Ensuring Sustainability for Philanthropic Investments With Data

Ensuring Sustainability for Philanthropic Investments With Data

Since 2008, Bloomberg Philanthropies has been working to increase women's economic opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa. With partners such as Women for Women International (WfWI), women in Rwanda and Congo are taught organic farming techniques geared toward commercial production and learn about food processing, textiles, and artisanal crafts they can bring to local and international markets. As a result, these women — all of whom have survived hardships due to conflicts and war — are learning life-changing education and technical skills enabling them to move from being survivors to active citizens.

Building on the success of our partnership with WfWI, we have worked to establish strong partnerships with local communities and governments in order to increase collaboration and create more opportunities to ensure the best outcomes. Bringing together people, ideas, and resources from across sectors toward a common purpose can amplify that impact.

Over the course of the years we have worked in the sub-Sahara, we have always felt the desire to do more. But when we joined other colleagues working in post-conflict areas, we discovered that many of us did not know what the other was doing. Reports had been written and studies completed detailing best practices and what worked, but they hadn't been shared or read by all. Those of us working in the region were finding our own paths to success within our respective organizational silos.

We all knew we were investing time and resources in a worthy cause, but we were doing so with limited information — and, in some cases, didn't have access to the kind of information we needed to increase our impact. More importantly, we didn't know what kind of milestones — if any — were being achieved.

The solution to help us answer these questions was right in front of us: data. Bloomberg Philanthropies is a metrics-driven organization that believes data is critical to our efforts to identify, address, and help overcome global challenges. In our economic development program, data drives our success. We measure our participants' outcomes two years post-graduation, for example, and from the start of the program each woman receives individualized educational and vocational plans that track a number of metrics, ranging from whether her children are enrolled in school, to the health and wellness of her family.

So, in response to a range of challenges experienced by funders working in the region — including limited information on funding, underutilized research on what works, and missed opportunities for collaboration — Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Brussels-based King Baudouin Foundation partnered with Foundation Center, the leading authority on philanthropy worldwide and a trusted collaborator to organizations working on the ground, to launch Equal Footing, a Web-based portal that provides tools enabling NGOs to see what types of development projects are under way and being supported by philanthropic investments, what solutions are having a measurable impact, and what needs are currently underserved.

Equal Footing is a first-of-its-kind solution to the wide range of challenges experienced by organizations like ours that are actively working in Central Africa. In addition to serving as an online repository of research, case studies, and funding information for NGOs working in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi (with more countries to be added), it is the most comprehensive philanthropic resource about the region, meaning that for the first time, philanthropists, NGOs, and others have a platform where they can learn, collaborate with each other, and leverage their resources for maximum impact.

We are truly excited about the potential of Equal Footing to drive greater investment and change, and we are certain it will become a powerful tool that helps us and other organizations build on the positive momentum in sub-Saharan Africa and, eventually, other regions of the continent. Please take a look and let us know what you think.

Verna Eggleston leads Bloomberg Philanthropies' women's economic development initiatives in Africa.

FEATURED COMMENTARY AND OPINION

October 19, 2017