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You Can Connect the Dots for Global Philanthropy

September 16, 2016

ConnectthedotsData is something we all want. Data, though, is not something we can all have... not right now, at least. In order for data to be collected, processed, analyzed, and shared — all while taking into account individual country contexts around the world — the data has to exist in the first place. This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked, especially in a global context. For example, we simply don't know what kind of impact foundations in Kenya are having in a sector like health, or what funds they are directing to various issues and how that compares to the impact and spending by government programs or international aid. As a result, we have no way of knowing whether philanthropy is making a difference or if there's a way those dollars could be used more effectively. That's the case not just in Kenya, but in countries across the global North and South. And the reason we don't have a complete picture of the philanthropic sector's contribution to and role within the development ecosystem is because there is a lack of data skills and a data culture in philanthropy. Not just a small gap; it's a pretty big one.

In order to tackle these issues, Foundation Center has developed a program to partner with philanthropic infrastructure organizations around the world to create a culture of data, build much-needed data management capacity, and create and use data to drive more effective development and grantmaking outcomes. The program also aims to strengthen the efforts of local foundations and associations of foundations to develop their own long-term, sustainable, in-country data strategies, better understand and fill their capacity needs through skills development, and highlight and provide tools to help foundations work with data more effectively.

One country we have been fortunate to work in in recent months is Kenya. Earlier this year, with our many wonderful partners, including the Kenya Philanthropy Forum, East African Association of Grantmakers, Kenya Community Development Foundation, and SDG Philanthropy Platform, we co-developed and organized a participatory Data Scoping Meeting to better understand the current data landscape and data challenges there. During the meeting, we helped participants establish basic principles for collaborative data and knowledge management, identify their biggest data challenges and needs, and agree on a set of goals and priorities pertaining to data and knowledge in their own organizations and as a sector. One of those goals included developing a locally-owned and operated data portal. (You can read more about the meeting and how the findings may be applicable to your own work in this report.) 

But we didn't stop there. We also consolidated all this information into an agenda for a Data Strategy and Capacity Building Workshop in July where participants focused on the development of a local data system and what is required to actually collect, process, and analyze data, as well as to develop concrete action plans that deliver on the previously identified goals and priorities. The meeting represented an exciting step forward for philanthropic data, both globally and locally, and we were thrilled to be a part of it. (The report from the workshop will be released next month.)

We'll be heading to Uganda and Tanzania soon to expand our work in East Africa, which has been leading the way in terms of working toward sustainable data strategies, and we hope those efforts inspire the rest of you to champion the need for more and better data in your own communities. So, the next time you're doing research to inform your grantmaking and you find yourself wondering why you can't put your finger on the data you need — whether it's general information about a potential grantee or a particular program's existing funding sources and impact — ask yourself: Does the data even exist? If the answer is no, think about what you can do to help create it.

Headshot_lauren-bradfordLauren Bradford is director of global partnerships at Foundation Center. For more information on the center's data strategy and capacity-building program or global data strategy, contact Lauren at lbr@foundationcenter.org. This post originally appeared on the GrantCraft blog.

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