Last Thursday, May 23rd, we were at the Annual Forum of the European Foundation Center in Paris, an edition that promoted French values under the banner of « Liberty, Equality, Philanthropy… ». The opportunity for the 800 participants representing foundations from all over Europe to discover the specificities and philanthropic commitments of France with the Fondation de France, Fondation La France s’engage , Schneider Electric and Accenture.
At the end of the day, a central theme for the patronage sector was brilliantly debated. Report and perspectives of this late afternoon on « Data and Philanthropy », whose central issue was: « How can philanthropy have a systemic, rather than an occasional, impact through data? »
We, along with Generation2 – Connection Philanthropy collaboration, offer here a sum up of the discussion and concrete illustration from our ecosystem.

This paper has initially been published in French on Carenews.


The different uses of data in philanthropy

Stefaan Verhulst, co-founder and director of research and development at GovLab, introduced the debate with a very precise taxonomy, highlighting how data collection and analysis can help develop philanthropy.

1. Datas as an asset for philanthropy: Datas can become a useful tool for the continuous improvement of philanthropy, which will allow for better analysis of needs, and adaptation of responses and solutions, as well as improved impact assessment. Wenabi, the first platform to simplify companies’ social commitment, mobilize their employees and effectively measure the impact of the solidarity actions carried out, illustrates this well. This platform also proposes to measure and evaluate the impact of companies, in particular through an integrated reporting tool, in order to monitor all the actions carried out and to measure their impact on employees and beneficiary associations.

2. Datas as a financing compass: they allow funds to be better directed. For example, philanthropy can invest in the digital transition of the non-profit sector (data ventures). On the condition, of course, that you equip yourself with tools that facilitate the management, analysis and selection of incoming projects. The Optimy tool (Belgium) has made it possible to transform the cumbersome process of calls for foundation projects, which has thus gained in transparency and efficiency. But data sharing between foundations, provided that the GDPR is respected, could go further. In addition, digital technology can lead a prospective action, like chatbots philanthropy advisors, as is the case for the association 30 Million d’Amis, which offers a chatbot providing advice to pet owners in the summer period, in order to limit the risk of abandonment. Another example is Alexa, the Amazon compound, which, for the American Red Nose Day, encouraged people to give, which is a real novelty.

3. Data as a tool for advocacy and activism: the analysis of global and shared data can also help to develop arguments and lead collective movements. Major online petition platforms such as Change.org and Avaaz have launched the movement, but the media are also beginning to associate storytelling with call to actions, such as Konbini and her latest collaboration with the media France inter around the day « Plastic, no thank you ». According to Stefaan Verhulst, many foundations are investing in this transition, and more and more are using data to guide their strategy.

4. Data as a political vision: Philanthropy is expected to play an increasing role in the development of public policies regarding data. This is the case of Bayes Impact, which is now campaigning for the establishment of a Citizen Public Service. This initiative has led to the establishment of public/private collaboration in the provision of data that are useful for social innovation projects of citizens who so wish.

A call for the creation of new institutional forms

Lucy Bernholz of the Digital Civil Society Lab did not fail to point out the dangers of using data on the four fields mentioned. It is necessary to ask who governs this data and how. One of the solutions mentioned to deal with these dangers involves the creation of new institutional forms that are external to companies but also to governments. « Philanthropy must invest and create these institutions, otherwise they will be invented without us, » warned Lucy Bernholz. Rhodri Davies, Head of Policy and Program Director of the British think tank Giving Thought, predicts that the impact of technology on fundraising will be global, and will change the « where », the « how » but also the « what » we give. In particular, it highlights a disintermediation of the historical actors, and a move towards « platformisation », i.e. the growing role of platforms such as Facebook or Instagram in this field. Richard Benjamins, Chief Data Officer of Telefonica, provided an external perspective to the sector. According to him, « to have a real impact on our societies through data, we need sustainable business models.

Philanthropy is not enough.

 » It is therefore necessary to question the very foundations of data exploitation. Philanthropy alone will not solve a structural problem, but it must play a role as a catalyst for social innovation, as a venture capitalist with monitoring tools to scale up. The importance of awareness and education on these issues Anne Bouverot, founder of the Abeona Foundation (under the aegis of the Fondation de France) and holder of a doctorate in artificial intelligence, stressed the importance of raising individuals’ awareness of the needs of the nonprofit sector. She sees this as a new role for foundations. The key to development lies in multi-stakeholder collaboration. « If you really want to make a difference, you need to reach a significant number of people. …] It will be difficult for a company to do this on a large scale without it being perceived as a personal interest. » But how can we accelerate this movement?

One of the ideas developed is to make the talents of companies and students available in probono for companies. The role of education in this process was also highlighted by Anne Bouverot: « We must ensure that we reach the people who will become the future engineers and data coders. » New collaborative tools for managing philanthropy in companies such as the Platform for Solidarity Commitment of microDon, Wenabi or MyCrowdcompany which offers platform-based engagement devices within companies, to allow better management of the efforts of. It is an innovative solution to bring together all the monetary and time donation mechanisms, a single location to understand the solidarity offer proposed by the company and its meaning. This simple and attractive tool makes philanthropy much more accessible in companies, thanks to data. Activism and the proposal of alternative models will also be fundamental to truly include civil society in this area.

For Lucy Bernholz, the non-profit sector and philanthropy must stand as ramparts protecting the common good, and become essential interlocutors. A question of responsibility To meet today’s major challenges, it is necessary to reinvent current models, explained Lucy Bernholz. In particular, she suggested that the next step should be the establishment of a digital policy agenda. « The British Parliament, American representatives and large companies must commit to sharing their data, it is part of their responsibility. « Democracies are at risk if we do not learn to collaborate and cross-reference the visions of the different actors.

Thinking about new ways of collaborating with civil society, which are more user-centred, is therefore necessary. A real challenge of democratization and accessibility of data is revealed. For Alberto Alemanno, founder and director of The Good Lobby, the establishment of legal frameworks is essential. He explained that « To permanently unlock privately held data, the private and public sectors must understand each other, harmonize their expectations and ensure that the respective benefits are understood and accessible to all. It is a shared responsibility[…] to share it with as many people as possible, not a minority. » This is one of the objectives of the SDG philanthropy platform, an inter-foundation collaborative model that provides data sharing on philanthropic efforts and data visualization related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and its 169 « targets », implemented in 2015 after a major multi-stakeholder consultation to collectively focus efforts on social and climate emergencies.

Despite the many challenges and obstacles ahead, the session ended on a note of hope. Speakers highlighted a growing sense of responsibility for data and its use: « Increasingly, we are asking about the impact, regardless of algorithms. There is a whole movement to be responsible, » said Richard Benjamin. « There are now leaders in this movement. It is up to European foundations to seize the superpowers of technology to build a virtuous model of collective intelligence around Big Data and artificial intelligence and strengthen the impact and growth of philanthropy in the old continent.
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