I’m a big fan of the annual report, both as a tool to communicate an organization’s work and as an opportunity to reflect on progress, obstacles, and changes in order to become more effective. If you’re interested in civil society as a third sector that addresses important issues which are ignored by government and the private sector, then I highly recommend taking some time to read the 2011 annual reports of Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Avina Foundation. If you’re like me, having read through all these annual reports, you’ll be impressed by the amount of money that private foundations disburse each year, the wide range of issues that they work on, and some of the seemingly intractable obstacles that stand in the way of their goals.
At Omidyar Network we haven’t yet issued an annual report, but we have made some important advances in how we communicate our work. Earlier this year Pam and Pierre Omidyar launched the Omidyar Group website that describes their values and various philanthropic initiatives.
Progress, not perfection. Change, not certainty. Impact, not idealism. Complex problems defy simple solutions. For every issue we focus on, we come to the table with specific goals but without preconceived notions about how to best achieve them. Our approach relies on experimentation, iteration and constant learning. We recognize the constant change in the world around us. So our efforts often begin by working to understand the context of a given challenge within its larger system. We then identify the levers and channels within these systems that present the best opportunities for change, while being mindful of both the intended and unintended consequences of our actions.
We also published our first major contribution of thought leadership in the field of “impact investing.” (For-profit investments in companies that aim to bring about positive social change at scale.) Co-authors Matt Bannick and Paula Goldman argue that impact investing should focus on building innovative new sectors, rather than just investing in high-return individual companies. For example, rather than investing in just one solar lantern company such as d.light, we should focus on “accelerating an entire solar lantern industry.” You can read their six-part blog series at SSIR. (At some point I hope to offer my own thoughts about a sector-based approach to impact investing and how it relates to our work in government transparency.)
We also have an archive of press releases and related news articles that you can subscribe to, and a very active Twitter account.
Government Transparency in Latin America
The rest of this blog post is my own personal attempt at a mini-annual report to reflect on our government transparency work in Latin America over the past year and our plans for the coming year. I’ll start by describing our strategy, then reflect on the progress of our portfolio, and then offer some thoughts about our plans for the next year.
I published a first iteration of our strategy for government transparency in Latin America in September. The strategy has three main areas of focus:
- Support research and working groups that contribute to the development of open data standards for cities based on the needs of their residents.
- Support the replicability of civic apps that deliver contextualized data about the responsibilities and performance of public services in addition to supporting innovative journalism that recognizes effective governance and penalizes ineffective governance.
- Contribute to the formation of a regional Open Cities Alliance modeled after the Open Government Partnership to 1) establish minimal requirements of openness from cities to join, 2) enable reformists from city governments to make commitments that advance greater openness, 3) position civil society organizations to monitor the implementation of those commitments, and 4) provide entrepreneurs with access to more public information to feed greater innovation and inform smarter urban planning.
We have yet to do much in the first focus area, though we plan on working much more closely with the Open Data for Development initiative next year, starting with a January 9 meeting in Santiago on open data and inclusion.
We funded three groups to support the replicability of civic apps in 2011. We gave IMCO support to increase the functionality and to scale up the impact of Compara Tu Escuela. We gave Cidade Democratica a three-year grant to implement their digital city platform in more Brazilian cities. And we gave support to Ciudad Movil DF to encourage the creation of new mobile apps to be adopted by agencies of Mexico City’s government. We have yet to support much data-driven investigative journalism, but that will likely soon change. Next year we will also support many more early-stage civic apps through a “Civic Innovation Acceleration Fund” that will be managed by Avina Foundation.
The third area of focus is the most defined, but also requires the greatest collective effort. A group of directors of open data initiatives at the city level throughout Latin America was convened during the Digital Cities Summit in Buenos Aires in October. We are now connected on a Google Group where there has been some ongoing communication, and we hope to meet again in 2013. The successful launch of such an alliance will probably depend on a dedicated organization to take charge of logistics as well as the involvement of an influential public figure.
We are just beginning to execute on our strategy to advance open government in Latin American cities, but what is most important is that we actually have a concrete strategy in place and that there is an emerging community of actors that are increasingly focused on open government in Latin American cities. I continue to keep my eyes on the Rockefeller Foundation’s Informal City Dialogues, Urb.im’s work in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, Avina Foundation’s Network for Sustainable Cities, Living Cities, CityMart, and other groups that I have yet to even learn about.
In 2012 I was involved in the realization of seven grants totaling $3.73 million. You can learn more about each individual grant, including its context, goals and metrics, by clicking on the links below. I will publish more information about the Civic Innovation Acceleration Fund at the beginning of next year.
- Regional OGP Meeting – $25,000
- WeGov – $175,000
- Opening Parliament – $68,385
- IMCO – $900,000
- Ciudad Movil DF – $40,000
- Cidade Democratica – $202,500
- Civic Innovation Acceleration Fund with Avina Foundation – $2,321,164
An eighth organization should be added to my portfolio; I took over management of our relationship with Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente from my colleague Stacy Donohue. We gave Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente a grant of up to $500,000 over three years in November 2011.
Both WeGov by Personal Democracy Forum and Opening Parliament, a coalition led by NDI, Sunlight Foundation, and the Latin American Legislative Network, fall outside of our regional strategy for Latin America, but both are aligned with our global government transparency strategy.
Our small grant to support a regional OGP meeting in Mexico City in May helped create more awareness among Latin American transparency organizations about the Open Government Partnership, and led to more related documentation in Spanish thanks to the excellent blogging of Emilene Martinez. Most recently she published a summary of the results of Mexico’s participation in the OGP. Emilene now works directly with Paul Massen to strengthen civil society’s participation in the OGP globally.
Our grant to IMCO was for institutional support, recognizing the importance of all the work they do to further transparency in Mexico, though it drew special recognition to the further development and impact of Compara Tu Escuela. So far IMCO has done a great job building alliances with other actors in the educational advocacy sector, such as Mexicanos Primero, to ensure that the platform is widely used and distributed once it re-launches. However, they are behind on many of their social impact metrics for the first year. IMCO now hopes to re-launch the platform in June 2013 to coincide with the start of the new school calendar year. Meanwhile, they have become an important thought partner in our work on strengthening civic participation in cities with the launch of their third annual urban competitiveness index and their municipal transparency platform, in partnership with Global Integrity.
Ciudad Movil DF convened 180 mobile app developers that led to the development of 42 mobile applications using 10 datasets from seven different city government agencies. Half of our grant was meant to support the hackathon itself, while the other half was meant to bring down CTOs from other cities to engage with decision makers from the Mexico City government in order to open their eyes to the possibilities of applying civic technologies to strengthen citizen participation and government efficiency. The hackathon was undoubtedly a success, leading the creation of many of the apps that are showcased on Mexico City’s open data portal, however the exchange between city CTOs and Mexico City decision makers left much to be desired. I learned an important lesson; namely to support dynamic leaders to carry out what they are best at without forcing them to add activities that are not necessarily suited to their skill set.
Our grant to Cidade Democratica was too recent to reflect on its progress. I will write more about both Cidade Democratica and the Civic Innovation Acceleration Fund with Avina Foundation in the first quarter of next year.
One aspect about Omidyar Network’s philanthropic approach that differs from many other private funders is that we are encouraged to participate on the boards of our grantee organizations. In 2011 I joined the board of both the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness and Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente. Unrelated to my work at Omidyar Network, I also joined the board of Alternativas y Capacidades, an organization dedicated to strengthening the social sector in Mexico. These three responsibilities have taken up a considerable amount of time, but they’ve also been instrumental in helping me understand the importance of getting the right structure and incentives in place for an organization to achieve its mission. I am grateful to all three organizations for entrusting my participation in their governance, when I surely have much more to gain than they do.
Looking forward to 2013, I hope to:
- Continue to work toward strengthening the collaboration among transparency donors in Latin America including Hewlett Foundation, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Avina Foundation, the World Bank, NED, HIVOS, the Inter-American Development Bank, USAID, DFID, SIDA and others. Representatives from many of those foundations participate in an hour-long conference call every two months, but in 2013 we hope to also do more co-funding and co-evaluation of interventions.
- Build stronger relationships with relevant government officials, building on our existing relationships with civil servants in the city governments of Buenos Aires, Lima, Montevideo, Medellín, and Mexico City.
- More support of early stage civic applications that empower citizens to monitor the performance of public services and government bodies through the Civic Innovation Acceleration Fund led by Avina Foundation.
- More support of media projects that use data-driven journalism to hold government agencies to account and to inform citizens.
- A tighter focus on executing the three pillars of our strategy for the region, and more resources dedicated to evaluating our progress and the progress of our partners.
I’m a strong believer that philanthropy is most effective when it is informed by the input and feedback of civil society, government officials, and everyday citizens. If you have any questions, doubts, or suggestions as to how we can be more effective, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or by writing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.