Open data push aims to maximise philanthropy

Online portal hopes funding map for water and sanitation sector will allow users to see where money is going and gaps - and overlaps - in support

Online portal is deploying open data to help philanthropists gain greater insight to the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector.

Aimed at donors, but free for all to use, the site is intended to increase awareness of WASH issues, while promoting collaboration and strategic decisionmaking. WASHfunders aggregates data, research and other information on the WASH sector from 17 different sources.

“Before WASHfunders people would have to go to a lot of different sites to get the information they needed - World Bank, WHO, UN and other different non-profits and research organisations,” said Seema Shah, director of research for Special Projects at the Foundation Center, a US-based philanthropy think-tank, and lead on the project. “One of the things we've done is aggregate a lot of the content that exists in the field, so that philanthropists have access to that information at their finger tips. I think we’ve been able to create some efficiencies in terms of how folks access data related to WASH.”

An initial funding grant from the Hilton Foundation was renewed for three years, with the project also receiving matching funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Howard Buffett Foundation.

“One of the things that foundations don’t often know is what their peers are doing, so they tend to work in silos,” said Shah. “The data we have on WASHfunders allows a foundation working in Kenya for example, and considering funding projects in Kenya, to click on the country to see who's there and what they are doing.

“Hopefully that will help minimise the duplication of effort. There are limited dollars out there, so it is important to think about how they are leveraged to get the greatest impact.”

The other significant contribution the site has made to the field is in the form of its funding map. This allows users to see where funding is going and what kind of projects are being supported.

Importantly the site also includes data covering bilateral and multilateral funding, so the foundation funding can be seen in the context of all aid. The idea, said Shah, was to give people a more comprehensive picture of what the funding streams are and where they fit into that larger picture.

“We have the contextual data on there too, so you can see what percentage of people have access to clean water and what percentage have access to decent sanitation, so you get a sense of the need as well,” said Shah. “Our role is to put the data out there, so people can use it in the ways that make sense for them.” was named as a leading example of the benefits of open data in action, in the 10 Innovations in Global Philanthropy report, released in October. The report, published by New Philanthropy Capital, cites the organisation as a great example of what it says is a key philanthropy trend.

“We would like to see initiatives like replicated across other sectors,” said the report. “We would also like manipulable datasets of charity details and foundations’ grants available to scrutinise and analyse, providing philanthropists with better information on which to base decisions.

“Open data provides vast amounts of material that can be analysed and interpreted in countless ways, offering new information to philanthropists to inform their giving.”

Photo credit: WashFunders