Open AI, DALL·E-generated, on the topic of Fondation Botnar. Keywords are: Young people’s well-being, giving young people a voice, digital ecosystem, the world of digitalisation.

Unre­co­g­nised potential

Endless possibilities

Data has a lot of poten­tial, inclu­ding for the third sector. This often goes unre­co­g­nised, or resour­ces are insuf­fi­ci­ent. At the same time, the sector could take more responsibility.

‘For the phil­an­thropy sector, we believe that explo­ring digi­tal tools could be a way to include young people and other’s voices in grant-making,” says Stefan Germann, CEO of Fonda­tion Botnar. ‘Digi­tal parti­ci­pa­tory and crowd-sourcing tools can enable phil­an­thro­pies to reim­agine the grant-making process and make it more inclu­sive.’ In other words, decis­i­ons about grants and invest­ments can be made by a broa­der target group. Certain groups that are tradi­tio­nally excluded from the process can actually be consul­ted. ‘By using a digi­tal-first approach, we can estab­lish a mana­geable way to welcome a wider variety of ideas from around the world,’ says Stefan Germann.

To keep its projects mission-driven, Fonda­tion Botnar alre­ady heavily utili­ses digi­tal tech­no­logy and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI). One of the main aims of this approach is to improve young people’s well-being. Stefan Germann is convin­ced that AI and digi­tal tech­no­logy are essen­tial to making that happen. ‘We believe in the trans­for­ma­tio­nal power of AI to tackle health, social, and econo­mic chal­lenges on city-wide and a nati­on­wide level.’ But he is not blind to the respon­si­bi­lity asso­cia­ted with these oppor­tu­ni­ties. Although it falls to the govern­ment to protect rights, it is criti­cal that young people under­stand their digi­tal rights in the first place. ‘By doing so, they can call on orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, from govern­ments to the private sector, to ensure that digi­tal tools that gather perso­nal data are being built and deployed respon­si­bly and equi­ta­bly.’  Fonda­tion Botnar is also concer­ned with data rights, which covers more than just data protec­tion, privacy, free­dom of speech and content mode­ra­tion. ‘We focus on every aspect of human rights, inclu­ding the often over­loo­ked “right to inter­net and tech­no­logy access,’ says Stefan Germann. ‘RIGHTS Click’ is one exam­ple of Fonda­tion Botnar’s commit­ments in this area. Working in part­ner­ship with Amnesty Inter­na­tio­nal on this project, the foun­da­tion wants to give young people a voice and empower them to advo­cate for a digi­tal ecosys­tem that respects young people’s rights and well­be­ing. Toge­ther, they want to gain a deeper insight into the chal­lenges the digi­tal world poses for young people. They star­ted by crea­ting a survey. The results can inform policy deve­lo­p­ment in this area, with respon­ses having been colla­ted from 45 count­ries. ‘This is immensely helpful in deve­lo­ping a more global under­stan­ding of the issues faced by young people,’ says Stefan Germann. Fonda­tion Botnar supports data-based projects in the health­care sector too. Mental health is one huge issue affec­ting young people at the moment. Data on mental health in low- and middle-income count­ries is extre­mely limi­ted as it stands. Looking to improve this situa­tion, Fonda­tion Botnar laun­ched the inter­na­tio­nal initia­tive ‘Being’ in part­ner­ship with Grand Chal­lenges Canada (GCC) and United for Global Mental Health in 2022. This project supports rese­arch and inno­va­tive approa­ches to impro­ving the mental well-being of young people in low- and middle-income count­ries like Roma­nia, Tanz­a­nia and Sierra Leone. 

Surpri­sin­gly little interest

There may be a number of reasons for having small data pools. In Switz­er­land, the charity sector itself is affec­ted by this. There is rela­tively little infor­ma­tion available. One reason for this, accor­ding to Georg von Schnur­bein, Foun­ding Direc­tor of the Center for Phil­an­thropy Studies (CEPS) at the Univer­sity of Basel, is the lack of an obli­ga­tion to publish. Indi­vi­dual orga­ni­sa­ti­ons do publish infor­ma­tion on speci­fic topics.  For instance, the Stif­tung Zewo (Zewo Foun­da­tion) publishes figu­res on dona­ti­ons toge­ther with Swissfundraising. 

The Schwei­ze­ri­sche Gemein­nüt­zige Gesell­schaft (Swiss Society for the Common Good, SSCG), the Bundes­amt für Statis­tik (Fede­ral Statis­ti­cal Office) and CEPS do like­wise. Howe­ver, we do not have an over­all picture of NPOs as a whole, their econo­mic deve­lo­p­ment, member­ship figu­res and so on. ‘All there is so far is a patch­work, at the end of the day,’ says Mr von Schnur­bein. Other surveys, such as the John Hopkins Project (the most compre­hen­sive project to survey world­wide data on the third sector), are not going ahead on a conti­nuous basis. This limits the ability of the sector to present a consis­tent image to the public. Its deve­lo­p­ment is hard to follow. And the need is not limi­ted to gathe­ring the data. ‘It’s also important for the data to be easily and publicly acces­si­ble,’ says Mr von Schnur­bein. ‘This is where the state needs to step in. But in natio­nal poli­tics there is surpri­sin­gly little inte­rest in lear­ning more about the NPO sector,’ he obser­ves. In 2021, the CEPS made an inter­ac­tive data­base on the phil­an­thro­pic sector publicly acces­si­ble: the NPO Data Lab. The Lab curr­ently consists of two data­ba­ses. One conta­ins aggre­ga­ted infor­ma­tion on chari­ta­ble foun­da­ti­ons and boards of trus­tees in Switz­er­land. The second conta­ins finan­cial figu­res from Swiss NPOs that publish an annual report in accordance with the stan­dard for finan­cial state­ments, ‘Swiss GAAP FER 21’ (‘Accoun­ting for chari­ta­ble non-profit orga­ni­sa­ti­ons’). ‘Parti­cu­larly the compa­ri­son tool, which allows users to analyse the finan­cial situa­tion of their own orga­ni­sa­tion in compa­ri­son with a simi­lar NPO, is quite often used,’ says Mr von Schnurbein. 

Another reality

Some orga­ni­sa­ti­ons face the chall­enge that they have hardly any data them­sel­ves. ‘Of course I’d love to get struc­tu­red data,’ says Stefa­nie Holm, mana­ging direc­tor of VISIO-Perma­cul­tura. ‘But that’s just not the reality. We have funda­men­tal projects that need support.’ VISIO-Perma­cul­tura is the first foun­da­tion to work in this area. It pursues the goal of estab­li­shing findings rela­ting to perma­cul­ture in agri­cul­ture, as well as promo­ting educa­tion, know­ledge trans­fer and networ­king. Howe­ver, Ms Holm points to two funda­men­tal chal­lenges that make it diffi­cult to base her work on struc­tu­red data.

The termi­no­logy is the first chall­enge: ‘First of all, not all farms use the word “perma­cul­ture” in the same way,’ she notes. ‘Its use is very diverse; there is no clear defi­ni­tion.’ The term covers a variety of compon­ents. It is a social move­ment, a design system and a descrip­tion of agri­cul­tu­ral methods. VISIO-Perma­cul­tura does not demand an exact defi­ni­tion in exch­ange for its invol­vement. It gears itself towards what is sustainable and envi­ron­men­tally friendly. The second chall­enge for a data-based approach is statis­ti­cal usabi­lity. About 200 farms receive direct payments for their perma­cul­ture. ‘Due to the low numbers of farms and their indi­vi­dual charac­te­ristics, there is no data on whose basis statis­ti­cally rele­vant conclu­si­ons can be drawn.’ But the field rese­arch, which is also supported, does seem to be produ­cing data. As this data is not obtai­ned under labo­ra­tory condi­ti­ons, it is influen­ced by many factors, such as a very hot summer or a cold winter. Because of this, as Ms Holm says, sound under­ly­ing data ‘would be nice to have, but such a reality is a long way off from our own.’

Pooling data

At first glance it may seem asto­nis­hing that there is hardly any trans­port data available for rese­arch or mobi­lity plan­ning, despite ever­yone leaving behind traces of data all the time via their mobile phones. Posmo is a coll­ec­tive that star­ted in 2020, with the inten­tion of buil­ding a good foun­da­tion of data in this area for the mobi­lity of the future. The foun­ders are convin­ced that this data is needed, both for climate protec­tion and for the needs of the towns. But today’s mobi­lity rese­arch is carried out with small data sets, says Lea Strohm, one of the foun­ders.

The data is there. Google and Apple know all about our mobi­lity beha­viour. ‘But we have no access and no control,’ she says. ‘And this is very sensi­tive data.’ Ms Strohm belie­ves that only a mino­rity of society is really inte­res­ted in their data and its protec­tion. Most dismiss the idea that their own perso­nal data is worth protec­ting. They take the atti­tude that they have nothing to hide. Hence, she says, the second moti­va­tion for foun­ding the coll­ec­tive: data gover­nance. Posmo wants to deve­lop a model that can make data available for rese­arch and plan­ning, while simul­ta­neously main­tai­ning control over this data. This has nothing to do with indi­vi­dual data protec­tion as enshri­ned in law. ‘Rela­tively few people are inte­res­ted in how I move around as Lea Strohm,’ she says. It only beco­mes inte­res­t­ing when the data of seve­ral people is combi­ned and allows conclu­si­ons to be drawn. Posmo wants to deve­lop a model for this purpose that allows indi­vi­dual data to be pooled and thus create a value for use cases. This idea of the pool and common bene­fit is also what led to the orga­ni­sa­tion of the group as a coll­ec­tive. Because ever­yone that enters the coll­ec­tive ‘pays’ for admis­sion with their own data. There is one simple reason for this: ‘As members, each and every person can help decide what happens to the data,’ says Ms Strohm. She conti­nues, ‘That means we all have to have skin in the game – taking a perso­nal risk and brin­ging in our own perso­nal data. Anyone who wants to be part of it has to contri­bute something.’

Over­all socie­tal interest

Accor­ding to its statu­tes, the coll­ec­tive intends to operate ‘a secure IT plat­form on a not-for-profit basis’, and make it available. Ms Strohm adds that it is meant to be in the inte­rests of society as a whole. ‘We don’t want our data to be used prima­rily for commer­cial purpo­ses.’ But neither are they pursuing an open data approach. That would contra­dict the prin­ci­ple that anyone who has the use of the data and makes decis­i­ons on it has to supply data them­sel­ves. Besi­des, they are still working on a more precise defi­ni­tion of ‘not-for-profit’. Apart from the tech­ni­cal deve­lo­p­ment, the coll­ec­tive is also curr­ently mainly busy with the ques­tion of how they are to achieve trans­pa­rency towards those that supply data. Ms Strohm calls Posmo an ethi­cal data broker. The data suppli­ers ought to see what projects their data is used for, and be able to find out more about them. And their own proces­ses should be trans­pa­rent. ‘We have an ethics commit­tee,’ she says. While the execu­tive board is bent on growth, the ethics commit­tee has to give its bles­sing to every use of the data. It deci­des whether a request to use the data is appro­priate for the purpose or not. In all cases, the decis­ion of the commit­tee is binding. The commit­tee main­ta­ins a certain distance and guaran­tees checks and balan­ces. The crite­ria for these decis­i­ons are also inten­ded to be transparent.

Freely acces­si­ble knowledge

Trans­pa­rency is central at Wiki­pe­dia too. Anyone who has writ­ten, commen­ted on or alte­red an article is visi­ble in the version history. The online ency­clo­paedia is based on the work of volun­teers. One of its funda­men­tal prin­ci­ples is to be non-commer­cial and ther­e­fore inde­pen­dent. ‘The Wiki Commu­nity itself ensu­res people stick to its guide­lines,’ says Kers­tin Sonne­kalb, media spokes­wo­man at Wiki­me­dia CH. The chari­ta­ble orga­ni­sa­tion supports the work of the volun­teer authors, gives them tips and opens doors for further research.

Wiki­me­dia CH is reco­g­nised by the Wiki­pe­dia Foun­da­tion, which runs the ency­clo­paedia, as an offi­cial chap­ter. In 2006, the foun­ders of Wiki­me­dia CH saw the neces­sity of having an orga­ni­sa­tion and a mouth­piece that would handle the concerns of the Wiki­me­dia move­ment – the tota­lity of all Wiki­pe­di­ans – and repre­sent their inte­rests. That is, ther­e­fore, their main task. Ms Sonne­kalb insists: ‘Our asso­cia­tion has no influence on the content of Wiki­pe­dia.’ Nevert­hel­ess, it does concern itself with an important issue: the fight against fake news. ‘As part of the move­ment, which works for access to free, objec­tive know­ledge, Wiki­me­dia CH also works inten­si­vely on main­tai­ning Wiki­pe­dia and its sister projects as a source of factual, trust­wor­thy infor­ma­tion on criti­cal topics, as well as fight­ing online misin­for­ma­tion,’ she says. This is also stipu­la­ted as a goal in the movement’s stra­tegy process for 2030. Highly pola­ri­sing topics, such as the article on the Covid-19 pande­mic, whose English-language version had been revi­sed more than 25,670 times by 3,449 editors by Janu­ary 2023, are subject to parti­cu­larly intense moni­to­ring by the admi­nis­tra­tors. This addi­tio­nal step helps ensure that artic­les contain correct, fact-based information. 

Truth or untruth

Wiki­me­dia CH repea­tedly uses current events to high­light the importance of impar­tial, free infor­ma­tion for parti­ci­pa­tion in the demo­cra­tic process. This year, the asso­cia­tion is capi­ta­li­sing on the 175th anni­ver­sary of the Swiss Fede­ral Consti­tu­tion ‘because a demo­cra­tic opinion-forming process is based on freely acces­si­ble infor­ma­tion,’ says Ms Sonne­kalb. This crea­tes a connec­tion to another of the group’s central concerns: sensi­ti­sing and trai­ning people in all age groups, no matter what their level of educa­tion, in deal­ing with online infor­ma­tion. The fight against fake news also invol­ves deal­ing with contro­ver­sial topics. It is not the job of the authors to decide whether some­thing is true or untrue. Instead, contro­ver­sial view­points should be presen­ted as such. That’s why Wiki­pe­dia still insists on the cita­tion of relia­ble sources as one of its main condi­ti­ons. . ‘The quality of the sources is a decisive criter­ion. That means scien­ti­fi­cally proven state­ments carry parti­cu­lar weight,’ says Ms Sonne­kalb. Even though there is a wealth of infor­ma­tion on the inter­net and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence will revo­lu­tio­nise search proces­ses further, the quan­tity has nothing to do with the quality. ‘Even the best arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is only as good as the data on which it is based,’ says Ms Sonne­kalb. That also goes for the new ChatGPT, which caused a furore in Janu­ary. Ms Sonne­kalb is convin­ced that ‘infor­ma­tion cura­tion by humans is irre­placeable.’ She goes on to say, ‘Whether it’s infor­ma­tion from Wiki­pe­dia artic­les, or struc­tu­red meta-data from Wiki­data – the Wiki world will remain a welcome fount of know­ledge for inter­net search engines.’

Inde­pen­dent and trustworthy

In 1987, long before arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence from the inter­net was writing entire semi­nar papers, a foun­da­tion was set up in Switz­er­land to support the digi­ta­li­sa­tion of univer­si­ties. It was inten­ded to enable insti­tu­ti­ons, both within and outside Switz­er­land, to be inter­con­nec­ted in networks. And Switch still provi­des this service today. ‘For educa­tion, rese­arch and inno­va­tion it is the ideal, trust­wor­thy, inde­pen­dent part­ner. That’s why the legal form of a foun­da­tion is still the most suita­ble,’ says media spokes­man Roland Eugs­ter.

It helped that the purpose of the foun­da­tion was deli­bera­tely very broadly defi­ned, offe­ring lots of space for future deve­lo­p­ments. The foundation’s inde­pen­dence also helps in another of its tasks. Over two and a half million ‘.ch’ domain names are regis­tered with Switch. ‘The fede­ral govern­ment regu­la­tes the allo­ca­tion of domain names at both legis­la­tive and ordi­nance level, so it offers a solid legal frame­work for this confi­den­tial task,’ he says. The Swiss Fede­ral Office of Commu­ni­ca­ti­ons has dele­ga­ted the opera­tion of the ‘.ch’ domain ending to Switch. With digi­ta­li­sa­tion tasks of such importance, secu­rity is also constantly at the fore­front. This is another duty that Switch performs. Mr Eugs­ter says, ‘Our Compu­ter Emer­gency Response Team, SWITCH-CERT, is a leading, inde­pen­dent centre of excel­lence for data secu­rity.’ As one of the two natio­nal CERTs, it supports Swiss univer­si­ties, the regis­tra­tion office for the ‘.ch’ ending with its asso­cia­ted domains, as well as banks, indus­try and logi­stics, and the energy sector, in comba­ting cyber thre­ats. In this regard too, Roland Eugs­ter is convin­ced that it was exactly right to set up the orga­ni­sa­tion as a non-profit-orien­ted foun­da­tion. And this task will persist into the future. ‘Univer­si­ties need digi­tal solu­ti­ons for an enorm­ous range of appli­ca­ti­ons,’ he says. Commer­cial compa­nies would only provide them with stan­dard solu­ti­ons. For some purpo­ses that is enough. Howe­ver, once speci­fic use cases come into the picture, where the data to be proces­sed needs a higher level of protec­tion, tail­o­red solu­ti­ons are called for. ‘Because we have been working so closely and colla­bo­ra­tively with the educa­tion, rese­arch and inno­va­tion commu­nity for over 35 years, we know their needs, which can be highly speci­fic, very well,’ says the media spokes­man. ‘That makes it possi­ble for us to assess the rele­vance of tech­no­lo­gi­cal inno­va­tions to them and show them how they can use them most effectively.’

Rele­vance for the sector

Tech­no­lo­gi­cal deve­lo­p­ments are set to become incre­asingly rele­vant for chari­ta­ble non-profit orga­ni­sa­ti­ons too. It makes sense for the sector to take a proac­tive approach and exploit such deve­lo­p­ments for its own causes and bene­fi­ci­a­ries. ‘When used respon­si­bly, AI and digi­tal inno­va­tions have the poten­tial to improve the lives of count­less people all around the world in a sustainable way. New tech­no­lo­gies and the power of data could unlock new ways of tack­ling ongo­ing health-rela­ted, social and econo­mic chal­lenges with unpre­ce­den­ted effect and acces­si­bi­lity,’ says Stefan Germann. He belie­ves the poten­tial is huge if society can manage to make clever use of the tools. ‘This is our oppor­tu­nity to build fair and relia­ble systems for future gene­ra­ti­ons,’ he says. The exam­ple he menti­ons is the Trans­form Health initia­tive, which is a coali­tion dedi­ca­ted to the fair digi­tal trans­for­ma­tion of health­care systems. Digi­tal and future tech­no­lo­gies need to be made acces­si­ble to all in the health­care space, with stron­ger gover­nance for health-rela­ted data as a rela­ted requi­re­ment. ‘Digi­ta­li­sa­tion is the future of so many count­ries and sectors, it is crucial that we embrace it and ensure equi­ta­ble access to these services. Data is a vital tool in trans­forming lives,’ says Stefan Germann.

Gathe­ring data

When it comes to the proper hand­ling of data, data protec­tion and trans­pa­rency, Mr von Schnur­bein also belie­ves that NPOs have a duty. ‘A chari­ta­ble, tax-exempt NPO, or a non-mate­rial NPO entit­led to tax relief, is not a purely private plea­sure and must accept a certain amount of public trans­pa­rency.’ And, in his view, the sector has a vested inte­rest in the data. Natu­rally, he says, the rules have to be respec­ted. Because, in prin­ci­ple, there is nothing wrong with gathe­ring and aggre­ga­ting data and making it available; it leads to better under­stan­ding. ‘It’s always negli­gent for an orga­ni­sa­tion to know less about itself than others do,’ he says. That goes for the NPO sector as a whole. Accor­din­gly, he belie­ves that when private compa­nies or the state coll­ect data about the NPO sector, the NPOs relin­quish some of their poten­tial influence. At the same time it is clear to him that an NPO can do little with its own data when left to its own devices. The data only acqui­res value when it is aggre­ga­ted. Howe­ver, he is convin­ced that the NPOs could use their data to build up a degree of market power. Mr von Schnur­bein says, ‘So, if foun­da­ti­ons now go into a plat­form like StiftungSchweiz as co-owners, that’s a real step towards having a say in the use of data in the future.’

AI image on the topic of the CEPS. Keywords: Too little data for econo­mic deve­lo­p­ment Available data should be made acces­si­ble and comparable.

AI image on the topic of Visio Perma­kul­tura. Keywords: Sustainable, envi­ron­men­tally friendly agri­cul­ture. Data available for only 200 farms so far. Struc­tu­red data fails to reflect reality.

AI image on the topic of the POSMO coope­ra­tive. Keywords: Idea of a (data) pool, highly sensi­tive data requi­ring protec­tion. Data governance.

AI image on the topic of Wiki­me­dia. Keywords: Against fake news, part of the move­ment for access to free, objec­tive know­ledge, trust­wor­thy, fact-based.

Open AI, DALL·E‑generated, on the topic of SWITCH. Keywords: Digi­ta­li­sa­tion of univer­si­ties, brain, switch, infor­ma­tion security. 

Inter­pre­ta­ti­ons for feeding AI soft­ware: Peter Kruppa

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