Data and agency: introducing the Data Empowerment Fund

Sarah Drinkwater
3 min readFeb 28, 2024

Last week I had a brainwave about one of my angel portfolio companies.

In one sentence: EventStore is an operational database that enables their customers to stream event data.

The brainwave I had connected EventStore to an obsession I had over twenty years ago. As an undergraduate studying English literature, I got really into the Renaissance; an era of incredible intellectual advancement, adventure and social change.

The printing press was a new invention but not yet evenly distributed; reading and writing were still rare and knowledge passed orally ruled; and some households had commonplace books.

Commonplace books are like the Renaissance RSS; a journal where you’d note down inspiring quotes and things of interest. When travelling players came into town to perform Hamlet, your local priest (typically the person who could read and write) would copy the play down. Sometimes they’d make mistakes. Sometimes they’d change a part in the manuscript — say, to insert a local joke or reference.

This is why there are so many versions of the play in existence.

If you want to understand the many versions of Hamlet, the context of the time matters; from the broader political environment to the minutiae of reading off a vellum manuscript. And if I’m reading it now, over twenty five years after I first read it, my circumstances then and now add to a deeper reading.

To bring it back to EventStore, this is an opinionated database that holds that context of data matters; it’s not just about the data but about the context of the moment it was stored, the context since, the context now.

Without this multidimensional understanding, you’re missing essential organisational intelligence.

Before we obsessed about AI, we obsessed about data.

Bad analogies were made; data was gold, oil, sand, even Hamlet.

Whatever phrase or frame we use, data is the core building block of the digital age.

Artificial intelligence isn’t that intelligent without the datasets behind it.

But data is a funny thing, so multifaceted and playable; remember in lockdown when we learnt location data can also be health data? Back then I led a team at Omidyar Network funding responsible technology including efforts to break the Renaissance chokehold of data ownership and usage (in this analogy, Big Tech would be the church who were resistant to how the printing press democratised access to knowledge. I’m probably a serf in both examples).

And finally it feels like the playing field is more even; from the rise of Farcaster and other fediversy social universes to open source model training, it feels like a golden era for new ways to think about, build with and use data.

That’s why I’m proud to be an advisor for the Data Empowerment Fund.

It’s rare for me to make any time commitments outside of Common Magic but I’m such a passionate believer in what Zoe Weinberg and her fund ex-ante calls “agentic tech” — technology advancing human agency by increasing privacy, security and information integrity — and this program to give out $50K and $100K grants to projects and people is close to my heart. It’s a bonus this is part funded by my old teammates at Omidyar.

Some of these projects could become venture-backable businesses (Mailchain is a great example); others are worthy contributions in the eternal push to human progress.

Data empowerment takes many forms but here are some examples I’d love to see submit during the current open call:

  • A participatory process or tool to help individuals or communities collect, use or share data, or shape how it’s used
  • Work to build new dataset or collaboratively address issues, such as bias, with an existing one
  • Work to develop a technical protocol or standard that enables people to assert their preferences or determine data rights
  • Original research or design projects offering new proposals to empower people with or around data

Proposals are due by March 5, and I’m excited to see who submits.

Get yours in here.



Sarah Drinkwater

Solo GP Common Magic, investing in products with community at their core. Into communities, the best uses of technologies, London, looks and books.