Empathy meets analytics: Bridging data, humanity and leadership in Chicago’s heartbeat

November 6, 2023 - Brandon Drain

In the heart of Chicago, where ambition and resilience intertwine, Dave Koch stands as a testament to how academic foundations can inspire community revolutions. As an alumnus of the MSU School of Social Work, his roots were deeply embedded in understanding the human experience. While the School echoed lessons of empathy, community engagement and behavioral understanding, Koch envisioned a future where these lessons could be magnified through the power of data.

Dave Koch

Dave Koch is the director of monitoring, evaluation and learning at Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development (BUILD), where he is involved in data collection, strategizing and expanding the holistic approach of the organization. "Different organizations have different strategies,” said Koch, explaining the philosophy of BUILD. “Our strategy is to be very holistic in the work that we do. We provide gang intervention, therapy and case management, enrichment programs, after-school programs, and so much more." The aim of the organization is to help young people on Chicago’s West Side transform their lives in positive, enriching ways.

Koch’s time at MSU not only prepared him to understand societal issues but equipped him to tackle them innovatively. The power of data isn’t just in its quantitative essence but in its capacity to tell a story, unveil patterns and to inform actionable change. “It’s the: How to take what we’re learning, and then actually leverage it into change and into improved programs.” Rather than viewing data as a mere metric, Koch regards it as a lens, offering deeper insights into the nuanced complexities of the human experience. This approach also informs the rest of the staff with how they’re impacting the community, as well as identifying avenues for improvement in strategies and methodologies. The end result of this process is geared towards empowering West Side Chicago youth.


But what truly sets Koch apart is his commitment to collaboration and community-building. Understanding the niche nature of his data-focused role in community-based nonprofits, he took the initiative to create the “Data Storytelling Cooperative.” This platform serves to bring together like-minded individuals working with data at various organizations in Chicago, facilitating a shared space for learning, innovation and growth. “There’s no natural way for us to come together across organizations,” said Koch. In doing so, this co-op aims to create a space for data-focused staff and leaders to build relationships, share successes, and find ways to tell better data stories.  Yet, with his leadership, barriers are breaking down, fostering a collaborative spirit. His mission isn’t just about individual growth but about raising others alongside him. “The longer I go, the more I get passionate about investing in the people on my team. It’s about leading other leaders, allowing their skills and strengths to shine.”

In Dave Koch and his contributions to BUILD, Chicago has not only a data-driven strategist, but a beacon of hope for the youth. A hope that stems from the synthesis of academic rigor and heartfelt compassion. A hope that with the right tools, empathy and leadership, communities like Chicago can rewrite their narratives towards a brighter, more inclusive future. To learn more about Koch’s work, and BUILD’s nearly 55-year history of working with young people in Chicago, visit www.buildchicago.org.