Professor of Economics
Director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics
School of Social Sciences and Public Policy
Health economist Professor Rhema Vaithianathan is a data entrepreneur, passionate about using big data to help address serious social problems.
As a Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics at AUT, Professor Vaithianathan is known for using methods like machine learning to tackle high stakes social issues including child maltreatment and homelessness.
Professor Vaithianathan’s huge enthusiasm for her work tends to be contagious; she is regularly asked to present her research to diverse audiences and those animated and engaging talks often lead to new international research and collaboration opportunities.
In recent years, Professor Vaithianathan has completed transnational research projects in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and England, many with a strong focus on predictive risk modelling to better understand, and support, high stakes decisions.
Professor Vaithianathan is well known internationally for leading the development and implementation of the Allegheny Family Screening Tool. This world-first child welfare predictive risk modelling tool has been used by call screeners in Allegheny County (Pennsylvania, United States) since 2016.
Professor Vaithianathan is known as a researcher who can not only build innovative data analytics solutions and partner with agencies and communities to get those solutions implemented, but who also demonstrates what it means to use data analytics safely and carefully.
Born in Columbo, Sri Lanka, Professor Vaithianathan grew up in Mangere, Auckland from the age of seven. At university she quickly landed on economics as a discipline that combined her mathematical strengths and her passion for people and communities, completing her PhD in Economics at the University of Auckland in 2000.
In addition to her AUT roles, Rhema has been involved as Director of the Singapore Life Panel, a large population-representative monthly survey run from Singapore Management University and as a partial appointment as Professor of Social Data Analytics at the Institute for Social Science Research, University of Queensland.