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‘360Giving is enabling greater analysis and intelligence’: meet incoming 360Giving trustee Farah Ahmed

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Over the coming months, we are delighted to be welcoming six new trustees onto our board. One of them is Farah Ahmed, Head of Market Development, Digital Identity at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). In this post, we speak with Farah about her background in the civil service, how attitudes towards data have changed, and what excites her about joining 360Giving. You can get to know all our new trustees in our Trustees’ Week 2020 blogpost.

 

Hi Farah!

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’ve been in the civil service for most of my career, and pretty much for all that time I’ve worked on something to do with data. I was lucky enough to be in the Cabinet Office in the early days, when the power of data was being recognised as a way to drive greater transparency and accountability. I’ve also worked on putting right to data in legislation, and within that gaining a wide understanding of the challenges and opportunities for people and public bodies. Not so long ago I worked in Defra and led their data transformation programme. It was no mean feat having to bring together the multiple organisations of which the Defra group is formed, but we made good progress, establishing a data lab – and in doing so, proving the possibilities better use of data could bring to Defra customers and policymakers. 

When I joined DCMS a few years ago I led the team that sponsored the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. It was a fairly new team and a fairly new relationship between government and the body it had just set up. Coupled with that, I also established a data ethics policy function in the department, and in a strange twist of fate was given the responsibility for government wide policy on open data and open government. 

Slingshotting myself out of that circle after two years or so, I landed myself in the digital identity space at the start of this year. The new job was interrupted by the pandemic, where a lot of us were moved to emergency work. I led a small team to try to understand the supply and demand of volunteering data. It was good to get stuck in on practical data challenges and focused the mind during what was a really difficult time for everyone. I’m now back on digital identity but there’s always a part of me that misses the days working on data problems and solutions.

 

On the open data agenda, what’s changed over the years?

The data has always been there (perhaps locked away on parchment or microfilm or a really old hard drive – yikes!), and its potential to improve understanding, decision making and end services has always been there too. 

I think with the ever increasing amount of data being collected, and the role it is playing in our lives – especially for instance, in the pandemic – it’s moving along people’s attitudes to it. 

There seems to be a lot more acceptance about the role data plays and a lot more appreciation of its positives and negatives – that can only be a good thing. I think that, with thanks to how data is better presented in recent times, it’s become a lot more accessible and understandable to a wider range of people… not just the data geeks, thankfully.

 

What excites you about joining 360Giving?

For me, this is a personal development opportunity. It’s my first time being a trustee, and I’m glad to be able to bring a new perspective in. I’ve been in the civil service throughout my career and have spent most of my time working on data. I’ve built up a lot of knowledge on the policy side – understanding the pros and cons regarding data. It’s not all easy – some things are surprisingly straightforward and some things are really difficult. I’ve got a good understanding of the practicalities involved, as well as a huge passion for data in general.

Being from an ethnic minority, I think it’s fair to say there’s a heck of a lot to be done around that in the charitable giving sector when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion. I think by allowing the data to be more open and available, 360Giving is enabling greater analysis and intelligence amongst funders on how they target certain areas and groups. It’s like shining a light, so they can ask, ‘Are we funding the right things, or are we missing out on a great opportunity to help others in an alternative area?’ This is why I’m especially excited to see how 360Giving’s equalities data project progresses.

 

Farah will join 360Giving as a trustee, in December 2020. You can get to know all our incoming trustees in our Trustees’ Week 2020 blogpost.