Follow the Numbers: A Deep-Pocketed Funder Brings More Data to NGOs in Africa

Post-conflict countries can, and often do, remain in disarray long after the bullets stop flying. NGOs working in these regions attempting to get resources to where they’re needed are often met with a severe lack of data. Meaning, they don’t know who, what, and how much money is going where.

Bloomberg Philanthropies came upon this exact scenario a couple of years back when it met with key stakeholders including NGOs, foundations, and government in an attempt to create a comprehensive plan to secure “women’s economic development and political citizenship” in the African countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The meeting was a bust. It wasn’t for lack of trying on the participants’ part, the meeting lasted two days. It was a bust due to the lack of available data about how much funding coming in, where it was going, and what programs and approaches were working.

The solution was clear: In order to map out a comprehensive blueprint for women’s economic development and political citizenship, they needed more data. But data at the time was difficult to come by. So, last year, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the King Baudouin Foundation hooked up with Foundation Center to create Equal Footing, which is described as a “freely accessible web portal for information-sharing and collaboration among those who invest in work in Rwanda, DRC, and Burundi.” Last month, the website went live. 

If there’s one thing that we know about Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropy it's that he and his team loves data. Just last year Bloomberg Philanthropies partnered with the Australian government for the Data Health Initiative in an effort to determine the cause of death for the estimated 35 million people whose deaths go unrecorded. Bloomberg is expected to sink $100 million into the project. So, backing a website like Equal Footing fits a larger pattern. 

Related: Leverage: How Mike Bloomberg Thinks About Philanthropy

Equal Footing offers detailed funding information, research, and case studies enabling users to see what projects are currently underway, what’s being funded, what needs more funding, and what approaches and projects are having a measurable impact. The website is concentrating its data in to funders supporting projects related to agricultural technology, business and entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, information and communications technology, interpersonal training and networking, land and property rights, and vocational training.

“Without good data,” Bloomberg said in a press release, “non-profits don’t know how to best target their resources and they can’t measure what working.” Equal Footing, he said, will not only ensure that funds will be directed to “where it is needed most,” but it will also “point the way to new opportunities for collaboration.”

Equal Footing has more than 1,000 foundation and NGO profiles, an interactive map in which you can get detailed information regarding grant amounts and projects, and loads of research, case studies, and visual tools to help funders gain a better understanding of some pretty complex subjects. Equal Footing arms funders both large and small with the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed grantmaking decisions, making it more possible for their support to have a greater impact. Not only that, but it also helps them steer clear of approaches that may already have adequate funding or backers.

The launch of Equal Footing adds to Bloomberg’s growing work for women in post-conflict countries in Africa, focusing on the sub-Saharan region. Since 2008, the foundation has worked with a number of key partners such as Women for Women International to provide training and education programs to increase women’s economic opportunities and empowerment.

Bloomberg also recently announced a $10 million investment to expand Women’s Economic Development program in Rwanda and DRC. The grant was awarded to the Relationship Coffee Institute and will go toward the training and market access programs to improve the livelihoods of Rwandan women and coffee farmers.

Related: One Other Little Item on Bloomberg’s Agenda: Empowering African Women

According to Equal Footing, having invested over $33 million, Bloomberg is a top funder across all of the funding priorities the website tracks. Gates, unsurprisingly, takes the top spot with nearly $500 million in grants awarded, followed by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation at over $77 million in grants.