The Festival de Datos this year comes at a crucial time: We are at an “all-hands-on-deck” moment in global development. If you are passionate about data and understand its centrality in helping solve the complexities of a world mired in polycrisis, now is the time to step up to the challenge. 

The United Nations' 2023 World Data Forum's final communique (the Hangzhou Declaration), contains three themes: renewed commitment, revitalized energy, and accelerated action to ensure that high-quality, timely, open, and inclusive data are the heart of realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Making that communique a reality is a daunting task. It requires financing, coordination, and focus at levels that we, frankly, may not have. 

It is for this reason that I want to invite you—along with more than 500 of our fellow data advocates—to Punta del Este, Uruguay from 7-9 November 2023 for the Festival de Datos (or Data for Development Festival), co-hosted by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (Global Partnership) and the Government of Uruguay. This event takes place at the halfway point between the 2023 World Data Forum in China and the November 2024 World Data Forum in Colombia. As a result, the Festival offers us, as a community, an urgent opportunity to take stock of where we’re at and to accelerate progress at the midpoint of the Sustainable Development Goals. At the Hewlett Foundation, we firmly believe in the role that data has in improving people’s lives, and ensuring everyone has an opportunity to thrive. It is for this reason that the foundation is proud to support the Global Partnership and the Festival de Datos.

From trainings, peer exchanges, lightning talks, and fishbowl sessions to good, old-fashioned panels and plenaries, the Festival will be a high-energy event. With over 75 planned sessions, it will bring together data champions from around the world to share, innovate, and collaborate. (For more details, see this sneak peek at early plans for the Festival).

Getting Agenda 2030 back on track requires the sum of us to be greater than our individual parts. This is why convenings like the Festival are so important, and why I hope you can join us.

In particular, I hope that the Festival will offer us the space to have the hard conversations—to engage with, navigate through, and find solutions to the many thorny challenges we experience in the world of data for development to catalyze progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include issues of power, resources, and perspectives that are urgent to meet the demands of the crises of the current moment. 

Three challenges we can only solve by coming together

  • Data is a contested space. As I mentioned in April in Hangzhou, data is a contested space because who controls what data is generated, how it is used, how it is governed, and how it is interpreted are all exercises of power. This applies to all corners of the data space: from a technical, public-private partnership agreement between a mobile network operator and a government, to who is and is not included in a digital ID system, to whatever sorts of biases are being baked into the algorithms of the next AI tool. This is why initiatives like the Data Values Project and Inclusive Data Charter are so important, but we need to find ways to ensure that efforts like these and others are more than just nice words on paper that we all sign up to. We need to bring them to life in the work that we do each day. Ultimately, the debates around finding a balanced approach between maximizing data for development and ensuring optimal protection of data rights and privacy need to continue. This means having frank conversations about power and data.

  • The financing needed for better data is huge—and unmet. Even though we know that data is a good investment—$32 of economic benefits are generated from every dollar spent—the sheer scale of data financing needs given competing priorities is huge, with a current financing gap of up to $700 million per year, according to the Bern Network. The likelihood of filling that gap is low; so how do we prioritize? In what areas of the financing for data space do we most need to focus our efforts? And how can we galvanize more funding, whether from domestic, private sector, or other multilateral, bilateral, and philanthropic sources? From 2017 to 2019, five bilateral and multilateral providers accounted for more than half all aid commitments to statistics. How can we bring more on board? We need to have frank conversations among funders, governments, civil society, and other data stakeholders to tactically figure out how-best to address this massive commitment gap.

  • Silos keep us from harnessing our collective power. Too often in the world of data (and development writ large), we get lost in our own silos. Given so much ambiguity, huge problem sets, and competing interests, it can be tempting to “put the blinders on” and not think across geographies, sectors, funding sources, and topics. This applies to all organizations—from big multilaterals to hyper-local civil society. We may miss opportunities for thinking about where we sit in a bigger ecosystem and miss opportunities for thinking outside of our own boxes. This results in missed opportunities for collaboration and complementarity in critical adjacent spaces, such as between data and digital transformation. By bringing our community together in one venue for several days, the Festival will offer us an amazing opportunity to have the frank, silo-busting conversations that can take our entire field forward.

So come join us in November in Uruguay. This is an important moment to join with stakeholders from across the globe in a wide variety of ways, on topics that could not be more front-and-center in the world today. You can find all the details here, including logistics, travel support, and the evolving agenda. See you in Punta del Este!


Chris Maloney is a Program Officer with the Gender Equity and Governance Program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, focused on evidence-informed policymaking in East and West Africa.