Original language of this article: English

The 21st century has become a data-driven era, with the volume of data increasing exponentially and philanthropy is not exempt from this movement. On the one hand, there is growing demand for open, reliable and comparable data on philanthropic giving. On the other, philanthropic organisations stand to gain greatly by using data-driven strategies, provided they can put these into place.

A large quantity of data today is owned by private companies, easily collected through smartphones and online. There is currently some discussion among data companies about “data philanthropy”, i.e. making available data free of charge to philanthropic organisations. The Milken Institute suggests that: “The goal should be for companies to share their data in ways that protect both privacy and corporate competitiveness, while allowing researchers to extract predictive insights for global development, crisis prevention, and peace. These partnerships, examples of which include mobile operators, banks, retail chains, and social media platforms, are based on sound due diligence processes, data protection and privacy guidelines, and codes of ethics around data sharing, access, and responsible use.” [1]

Data enables philanthropic organisations to better understand the needs of their beneficiaries, implement more effective interventions and improve impact assessment. [2] Value and outcomes are generated by transforming data into information and insights. According to one study (Bixler P et al) “The role of data in philanthropy is threefold: data for informing, data for social learning, and data for emergence. Within these three broad functions, [there are] five touchpoints where data can deliver insights to philanthropic decision-making: need identification, fund programs, fund research, evaluation and learning, and measuring community impact.” [3]

Detailed data enables insights into specific situations such as disparities in education, gender equity, access to nutrition, health care, which can guide philanthropic endeavours in developing programmes and projects. At the same time, philanthropists, like others, need to be acutely aware of the possible infringements upon privacy and even possibly individual security. As data becomes more and more granular, and public, it may put more people at threat.

More to the point for philanthropists, the wealth of data available can be daunting, particularly if the need for data has not been clearly identified. Data is abandoned when it is not correlated with organisational goals and programmatic theories of change. This is a great waste of resources, as improved impact can be seen when insightful data is used.

As countries develop their technological infrastructure and the cost of technologies drop, philanthropy should find increasing benefit to using data to promote social good and lasting change. Philanthropy also needs to mobilise the large data-driven companies to contribute more data to doing public good. It is through such collaborations that companies will increase their global citizenship and philanthropy will be more efficient.

The DAS in Strategic and operational philanthropy offered by University of Geneva addresses this crucial topic in order to equip practitioners to use data ethically for action and for impact.

1 https://milkeninstitute.org/article/power-data-philanthropy
2 https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/How-philanthropists-can-harness-data-to-make-the-world-a-better-place/
3 https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1415&context=tfr

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