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Follow the Data Podcast: Equal Footing

“A woman is economically empowered when she has both the ability to succeed and advance economically and the power to make and act on economic decisions.”

Using the guiding definition of women’s economic development from the International Center for Research on Women, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the King Baudouin Foundation partnered with Foundation Center to create Equal Footing, a freely accessible web portal for information-sharing and collaboration among those who invest and work in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Burundi.

Equal Footing includes data about philanthropic funding across all issues in these three countries and, highlights approaches focused on economic development through a focus on women.

Verna Eggleston of Bloomberg Philanthropies Women’s Economic Development Program spoke to Lisa Philp, Senior Advisor at Foundation Center, about developing Equal Footing. They discuss the journey to increased effectiveness through measurement, leveraging existing evaluation systems, and how organizations can work to serve who they are trying to serve – better.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

KATHERINE OLIVER: Hi, welcome to another episode of Follow the Data – I’m your host Katherine Oliver.

Bloomberg Philanthropies convened a summit with a group of stakeholders investing and working in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi from funders and NGOs, to government officials.

The purpose of this summit was to create comprehensive, collaborative plans to ensure women’s economic and political citizenship. After two days, it became clear that the group reached one conclusion: in order to create a comprehensive solution “we need data, and it’s hard to find.”

The summit participants wanted to know:

  • Where is philanthropic funding in these countries going?
  • Who is investing?
  • What approaches work for women and their families and communities?

So in 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies joined with the King Baudouin Foundation to support the Foundation Center in creating a free web portal, Equal Footing – the first-of-its-kind platform to collect, indexes, analyze and visualize data on past and current philanthropic efforts in Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.

Funders have acknowledged that funding in conflict and post-conflict settings is inherently risky. That’s why a tool like Equal Footing can be so powerful. It creates a level of transparency and accountability for the organizations, and for donors, it helps identify where the greatest needs are and which organizations are making a lasting impact.

The free portal provides a funding landscape, curated research, case studies, and reports that present strategies and approaches to development efforts. Equal Footing enables users to see what types of development projects are underway, what solutions have had a measurable impact, and what needs are currently underserved. As a result, philanthropists, NGOs, and others are able to learn, collaborate with each other, and leverage resources for maximum impact.

Since its launch, Equal Footing has attracted visitors to the web portal from more than 143 countries — and is now tracking funding up to $1.3 billion dollars from 1,117 funders.

To tell us more about the Equal Footing and how non-profits can learn from one another, we welcome Lisa Philp, senior advisor at Foundation Center, and Verna Eggleston, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Women’s Economic Development program lead.

VERNA EGGLESTON:  Welcome, I have the opportunity today to welcome Lisa Philp, senior advisor at the Foundation Center and secondhand VP of the Foundation Center and history, long history in philanthropy, corporate giving.

And Lisa just to put our conversation in context, can you share with people exactly what the Foundation Center is?

LISA PHILP:  Sure, sure. So thanks Verna.  Foundation Center, you can think of it as a shorthand of being a data research and technology shop for social good.  We’ve got a long history where we’ve been the go to place around helping non-profits find the funding they need to do their work.  For many years now we’ve kind of reinvented ourselves to think about how all different kinds of data can be really useful for donors as they think about where they fit into the world.  And so, you know, we’re about transparency, we’re about helping people.  It’s really kind of a great place to get incredibly good information about philanthropy.

EGGLESTON:  Now, our partnership with the Foundation Center began in 2014 am I correct?

PHILP:  Right.

EGGLESTON:  And we partnered specifically because in we want to know before we even invest, who else is in this field, what have they done and what has their impact been.

And just from my experience we’re a non-for-profit sector and some government areas well, we learned that there wasn’t a tool where one person could just go and get on the tools, see who’s investing where, where the money was, how many people.

And so we partnered around the countries where we were specifically working in, in the Women’s Economic Development Initiative so that we can see where the gaps were.  So that we can tell the funders here at Bloomberg Philanthropies, these are the gaps and these are the sure places where we should invest.

I want to ask you two questions.  One, what is the, the size of the database?  How many foundations and how many non-for-profits and how many corporate givers right now live in your multiple database?

And then if you can elaborate a little bit more on us, coming to you and saying can you help us look in this area and what that looked like, sure we did?

PHILP:  Sure, sure. So yeah, we are tracking, philanthropy in the US and around the world.  Our sweet spot is giving by foundations?  And so this point we’ve got really robust profile information on about a 140,000 thousand foundations.

We’re tracking over 11 million grants to these organizations.  It’s in the billions of dollars what we’re looking at.  We’re also tracking a bilateral and multilateral aid data, so we’re looking at what governments give to each other to support humanitarian causes and looking at ways to layer that information.

We’ve got really, interesting information about the funders themselves, about the nonprofits and NGOs that are receiving the money and the transaction between them.

Our work with Bloomberg began in 2014 and we specifically partnered on a project called Equal Footing and Equal Footing is a knowledge portal which is really looking at Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, three particular areas of interest, and seeing who was funding what and where, , figuring out what research is out there, you know, there’s a lot that’s been happening, how can we learn from what others have already done and it’s got real practical case studies and how to information of  stories about what’s going on.

And so it became this credible model around how do you situate yourself, you know, Bloomberg and others want to work in that part of the world or in other places and how do you find who was funding what and where?  How can you, find potential partners, how can you understand the landscape?

So we’re working increasingly with these, curated projects that pull from the big base of data that we’ve been tracking for a long time.

EGGLESTON:  I think the thing that was shocking to me when we started looking at that data was that they were people who had been in country who we had never met.  All these folks around this table and this little landlocked country all doing work around the whole each saying their focus is on women and the ranking order of where Michael Bloomberg stood.

Explain to me about that report where he ranked number three in his investment in women, peace and security?

PHILP:  So, philanthropy has all sorts of groupings of people who care about different regions or topics.  So there’s a group called the Peace and Security Funders Group that is a membership organization of donors who care about those issues.  At the Foundation Center work closely with them to define what that means.

It’s one thing to say this is an education grant, this is an ocean conservation grant, but when you get into human rights or peace and social justice, you’ve got to do some work about defining what that is.

So work closely with these, funders, these donors of this area to create a dashboard of what’s happening around those themes all over the world so you can pull up, by population.  So when you pull up by women, Bloomberg Philanthropy shows up because of all the investments that have been made.

When you pull up a different parts of the world and see what’s happening in Africa or Europe or the US around this topic, you’ll also see the dashboards changing.

So again, data can seem kind of amorphous.  How do you, how do you visualize it and make it beautiful and useful and really getting to the causes that we all care about?

EGGLESTON:  Well seeing that report for me, just kind of emphasizes his courageousness and not being afraid of issues. Because I mean to land in a category of an investor in women that would ensure peace and security when the purpose was, around economic independence and you can have economic independence if you’re not safe.

With that in mind, you know, a lot of non-for-profits when you speak to them, I mean from a funder’s perspective and you asked them, is there someone counting for you?  And they say, we can’t afford that and my response is always how can you not, like how do you tell the story if you don’t have the data up?

So do you feel that there’s more and more demand from philanthropies for non-for-profits to find the data and tell the story through data or do you find less and do you feel like non-for-profits really had the bandwidth and the wherewithal to really respond to that?  And how do you think it’s impacting the funding for them to do the work?

PHILP:  So I was a funder before, working at Foundation Center and the approach that I tended to take is, you need to be collecting information that can inform program improvement and course correction. It’s your responsibility to try to figure out what you need to measure so that you serve those kids at the after school program in Chicago or you’re helping women find income-generating opportunities or so on.

And so I think some of the language of, evaluation can scare off some of the nonprofits, but if you can kind of simplify it, “what are you looking at?” so that you can serve who you’re trying to serve better, that kind of gets people on a path.  And funders who can think about this as a journey, that they’ve got a different groups that they’re supporting that are at all levels, some are sophisticated enough and have the people power and, can go into a robust situation where they really start prepping for an impact evaluation.

Others are going to be more in the counting phase and I think it’s our responsibility to help groups, you know, move along that journey toward more effectiveness.  In terms of timing or, or changes over time, I’ve been in this field for quite a while and I’d say that the pressure is growing for people to make the case about what they’re doing.  And again, that, that seems right to me.  If funders can accept evaluations or work that a nonprofit has done with another donor as opposed to creating another whole evaluation layer.  Like how can we leverage what evaluation work is happening so that people don’t have to do five different kinds of things for five different donors.

EGGLESTON:  I think that one of the things that set us apart from many in the philanthropy world is our heavy investment in measurement and evaluation.  You know, being a former ED of a non-for-profit and you actually being one of my funders back then, boy how the tables turn, huh?

We, as that size organization, we just did not have the resources and what people fail to know is that non- for-profits are a cash business and you know, the ED is so focused on paying the rent, the customer who walks directly through the door, you didn’t count them, you know, your goal was 10,000 people in 20,000 showed up, you don’t have the benefit to necessarily turn them away and freeze time although people think that non-for-profits do that they close the door five, “No, you can’t come in.”  It never happens.

And a lot of non-for-profits can’t report to you the aftermath, what happens?  We put a large investment in knowing what happens after.  We put a large investment and knowing about you when you came in and where we could take you to. If you had the value or put some kind of value added on Mr. Bloomberg’s choice to do that, what would that be?  What would you say about us? To other philanthropists the value of Bloomberg Philanthropy, collecting data to inform its work, what would that narrative sound like?

PHILP:  At Foundation Center we’ve been inspired by Bloomberg Philanthropies and your model, you know, data isn’t sexy to everybody, right?  And so we’ve been plugging away for decades cleaning and indexing and figuring out how to take compliance, document information and make it useful to all the people who are doing good in the world.  And so to have a donor like Mr. Bloomberg and a philanthropy that gets the importance of this stuff just feels very validating to all of us as we kind of do the work that we do day in and day out.

Our work with you all inspired some real innovative practices around data visualization.  So we have worked on mapping to take a kind of a database of useful information and bring it to life so that you can actually see that a grant that went to an organization in one location really was meant for another part of the world and how do you see that so that you see geographic area serve?  How do you see the constellation of relationships between nonprofits and donors?

So a lot of our work with Bloomberg Philanthropies has helped us take it to the next level on some of the projects that we’ve been doing.  We look forward to continuing to push the envelope on getting faster, better, more useful, great information for all the folks working in Africa, all the folks working in public health and ocean conservation, arts, education, cities, all of, all the places you work as well as all the places that are important to people striving in the sector.

EGGLESTON:  With the urgencies of issues that we see globally nowadays and everyone’s standing up to put a greater emphasis on the urgency of their issue.

How can we at Bloomberg Philanthropy leverage the information that we’ve gathered under the four pillars?

How do we leverage that or use it to engage other philanthropies? Is there a way for us to talk about in a different way that we get other donors excited about funding people to collect it so that we can see the need to move on these issues?

PHILP:  Well, you all have tremendous convening power and so, using that opportunity to share your best practices, encourage others to do the same.  There’s I think many possibilities around that kind of needed information exchange.  At Foundation Center, we’re starting to experiment with approaches were especially a large funder who works in multiple issues around a large geographic scope really starts to get their arms just around what they are doing on a day to day basis.  And then, can we pull in the fields data so that you can see your data in comparison in a dashboard kind of way?  Could you, you know, look at a particular community where your active and then quickly see the top five other funders that are working in that area, reports that were recently produced around evaluations around your issues, social media feeds and so on.

So I think there’s a whole way that we can explore looking at how do you look at your information in context and, really just kind of role model what it’s like to be a philanthropy such as yourself doing really good data on your own, encouraging it of your grantees and then how to put it all together so that you’re looking at it yourself for the best decision making that you can do.

OLIVER: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Follow the Data. We’d like to thank Lisa Philp for joining us to talk about philanthropic strategy.  To learn more about Equal Footing, visit equal-footing.org.

If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to our show and leave us a review or email us at followthedata@bloomberg.org to let us know what you’d like to hear from us. This episode was produced by Electra Colevas and Ivy Li with music by Mark Piro; special thanks to David Sucherman.

As our founder Mike Bloomberg says, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Until next time, keep following the data.