Foundation announces first-ever Data4Change program

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Cloudera Foundation websiteIn April 2021, the Cloudera Foundation merged with the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.

by Claudia Juech
Dec. 6, 2018

Today the Cloudera Foundation announces its first two grantees, Terre des hommes, the leading Swiss organization for children’s aid, and AidData, a research lab at William & Mary‘s Global Research Institute that enables hundreds of nonprofits with limited in-house computational power and data science expertise to use data to target, monitor and evaluate their programmatic investments.

When we created the Cloudera Foundation a little more than a year ago, I was convinced that our new abilities to gather, store, process and analyze data have huge potential to address humanity’s critical challenges in a wide range of fields. Since then, my team and I were exposed to amazing ideas from close to 300 nonprofits on how to use data in new and different ways – ranging from how to improve college graduation rates to understanding where malaria beds work in the Congo to fighting wildlife poaching. It was very hard to choose which projects the Foundation could most meaningfully support by providing data engineering and data science expertise, grant dollars as well as a technology donation by Cloudera Inc.

Those conversations also confirmed my hunch going in that it’s still early days in the field of Data4Change – many nonprofits are only starting to think about relevant questions and pull together data sources. I expect that the selection process will become even more difficult in the coming years: many of the organizations we spoke with have just begun to put data collection mechanisms into place and will have much more data to work with in order to improve people’s lives and the planet. While the overall data capacity of nonprofits is low, we met so many organizations who want to change that – with the understanding that not every problem can be solved by more and/or better data.

We selected Terre des hommes and AidData not only because of the overall impact they have already demonstrated on reducing child mortality (in the case of Tdh) and the use of data in the nonprofit sector (in the case of AidData). We are also convinced that additional support – technical expertise paired with an improved infrastructure and tools to strengthen their usage of data science and machine learning approaches – can increase their impact manyfold. We were also looking for organizations where teams and leadership are deeply committed, not only to the project at hand, but also to sustaining the solution. For example, the grant to Terre des hommes is specifically supporting their work in rural clinics in Burkina Faso but it is also already generating lots of ideas where else Tdh could use advanced data analytics and machine learning – in other geographies and in the context of other health challenges children face. Last but not least, we also took into account the current capacity of the two organizations to deploy and use sophisticated data software long-term and how we can further build that capacity together. That’s why we decided to make multiple-year grants. Our future engagements might be shorter as the field advances, but it is important to recognize that in order to deploy a platform for data storage, management and analysis that can be used for sophisticated data analysis now and in the future, it will need a sustained time commitment.

Looking forward, we have already started to look for the next set of grantees who could work in different fields than AidData and Terre des hommes but could also be connected to the use cases those two organizations represent.

We are also interested in forging partnerships with other philanthropies who are looking for a technical partner for a specific program or project. Cloudera Foundation is just one year old and there is so much more we can achieve. I look forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions.

Claudia Juech is the Vice President of the Data and Society program.