A report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction showed that the Federal agency OPIC loaned $85 million to a contractor for construction of a hotel and apartment complex in Kabul, Afghanistan. The project was never completed. The U.S. Government Accountability Office later found that OPIC inspects fewer than 10% of the projects it funds.
In late 2016, the DOT gave San Diego a $1.04 billion grant to expand the city’s trolley service by 10.9 miles to serve an estimated 24,600 people, or $42,000 per commuter.
The federal government spends $80 billion on technology-related expenses every year, $55 billion of which is spent on preserving existing outdated technology, rather than using newer and more efficient forms of computing and storage.
I know you’re not surprised by these examples. No matter your political party, you know that the government wastes a lot of taxpayer money. You also likely have an overwhelming feeling that there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re better off staying focused on what you can control — your salary, your community, and your family.
Meanwhile, news anchors say we’re living in the most tumultuous time in American history. Sides have been chosen, data is manipulated, news is faked, and emotions run high as technology marches forward, creating new business models and societal shifts (social media, AI, drones, alternative energy) that governments can’t keep up with. Never before has the speed of change so radically outpaced the public sector’s ability to manage it.
Jobs are abundant, but we lack the culture and training to cope with their evolution. Money is abundant, but we lack the systems and laws to fairly distribute it in a post-labor world fueled by scalable technology. Information is abundant, but we lack the resources and regulations to protect our mental health from it.
As tech luminaries, CEOs and public officials have stated, the pace of change is faster than ever, and it will never again be as slow as it is today. It’s undeniable that humans will continue to push forward.
What can we do about it?
Our hypothesis is that the most pressing societal need in 2020 (and beyond) is the acceleration of public innovation to better match the private sector’s pace.
We do not mean to speed up governments’ purposely slow decision-making mechanisms, which are important for preventing rash action. We’re focusing instead on the antiquated technologies, operational models, and cultures that are deeply rooted in public entities, and are the cause of today’s inefficiencies.
To accomplish this, we must bring together public entities, private organizations, and individuals in new ways to come up with solutions that allow our society to be strengthened by technological change, rather than crumble beneath it.
While there are thousands of challenges worth tackling in the public sector, we’ve identified one of the largest and, in our opinion, most readily solvable ones: improving public funding.
Taking on the public funding challenge
The public funding ecosystem lacks transparency and is plagued by inefficient practices, which wastes billions of dollars annually.
Public funding also has an equity problem. Government agencies still struggle to deliver on basic commitments to address issues of inclusion and equity in their funding processes. Simultaneously, underrepresented groups are struggling to find and win public funding opportunities, while many aren’t even aware that these opportunities exist.
Our mission is to facilitate the efficient and equitable deployment of public funds by reducing barriers to access, increasing transparency, and empowering accountability.
Our solution is a multi-sided marketplace for government business. Public funding opportunities are consolidated into a single source using artificial intelligence and human experts. These opportunities are made available to the public, for free, through an intuitive and searchable online platform. The data provided by users’ profiles and searches is anonymized and aggregated, then leveraged to help governments make smarter, data-driven decisions when distributing funds and passing laws.
This platform solves the problem from both sides:
- For underrepresented groups, Egeria makes funding easier and more affordable to discover, apply for, and manage.
- For funding organizations, Egeria sells aggregated data that allows them to understand these groups and meet their fund distribution targets.
Our solution is not revolutionary. In Silicon Valley, our freemium/data-as-a-service business model would be old news. But in the public sector, it isn’t. We’re simply closing this gap.
A note on data
When scaling this platform, we are addressing data concerns head on. Because we’re making this resource free for most users to achieve our equity goals, we need to monetize the data we gather to create a sustainable company. Moreover, much of the impact of our platform comes from sharing this data to improve decision-making by public officials. Laws like GDPR and CCPA are improving data privacy, but there is still ambiguity when it comes to online users’ understanding of how their data is used. This needs to change.
We will protect all personally identifiable information according to current laws, but we also pledge to be transparent about how a user’s non-identifiable information is being used. We believe it’s a user’s right to know this information, and in this case, we believe users will find satisfaction in seeing how their use of the platform plays a role in helping their city or state better distribute funds to the people and causes that need them most.
The greatest challenge we face now is unification. Partnerships with ecosystem players will be critical, from state agencies to chambers of commerce, non-profit directors to startup founders, PACs to grant writers, our platform will facilitate and demand participation from everyone.
Fortunately, the need has already been identified. Tools and resources provided by organizations like Grants.gov and California GOED are helping. Existing momentum means we won’t be fighting the uphill battle of culture shift. Ironically, our opportunity lies in using private innovation to bring all levels of government together under one roof. We’re building the house.