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The Missing Piece of the Puzzle – Using Data to Improve Funding Practice

Marie Curie once said, ‘’You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.’’

Data as a resource for better understanding the funding landscape

As human rights foundations strive to solve complex societal issues around the world through their grantmaking, analyzing data might just be the missing piece of the puzzle in improving funding practices, at the both individual and collective levels. Data allow foundation staff and individual grantmakers to gain insight into what is working, where improvements are needed, and where they fit within the field of human rights philanthropy in order to produce a greater impact.

Since 2010, when we partnered with the Human Rights Funders Network, Foundation Center, and Prospera – the International Network of Women’s Funds, Ariadne has used data as a resource for better understanding the funding landscape through the Advancing Human Rights initiative. This research offers a clear, unique overview of what is being funded, where grants go, how this support benefits the populations served, and with whom to partner. It identifies strengths and gaps in the field over time. It can simplify the day-to-day work of grants managers and inform grantmaking objectives across foundations.

In almost eight years of existence, the Advancing Human Rights tools have grown to include over 225,000 grants totalling over $17 billion. Over the period of our trends analysis, 2011-2015, there has been a 26% increase in the number of grants and 45% in total funding. It is important to note here that our analyses saw further increases, but much of that is due to more funders submitting data to the project through 2015 – a growing recognition of the value of sharing and analyzing data. For the trends analysis, the research looks at a consistent subset of 561 foundations included in each year of the research (2011-2015).

Identifying patterns and trends

Recognizing the value of perceiving the past through data, we at Ariadne also looked to the future, launching our first Forecast for Human Rights and Social Change Funders in 2015. This community-created resource, which included contributions from around 90 grantmakers based or funding in Europe, aims to help funders plan ahead by enabling them to see the big picture and discover new trends in both issues and grantmaking practice. The forecast looks at various trends, from global and European to country levels. Now, for the first time, we can see how the predictions played out: our field can actively hold up the trends of our future-looking Forecast to the data from the past.

According to the forecast, Ariadne members picked out two principal trends for 2015: the growth of alternative finance and the disabling environment for cross-border funding. The latter is a long-term trend, which Ariadne members saw as having the main impact on civil society in 2015, while alternative finance considers ways to sustain organizations’ work within this environment. Comparing these trends to the Advancing Human Rights data, nearly 14% of funding related to organizational capacity-building; groups working on civic and political participation received 8.5% of funding, over a third of which focused on advocacy and long-term systems reform.

In terms of issues, two trends identified by Forecast respondents were xenophobia and intolerance and groups at risk of being marginalized. The first was seen by funders as a main trend due to the increase in terrorist attacks and the second due to the rise in right-wing populism. The Advancing Human Rights data show that funders have recognized these trends for years: freedom from discrimination averaged 12% of all human rights funding from 2011-15. We dive deeper into these data in Seeking an Inclusive Europe: Foundation Grantmaking for Countering Ethnic and Religious Bias and Xenophobia.

Forecast predictions have also lined up with the trend analysis when looking at the funding for freedom of expression, LGBTI and reproductive rights, three other areas that Ariadne members highlighted as trends for 2015. The first two each accounted for 4% of the funding, while the third received 9%. All three have seen an increase in funding over the 2011-15 period; however, the portion of funding going to these areas still remained low. A factor for this could be that the number of funders supporting this work or sharing their data with us continues to be limited. Making the data available for this project is thus extremely important in order for the research to reflect the reality in the field.

Looking at populations, Ariadne members identified both women’s rights and children’s rights as neglected in 2014 but predicted center stage in 2015. Matching the predictions, women’s rights organizations grew from 20% of human rights funding in 2014 to 23% in 2015, while children’s rights organizations saw a 1% increase, from 20% to 21%. Interestingly, though funders see them as neglected, both groups received a higher percentage of funding than any other key population group throughout the 2011-15 period. One explanation could be that a considerable number of Ariadne members sharing data either focus on one of these population groups or integrate them into other areas of their work. They are, therefore, not only more likely to fund these populations but also more likely to recognize related gaps in the field. It could also be that some non-traditional rights funders have started working at the intersection of various issues, such as between environment or business with women’s or children’s rights, and this new money is being incorporated into the research.

Why share data?

This brief overview shows us how data allows us to identify patterns and trends and provides evidence to confirm or challenge our perceptions. By sharing your grants data, you help us create a clear overview of the funding flow. You can make sure that grants continue to go to where they are needed most and that none of the areas most important to you are overlooked.

At Ariadne, we are committed to using data to expand the understanding and impact of global human rights funding. We have recently embarked on a new project with 360Giving and The Engine Room to create a decision-making framework for funders to improve data-sharing practices. The project aims to address perceived risks around sharing grants data and establish processes to diminish those risks in order to support the whole grantmaking sector to improve how it collects and shares data. The project is supported by Digital Impact, part of the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University. We aim to launch the resource in summer 2018.

Sharing data in a structured way allows for funder collaborations to emerge—between governments, international institutions or diverse types of donors—around issues that otherwise responsive grantmaking is not able to reach. Data can inform decision-making and help us advocate for more and strategic funding in the human rights sector. As funders use data to improve themselves, the field becomes stronger, and we get a step closer to building Marie Curie’s better world.

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