Rural Senses


Rural Senses, make the unknown known and the unheard heard.

At Rural Senses we offer fast and affordable data that accurately reflects on-the-ground community needs. For this, we combine AI-enhanced proprietary human-centred data collection and analysis approaches – combining quantitative and qualitative datasets – with cutting-edge geospatial analysis supported by Machine Learning (ML). This allows us to provide community profiles that are bottom-up, highly granulated, and impartial, in regions with high data demand (such as refugee settlements) or in-line with client needs. The data collection process is led by local community members, who not only benefit from better-targeted interventions but also gain additional income.

Many projects in rural and remote areas in developing countries fail to deliver their intended impact because what is needed by communities is poorly understood. One key reason for this is the lack of detailed and quality data available. Due to the lack of data, project developers who work with rural and remote communities in developing countries commonly conduct interviews independently. This is susceptible to being incomplete and biased as project developers lack the expertise to conduct interviews. Alternatively, they may use quantitative data sources, which are faster and easier to collect but fail to offer critical insights. There is also substantial duplication of efforts in data gathering by project developers. Communities are repeatedly sampled by different organisations, which can cause interview fatigue, and each developer’s analysis may not consider previous findings. Rural Senses tackles all of these issues by collecting robust qualitative data, which is complemented and made scalable through AI-enhanced analysis, and aggregating insights across multiple projects to minimize duplication of efforts.

We are currently in the process of building our on-demand data platform, VisualSensesTM. We have a working beta-product and are currently catering for two big international clients, the Efficiency for Access Coalition and Days for Girls. We work in three different geographies across sectors. The data we collect can not only inform their interventions but can cater for many organisations working in the same regions, benefiting hundreds of thousands of people. Our work has been recognised in internationally renowned competitions, MS AI for Good, the Pears Challange and World Summit Awards.

Summary of the Technology

At Rural Senses we train local data collectors to use our verified methodologies to collect critical, unbiased, non-sector specific, gender-inclusive high-quality data from a representative sample of the population which accurately reflects on-the-ground community needs. For this, we innovatively combine our human-centred data collection – coined the User-Perceived Value (UPV) Approach that draws both on commercial marketing and development best practice to capture needs and values – with state-of-the-art geospatial visualisation and Natural Language Processing (NLP). We worked closely with the Language Technology Lab at the University of Cambridge to develop Stories2InsightsTM, the first deep-learning NLP algorithm specifically designed to perform data analysis in the domain of sustainability. Using Stories2InsightsTM, we extract meaningful and scalable data from qualitative interviews; we then map the results geospatially to identify regional trends and development opportunities. This enables the identification of previously invisible intersections of needs and services with user values and improves upon nearest state-of-the-art solutions. This is the first time that human-centred needs assessment and geospatial mapping are combined to holistically assess the feasibility of projects, while also accounting for supply chains, economic viability, and existing geographic constraints (e.g. natural features, location of infrastructure/buildings, naturally protected regions). Our unique approach allows Rural Senses to collect and analyse detailed bottom-up data faster and cheaper than anyone else.

The Team

Yau Ben-Or, Managing Director
Yau has a decade of experience in leading multidisciplinary teams in multinational projects. Prior to co-founding Rural Senses, he was a business development consultant for impact-driven start-ups, managed AI-health projects at MobileODT and co-founded SolarChange to promote renewable energy. Yau holds a B.Sc. in Biophysics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Master degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge.

Dr Stephanie Hirmer, Director of Research & Innovation
Stephanie has over a decade of international development experience, in particular working with rural communities in developing countries. She holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge where she now is a Visiting Research Fellow. Her interests are focused on user-centred design for infrastructure services and improved project targeting. She is also an active researcher at the University of Oxford. Stephanie has worked on projects for Arup, GIZ, KfW and SVI.

Josephine Tumwesige, Uganda Country Manager
Josephine has 8 years’ experience in planning, operations and maintenance of telecommunications technologies and their application for education, health and financial inclusion. She is the co-founder and Director of Faith Initiative Group which helps women- and children-headed households improve their livelihood and nutrition. Josephine holds a B.Sc. in Telecommunications Engineering from Makerere University and an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge.

Mira Atié, Senior Project Manager
Mira holds a BEng. in Mechanical Engineering and an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge. Mira has more than 6 years’ experience in the field of renewable energy in design, optimization, operation and maintenance. She is also skilled in the commercial sides of renewable energy solutions. Throughout her professional career, Mira has managed the planning and implementation of various renewable energy projects in the Middle East and North Africa region. She has also devised an affordable smart controller that facilitates the operation of renewable energy technologies in parallel with weak grids supported by private diesel generators in developing countries.

Yair Perry, Senior Project Manager
Yair is a product designer with over 10 years of experience in product design and development with expertise in User Interface and User experience (UI/UX). A fellowship in the Pears Challenge in 2015 has sparked a commitment to development. Yair was part of WaterComms, a start-up working on boreholes supply chain and maintenance before joining an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development in the University of Cambridge. His thesis on the Value of Green Infrastructure for the Developing cities of the Global South, included a case study on Kisumu in Kenya. Interviews with local government and NGO officers revealed the needs and the impact of floods on residents and showed a framework for building resilience that can address multiple stresses and account for Climate Change.

Thalia Konaris, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist
Thalia is an MBA candidate with over 12 years of experience in international development, particularly in the sectors of infrastructure, water and sanitation and transport. Following a mechanical engineering degree, Thalia began her career as CEO of the youth-led organisation Engineers Without Borders UK, and continued with an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development at Cambridge University, conducting research in point-of-use water purification solutions in Nepal and NGO effectiveness. Thalia continued her career initially in the NGO sector, gaining experience in monitoring and evaluation, and for the last 7 years has worked as a Consultant, project managing technical assistance projects financed by International Financing Institutions. These have included two EBRD-financed projects for the introduction of environmental management practices in the Egyptian Railways, an EBRD-financed project in Romania for non-revenue water reduction in one of the country’s largest water utility companies, an EU project in Turkey for introduction of a national Accessible Transport Strategy, a World Bank financed project in Vietnam for introduction of Universal Accessibility Design Guidelines for road sector developments, and an EBRD-financed project in Uzbekistan for improving accessibility and mobility within the ancient city of Khiva, the Ichan Qala under the Integrated Cultural Heritage Framework.

Costanza Conforti, NLP Research and Innovation Lead
Costanza (Stanze) is a PhD candidate in Natural Language Processing at the University of Cambridge, where she focuses on deep learning applications in semantics-related tasks. She interned at Google AI twice. Since 2016, she has collaborated with the Siemens Machine Intelligence group; previously, she worked on Neural Machine Translation at LMU University of Munich. Stanze also enjoys scientific divulgation and is a strong supporter of the promotion of diversity in STEM.

Alycia Leonard, GIS Research and Innovation Lead
Alycia is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford researching geospatial system planning for rural and remote electrification sub-Saharan Africa. She brings expertise in geospatial analysis and machine learning in energy access planning as well as previous work experience in data collection and analysis for development projects.

Jacquelyn Lane, US Partnership Manager
Jacquelyn is an MBA candidate with over 3 years of experience in project management for Fortune 50 companies. Jacquelyn has a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from Oklahoma State University and an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge. For her dissertation, Jacquelyn utilised an engineering systems approach to identify gaps between refugee needs and the refugee provision system in Greece during the height of the European Refugee Crisis. In parallel to her work with Rural Senses, Jacquelyn is the Chief of Staff at 100 Coaches, the premier executive coaching and leadership thinking organisation.

Barik Sale, Community Engagement Manager
In parallel to his work at Rural Senses, Barik is a human rights activist and a founder of Israels’ African Student Organisation (ASO). Barik leads various campaigns to improve the lives of refugees in Israel, having fled from Sudan to Israel at the age of 9. Barik holds a BA in Government, Diplomacy and Strategy from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya. Barik led the mapping of needs of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Tel Aviv.


Rural Senses Website

Yau Ben Or, Co-Founder & CEO, presenting Rural Senses in Microsoft’s AI for Good Award:

Photos courtesy of Rural Senses