In February 2023, Girl Effect initiated a nine-month project within the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation’s (PJMF) Data to Safeguard Human Rights Accelerator Program. Girl Effect’s objective was to explore and implement modern data tools to develop a centralized data repository and create an accessible data platform to streamline data-validated program planning and evidence-based decision-making within Girl Effect. The primary outcome was to enhance Girl Effect’s ability to meet user needs and forge more effective pathways to impact.

Girl Effect is fundamentally an interdisciplinary organization where marketing, research, technology, and creative media are combined to engage, inform, and nudge young people toward a better future at every stage of their lives. This also means the organization has a diversity of data sources it works with and complex data needs. Following are some of the critical insights gained from this project:

  • A complex digital ecosystem requires careful data source integration.
  • The need for an interdisciplinary team with diverse expertise, including data engineering, analysis, compliance, governance, human rights, and understanding the organization’s complex approach, is critical.
  • Data governance policies and procedures must be constructed alongside architecture to ensure alignment, early identification of requirements, risk mitigation, regulatory compliance, and efficient implementation in effective data management and governance.
  • There is a strong need for capacity-sharing.
  • Be considerate about compliance and regulations across jurisdictions.

How might these insights advance the safeguarding of human rights?

Young people in low- and middle-income countries face significant barriers to accessing sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) information and services. Without this vital information and access and knowledge of SRHR services, young people could experience negative consequences that may impact their lives far into adulthood, from early pregnancy to the ability to exercise their rights over their bodies freely. Girl Effect aims to challenge harmful SRHR norms and stigma, including, but not limited to, gender-based violence (GBV), cultural beliefs and practices such as the lack of comprehensive sex education, and early marriage and childbearing. By addressing these barriers, Girl Effect seeks to provide valuable and accessible information to young people, empowering them to make more informed choices about their bodies and lives.

Over the past decade, Girl Effect has amassed a substantial data repository from various engagement channels such as websites, social media, SMS, IVR, apps, and chatbots, reaching millions of adolescent girls across Africa and Asia. However, despite the wealth of data collected, there was a pressing need to centralize the data source and optimize its utilization, particularly in understanding when and how young people are driven to access services. The short-term objective of this project was to create a modern, ethically-designed, and reliable data foundation. By improving Girl Effect’s ability to collect, manage, analyze, and protect sensitive data, the team can effectively start building toward a data culture and improved data use across the organization, using data to build more powerful products and design a digital ecosystem of social media, TV shows, radio shows, and other media with a far greater capacity for impact. As a result of this newly enhanced ability to combine qualitative data from focus group discussions and surveys with quantitative user data directly from people using Girl Effect’s products, Girl Effect would be able to engage and reach users wherever they are on their behavior change journey, and build better products, strategy, and implementation design.

Girl Effect’s long-term objective is to leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML), with the data platform providing a foundation as a first step towards using AI/ML in chatbots to safely and effectively deliver life-enhancing and trusted sexual and reproductive health rights information that could far surpass current offerings. By better understanding the audience, Girl Effect can deliver sexual and reproductive health rights information at scale while tailoring products to users’ specific needs.

Applying Girl Effect’s learnings to other nonprofits facing similar challenges.

Girl Effect had to overcome various obstacles, such as a lack of in-house and cloud management provider experience using Azure and staffing changes that impacted team continuity and knowledge. Another challenge was data anonymization, necessitating careful consideration of data integrity and privacy protection. Unexpected API call bottlenecks for one of the leading social media platforms caused workflow inefficiencies and forced a reevaluation of integration strategies. Complexity was increased by authentication issues with 3rd party data sources, requiring robust security protocols for data access and administration. In addition, integrating the data platform into Girl Effect staff’s daily operations was challenging, necessitating socialization and continuous thorough training and support.

For any non-profits starting their data journey, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  1. Ensure engineering teams build alongside analysts, with regular input from data, program, and product teams. This process will mean that there will be early discussions around how the data may be used, safeguarded, removed, and anonymized according to the law, and these will be embedded into the architecture of the data platform rather than backtracking and trying to fix these things later.
  2. You don’t need all the skills and knowledge in-house. The use of technical consultants has benefitted this project enormously.
  3. Create a space where diverse voices are empowered to provide input. An interdisciplinary team will be better suited to develop creative solutions and ensure the data platform is safe and usable.
  4. Building a culture of data use within an organization is hard. Think of creative ways to showcase the ease and power of using data and the platform.
  5. Manage the organization’s data and embed a data culture as early as possible. Don’t wait until there is an overwhelming amount of data.
  6. Establish good data practices, such as cultivating a data-driven culture and fostering data literacy and training within the organization from the outset. Nonprofits can avoid data-related pitfalls and ensure that data is utilized to make informed decisions and remains an asset rather than a burden.

As this phase of the project closes, Girl Effect would like to thank the partners and consultants who shared insights that were fundamental to the success of this project, including the generosity and support from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.

For the full report and insights, click here.


Original article here.