million in revenue, we miss out on the creation of American jobs, and millions of American families live in fear of separation.

“While President Obama has taken necessary steps to address temporarily some of the urgent problems plaguing our nation in the face of over a year of unacceptable inaction by House Republicans, the only way to solve this problem is a permanent legislative solution. We remain deeply disappointed and urge them to pass legislation to fix our broken immigration system as soon as possible."


Progress Update: A Critical Time for Reform

Posted by on June 23, 2014.

We’re entering a critical period for reform in the coming weeks, and it’s more important than ever that your elected representatives hear from you on why the time for reform is now.

Just last week, House Republicans elected Representative Kevin McCarthy (CA - 23) the new Majority Leader, and also voted in Representative Steve Scalise from Louisiana’s 1st district to serve as Majority Whip.

Both of these representatives have indicated their support for fixing our fundamentally broken system multiple times; as members of House GOP Leadership, the pressure is on for them - along with Speaker Boehner - to take action and bring reform legislation to a vote as soon as possible, so that we can boost our economy and do right by the millions of American families living in fear of separation.

Poll after poll shows that 3 in 4 Americans of all political beliefs - as well as the majority of Republican primary voters - recognizes that our current system is fundamentally broken, and wants to see it fixed. Respected, influential conservatives like Rupert Murdoch and Sheldon Adelson have recently added their voices to the calls for smart, humane immigration reform - because it’s the right thing to do. In fact, Rupert Murdoch - himself an American citizen who came to this country as an immigrant - might have put it best when he said:

If we are serious about advancing our economic future and about creating job growth here in America, then we must realize that it is suicidal to suggest closing our doors to the world's entrepreneurs, or worse, to continue with large-scale deportations…

All the more reason, then, to recognize that the facts are on the side of reform, and democratic societies don't advance when our elected officials act like seat-warmers.

Every single day, our economy loses $38 million dollars; we have an immigration system that is outdated and broken; and there are 11 million undocumented immigrants who lack a pathway to getting with the law and coming out of the shadows - while millions of American families fear separation.

It takes less than a minute to contact your member of Congress to let him or her know that the time is now, and that they must take action on reform legislation.

Let’s make sure Congress knows that we expect them to act on reform.


Poll By 10 Prominent GOP Pollsters Shows Americans Overwhelmingly Support Action On Immigration

Posted by on June 11, 2014.

Today, a group of 10 GOP polling firms - collectively representing the majority of federal elected Republican officeholders – presented two new surveys in a unique project bringing together 10 of the biggest GOP polling firms in the country. The surveys include new data on general election and Hispanic voter attitudes around immigration reform, and clearly demonstrate that Americans overwhelmingly believe America’s immigration system is broken and that Congress must take immediate action to fix it. The surveys overwhelmingly demonstrate that Republicans have a real opportunity to pass immigration reform, and clearly spell out that they can and must do so.


Key takeaways from the new data include the following:

  • Supporting immigration reform is not a liability for Republicans in a primary
  • If Republicans fail to pass immigration reform, the consequences are severe
  • Strong support for reform exists because voters across the political spectrum – including 3 in 4 Tea Party conservatives – do not view current immigration reform proposals as “amnesty”

Pollsters participating in the poll included American Viewpoint’s Linda DiVall and Randy Gutermuth; Basswood Research’s Jon Lerner; GS Strategy Group’s Greg Strimple and Brooks Kochvar; Moore Information’s Hans Kaiser; North Star Opinion Research’s Whit Ayres, Jon McHenry and Dan Judy; The Polling Company’s Kellyanne Conway; Public Opinion Strategies’ Neil Newhouse; The Tarrance Group’s Brian Tringali and BJ Martino; The Winston Group’s David Winston and Myra Miller; and WPA Opinion Research’s Chris Perkins.

The poll shows that Americans support comprehensive immigration reform. After hearing about a reform proposal that would increase border patrol, require employers to verify legal status of employees, create a guest-worker program and establish a pathway for legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, 71 percent of Americans offer their support, with 32 percent strongly supporting the proposal. In fact, Republicans supported the proposal by even higher margins, with 81 percent support and 39 percent strong support.

“This poll validates what we have long believed: Americans of all parties know that we must fix our broken immigration system with a real plan,” said Rob Jesmer, campaign manager of FWD.us. “We join the majority of Americans represented by this poll in calling on Congress to take action immediately and pass reform.”

Support for immigration reform could have a substantive effect at the polls in November. According to the poll, a Republican candidate supporting this immigration proposal increased their margin of support from +7 to +38. That increased support is seen across several important demographics, from Democrats and independents to moderates to independent women to younger voters.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres added, “This is a pattern - Republican candidates who have campaigned strongly on immigration reform have won difficult primaries across the country. The data is clear: strong support for reform provisions exists from voters across the political spectrum."

Among the specific policy issues addressed in the poll, there was broad support across parties for E-Verify and the DREAM Act. Voters polled also rejected deportation as a viable option for fixing our immigration system, supporting instead either “legal status” or “citizenship.” Also, while voters opposed “amnesty,” a majority of those polled, including a majority of Republicans, did not believe the plan discussed could be defined as “amnesty.”

The poll was conducted from May 17-23 and measured 800 national registered voters, 505 national Republican voters, 600 registered voters in Arizona, Florida and Texas and 400 registered voters in California.


Where We Stand

Posted by on June 11, 2014.

Yesterday was an earthquake of a day in DC, and while it poses big challenges it shows more than ever why FWD.us and all of your support is so critical.

Yesterday morning when I got on the train and arrived in DC, people were worried about Senator Lindsey Graham getting to 50% in his primary, and fairly certain House Majority Leader Eric Cantor would sail to victory. That obviously didn’t happen. Leader Cantor had lost and Senator Graham was sailing to an over 55% victory in a crowded field, avoiding a runoff. To put Cantor’s shocking loss in perspective, it's the first time since the 19th century that a House Leader has lost in a primary.

Here’s how we think this is likely to go: over the next few days, you will see a lot of the press saying Eric Cantor’s loss was due to immigration reform. DC groupthink will be in full effect and you’ll see headlines hyping this as a huge blow to our efforts to pass reform. These are the same reporters who have alternatively declared immigration sailing along smoothly and entirely dead many times before.

But immigration is not to blame for Eric Cantor’s loss last night. Even Erick Erickson - the influential conservative blogger who is a strong opponent of immigration reform - tweeted last night “Dear Media: you will make the Cantor loss all about immigration. You will be wrong. But it will be useful to us. So thanks.”

The good news is this - that while we will have some bumpy press, we actually have a fantastic polling presentation today with 10 of the leading pollsters in the Republican party. The timing will be good for pushing back on this false narrative.

These dynamics remain:

  1. Every Republican who has leaned in on immigration reform and explained it to their constituents has won. Handily. Lindsey Graham got 56% in a very conservative, very crowded South Carolina Republican primary. Congresswoman Renee Elmers won in North Carolina easily as well.
  2. There are people on both sides of the aisle working hard to get this done
  3. At the end of the day Speaker Boehner and his Republican conference need to decide to put votes on the floor this year. There is no reason to wait.

But here is what really matters:

Every single day, our economy loses $38 million dollars; we have an immigration system that is outdated and broken; and there are 11 million undocumented immigrants who need a process to get right with law and live their lives as they deserve.

Tagged: news elections

Miami Forum on Immigration Reform

Posted by on June 04, 2014.

FWD.us hosted a forum today in Miami to discuss the positive economic impact of immigration reform in the United States.  The event took place at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus and brought together leaders from the political, business, media and advocacy fields. 

Speakers included Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Mario Diaz Balart; LIBRE Initiative Executive Director Daniel Garza, Univision Radio and PBS Anchor Helen Aguirre Ferré, National Council of La Raza Chair Jorge Plasencia, and FWD.us President and Founder Joe Green.


DEBUG DC: Encourage Congress to take action in a new way

Posted by on May 29, 2014.


We are excited to announce that FWD.us and Hackers/Founders are joining forces to host the "DEBUG DC" Growthathon on June 21st & June 22nd. This is a unique opportunity to push the envelope in online advocacy for immigration reform. With one of the biggest legislative fights in Washington, we have the support of tech leaders in combination with inhouse and volunteer engineers, and a top Washington policy team so we can hear what's working. It’s time to use technology to help fix our nation’s broken and outdated immigration system and encourage Congress to take action.

Our outdated immigration system does not meet America’s workforce needs in a global economy. We have a system that tells talented immigrants that we don't welcome their contributions. It is a system that cannot keep the United States competitive in a global economy. The time is now for Congress to act on meaningful immigration reform that boosts the American economy and does right by American families.

The tech community is made up of founders and employees from all over the world and the tech industry wouldn’t be the same without them. We recognize the value that immigrants bring to this country and we’ll do whatever we can to keep them here.

That’s why we are asking for your help. We’re launching DEBUG DC as a grassroots effort that will mobilize the tech industry to push immigration reform that will help all of us – founders and families.

The DEBUG DC growthathon is similar to a hackathon, but this time, we’ll be hacking political advocacy. We’ll use metrics to measure our progress; with the use of our previous advocacy tools, we created “advocacy points” to help measure impact that supporters of reform are taking, such as contacting members of Congress via tweet, phone call, or a physical letter.

Judges from the tech startup community and immigration reform advocacy groups will assess each team’s work and award points based on political engagement and innovation. Winning teams will be invited back for a final launch event on Friday, June 27.

To participate and help us hack immigration reform at DEBUG DC, please register here.

Let’s show D.C. how technology can help spark real change!

Read on below for a message from Jonathan Nelson, founder of Hackers/Founders, our partner for DEBUG DC.


Let's DEBUG DC so we can finally pass #&$%*&! Immigration Reform

TLDR; The engine of DC is wedged, and we need developers, data scientists, growth hackers and advocacy people to debug our government and get it working again so we can fix immigration for once and for all. Register here.

As many of you know, Hackers/Founders and FWD.us together with a massive coalition of people have gotten together to support comprehensive immigration reform. I’ve heard from some of my friends in DC and the policy world, that they’ve never seen a larger, bipartisan coalition assemble to support passage of legislation:

Trade unions like the AFL/CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce
Tech lobbies and Latino civil rights groups
People who support a startup visa as well as religious organizations who care for refugees

In fact, enough legislators, both Republican and Democrat have said that if it comes to a vote, they will vote in favor of supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

But the tragedy of this is that a few extremist legislators are holding the rest of Congress hostage and threatening to sabotage members of their own party if they bring an immigration reform law to a vote.

The machine of government is wedged, and is in desperate need of debugging.

How do we DEBUG DC?

Step One → Target critical legislative districts
Step Two → Data mine these districts to find registered voters who are registered Republicans who we think are likely to support immigration reform.
Step Three → Growth hack ways to motivate these people to effectively engage their legislators to tell them they want them to call for a vote on immigration reform.
Step Four → Measure results
Step Five → Iterate

To beta test this model, we are holding the first political growthathon ever. We’d love to have you participate. Register here.

We need developers, growth hackers, data scientists, and UI/UX designers.

Developers should:

    • Be fluent in at least one high level programming language
    • Be well versed in building an app on top of APIs
    • Data mining/web scraping skills a big plus
    • Be pissed off about immigration, and want to fix it.

Growth Hackers should:

    • Think creatively about potential voter acquisition channels
    • Be willing to call, email, do SEM, SMM, A/B test, etc.
    • Be crafty and clever
    • Be pissed off about immigration, and want to fix it.

Data Scientists should:

    • Be well versed in statistics and data analysis
    • Think creatively about potential additional voter data sources to mine
    • Think of ways to infer voter sentiment from sparse data
    • Be pissed off about immigration, and want to fix it

UI/UX designers should:

    • Have front end design experience
    • Be well versed in mobile and/or website design
    • Be pissed off about immigration and want to fix it.

Join us: Register here.


Jonathan Nelson is the founder of Hackers/Founders. It was started 6 years ago while Jonathan was working as an ER nurse and finishing his software engineering education online. The first Hackers/Founders event was 4 dudes hanging out in a bar, and has since grown to be the largest community of tech founders in Silicon Valley with 12,000 members. They have 57 chapters in 26 countries giving them a total reach of 100,000 members globally. Jonathan obsesses about hacking the GDP of nations through improving startup ecosystems.

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