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Pamela Cook

The youngest of six children, Pamela Cook was born in a Birmingham slum with no electricity or indoor sanitation. But the family was re-housed when she was three and she describes her childhood as very happy.

Her lack of enjoyment at school and the need to earn money from her early teens, gave her an understanding of the working world and a will to survive. But she also inherited her parents’ strong sense of moral ethics, making her determined to try to do good in the world.

Pamela has achieved that goal as CEO of Infoshare, a data technology company which creates accurate single views, for example, of people, places, addresses and objects. When she took the helm in 2010 she re-mortgaged her house to fund a major company restructure. Since then, she has tried to re-shape the business to use its technology and position to benefit vulnerable people, from children at risk and victims of crime to those likely to be most badly affected by Covid-19.

“What I have discovered is being able to make a real impact on people’s lives,” she says, whether they are at risk, need early intervention or are trying to disguise their true identities.

Pamela is also a magistrate in Thames Valley, and sits on the Cabinet Office SME Panel, fighting for the rights and fair treatment of small businesses in the UK. She is a popular speaker on successful information sharing, protecting citizens and the implication of legislation on data sharing and analysis.

She was named the Female Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2019 Enterprise Awards, and listed on the 2020 DataIQ 100 people in data, and on the 2020 Global Top 100 Data Visionaries.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond

Professor Sir Ian Diamond first encountered a computer as a student at the London School of Economics the mid-1970s. He learnt Fortran and submitted programs on punched cards. “But we never actually used computers to analyse data,” he says.

Computers are now crucial to Sir Ian’s role as the UK’s national statistician, and principal adviser to the UK Statistics Authority and the Government. The task involves using the latest AI, machine learning and textual analysis to tackle some of the thorniest current social and economic challenges.

From the beginning, Sir Ian was interested in the application of statistics to social science, demographics and survey data. Statistics have had a bad press, he says, but when they are rigorous and well put together they are increasingly reliable and powerful. For example, they have recently helped discover how the coronavirus is impacting people disproportionately in different ethnic groups.

After an MSc at the LSE, Sir Ian took a PhD at St Andrews, where he received “outstanding supervision” looking at the problem of relatively high drop-out rates among Scottish students compared with their English counterparts.

His career has included being chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council and vice chancellor of the University of Aberdeen. In 2019, he did not take much persuasion to apply for the post of national statistician.

“It has been a total thrill every day since,” he says. “We need to produce data that the public can trust, and to reflect the economy and society at a time when it is changing very quickly.”

Massive technology change has made it possible to think increasingly radically about all kinds of data, and to produce ever more timely and accurate statistics. But it is really important to have a social theory about what you are doing, says Sir Ian. And to communicate properly, explaining assumptions and ensuring that people can understand the level of uncertainty and margin for error.

For those interested in studying statistics, there can be no better career, he says, and the UK has some of the world’s strongest institutions.

a portrait photograph of a woman with bobbed curly hair wearing a white blouse

Dr Rebecca Harding

Entrepreneurs want to change things all the time. So says Dr Rebecca Harding, economist and serial entrepreneur. Rebecca’s career has certainly involved breaking traditions and rattling cages. “I’ve always been a self starter who knows my own mind and has a clear sense of direction in my education and career,” she says.

When her comprehensive school did not offer A’ level German she joined lessons at the local boys’ grammar. Participating in drama clubs and student productions has also helped her throughout her professional life, she says. At Sussex University Rebecca gained a BA in Economics with German. The interdisciplinary nature of the course has proved very helpful in business life, she says. “It enabled me to study politics, philosophy, economics, sociology and international relations.”

 After taking a doctorate in Technology and HR, she began working in academe, which she describes as “a brilliant training for entrepreneurship because academics spend their time generating ideas and thinking of ways to solve problems.” At London Business School, Rebecca ran the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor — a survey of entrepreneurship worldwide. It helped her understand the power of data in helping people and driving success.

 In 2007, Rebecca founded her first company, Delta Economics, and began analysing why people start businesses and the challenges they face achieving growth. Her research showed that their motivation “is more about solving problems and innovating than making money.” It led to her second start-up, Coriolis Technologies, formed in 2017 to provide trade and trade finance data and analytics for the trade finance sector.

“Global trade is worth $21 trillion a year and the value of trade finance is between $15tn and $17tn: 90 per cent of it is still paper-based,” she says. “Digitising global trade is a huge opportunity.”