The Cloudera Foundation awards AidData over $1M to expand use of GeoQuery for social impact

AidData, a research lab at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, will receive over $1 million from the Cloudera Foundation in a new partnership to scale up a flagship initiative at AidData, GeoQuery. AidData will be one of the Cloudera Foundation’s first two grantees.

GeoQuery is a ground-breaking project that enables individuals and organizations without significant computing power or data science expertise to freely find and aggregate satellite, economic, health, conflict, and other spatial data into a single, simple-to-use file compatible with Microsoft Excel and other common software.

Cloudera, Inc., a U.S.-based tech company that provides software platforms for machine learning and data analytics, formed a new corporate philanthropic organization, the Cloudera Foundation, in 2017 to identify large-scale opportunities and projects where the application of advanced data analytics and machine learning can change people’s lives for the better. The Cloudera Foundation’s partnership with AidData will help improve GeoQuery’s infrastructure to enhance accessibility, and make more high-quality datasets available to a wider range of users.

“Many nonprofits would greatly benefit from using predictive analytics or machine learning approaches to better understand who might benefit from their services or which services need to be adjusted,” said Claudia Juech, CEO of the Cloudera Foundation.

“Unfortunately, most organizations don't have the necessary IT and data science capacity. AidData has begun to address this gap by working with larger development organizations on this challenge. Our grant to AidData will enable them to make their GeoQuery service also accessible to smaller, local organizations in the US and Europe as well as in the Global South. This will dramatically expand the number of nonprofit organizations that can use sophisticated data to achieve their goals,” said Juech.

GeoQuery is also unique in that it brings together faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students from a diversity of backgrounds across William & Mary, including AidData, the Department of Applied Science, the Data Science Program, and SciClone, William & Mary’s High-Performance Computing (HPC) Cluster that powers GeoQuery. 

"To learn as a global community, we need to make it easy for anyone to access big data,” said William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe. "A flagship initiative of the AidData research lab, GeoQuery provides just one example of how William & Mary students and faculty from diverse backgrounds and disciplines are working together to identify, test, and scale these kinds of innovative solutions to real-world problems. We are grateful that the Cloudera Foundation sees the potential of GeoQuery, and shares William & Mary's long-term vision for its global reach and impact."

With foundational investments from William & Mary, USAID, and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, GeoQuery has already begun changing the ways that international development organizations access and use data. Since its beta launch in 2017, GeoQuery has fielded over 8,000 data processing requests from more than 650 organizations worldwide, including the World Bank, the U.S. State Department, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It has also resulted in multiple academic papers, including a recent publication by GeoQuery’s Data Engineer, Seth Goodman.

However, limitations in physical infrastructure and technical capacity have restricted GeoQuery’s growth. “We’ve seen first-hand how, despite strong demand for this data, deep technological barriers are limiting use and uptake by the international development community,” said Dan Runfola, Senior Geospatial Scientist at AidData and Assistant Professor of Applied Science at William & Mary who leads the GeoQuery project.

“Our new partnership with the Cloudera Foundation will provide the resources and technical capacity to rapidly scale up GeoQuery, enabling the use of next-generation data, tools and methods by organizations in critical need of this information to find solutions for some of the world’s most pressing development problems,” said Runfola. “Sustained funding of GeoQuery provides a global public good and creates a multiplier effect, growing the reach and impact of this data to catalyze more effective development choices.”

For more information, contact Alex Wooley, AidData’s Director of Partnerships and Communications, at 757.585.9875 or