Data sharing to achieve the Post-2015 development agenda

LB image Indonesia platform

Recently I was referenced on our favourite development social media tool, Twitter. The quote was put into the Twittersphere by UNDP Indonesia during a panel I spoke on about data at the launch of the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy workshop in Jakarta. This quote summed up exactly what I have been trying to say and to express through this work, and I guess it looks like I finally said it to a room of 150 philanthropists. In the panel I “called for philanthropists to share data to help all parties work toward achieving the post-2015 development agenda”. I didn’t just call for this I genuinely believe data is a catalyst for change and achievement.

Whilst on the combined topic of Twitter, Indonesia and data, let me share with you a little anecdote. According to UN Global Pulse who also spoke on this panel, Indonesia is one of the most social-media dense countries in the world today with Indonesia Tweeting about food prices that closely resemble official figures. This has led to the development of a technology that extracts daily food prices from public tweets to generate a near real-time food price index. Pretty impressive use of data I would say.

Over the last three or so years that we have worked on the Post-2015 development agenda as a global community, data has been a big focus, especially with the data revolution but I still don’t think we have made it explicitly clear why philanthropic data is important and why there may be resistance to providing this data.

The problem may be that data is viewed as a dirty word, because data is overwhelming, there can be too much or not enough depending on whom you talk to, it can vary in quality significantly and can be expensive to obtain and make sense of. Data can mean anything and everything. The Data Revolution Group is even telling us that “the volume of data in the world is increasing exponentially: one estimate has it that 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years”. That is a lot of data in a very short space of time, no wonder we are all feeling a little overwhelmed. When we talk about philanthropic data, what exactly is the most useful data right now? When it comes to philanthropy, there are two data sets that would be particularly useful to the world, philanthropic financial flow data and philanthropic programmatic data. We need the finance data to see where money is being spent in terms of projects and recipients. We need program data to track development progress by goal, country and population group. We need this data, and according to SMERU, we need it to be free, easy to get and easy to use with guidance and support from the respective data provider.  . This data will help not only funders, but all stakeholders to make strategic partnering and funding decisions to achieve the goal that we are all working towards, eradicating poverty.

The thing is there is a lot of data out there and we live in a data rich world, but what to do with the data or how to use it is not clear to many and not surprisingly so. It is also important to remember that data does not just come in the quantitative form of numbers, but in the form of qualitative data, which is equally important for all of us across the development community to learn from and improve upon. From case studies we can learn lessons, improve projects and tell stories to advocate a cause. Focusing back on Indonesia, the key data take away of the day to ponder was that if you have data, the best thing you can do is share it because someone out there will know what to do with it and the more people that use the data, the more useful it will become. However, if the data is of poor quality and subsequently used incorrectly, then the effect may in fact end up being detrimental to the cause. So the question is what is better, to have a lot of data and sift through it, clean it and eventually make sense of it for all to benefit, or have a smaller pool of select high quality data and possibly miss out on less ready but vital pieces of information?

There are many reasons that organisations are not yet comfortable to share data, which seem to center around privacy concerns, accountability concerns, technical ability to process data, uncertainty of what types of data is useful, uncertainty about what format to provide data in, unsure as to who to share data with, and unsure as to how the data will be used. These are all legitimate concerns of course but ones that I believe are resolvable through trust, partnership building, discussions and explanations and of course strong relationships with country national statistical offices. During my time in Jakarta, while actually on a mission to collect qualitative data, I discovered there is an NGO who is even working behind the scenes with the government statistical office right now to assist them in making their data open. The issue is not that the government doesn’t want to share the data but that they do not know where to start.

The Foundation Center is currently building, a platform that will act as an accessible voluntary public hub for philanthropists to share and use data, engage with other philanthropists and the development community and see their contribution to achieving global development goals against MDG and OECD data and we would encourage you to share your data or carry on the data sharing conversation with us.

Data is not a dirty word or a scary word but an opportunity to improve the lives of all people around the world to ensure ‘nobody is left behind’. So yes this is a call on all philanthropists to share your data to help all parties achieve the post-2015 development agenda. Remember ‘the goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight’ – Cathy Fiorina.

For more information on the recent Indonesia workshop and data sharing, please click here

All views are my own


Time for philanthropic finance targets?

Another week, another meeting closer to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3), and maybe a possible answer on how to pay for and implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Last week that meeting was the Development Cooperation Forum (DCF) in Incheon, South Korea, where development finance was discussed in all its technical glory, some aspects more so than others, the usual suspect was of course ODA but not for the reasons you may think. The agenda certainly made way for non-traditional financial flows (philanthropy, the private sector etc.) and instruments to be discussed and debated, and to some extent, they were, but not nearly enough. In fact, there was one government delegate in particular whom I won’t name here, that actually requested a change in topic specifically away from ODA to the less traditional. Unfortunately this was hard to do though when these actors were not at the table, and certainly not for a want of trying.

The question though of what non-traditional development finance providers, and specifically in this case, philanthropy can contribute IS certainly AT, and I would go as far as to say, ON the table, as it should be. I think it is even safe to say the FfD3 Co-Chairs are looking for the answers. Philanthropy is one of the last sources of funding in the world that contributes to the global development framework that isn’t already earmarked and therefore a key tool in the toolbox to achieving the SDGs. I am a big believer in ensuring that philanthropic flows are counted as an essential component of financing for development; it is good for the provider, it is good for the implementer and it is good for the recipient. In order to show these financial flows, Foundation Center along with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and UNDP are working on, a database that will indeed track these flows from origin to destination. But, how do we take this a step further?

The question, that we now need to answer, and probably pretty quickly, relates to both a ‘what’ and a ‘how’ scenario, that came to me in two ways within moments of each other in Incheon. One, I read the Development Initiatives Policy Brief for the DCF, which included a conclusion that resonated with me – it found that “development agencies with a clear mandate for poverty reduction target poorer countries most effectively”. Two, a paper by Homi Kharas and John McArthur landed in my email inbox at almost the exact same time which made the bold suggestion that “by the end of 2016, common regional standards and incentives to promote social impact investing worldwide, and agree on voluntary targets for foundations and philanthropies to allocate a common share of their balance sheets towards impact investments” should be established and that “foundations and philanthropies could determine the merits of committing themselves to fixed targets for their funding allocations over time—in terms of both their balance sheet investments and their philanthropic disbursements—in order to guide the further devel­opment of the market and to encourage more social entrepreneurs”. This led me to ask the question, is it actually possible that we may be able to get philanthropists and other non-traditional development finance providers to create clear, voluntary or formal mandates or goals to reduce poverty, how would we do this and what would this look like. I think this is one of the questions that we the global development community need to look at in attempting to answer what philanthropy can contribute to financing for development in the lead up to, and at Addis.

The role of philanthropy and social innovators in financing for development will be discussed in an ECOSOC side event hosted by the Italian, UAE and Ethiopian Missions to the UN with Foundation Center, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, UNDP, UNDESA and the San Patrignano Foundation on 21 April at UN HQ where I hope this question along with others will start to be answered. It is time for us to all put our thinking caps on.

For more information or to register to attend the side event please click here

All views are my own