Reflecting on what we do

Every once in a while it’s good to take a step back and reflect on what you do, why you do it and how. We recently decided to review our portfolio of grants to look more closely at how much we were providing, where our money goes and what sort of projects and organisations we support. What follows gives a flavour of our findings and how we interpreted them.

Where we fund

Since 2010 we have funded work in just over 50% of countries in Africa. Just a handful of countries, however, account for the vast majority of that spending. South Africa leads the way by a considerable margin, having received almost £1 million in funds since 2010. It is followed by Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana respectively. Organisations based in the UK have also received considerable – but relatively stable – amounts over the last seven years. Much of this is explained by our series of grants to UK-based mySociety to support their work with civic tech groups across sub-Saharan Africa, but it can also be partly explained by individual grants to other groups with operations overseas, such as Amnesty International and ActionAid.

What stands out most clearly from the above graph is ‘the long tail’. It shows that while we have supported projects or organisations in around half of all African countries, the majority of countries have only received one-off grants or been included as part of a larger, multi-country project. While some of these projects and organisations have achieved considerable success – such as the work of AfricanLII in the Seychelles or myAGRO’s work with farmers in Mali – they have never been part of a cohort of grantees, such as exists in South Africa or Nigeria. This – and what it means for our work – is something we will be dealing with in a future post.

What we fund

Determining what we have funded over this time proved to be the most difficult and contentious aspect of the work. Getting a list of grantees is easy enough, but how we categorise their work is far from straightforward. The reason for this lies in the fact that we have not (yet) found a single, workable taxonomy to describe the work of our grantees. The problem is not so much the lack of a taxonomy, but rather a surfeit. The internal finance system we use contains a quite basic taxonomy – sufficient to satisfy the auditors, insufficient to satisfy our own analytical needs. A separate system we use, meanwhile, has a relatively good internal taxonomy, but getting the figures to match the spending can be difficult. The most comprehensive taxonomy we have is the OECD’s DAC sector codelist. This is the codelist preferred by IATI and describes in great detail all kinds of development work that could be carried out. It is so comprehensive, in fact, as to be almost unwieldy for an organisation such as ours. ‘Education’, which we might consider to be a single category, is divided into 15 speciality areas. Water and sanitation, meanwhile, is comprised of 11 specialities. And ‘government and civil society’ – the most relevant of all the categories to Indigo’s work – contains no fewer than 46 sub-divisions, such as ‘national audit’, ‘central procurement’ and ‘meteorological services’! Imagine a coffee shop where you are offered a cappuccino with 46 different options and you start to see the kind of problems this can present.

In the end, we took a relatively simple – if manual – approach to categorising what sectors and causes we have funded for the last two years. What it revealed was a little underwhelming. Unlike where we fund, what we fund was relatively evenly split across the board. The data shows that we have funded quite a bit of open data work, some journalism, service delivery monitoring and parliamentary monitoring, with occasional pieces of FOI work and some legal information thrown in. It was – in short – largely what we thought we would find when we began this work.

How we fund

As our strategy has evolved, so has our approach to funding. Whereas we used to offer a lot of small, one-off grants, in recent times we have begun offering larger, multi-year grants to a handful of grantees that we have worked with intensively over recent times. While we are still on the lookout for the small, innovative start-ups they no longer form the core of our work. We are mindful, however, that we want to continue supporting those groups and so will track more carefully our grants to such organisations in future. We strongly believe that there is a big role that we can play in helping some of these new organisations get off the ground.