Interoperability Judo in the Aid Sector

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Photo Courtesy of Yayasan Damai Olahraga Bali

Ten years ago I nearly set an Italian hotel on fire. I’d plugged an American fan into a European electrical socket, and after about 30 seconds I had a shower of sparks landing on the curtains. What I’d forgotten to account for, of course, was the difference between the 120 volt standard that the fan was expecting and the 240 volts that the outlet was producing. Just because the connection worked physically didn’t mean it would work practically. Contrast this with last month, when I’d brought my laptop and charger on a trip to India but again forgot a power converter. Thankfully, Apple has an elegant solution to the problem of different electrical standards. Rather than trying to convince every country to use the same voltage in its wall sockets, they’ve just built a charger that can handle a range of inputs. They accept the complexity that happens when large groups of people try to collaborate and work with it, not against it. They’ve taken an obstacle and turned it into an opportunity. It’s design judo.

When it comes to financial flows in the aid sector, standards are more complicated than deciding what plug to use. With so many governments, organizations, and companies sending billions of dollars to support global development, communicating the details of these relationships and transactions in a shared framework becomes a herculean task. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) has made progress in establishing a standard for the sector to describe funding and implementing relationships consistently. The list of 480+ entities that publish IATI-compliant data understates the standard’s reach. Most of the 29 member countries of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) report IATI data about their aid spending, and the funds sent by these governments represent about 95% of total DAC expenditures. It’s hard to estimate an exact number, but it’s safe to say that the IATI standard describes a significant majority of the world’s aid dollars.

Still, there are some challenges to using IATI-compliant data to get a precise understanding of how the aid sector is actually organized. Despite IATI’s thoroughness, organizations still interpret the requirements differently, leading to the same data fields containing multiple types of information. This can make seemingly simple tasks, like identifying a unique organization consistently, very difficult in practice. Similarly, there aren’t strict validations or requirements preventing organizations from omitting data or inadvertently hiding important outcome data in a pages-long list of transactions. Organizations that don’t share their data are left out entirely, even if they’re mentioned frequently by organizations that do report. All this can make it hard for aid professionals like funders, program implementers, or researchers to extract useful conclusions from IATI data.

So what should the sector do about this? One approach might be to double-down on the rules associated with our data standards and try to force everyone to provide clear, accessible, and organized data. This would be similar to convincing all countries to share the same voltage standard; it’s not a practical option. The alternative is the judo method: work with the challenges inherent in the IATI standard instead of trying to regulate them away. Some friends and I recently tried to do just that as our capstone project for the UC Berkeley Masters of Information and Data Science degree.

The end result is AidSight, a platform that provides easy-to-use tools for the aid sector to search IATI data, explore relationships between organizations (including those that don’t report their data directly), and validate the likely usefulness of their results. For example, imagine you’re an aid agency that needs to report on the current state of the water sector in Ghana. First, AidSight enables you to query all IATI data in plain english instead of a complex requiring search interface or a code-heavy API call. Your results appear as network diagram that maps the relationships between the organizations that meet your search criteria, whether they report to the IATI standard or not. Here’s our result for the Ghanian water sector – note that we’re mapping the just the organizations and relationships, not their real-world locations or relative sizes:

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The green dots represent organizations that report data to IATI directly, the red dots are organizations that are implied in the data that other organizations report, and the width of the lines connecting them indicates the strength of the relationship. This approach takes the data reported by 484 organizations and turns it into results for tens of thousands. In this example, there are two “hubs” of reporting organizations on the right side of the map that work with 5-7 non-reporting organizations at varying levels of connection. In contrast, there’s another hub organization (GlobalGiving itself) towards the bottom left that works with many more organizations, but in the same way with all of them. Using this method, users are quickly able to spot the key players in any sector and explore the strength of their collaborations instantly.

Understanding these connections is important, but what if the report needs more granular results? Before downloading and analyzing the raw data, you’d want to know if you’re likely to be able to draw meaningful conclusions from the results we’ve found. To make this easy, AidSight contains a data quality dashboard that uses heuristics to estimate how useful each organization’s data is likely to be and summarizes it with a simple letter grade.

Example AidSight Data Quality Dashboard

Now, anyone at an aid agency can measure IATI data quality with a few clicks and save their data science teams to focus on only the most useful datasets. We can also use this approach to establish valuable benchmarks for the aid sector as a whole. The average grade of C- suggests that there’s lots to be done to improve the quality of development data reporting, but having a framework to measure progress makes it possible to consider how we might get there.

Currently, AidSight is a minimum viable product, so there are many improvements to make. Still, solutions that focus on data interoperability without trying to fight the natural complexity of the aid sector represent exciting opportunities for us to bring enhanced accessibility and understanding to our work in a democratic way. Taking the judo approach to development data means that a growing number of inventive, creative, and driven users will be able to discover new solutions to the aid world’s challenges.


Special thanks to the other members of the AidSight team: Natarajan Krishnaswami, Minhchau Dang, and Glenn Dunmire, as well as Marc Maxmeister for his feedback on this work. Explore IATI data yourself at aidsight.org or download the open source code on Github.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to #MatchAMillion dollars on #GivingTuesday!

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will #MatchAMillion with GlobalGiving on #GivingTuesday! All donations matched at 50% up to $1,000 per donor per organization while matching funds last.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will #MatchAMillion with GlobalGiving on #GivingTuesday! All donations matched at 50% up to $1,000 per donor per organization while matching funds last.

Big news! The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has generously offered to match $1 million in donations on GlobalGiving this #GivingTuesday! Beginning at 00:00:01 EST on Tuesday, November 29, 2016, all donations on GlobalGiving.org will be matched at 50% (up to $1,000 per donor, per nonprofit) while the #MatchAMillion funds last. (Full details here.)

Join the Movement!
After Thanksgiving (in the U.S.), following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday is a global movement that kicks off the giving season with charity and gratitude. Since 2012 #GivingTuesday has engaged hundreds of thousands of donors giving to tens of thousands of nonprofits. Whole Whale predicts that donors will give a collective $200 million or more on #GivingTuesday this year!

Don’t Miss Out!
This is an opportunity to increase your impact on one of thousands of earth-changing projects around the globe on #GivingTuesday. Whether you’re passionate about supporting Syrian Refugees or protecting the environment, all donations on GlobalGiving are tax-deductible for U.S. donors. Take a moment to consider your end-of-year giving goals now, and set a calendar reminder for early on November 29 so your donations will be matched!

Spread the Word!
Help us get the word out about the biggest matching opportunity ever available on GlobalGiving! Share this post on social media, or write your own post linking to your favorite project!

This #GivingTuesday, @GlobalGiving & @gatesfoundation will #MatchAMillion in donations to projects in 160 countries! http://bit.ly/matchamillion

Grantee Spotlight: Range of Motion Project

The TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation partners with GlobalGiving in awarding grants to organizations that  relieve the suffering of people around the world.

Fabiola consults with Breyner about the fit of his prosthesis

Breyner’s path to mobility

Fabiola, a prosthetic technician for Range of Motion Project (ROMP), welcomes Breyner with a warm smile as he walks through the doors. A year prior, seven-year-old Breyner’s leg had been removed during his battle with cancer. Breyner and his mother Gabriela had made the two and a half hour trip to ROMP three months earlier after hearing that the organization provides free prostheses to children in need. For three months, Breyner used the prosthetic leg provided by ROMP to walk, run and jump. But as Breyner continued to grow, his prosthesis became uncomfortable, and he was forced to begin using crutches again to help with his mobility.

Fabiola measures Breyner and finds he has grown two centimeters in the last three months. His prosthesis will need to be lengthened slightly to enable him to walk comfortably again. Carlos, a prosthetic assistant, adjusts Breyner’s prosthesis in the ROMP workshop, changing out the rod that serves as Breyner’s lower leg for a slightly longer one. With his newly adjusted prosthesis, Breyner strolls confidently through the parallel bars and proudly shows off his mobility for the ROMP team.

TripAdvisor employee engagement: the beginning of a partnership

Though Breyner and his mother had to travel long distances to receive help from ROMP, the time investment came with a significant reward—realization of Breyner’s potential for mobility.

Patrick Mathay, former TripAdvisor Team Lead for Owner Support, also invested heavily in ROMP, though in a different way. In 2009, Patrick began volunteering with ROMP, conducting effectiveness surveys and providing fundraising support. During that time, he met patients like Breyner, whose lives have been altered by ROMP’s services. Seeing ROMP’s impact for himself inspired Patrick to take action through the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation, which accepts grant proposals from nonprofit organizations that have been engaged with a TripAdvisor employee on a volunteer basis for at least six months. Patrick supported the ROMP team as they applied for the funding that would allow their organization to maximize its potential and reach more patients like Breyner. His initial support resulted in a significant reward for ROMP— multiple grant awards from the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation and GlobalGiving over six years.

GlobalGiving partners with the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation to vet, moderate, and manage all grants made through TripAdvisor’s Employee Grant Program. GlobalGiving has awarded more than a hundred grants in excess of $7 million in partnership with the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation.

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Patrick Mathay, Executive Director

Employee engagement grants: Investment in ROMP’s growth

The grants that the TripAdvisor Charitable Foundation has awarded in partnership with GlobalGiving have helped ROMP become a prosthetic industry leader in underserved communities. The ROMP clinic in Zacapa, Guatemala started as a single room where prosthetic technicians saw patients and built prosthetic molds. Today, ROMP is a full-service rehabilitation center that’s served more than 3,000 patients. It now boasts two patient rooms, a waiting area, parallel bars, a workshop, and a 3D printing lab.

Investment in ROMP has strengthened its operational foundation, helping it to transform from a volunteer-based organization to one with a strong team of professionals. ROMP is lead from their office in Quito, Ecuador by Patrick Mathay, a familiar face to ROMP who now serves as Executive Director, and Diana Antony, who serves as Operations Officer. Employee engagement with TripAdvisor is still ongoing following Patrick’s departure, and ROMP has continued to benefit from the skills of TripAdvisor employees, who have helped in areas such as social media and branding strategy. TripAdvisor’s volunteer engagement and support, recognized through a GlobalGiving grant, is allowing ROMP to make the adjustments needed to realize its potential.


ROMP’s mission is to provide high quality prosthetic care in underserved populations, which enhances mobility and unlocks human potential. ROMP believes in equal access to prosthetic and orthotic services that facilitate independence through mobility.

Using Social Media for Social Good

Some of the most incredible people raising money for projects on GlobalGiving don’t work for nonprofits. They’re people like you and me who are passionate about a cause and choose to raise money on behalf of an organization from their friends and family. GlobalGiving makes this possible with a feature we call the fundraiser tool. This is part two in a series for people using the fundraiser tool. 

Photo courtesy of CDI Apps for Good

Photo courtesy of CDI Apps for Good

The hardest part is over. You’ve emailed your friends and family inviting them to support your fundraiser. Hopefully, those first donations to your fundraiser have started trickling in, but now what? How can you keep that momentum going?

Now that you’ve shown your friends and family that you’re serious, it’s time to start thinking about promoting your fundraiser to a larger audience. Thanks to the power of social media, reaching out to your vast network has never been easier!

The trick to keeping your networks engaged with your fundraiser is creating a campaign. Give yourself a deadline and let everyone know about your fundraising goal. Then, use Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to build momentum around your campaign. Do more than ask people to give; tell a story! Share your milestones, send your supporters shout-outs, and give ongoing updates about the project you support.

Check out our favorite tips below to get your social media followers to engage with your campaign:

Twitter: Twitter has a strict character limit, but there’s no limit to the good you can do with just 140 characters. Since Twitter is such a fast-moving platform, don’t be afraid to post 3-5 times per day about your campaign. Be sure to include intriguing facts and information about the project you’re supporting!

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Pro-tip: Always use shortened links on Twitter to optimize space. Bit.ly is a great tool to shorten your links and you can track how many clicks your link has gotten.

Instagram: Did you know that the human brain processes images 60,000 times fast than text? Use this to your advantage when you showcase pictures from your chosen project. Sharing a photo on Instagram will help your friends and family feel more connected to the cause.

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Pro-tip: Make sure you put the short link to your fundraiser in your Instagram bio. This gives your supporters easy access to your page from their phones.

FacebookOut of all forms of social media, our most popular fundraisers have had the most success with Facebook. Since there is no strict character limit, you have the opportunity to tell the story of what inspired you to start your fundraiser. We recommend writing a 4-5 sentence paragraph about your story, the cause—and most importantly—asking people to give.

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Pro-tip: If you share a link to your page on Facebook, it will automatically pull through the default image from your fundraising page. Make sure you’re using a good one!

So what are you waiting for? Get sharing! Be sure to tag @GlobalGiving on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so we can cheer you on!

Introducing the BRIDGE: A New Lookup Tool to Identify Global Social Sector Entities

BRIDGE mapMost of us take it for granted that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assigns every vehicle a Vehicle Identification Number (or VIN). This number makes it possible for buyers and sellers to track the story behind a car. With a bit of research, consumers like you or me can learn the history of a used vehicle before we buy it, without ever interacting with the car’s previous owners. This is only possible because the VIN acts as a unique identifier for the auto industry.

Until now, the social sector hasn’t had this basic building block for an information system. In order to easily share details about an organization’s social impact, financial performance, or eligibility, we must be able to firmly differentiate one organization from another.

This is the problem that Foundation Center, GlobalGiving, GuideStar, and TechSoup have set out to solve by creating BRIDGE (Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities). Publicly launching today,  BRIDGE is a system that assigns a unique identifying number—a “numerical fingerprint”—to philanthropic organizations across the globe.These can be non-governmental organizations, programs, and projects or other entities in the social sector, including schools and churches.  

Revolutionary Lookup Tool Now Available to the Public

BRIDGE logoThe BRIDGE project aims to revolutionize information sharing in order to better understand and track the flows of philanthropic dollars and thereby enhance transparency and effectiveness in the global social sector. Funded by Google Inc., the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and with support from the Markets for Good community, the BRIDGE project has reached a major milestone: the launch of a lookup tool.

Already there are nearly three million BRIDGE numbers assigned worldwide, a result of synchronizing information from the databases of founding partners Foundation Center, GlobalGiving, GuideStar, and TechSoup. Ongoing synchronization makes it easier to share and compare data among databases.

This week, BRIDGE launched a search tool at bridge-registry.org where anyone can look up an organization’s name, location, or BRIDGE Number. If you work with an NGO, it means that donors will be able to find your organization more easily to support your cause. If you’re a donor, it means you’ll be able to more easily find partner organizations that work in the fields you most care about. If you work with an intermediary organization, you’ll be able to find members or partners that work in your space and better serve your clients. Everyone, including NGOs, institutional funders, aid transparency organizations, and other NGO service providers can now have a more accurate and holistic picture of what’s happening in the nonprofit and international development sector.

Expect More Innovation

The founding partners intend to grow the collaborative BRIDGE project so that it can strengthen other philanthropic collaborations and create a more structured, transparent, and measurable philanthropic market. The knowledge derived from the BRIDGE project will also facilitate more strategic decision making by those who are working to create positive change across the globe.

This launch is an important milestone for the world of transparency, impact measurement, philanthropy, and nonprofit and social enterprise performance. In the same way that no one involved in the creation of Universal Product Codes (UPCs) in the 1970s could have anticipated the current crop of smartphone scanner apps, we expect BRIDGE to provide a foundation for future innovation that we can’t yet predict. We know BRIDGE will have far-reaching implications for philanthropic information sharing, but we can only begin to imagine the breadth of the project’s ultimate impact.

You can access the lookup tool at bridge-registry.org. For more information, contact the BRIDGE organizers or sign up to receive future milestone announcements from the BRIDGE project.