Transformative change is a collaborative effort. To learn more about innovative partnerships to advance gender equality, Dasha Iventicheva—associate director at APCO Worldwide and member of the multiplier partnerships and global platforms teams—sat down with Dilly Severin, director of advocacy and communications for Data2X, a United Nations Foundation alliance and APCO Client working to advance gender-equitable data solutions through partnerships with other UN agencies, governments, civil society, academics, and the private sector.
Q: Could you tell us more about your work with Data2X and why partnerships are essential to driving towards achieving the organization’s long-term goals?
A: Data2X is a civil society organization and gender data alliance exploring how data is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals including gender equality. Over the last 10 years, Data2X has worked to identify gaps in data availability and work towards ensuring that gender data can be used to inform smart policymaking for women, girls and people of all genders worldwide. This involves so many different stakeholders across sectors—making partnerships a necessity for our mission.
For example, in the realm of women’s economic empowerment, we have specifically focused on the idea of unpaid work and financial inclusion. From Data2X’s inception, we partnered with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Bank to catalyse collection and use of gender data in line with a new definition of “work” that recognizes women’s unpaid labor. And under the Women’s Financial Inclusion Data (WFID) Partnership, Data2X has been working to increase the availability and use of sex-disaggregated financial data.
Q: What do you consider a best practice when thinking about building partnerships with other organizations or companies? Why do some partnerships ultimately not produce the desired results?
A: Successful partnerships are built around a set of shared goals and a shared vision for what we are trying to achieve together, including the ultimate change we want to make in the lives of women and girls. Trust is also essential, and efforts to collaborate often fail because there is a lack of trust between partners. Partnerships also benefit from a neutral convener who has credibility with a broad set of stakeholders, including civil society organizations and government. It is organizations like Data2X, who have the ability to move across sectors and understand the needs and values of different partners, who have the most success bringing others together around an aligned agenda and set of goals. Even when partners differ in their contributions and perspectives, a shared vision is key to building successful relationships that create change.
When it comes to gender data and partnerships, best practices vary based upon issue, sector and goals. Right now, we are working to release a new report that features successful gender data solutions across different areas of development so that policymakers have a baseline understanding of interventions that can work to fill gender data gaps in a variety of different areas. The report will underline that there can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to partnership, and it is important to speak to the values of each stakeholder.
Q: When thinking about creating data-driven solutions, what are the biggest challenges and barriers that need to be addressed most urgently to make them feasible?
A: By our estimates—produced in partnership with another close technical collaborator, Open Data Watch!—gender data systems are underfinanced by $450 million per year. There is also a lack of a neutral forum where actors in the gender data space can come together to coordinate their activities and share best practices. Data2X is actively exploring ways to fill that gap—recognizing that where there is multisectoral collaboration, there is progress.
Q: What do you think is currently the biggest missed opportunity in leveraging data for smart public policy solutions?
A: Data is underleveraged in informing solutions. For example, we have so much “big” data that is passively generated through millions of interactions with digital products and services happening every second. Overlaying this real-time information with government data, such as national statistics databases or the Census, can create a tangible opportunity to understand communities’ needs at a more granular level, and explore how gender-data informed public policy can drive towards better outcomes for all. For example, Microsoft recently released a report about online civility data, which showed that the primary burden of risk faced by people online falls on women and girls. This is the kind of information that policymakers should be using to create policies that can help make online space safer for everyone—especially the most vulnerable.
Q: How can we incentivize the private sector, foundations, multilateral organizations to collaborate with governments to expedite data-driven solutions?
A: Each of us holds a piece of the puzzle, but united, we can combine our unique strengths to scale big-picture solutions that drive success across industries, from policy to markets. With a few examples of positive collaboration and impact, we can ultimately drive greater use of gender data to effect change.
Q: Why do you think cross-sectoral partnerships and collaborations are a win-win for all parties involved?
A: COVID-19 has taught us that collaboration is not a luxury. We know that we need each other more than ever. The last two years have highlighted the challenges and disproportionate impacts faced by women, girls and marginalized communities on the ground—and partnership provides an opportunity to drive tangible impact by clearly defining what each stakeholder can contribute toward progress. The win is being able to create more effective policies, relevant products and responsive services that will serve women and girls and ultimately accelerate gender equality.
Q: And finally, what is on your wish list for 2022 in terms of new partnerships?
A: I hope to see a multistakeholder collaborative that will bring together the private sector, governments and other actors to drive progress on collecting and effectively using gender data for positive change.
*Data2X is an APCO client.