Innovations in Data and Knowledge Sharing: East African Philanthropy Leads the Way

East African philanthropy is at a tipping point, and philanthropists around the world should be watching what comes next.

There is a dire need for data and knowledge on and for philanthropy in East African countries which—like other regions and countries around the world—lack central repositories of information on philanthropic activities. Data and knowledge are crucial ingredients to building a strong philanthropy sector, not only in highlighting its contribution to national development, but as a tool to facilitate strategic collaboration and evidence-based decision making. Take water—UN member states have committed to achieving universal access to water by 2030, which means we have 13 years to provide safe and affordable drinking water to the 663 million people who currently lack access. How do we know which foundations in East Africa are supporting that cause and in what ways? How do we know how that support compares to government spending or international aid? Without that data we can never hope to identify existing gaps and opportunities to achieve more effective development outcomes.

Leading African philanthropists, foundations and philanthropic associations have been working for years to develop a culture of data and knowledge sharing, and this investment is starting to pay off.

To implement the next step in a Data Strategy and Capacity Building program partnership, I recently spent two weeks meeting with philanthropists and social sector leaders in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and a picture emerged of a region ready to build on the value and currency of data.

I’ll share three examples of the emerging culture of data and knowledge sharing that should excite anyone who wants to understand the impact of philanthropy.

First, Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) has launched an interactive map detailing information on who is funding what, where in Kenya. The map allows you to explore grants by geographic area and programmatic focus, lending visibility to organizations like Makutano Community Development Association (MCDA), which is combating drought and food insecurity in Yatta District by building a water-harvesting system using a combination of local and external resources. Funding programs that combine local and external resource mobilization is integral to KCDF’s model of promoting sustainable and community development. Getting local organizations ‘on the map’ is a crucial part of that model: if local communities are to lead the development process, their efforts must be counted and made visible to show their contribution to national development outcomes.

Second, the East Africa Association of Grantmakers (EAAG) is bringing data to the fore of its programming in a way that is unprecedented in most of the world. EAAG is addressing core data and knowledge gaps by mapping giving patterns and providing analyses of the legal environment for philanthropy in the region. By bringing together trusts and foundations from across the region and facilitating the creation of national philanthropy forums in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, they have provided mechanisms for knowledge sharing and strategic collaboration, and platforms to promote indigenous philanthropy. The Kenya Philanthropy Forum has reached a membership of more than 80 local foundations and trusts and is leveraging data to engage with the government. The 2012 East Africa Giving Survey by EAAG found that the education sector benefited the most from local grantmaking compared to other sectors, receiving 24% of total funds. Informed by this finding, the Kenya Philanthropy Forum launched a collaborative with the Ministry of Education to accelerate progress toward national education objectives, recognizing philanthropy’s contribution.

Third, Foundation Center is working with EAAG and the National Philanthropy Forums in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to develop and implement locally led data strategies to capture and tell the story of the impact of philanthropy. During the first phase of the program, our colleagues in the region identified specific data needs and challenges, and have since taken steps to address them, most importantly by committing to share data amongst themselves through a philanthropy data portal. During a workshop in Kenya in April, we started developing a prototype data portal detailing which data to include and how the data will be structured. In the next phase, Foundation Center will provide technical capacity building support as needed to ensure sustainable management of the portal at the local level. This marks a crucial turning point in a region where foundations have traditionally been reluctant to share information widely, due to a relationship between civil society and government marked by suspicion and low levels of trust. Having national philanthropy data portals – and eventually sharing the data beyond the participating trusts and foundations - will undoubtedly allow the sector to partner more effectively, and to demonstrate its impact and contribution to development in the region.

So, what can philanthropists in other countries and regions learn from the experience in East Africa?

  • Find the right partners. Facilitating and sustaining strategic collaboration on data and knowledge sharing can only be achieved by tapping into existing communities of practice. Partnering with EAAG, which is rooted in key local philanthropic networks, has been instrumental to the process.
  • Collectively define a value proposition. Build in time and effort early on to define a shared understanding of the value of sharing data and knowledge. This effort pays off as it is essential to making sure all stakeholders are invested in the process.
  • Make a long-term commitment. We won’t be able to paint the picture of philanthropy’s global impact by painting in swift and broad brush-strokes. Deciding to share information requires trust and courage, and strategic collaboration on data and knowledge has to be developed incrementally and by taking a long-term perspective.

We look forward to continuing this work with our partners at the EAAG, the Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda Philanthropy Platforms, The Kenya Community Development Foundation, Independent Development Fund (IDF), DENIVA, and The Foundation for Civil Society.

For a local perspective on the most pressing issues for philanthropy in East Africa, watch this short video blog featuring our colleague Catherine Mwendwa with EAAG.

To learn more about our data strategy and capacity building work in East Africa, click here!

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