In 1752 when the UK dropped the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar, tax authorities gained an extra 11 days of revenues, until popular protests forced them to move the tax year to the 5th April. That’s just a rather convoluted way of getting to the fact that we’ve been taking a look over our activities during the last 12 months and wanted to share some of the challenges and successes that both we and our grantees have had over the previous year.
The day saw keynote speakers from organisations such as Facebook (below), Indigo grantees such as iCow and mySociety and press interest from The Guardian, Alliance Magazine and Wired.co.uk. There’s lots more material, including photos, videos and write-ups from the day on Indigo’s Conference 2011 page.
Around the same time, we also launched a research paper on Philanthropy & Social Media, again in conjunction with the Institute for Philanthropy. The paper looked at how new online media can be used to aid philanthropists to identify grantees, connect with current grantees and stay in touch with key players in their field. As well as examining well-known social media campaigns such as the It Gets Better project, the paper also contains in-depth interviews with philanthropic organisations, such as the Knight Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who are already using social media as part of their work.
As if to prove our point that social media can be used for social good, the start of 2012 saw us award a grant to Tanzania’s KINU Group on the back of a ‘tip-off’ that came our way via Twitter. It’s a great example of how funders and grantees can find and connect one another using freely available social media tools. It’s also a wonderful example of how you can leverage support and assistance through online contacts and networks. Getting others to help you do your job at no extra cost is something that we could all benefit from, no?
Clearly, however, online work can only get you so far. If you want to identify real opportunities and get a feel for the countries you’re funding in, the only way is through a visit. 2011-12 saw Indigo’s Executive, Loren Treisman, visit seven countries in Africa (Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Cameroon). We made several grants to organisations as a result of these trips and more are likely to follow over the coming months.
A cloud makes an appearance over the horizon during Loren’s trip to South Africa.
The year saw us make a total of almost 40 grants to almost as many organisations, from Cameroon to South Africa and Kenya to Nigeria. Although it would be difficult to single out any one grantee for special praise, the Kenyan start-up iCow, which provides SMS advice to smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya regarding the health of their pregnant cows, is one of our most consistently popular grantees. The combination of a simple idea and a cool name has garnered significant press interest over the course of the last year, especially as the iCow team look to expand their services.
We’ve been involved in more than cow insemination over the last year, however, and another grantee success story has been the Nigerian Co-Creation Hub. The hub, which provides an innovation space as well as business advice and mentorship, was set up as a result of an Omidyar Network-Indigo co-funding initiative, which provided the start-up capital necessary. We’ve tried to establish firm funder relationships during the last twelve months and have co-funded projects or organisations with ATTI, Google, OSI and SPIDER. This collaboration not only allows us to amplify our own impact, but is vital in terms of sharing information and exchanging contacts.
Over the last year, they have gone from strength to strength in the past year. Just recently, it announced a key partnership it reached with mobile operator Nokia to provide in-depth mentorship and support for mobile entrepreneurs and start-ups.
2011-12 also saw us expanding into new countries, most notably Somalia. Through a partnership with the great South African organisation, RLabs, we provided start-up capital for an innovation hub in the semi-autonomous Somaliland region. It’s always exciting to be funding in a new country and we look forward to hearing all about the project as it develops.
In addition to our work with grassroots, African organisations, we have also provided funding to some large NGOs, most notably Amnesty International and ActionAid. First and foremost, this was because they provided us with high-quality proposals that sought to leverage their significant in-country contacts and knowledge (one for an anti-land grabbing project in Tanzania and the other to combat forced slum clearances in Nairobi). Working with such large and influential organisations, moreover, offers us an opportunity to raise the profile of a field that remains little known and poorly understood, even amongst development practitioners. By funding these organisations we’re hopeful that we can raise awareness of the diverse ways in which technology can be used to aid development.
In March this year, we took a departure from the norm and decided to fund the great British organisation, Young Rewired State. Their aim is to support young coders and to encourage other young people to take up coding and computer programming. Their annual showcase event is coming up in August this year and we were delighted to see The Guardian take an interest in this important field.
We’ve also continued to fund mySociety, the UK transparency organisation behind sites such as TheyWorkForYou and FixMyTransport. In addition to their great work in the UK, they’ve also been increasingly looking at how their sites can be replicated across the globe by using their open source code. Although a little different from our usual grantees, the consistent quality of their work and their aim to help organisations replicate their sites outside of the UK make them an attractive organisation to fund.
Finally, given our commitment to transparency we decided to take the plunge and start publishing our grant data in an open and accessible format via the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). That means that as well as being accessible on our blog, all of the grants we make are now declared in accordance with a globally agreed standard for transparency. If you want to know what we’re getting up to this year, it’s all available to read there.
All in all, it’s been a pretty busy year: seven country visits, 38 grants, a conference with 100 guests and an interview with Jimmy Wales. Although it’s difficult to know what will change over the next twelve months, we have no reason to believe that it will be any quieter, quite the opposite. Awareness of the impact that technology can have on development is slowly growing and more and more organisations are starting to explore how they can use technology to scale up their projects, communicate better with the world and reduce costs and inefficiencies. Whatever happens, it looks set to be a very interesting year ahead.