Fishing businesses such as this one are an example of USAID microenterprise activities that have provided Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups in Colombia with economic security. / Courtesy of ACDI/VOCA

Fishing businesses such as this one are an example of USAID microenterprise activities that have provided Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups in Colombia with economic security. / Courtesy of ACDI/VOCA

In rural and remote parts of northern Colombia, fertile land remains untouched and violence runs rampant. The “curse of resources” in the north has fueled illicit crop cultivation and violence between illegally armed groups, while the isolated south has suffered from little governance or infrastructure.

To find ways to counter the economic hardship that violence and conflict create in Latin America and the Caribbean, about 100 people from 50 organizations gathered last year for a hackathon organized by USAID. Determined to improve the governance and economic state of these countries, hackathon members from data, policy and technical backgrounds developed eight projects.

Sitting among regional and policy experts were representatives from two data-focused USAID groups: Economic Analysis and Data Services, which facilitates USAID’s access to and analysis of development data and information, and the Development Experience Clearinghouse, an online repository of USAID-funded technical and project documents spanning over 50 years.

Colombians make panela, a form of sugar typical in Latin American countries and a source of income for many Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups. / David Osorio, ACDI/VOCA

Colombians make panela, a form of sugar typical in Latin American countries and a source of income for many Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups. / David Osorio, ACDI/VOCA

As data experts, questions of how USAID could leverage its wealth of data to benefit the growing number of projects in this region of the world were at the forefront of each group’s agenda.

In a brainstorming session, the groups conceived of a plan to integrate their data into an interactive portal, called the Microenterprise Results Reporting Portal, to visualize microenterprise information.

Microenterprise consists of efforts to support and deliver financial services to the poor that are cost effective and financially sustainable. These projects vary from agricultural development, to microfinance loans and more. USAID believes that when citizens are thriving in a strong economy, crime and violence drop.

The newly designed portal provides a clearer picture of the projects that are eliminating crime and violence, strengthening governments and restoring the livelihood of individuals in countries like Colombia.

The Microenterprise Results Reporting Portal includes an online map that contextualizes microenterprise information at the project level by location, year and sector. The portal houses a full view of each project from its initial startup cost to the monitoring and evaluation efforts.

These projects include 41 USAID microenterprise investments around the world, such as water irrigation projects in Rwanda and business development programs for women in Afghanistan. It will eventually include more investments, linking nearly 200,000 downloadable technical and project documents.

The collaboration of these two data-focused USAID groups presents an opportunity for the Agency to use open data to set project performance goals, analyze project impacts over time, and view the effectiveness of projects by location. By meeting our open data goals, we can become more efficient and effective in decision making and monitoring and evaluation of projects.

Above all, this collaboration marks a step toward bridging USAID’s institutional knowledge to bureaus and offices that can harness this information to inform policy decisions.

The portal is only one of the many successes originating from last year’s hackathon. Hopefully, future hackathons will be equally fruitful in helping USAID improve its work around the world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hayley Samu is the Communications Coordinator for USAID Economic Analysis and Data Services at DevTech Systems, Inc.