CEO blog: Why would a data exchange start-up fund a charity?

Today we announced the launch the Minerva Collective, an independent not-for-profit aimed at connecting social impact organisations with access to data and analysts to help them solve social problems.

The Minerva Collective has been a long time in the making. Both the team and I have been quietly working away on this concept for as long as Data Republic has existed.

It may seem an odd thing for the CEO of venture-backed data exchange start-up to invest in an NFP, which is why I wanted to write this post to explain my ‘why’ when it comes to the Minerva Collective.

There are ultimately two reasons ‘why’. The first one is simple and the second a little more complex.

1 – Why we all work is changing…..

The first reason is starting with the end in mind…

As the company grows, I often ask ‘what type of people do I want to be working with?’The answer is people that care, that ‘give a shit’ about outcomes!

Whether it’s the outcome of their role, Data Republic, or even society as a whole. Short term and long term incentives can be developed to drive reward for the first two, but companies typically have a hard time integrating incentives for social responsibility. I want to ensure that social responsibility is an intrinsic part of our operating model.

My intention is for staff (and stakeholders) to come to work at Data Republic, not only as a financial means to an end but to be part of a company of people that give time towards higher values and ethics which transcend individual performance and financial reward. I hope to give my Data Republic team the perspective that ‘return to shareholders’ can be of both monetary and social value.

I believe that starting our business with this premise will help to develop the right culture, staff engagement, and overall productivity. In our busy lives, with many of us having most of our physical needs met (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), finding time to help others and give back to society is becoming harder but it is a more fulfilling (and ‘engaging’) pursuit than just helping ourselves to financial gain.

As I’ve said many times, the type of talented people we want to work at Data Republic have a choice about where to work. We want our team to work with us because they care, absolutely, about their work, but also about social good.  

2 – The big picture: Market inefficiencies and data equality

The Minerva Collective is based on a simple idea: to leverage Data Republic’s secure data exchange technology, network, and resources to help not-for-profits better access and leverage data to solve social issues. Why? This discussion is rooted in market failure and is conceptually quite complex. At some point I’ll write another post on this but here’s my quick summary… We all know that people are often disadvantaged because of an undersupply of required resources. Inequality is based on that premise. Conversely, there typically exists an oversupply of these same resources to the advantaged who often have proprietary rights. Every society has a social system, whether it be capitalism or communism, intended to manage and ‘help correct the balance’ of productivity and social appropriation of these resources from a monetary perspective, whereby:

  • Governments try to ‘level the playing field’ by distributing funds to ’causes’ it deems can help society or win them political favour.
  • In most developed economies, individuals and companies are driven by monetary opportunities to match supply and demand.

Although these operating models exist to balance-out markets, they are still far from efficient when it comes to solving social issues where productivity needs to outweigh profit.

This inefficiency stems from both;

  1. The nexus of information availability and application – knowledge is power but information about the supply and demand of resources is not readily available to all. Indeed, information/data is tightly guarded because ‘high margin’ monetary opportunities only exist due to market inefficiencies – whole industries are based on this – banking, insurance, etc
  2. The fact that assets/resources are mostly allocated and re-distributed based on monetary outcomes. There is embedded trust in a flat monetary exchange and little trust in the concept of a pure value/ information exchange.

We are living at an incredible moment in human history – at the dawn of big data, where our capacity to generate and access information is greater than ever has been before. But where data is only wielded as a means to a monetary end – where it is generated, protected and leveraged by specialists as a business asset – supply will never meet demand for non-profit initiatives. Productivity and data equality can never become its own kind of currency.

NFPs and NGOs currently don’t have requisite access to funds to buy relevant data nor do they typically have the in-house analytical capabilities required to analyse and apply data to operations. If we don’t do something to redress the current imbalance, it stands to only get worse.

The Minerva Collective is our opportunity to guard against data, the currency for growth in today’s society, being completely subsumed into inefficient market systems where there exist data ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.

If we can support equal opportunity to data, then we can avoid ending up in a two-speed data economy where data inequality further entrenches social inequality.

Our vision for the Minerva Collective

We are launching the Minerva Collective with the objective to facilitate, and incentivise, the supply of the right data and skilled people for powerful social impact projects. To connect social impact organisations with access to both; the data they need to unlock insights and the specialist analysts to work with them to leverage data to solve social problems.

Importantly, Data Republic will provide access to our secure data exchange technology for participating companies to donate de-identified datasets to social impact organisations, so that they can be secure in the knowledge that their customers’ privacy and proprietary information is protected during social impact analysis projects.

By enabling secure data initiatives between social impact organisations and companies, we hope to support the development of a global ecosystem where analysts, social impact organisations, and for-profit companies can come together to solve pressing social issues through data. Ultimately, we hope these initiatives will help to redefine the value of data, establishing it as a global currency, separate from money, which inspires growth and positive change.

Over the coming months, the Minerva Collective will launch its first data for social good projects and establish an official program for corporate involvement. Through this program, we will help corporates engage their staff around the positive potential of their data, to not only change the lives of the less fortunate, but to support a culture of caring and social responsibility in our everyday working lives.

How can you help?

The Minerva Collective is being established as an independent not-for-profit and we would greatly appreciate any and all support from friends of Data Republic. Here’s how you can be a part of the Minerva movement:

  • If you’re an individual Data Analyst – Jump onto the Minerva Collective website and register your interest in donating your skills/time to projects.
  • If you represent a not-for-profit looking to start a project – Get in touch with the Minerva team to discuss potential projects.
  • If you’re a Data Owner interested in partnering with the Minerva Collective – Please email the Minerva team or Data Republic to discuss how to donate your data and get involved.

Alternately, if you would just like to keep informed with what’s happening with Minerva, you can subscribe here and/or follow them on twitter via @Minervaprojects

I hope you can join us in this important work.