Behind Bloomberg's African Media Push

We're always on the alert here for signs that mega-donors are poised to shake up entire areas of philanthropy with massive infusions of cash. So we're wondering: Is Michael Bloomberg's recent $10 million commitment to a new Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa the tip of an iceberg?

Media and data are hot topics in Africa right now. At last Fall's IMF/World Bank meetings, Mthuli Ncube highlighted the fact that that the African Development Bank has spent around $100 million over the past decade to support the improvement of statistical offices across Africa. He then stated that the continent needs about $70 million per year to meet the need for improved statistical data across the continent.

One can find case studies of the importance of data in Nigeria, Ghana, and Zambia recently re-basing their GDP calculations after long periods of not doing so. Angola is getting ready to conduct its first census since 1970. More than 10 African countries have gotten their financials together in order to approach the global capital bond markets rather than the traditional international donors.

On the importance of the initiative, Bloomberg said, “Reliable data and financial analysis bring transparency to markets and promote sound economic development – and they can help keep Africa growing and creating opportunity. The Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa will foster collaboration, support professional growth and nurture the leaders who are contributing to the continent’s very bright future.”

A main focus of the Initiative will be training journalists and other media to better understand financial and policy data, and Bloomberg will partner with several top African universities on this front. In turn, it will connect that effort to all the work going on around good governance, better budgeting, and transparency that foundations and other players have been underwriting on the continent for some time. Bloomberg has plans for partnerships with the Ford Foundation, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and African Development Bank (AfDB), the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and ONE.

It appears that Bloomberg made this gift separately from Bloomberg Philanthropies, probably due to how closely aligned it is with the interests of Bloomberg LP, more so than with Bloomberg Philanthropies. Bloomberg LP recently set up a new data center in Cape Town. The number of Bloomberg LP offices in Africa has doubled in recent years, and there are plans to double the number of Bloomberg LP staff in the near future. So creating some distance between the two juggernauts makes sense.

Data-focused NGOs working on issues related to the media, access to information, transparency, the markets, and economic development would do well to gauge how closely they align with the Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa and start working to sell the Initiative on their value add in case it should expand to other countries beyond South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya.