Aleph shines a light on the oil industryThe platform provides access to information about oil, gas and mining, enabling citizens and governments to hold businesses to account
- Age of business: Aleph – 1 year, OpenOil 5 years
- Name of business: OpenOil
- Location: Berlin, Germany
- Team: Johnny West, Dan O’huiginn, Olumide Abimbola, Lucile Neden
- Funding: €100,000
What does Aleph do?
Aleph gives the whole world access to the best source of information about oil, gas and mining: everything the extractives companies tell investors, in one place. This access to data lets governments, activists and individuals hold the industry to account.
How did you meet?
Olumide had been developing economic policy for African governments. Dan had been helping investigative journalists follow the money trail behind organised crime, and Lucile had been developing open-source software. Johnny brought us together through OpenOil, a project he founded to better understand the oil industry.
Where did the business idea come from?
It was at first a tool for our own research, but we soon realised this was useful for many more people. We met the government official who used Aleph to find a company he was responsible for, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. We showed tax authorities a mining company’s questionable financial arrangement, which could have brought them maybe $10 million more tax if they had identified it in time. And with one search, we were able to show a campaigner information she had been seeking for three years.
Are you working with any other partners?
Open source means collaboration. We share our code with OCCRP, a group of investigative journalists who use it to expose corruption in eastern Europe. We take advantage of the data produced by OpenCorporates, and by an international process called the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative”. We also have funding from the Shuttleworth Foundation, which supports social innovators building an open knowledge society.
How has ODINE helped you so far?
ODINE understands that just having a good product isn’t enough – there is a lot of work to bring it to market, especially when you are trying to work with governments and big business. We are learning how to really show people what our product can do for them, and ODINE is very helpful with that.
What advice would you give to other companies pitching to ODINE?
Understand that ODINE is the beginning, not the end. ODINE can give you a springboard, but in the end your product will sink or swim on its own merits. Show ODINE how your product can thrive independently, and they will give support to get you there.
How would you encourage big business to buy into the open data movement?
Let’s talk about finance. Investors need open data, as this article uses OpenOil to explain. To make a decision you need to collate all the data, and be able to trace each fact back to its source. Open data enables this, in a way that traditional analyst estimates simply don’t.
What’s the key trend in open data at the moment?
The understanding that collecting the data is only 20% of the work. The real challenge is using it: finding one story buried within a million documents, using that to make a business decision or to change a policy. We try to tilt our attention in that direction – on using the data, not just on having it.
(This interview first appeared on The Guardian)