Manuel Aragones MPP'16

In the era of Big Data, companies, governments, non-profits, etc., have access to more information than ever before and spend millions to collect and store more every day. The biggest problem these data-rich entities face is figuring out what exactly to do with all of it. How do you organize, process, and examine billions of bytes of data in a meaningful way that will help achieve the organization’s goals?

That is the question Harris graduate Manuel Aragonés MPP ‘16 wants to help organizations address with his Mexico City-based start-up deep_dive, which declares in its manifesto:

“We care about data…Maybe a little too much. We think, eat and speak data.”

Armed with this passion for data, nurtured at Harris, along with computer coding skills he learned in his spare time, Aragonés is providing companies with insights they could never discover on their own. However, hardly content with helping corporations increase market share and profits, he is committed to using data science to reshape public policy and make a positive impact on people’s lives in his home country of Mexico. 

As part of this commitment, Aragonés is helping government authorities address one of the gravest issues facing modern-day Mexico: the disappearance of more than 30,000 people at the hands of drug cartels since 2006.

A recent New York Times article detailed the depth and breadth of the crisis, exacerbated by local governments and law enforcement agencies that are, at the very least, ineffective at addressing the problem or, at worst, complicit in its spread. While the Mexican government officially acknowledges that more than 30,000 missing, the fact is no one knows because, among other problems, there is no national database of these individuals.  

This is where Aragonés believed he could help; not only by establishing a digital registry but by applying data science to provide valuable insights on open cases. He connected with Karla Irasema Quintana Osuna, General Director of the Federal Legal Advisory Service of the Executive Commission for Victims’ Assistance (CEAV), a federal agency for victims of disappearances, kidnappings, and crimes committed by government authorities.

As with any massive endeavor, the hardest step is usually the first one. In this case, that was simply digitizing all of the files. 

“They have thousands and thousands of cases. They still don't know exactly how many because they are in massive files that contain everything from official government documents and photographs to hand-scribbled notes on tiny pieces of scratch paper.”

After several months of bureaucratic delays, Aragonés took it upon himself to purchase a single scanner and enter a small number of files, just to demonstrate the concept.  Finally seeing the potential, CEAV jumped all in, purchasing more scanners and getting everyone in its office involved in scanning documents, including the agency’s staff driver.

Still needing more manpower, Aragonés reached out to Harris for help. In his mind, this situation offered the perfect opportunity to expose two current students to the real-world application of Harris’s data-driven approach to problem solving, while also getting much-needed assistance in moving this project forward.


Of course, the number of students interested in this unique and challenging opportunity exceeded everyone’s expectations. After an extensive interview process, Aragonés brought in Elana Badillo Goicoechea, MSCAPP Class of 2019, and Vishwanath Emani Venkata, MPP Class of 2019, to "work on a project that will have a lasting impact and that involves the very data science practices they are studying at Harris." 

Aragonés felt they were the perfect pair for the job, and not just because they expressed their willingness to come even if they did not receive funding.

“They understood the problem. Elena had been working with violence. She knew about the problems in Mexico of the disappearances. And, she knew it was a security issue for Mexico. 

Meanwhile, Vishwanath had an amazing curriculum. When I talked to him in the interview, he was really motivated. They have been doing the amazing work. CEAV is happy, as well. They consider all of us as part of their team," said Aragonés.

According to Aragonés, there were two main goals they set out to achieve in their work with CEAV. First and foremost was to give remembrance to the victims and their families. The second is to provide a macro overview to CEAV of what's happening. Are there certain hotspots emerging? Is there a trend in cases? What is the workload of the lawyers? 

“After that, you have the analytical tool that extracts different data, including the name of the victim, the type of crime, names of witnesses,  authorities mentioned in the case, etc., and you start identifying the data that's valuable for them and have the ability to link data from different cases, which wasn’t possible before,” Aragonés said.

While the interns are back on campus, the work they helped launch will continue for months, if not years. And for their part, Aragonés believes they gained a new appreciation for the ways data science can positively impact people’s lives.

Aragonés’ heart has always been in improving the lives of people, not corporations. The private-sector clients that his company serves are there to provide the means and resources to assist public agencies. The objective has always been that one-third of the firm's resources would be aimed at pro bono public policy issues and projects in his home country.

"I have always felt a desire to pay back to Mexico all that it has given me. And with the challenging context that we are currently living, I wanted to be part of a new generation of policymakers that could positively transform it. I wanted to improve the lives of others with algorithms, with a more efficient allocation of resources, detecting corruption, and combating violence," said Aragonés, adding: 

"I want Mexico to thrive. I fiercely believe that it has everything to do so: talent, work ethic, creativity, natural resources, and so on."

Aragonés was already gaining valuable experience in policymaking before attending Harris. While earning his dual bachelor's in economics and political science at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, he worked as an analyst for Marketing Group Mexico, conducting political analysis and strategic planning for a presidential campaign. 

As a senior consultant for consulting firm CMM, Aragonés oversaw the development and implementation of macroeconomic forecasting models for the Mexican economy. After six years with CMM, he served as the manager for strategic initiatives at Mexico City-based financial services firm Infonavit.

All of this experience, however, was just a prelude to his longtime goal of pursuing a master’s degree. In Harris, he saw all of the traits that would be instrumental to his continued success.

“Harris got on my radar because it was at the forefront of developing a data science program and combining it with domain-specific knowledge. I knew I had to study there. But also, Harris is known for its quant skills, a rigorous curriculum, and meritocratic philosophy. Above all, the school challenges you and invites you to challenge others,” he said.

Aragonés strongly believed that to fully realize his dream and achieve success, he had to master computer programming.  So, in addition to his public policy classes and studies, Aragonés took any advance machine learning or programming class he could, utilizing multiple schools and disciplines across the University of Chicago system, including Harris, Booth, the geography department, and the computer science department.

“I used to code 12 hours a day to learn. It was so challenging; my eyes started to hurt,” he recalled.

His tenacity and sacrifice paid off. Upon graduating from Harris, Aragonés and Booth graduate, Rafael Guerra Macedo, founded deep_dive. The company collects massive amounts of unstructured data from internal and external sources, including social media, official government sources, and any other publicly available and relevant data, and applies state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms to provide actionable insights. In its brief two-year existence, it has worked with private equity firms, financial tech firms, the cement industry, the largest pension fund in Mexico, as well as one of the largest insurance firms in the country.

For Aragonés, Harris was a life-changing experience. It is clear that providing a life-changing experience to interns Goicoechea and Venkata was as deeply meaningful and enriching to him as it most certainly was to them.

He wants them and all of the other Harris students to remember that often there are many solutions to a problem; do not make the mistake of thinking that you can’t have a positive impact because other people have already tried it and failed.

"Risk it. Fight for what you believe. If you have a goal, focus on it and make the sacrifices that you have to make. Work tirelessly to make it happen. You have to be relentless. You will f**k it up a lot. But you have to learn. You have to stand up when you get knocked down. You have to have the curiosity to learn new things every day, and you have to continuously strive to improve yourself," he advised.

Travel to Mexico City with Harris Public Policy

Register for Harris' first ever Policy Immersion Trip to Mexico City on July 26-30 to meet Manu Aragonés firsthand as he and his team leads participants on a mini-policy lab experience.