WHO IS MICHAEL LENCZNER?
Michael Lenczner is the CEO and founder of Ajah, a Canadian-based company which offers an online platform for researching funders to the non-profit sector. Its service, Fundtracker, merges dozens of government and public data sets with its own proprietary research so that users can track grant-making by foundations, corporations and governments. Ajah’s award-winning non-profit initiative, PoweredByData leverages their expertise to develop a more effective social sector by working with various stakeholders to publish better open data.
Michael has been working in community and public interest technology since 1999, creating the community wireless group Ile sans fil, which runs over 1000 free wifi hotspots in Montreal. He has also been working in open data since 2004, co-founding municipal, provincial, and national lobbying groups for improved access to government data.
You can connect with Michael here:
IN TOR 095 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The efforts Ajah and Powered By Data have taken to make nonprofit reporting more accessible.
- The wonders of working with nonprofit data in Canada, whose Revenue Agency showcases the best system in the world.
- Michael’s career as a technologist and reluctant serial social entrepreneur.
- Ajah’s new offerings, automation and the commercial future of Open Data for social impact.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Powered By Data
- Thomson Reuters
- Canada Revenue Agency
- Open Data
- Web 2.0
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
- Professional sales
- Automation, machine reading, scraping
- Transparency and fraud
- Montreal, Québec, Canada
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
A serial social entrepreneur
2010′ Ajah. Tracking people in the Canadian nonprofit network. “The supply side of big data.” Then launched Powered by Data (PBD).
Data is publicly available, digitized and transcribed by the agency.
Canada has the best nonprofit activity tracking system.
To the public dataset Ajah adds analysis, “reverse lookups”: see organization similar to yours, then see who funds them. Also a recommendation engine.
Ajah has comprehensive profiles on the nonprofit players. Focus on transactions, not keywords.
Over 1,000 have complained about the info Ajah includes about them.
“People are expected to look up and find the information.”
Genesis, and players
Michael was a project manager, focused on Open Source, few contacts with the nonprofit.
’09 Branches out when he realizes the value of Open Data.
’10 Obtains funds from VC.
Ajah has evolved into modern interfaces and usability. Competitors “haven’t changed much in the last ten years… as the web was changing. The whole Web 2.0 has kind of passed them by.”
Not being a developer, Ajah had to entice developers through equity. Equity means nonprofit.
Team of 4, developers contracted. PBD is a team of 3. “I’m the emperor of a very small kingdom.”
PBD Uses Ajah datasets and makes it more available.
Corporate gifts and grants for the domestic nonprofits in Canada. But companies don’t publicize their contributions as would be expected. Company sustainability reports should include it yet often don’t.
“Organizations give money to their employees’ kids’ schools and the employees don’t know about it.”
Why? Market research reveals internal issues between people in charge of giving and people in charge of logging and publishing the transactions.
By helping organizations structure their information, it becomes easier for the sector (and Ajah) to make use of the information, which is public.
Championing data products in nonprofits
The corporate gifts product is still small. However, positive response has come from CSR departments.
Giving back is also an employer retention tactic, but it’s not leveraged as such.
More structural information is a public benefit. “I have a personal interest.”
Early victory, oddballs
Ajah had no sales team. They offered a freemium model with the first 10 profiles for free, to gain awareness
A customer calls: “I made $15,000 on your free profiles.” Then she said “I have a background in sales. Are you hiring?” She is still with Ajah.
Another time, a historical military organization was looking to fund a historical site for educational purposes. Ajah connected them to an organization interested in funding historical military education projects.
Smaller Christian organizations don’t take state funds because they comes from gambling (lottery).
Data is scraped automatically from the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA).
80-90% of the scraping is done by machines.
Ajah strives to make it so organizations don’t spend the bulk of their time activating their social networks.
The “big black hole” and the “cook pit”
Transparency seems to be needed in the nonprofit application process.
PBD has helped funders publicize their offerings.
Unlike in the U.S., Canada nonprofit data is digitized and openly searchable, but fraud is still possible. Other countries have weaker data reporting systems, even some foundations don’t need to report a lot.
An international movement of voluntary reporting and standardization, mainly in Europe.
Some of the available reporting is of no use for Ajah because it is licensed as non-commercial.
Australia has a nonprofit data API.
PBD wants to strengthen best practices around the world, make a more informed global nonprofit sector.
The next five years
“There are lots of opportunities to commercialize Open Data. Organizations are missing out.”
Commercialization can stimulate demand and increase social impact. “People need to be very creative.”
The company is running. “My passion is on social impact.” PBD is Michael’s priority.
Reluctant entrepreneurial challenges
“To understand how professional sales is, and how much work goes into it.”
People’s disinterest in technology, having to pitch technology to people who could really use it.
Chris Taggart’s OpenCorporates to publicize companies’ total jurisdictions and owners.
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
If you have any feedback you’d like to share for me or Michael, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I read all of them and will definitely take part in the conversation.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me directly, head on over to the Ask Stephen section. Don’t be shy! Every question is important and I answer every single one.
And, if you truly enjoyed this episode and want to make sure others know about it, please share it now:
Also, ratings and reviews on iTunes are very helpful. Please take a moment to leave an honest review for The TOR Podcast!