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Most of us take it for granted that the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assigns every vehicle a Vehicle Identification Number (or VIN). This number makes it possible for buyers and sellers to track the story behind a car. With a bit of research, consumers like you or me can learn the history of a used vehicle before we buy it, without ever interacting with the car's previous owners. This is only possible because the VIN acts as a unique identifier for the auto industry.
Until now, the social sector hasn't had this basic building block for an information system. In order to easily share details about an organization's social impact, financial performance, or eligibility, we must be able to firmly differentiate one organization from another.
This is the problem that Foundation Center, GlobalGiving, GuideStar, and TechSoup have set out to solve by creating BRIDGE (Basic Registry of Identified Global Entities). Publicly launching earlier this month, BRIDGE is a system that assigns a unique identifying number — a "numerical fingerprint" — to philanthropic organizations across the globe. These can be nongovernmental organizations, programs, and projects or other entities in the social sector, including schools and churches.
The BRIDGE project aims to revolutionize information sharing in order to better understand and track the flows of philanthropic dollars and thereby enhance transparency and effectiveness in the global social sector. Funded by Google Inc., the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and with support from the Markets for Good community, the BRIDGE project has reached a major milestone: the launch of a lookup tool, which is now available on the BRIDGE website.
Already there are nearly 3 million BRIDGE numbers assigned worldwide, a result of synchronizing information from the databases of founding partners Foundation Center, GlobalGiving, GuideStar, and TechSoup. Ongoing synchronization makes it easier to share and compare data among databases.
On February 4, BRIDGE launched a search tool at bridge-registry.org, where anyone can look up an organization's name, location, or BRIDGE Number. If you work with an NGO, it means that donors will be able to find your organization more easily to support your cause. If you're a donor, it means you'll be able to more easily find partner organizations that work in the fields you most care about.
If you work with an intermediary organization, you'll be able to find members or partners who work in your space and better serve your clients. Everyone, including NGOs, institutional funders, aid transparency organizations, and other NGO service providers, can now have a more accurate and holistic picture of what's happening in the nonprofit and international development sector.
The founding partners intend to grow the collaborative BRIDGE project so that it can strengthen other philanthropic collaborations and create a more structured, transparent, and measurable philanthropic market. The knowledge derived from the BRIDGE project will also facilitate more strategic decision making by those who are working to create positive change across the globe.
Today's launch is an important milestone for the world of transparency, impact measurement, philanthropy, and nonprofit and social enterprise performance. In the same way that no one involved in the creation of Universal Product Codes (UPCs) in the 1970s could have anticipated the current crop of smartphone scanner apps, we expect BRIDGE to provide a foundation for future innovation that we can't yet predict.
We know BRIDGE will have far-reaching implications for philanthropic information sharing, but we can only begin to imagine the breadth of the project's ultimate impact.
Try out the lookup tool. And for more information, contact the BRIDGE organizers or sign up to receive future milestone announcements from the BRIDGE project.
Image: Roger / CC BY-NC-ND
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.