What 3 years at Cloudera Foundation taught me about tech philanthropy

“I loved working with people who aren’t just smart and talented, but who were driven by their care for humanity and the world around them,” writes Jade Wong.

Three years ago, I landed my first “real” internship at the Cloudera Foundation. I was attending my dream school in the Bay Area on scholarships funded by the philanthropic efforts of technology companies. An internship with the Cloudera Foundation seemed like the perfect opportunity to discover exactly what tech philanthropy meant in practice.

Initially, I joined as an intern to conduct research that would inform the strategy of the newly established foundation. Looking back at what I’ve worked on over the last years, including helping with Cloudera Cares, putting together our first Action Report, and most recently contributing to the Data4Change Accelerator, I’ve been lucky enough to gain a pretty holistic perspective of the workings of a technology foundation. 

Recently, I was flipping through an old journal. After my first week at the foundation, I wrote, “I’m excited to see what kinds of data nonprofits will be able to collect.” Fast forward three years including five college semesters as an intern and six months as a Program Associate, I’ve learned that working at the intersection of technology and philanthropy is about so much more than just mining the data. 

Hours of listening to nonprofits helped me understand that data collection is not the issue — many already have enough data to crash a computer or two.

During college, I took classes across several quantitative disciplines such as sociology, data science, economics, and demography, so I quickly developed a minor obsession with the practicalities of data rather than its possibilities. It wasn’t until I joined the foundation that I was able to see the bigger picture of what made data valuable. It takes someone with the right domain expertise and technical and governance skills to use the appropriate technology to conduct analysis in an ethical way. Now what excites me most is seeing the potential to make progress on tough challenges faster with the data-backed evidence needed for advocacy, policy, and regulation.

Advice and mentorship

Hours of listening to nonprofits helped me understand that data collection is not the issue — many already have enough data to crash a computer or two. Instead, many seek advice and mentorship about what technology best fits their needs, and which skills are necessary to make that technology work within their specific nonprofit context.

Cloudera Foundation grantees get support for both their impact roadmaps and data journeys from the foundation’s staff, which includes a unique mix of social impact strategists with deep nonprofit experience and senior technical staff who know their way around all kinds of technologies. That’s why before we even begin any work, both technical and program staff sit down with a nonprofit to figure out how to marry these perspectives together in a way that helps them cohesively embed technology into their overall strategy. Having worked on sourcing grantees for the first Data4Change Accelerator cohort for the past six months, I was part of this commitment to help nonprofits think about both of these aspects at an organizational level before even thinking about a potential use case.

The best part

This close partnership with grantees turned out to be the favorite part of my experience at the foundation. I loved working with people who aren’t just smart and talented, but who were driven by their care for humanity and the world around them. I admired the foundation staff’s deliberate attention and time investment dedicated to supporting our grantees’ missions.

For example, when multi-year grantee Terre des hommes (Tdh) needed help hiring a data scientist, on top of the technical onboarding and support for its children’s health data project, the foundation’s data technologist A.B. Srinivasan helped Tdh craft an appropriate job description, review resumes, and even sit in on a few interviews.

Three essential components

Ten people will give you 10 different definitions of what they think “tech philanthropy” entails. It’s ambiguous, broad, and sometimes controversial. What I learned is that it takes more than grant dollars OR a product donation OR mentorship because many nonprofits need all three to put any of it to good use.

Jade Wong
Posted By
Jade assists in the execution of the strategy and operations of Cloudera Foundation programs. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Economics with additional areas of study in Food Systems, Data Science, and Global Urban Humanities. During her time in college, she gained additional experience in areas like strategy, management consulting, and finance.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Links are not permitted in comments.