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Expanding opportunity for farmers in Paraguay

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by Mark Coffey, chief investment and operating officer, Global Partnerships

Last week I traveled to Paraguay to meet with social enterprises, agricultural producers and a government official as part of our research into new investment opportunities. Nearly a quarter of Paraguay’s population lives below the poverty line, but the country’s underdeveloped economy is currently experiencing rapid economic growth. With this kind of growth comes the chance to catalyze and expand opportunity for people living in poverty. As I flew over much of the small, land-locked country in a tiny Beechcraft plane, I noticed the flatness of the land, its many rivers, and the countless tracts of well-watered but unused farmland. It is evident that Paraguay’s agricultural sector has tremendous potential for growth.

Social enterprises

During my five days in Paraguay I was able to visit four social enterprises:

BioExport and ARASY, two agricultural organizations that provide technical assistance and access to (and processing for) export markets. They serve smallholder farmers growing sesame and chia as well as more traditional products like cotton and rice;

Fundacion Paraguaya, which provides credit and integrated services to people living at the base of the economic pyramid; and

Elevate Business, which provides business training to young, emerging small and micro entrepreneurs (SME’s) who have high potential to absorb and implement concepts for markedly improving their business. Some of their clients include Fundacion Paraguaya’s clients.

In the past decade, many farmers with land holdings under 8 hectares (approximately 20 acres) have realized the benefit of enriching their soil and their incomes by converting from one traditional crop (such as rice, beans, corn, and cotton) to higher priced products such as sesame and chia. Thanks to the efforts of social enterprises such as BioExport and ARASY, hereafter referred to as “outgrowers,” there is a developing export market for these higher-priced products. To scale the opportunity to more farmers, we need to build up an ecosystem where access to financing, technical assistance and markets is readily available.

Agricultural producers

I also met with a number of farmers as well as cooperative and association leaders. In a meeting in Liberacion, an area with high poverty levels, I learned that the farmers had formed an association to better allow them to:

• form ties with buyers and providers of technical assistance (such as BioExport and ARASY);

• and to purchase and share equipment.

In another meeting at Cooperativa La Nortena, in the northern state of San Pedro, I learned about the coordination efforts between the various “tecnicos” (agronomists) who provide education and technical assistance, some of whom are staff of the outgrowers.

In another meeting in the southern state of Itapua, I attended a technical assistance meeting of about 50 farmers. The topics included the rotation of crops, the weather forecast and the planting of sesame seeds, proper soil preparation, etc. I found the farmers to be very attentive to the conversations and some of them were active in asking the tecnicos questions.

Some of the farmers were new to the sesame and chia crops, while others had experienced the benefits of the development of these markets over the past few years. My hosts told me that Paraguay currently has only about one percent of the world sesame market, but a much larger share of the Japanese import market and a growing share of the US and European markets. The Japanese are particularly interested in the expansion of supply from Paraguay, since the Paraguayan varieties are considered sweeter and of higher quality, and since Japan does not buy product from India, the world’s largest sesame producer.

The farmers told me about the importance of the technical assistance provided directly at the farm level as well as at community, association, and cooperative-level education sessions. With regard to financing, some of them wondered why it is so difficult to get long term financing rather than the type of seasonal financing they receive either in the form of seeds from outgrowers or in the form of loans from cooperatives.

A meeting with the vice minister of agriculture

After these visits I had the opportunity to meet in Asuncion with Vice Minister of Agriculture Mario Ruben Leon. After a discussion of our interest in Paraguay and some of my observations about the potential for improved output and earnings by small-holder farmers, he emphasized two keys to the development of smallholder farmers in Paraguay:

(1) Greater mechanization: This doesn’t have to mean large equipment mechanization, but can be as simple as some US-manufactured products such as plastic tables or huge plastic bags that keep farm products from being damaged in the fields, or semi-mechanized planters. He also noted that because of the lack of mechanization, young people see their fathers work all day long in the hot sun, with very little reward. As a result they don’t want to work the farm, but at the same time, they are unprepared to go to the city.

(2) Crop rotation: Mr. Leon specifically focused on the value for the farmer of planting sesame and chia, and then rotating into more “old school” products for the rest of the year-long growing season. We agreed that there is plenty of cultivable land, and favorable conditions (long growing season, warm weather, water). But until greater training and mechanization occur, Paraguay will not retain young people in farming and not grow incomes and outputs like it should. Some BioExport agronomists would go further and say that mechanization is optimally effective only when accompanied by technical assistance.


I came away from my meetings in the agricultural sector with an appreciation for all the actors and tools that are required to create markets and lift a sector: cultivable land, reasonable mechanization, technical assistance, access to both seasonal and longer term capital, promotion of products in export markets, modern and low cost processing technology, government support of the sector, and investors that understand how to locate and finance the key value chain players. At Global Partnerships, our role is limited but essential to making the value chain work; without it, farmers will produce less sesame and chia in Paraguay and households will not realize the earnings potential and the extent to which their daily lives could improve.

Blog Tags: agriculture   cooperatives   farmers   Latin America   Paraguay   producers   

Mark Coffey (center) meets with a group of 75 Paraguayan farmers.
Mark Coffey (center) meets with a group of 75 Paraguayan farmers. These farmers have formed an association that sells to BioExport. They have also banded together to purchase the tractor pictured. They are hoping that their livelihoods will improve, and that they can one day become a cooperative. Photo © Global Partnerships.

Creating impact for 30 million lives by 2024

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At Global Partnerships’ annual luncheon last month, our President and CEO Rick Beckett shared our goal of increasing our impact by touching 30 million lives over the next decade. In this blog post, Tara Murphy Forde, our director of research and impact, introduces GP’s Program & Impact Team and the role it will play in helping GP reach that goal.

by Tara Murphy Forde, director of research & impact, Global Partnerships

The Program & Impact Team, led by Peter Bladin, aims to strengthen our capacity to identify promising new markets and initiatives to deploy high impact capital into sustainable solutions that deliver meaningful opportunities to people living in poverty. The team’s role within the organization is four-fold:

  • Research – We are developing a rigorous, consistent, and iterative research practice that will inform the selection, definition and ongoing evaluation of GP’s initiatives;
  • Market and Early Business Development – We are building relationships with industry thought leaders and practitioners to identify promising new solutions and explore opportunities for collaboration;
  • Program Management – We are overseeing targeted learning work with a select set of partners;
  • Impact Measurement – We are developing a comprehensive methodology for how we define measure, learn from, and improve on our impact.

Through these activities we look to synthesize the best available information from existing literature, informed opinion, and results from our own portfolio to hone our investment strategy. For example research into our current microentrepreneurship initiative has helped us to:

1. Clarify the target client as women at the base of the pyramid;

2. Gain confidence that when delivered well, financial services plus education across a broad range of livelihoods topics leads to consumption smoothing, increased resilience, and opportunity creation;

3. Identify that sessions taught by cross-trained loan officers during pre-existing village bank meeting has the potential to achieve both sustainability and scale.

With these insights we are busy trying to increase our engagement with best-in-class organizations while simultaneously seeking new types of social enterprises that deliver promising results. In short through a more structured approach to understanding what innovations work, why, for whom and under what circumstances - the Program and Impact team is helping Global Partnerships focus and deploy capital on the most promising solutions that have the potential to reach scale and be sustainable.

Want to learn more? Check out:

Blog Tags: business development   impact evaluation   impact measurement   program & impact   program management   research   

Tara attends a CRECER village bank meeting.
Tara Murphy Forde (center) attends a village bank meeting with clients of our partner CRECER, in Bolivia. Photo © Global Partnerships.

Ebola and global crises threaten food security – why GP’s rural livelihoods investments are crucial

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Multiple global crises, such as the Ebola epidemic in western Africa, conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and droughts in Central America have led to an increasing demand for food aid. But the aid is unsustainable, according to the United Nations’ (UN’s) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP).

Without food aid, each region has large populations that remain vulnerable to starvation and malnutrition. However, the number of crises around the world is far outpacing the level of funding for humanitarian operations,” said Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. For example, Ebola quarantines in western African nations such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have led to “panic buying, food shortages and severe price hikes.” With an estimated 1.3 million people in the region in need of food assistance, “the WFP and FAO [are] planning to scale up life-saving operations by delivering 65,000 tons of food to the areas over the next three months.”  At the same time, more than 300,000 Ukrainian refugees and 1.5 million Iraqi refugees remain without adequate access to food and water, and the WFP and FAO also plan on addressing those needs.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in Central America, the worst drought to hit the region in decades has devastated the crops and livelihoods of farmers in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. USAID reports that “extremely poor households […] will experience rapid deterioration of their food security in early 2015 […] and atypically high levels of humanitarian assistance […] will likely be required in order to avoid a food crisis.” For example, over 230,000 families in Guatemala have lost crops and livestock, which “could leave hundreds of thousands without food.” This caused the Guatemalan government to declare a state of emergency last month, and it will rely on support from WFP to distribute food to hundreds of thousands of families in the coming weeks.

These recent events remind us that Global Partnerships’ (GP’s) work doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Our investments in partner organizations that support rural livelihoods are now more important than ever. For instance, our investment in FUNDEA, a microfinance institution in Guatemala, helps ensure that farmers receive the financing and technical assistance they need to earn a living and provide for their families. Through FUNDEA, we help farmers obtain some stability and resiliency in their livelihoods amidst a world full of increasing instability. The same holds true for our investments in Credicampo in El Salvador, FDL in Nicaragua, RAOS in Honduras, and our other rural livelihoods partners. 

To learn more about our partners, please see our partner grid, which is updated every quarter.

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Blog Tags: Central America   ebola   farmers   food security   Guatemala   Latin America   United Nations   

A FUNDEA client tends his field.
A FUNDEA client tends his field. © FUNDEA.

Innovations to serve people living in poverty at the 17th Microcredit Summit

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At last week’s 17th Microcredit Summit in Mérida, Mexico, stakeholders from the microfinance industry gathered to discuss how innovations in microfinance can help rid the world of extreme poverty. Many of Global Partnerships’ (GP’s) partners are microfinance institutions (MFI’s) that provide access to finance and education, so our Vice President of Portfolio Management, Ricardo Visbal, attended to meet with existing and potential partners. From the summit, we were also excited to learn about innovations such as: 

  • Mobile technologies that replace cash with electronic transfers, which makes access to finance more affordable, as well as more accessible for people living in remote areas.
  • The role that government can play to catalyze access to finance for the poor. For instance, last month 15 million bank accounts were opened on the day that the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced a new initiative to give the poor access to bank accounts.

Innovations such as these are forward-looking and can help change the lives of those in poverty. They are focused on scaling the amount of people that can be reached. However, just as important are the kinds of innovations that help us ensure that MFI’s are serving people living in poverty with the right kinds of services and products, and that these services/products are making a difference.

One such innovation that addresses this need is the slew of new accreditations that have emerged in recent years. One such accreditation is called Truelift, a framework that certifies an MFI’s commitment to its clients. For example, GP’s partner CRECER, a Bolivian MFI, is “the first Latin American organization to achieve the leader milestone for its adherence to the Truelift Pro-Poor principles.” This means that CRECER has demonstrated the highest level of compliance in terms of providing services that meet the needs of those living in poverty and tracking their progress out of poverty.

CRECER targets vulnerable groups; 82 percent of its clients are female and 56 percent live in rural areas. And “out of the clients that remained with CRECER between 2011-2013, 49 percent reduced their poverty probability level.” We are proud to be partners with CRECER, and will be publishing a blog post in the future about why it represents a partner that is “best in class.”

Attending conferences like the Microcredit Summit helps us stay on top of developing trends in the microfinance space so that we can better serve clients through our partners. Please subscribe to our blog so that you don’t miss out on our latest insights.   

Blog Tags: Bolivia   CRECER   impact   Latin America   Mexico   microcredit   Microcredit Summit   microfinance   Truelift   

CRECER village bank meeting
A group of CRECER clients gathers for a village bank meeting. © Global Partnerships

To reach the last mile, learn from the locals

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Morgan Babbs was Global Partnerships’ (GP’s) Green Technology field associate intern throughout the summer of 2013 (read about her experience here). Since then, she won a D-Prize and a Davis 100 Projects for Peace grant to start her own solar power social enterprise in Nicaragua, SolarRoute, which delivers solar lights to rural communities by tapping into existing last-mile distribution channels. Morgan shares some of the lessons she’s learned since founding her start up. Morgan is a rising senior at Tufts University, where she’s majoring in economics and international relations. She can be reached at morganlbabbs@gmail.com.

by Morgan Babbs, founder and CEO of SolarRoute

In the field of development economics, the “last mile distribution challenge,” how to service the most geographically isolated corners of the world, is often portrayed as an amorphous concept that stumps social entrepreneurs around the world. In the search for a solution, many come up with innovative strategies and new delivery models.

This kind of innovation is important in order to advance global development, but it’s even more important to focus on what you can learn from existing day-to-day supply chain movements and business practices in order to best reach the last mile. Before we jump to the question of, “How do we solve the last mile distribution challenge?”, it is important to ask, “Who is already going the last mile?”

If you transport solar lights atop a chicken bus, will they arrive at their destination?

Doing business in low-income countries is certainly challenging and frustrating at times. However, it would be imprudent to think that things just don’t function in these markets — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. There are intricate, albeit informal, last mile networks that move cash and goods all around the country.

How is it that cash and tons of passion fruit, mattresses, pots and pans, and other items are routinely moved around the country on top of a bus or in the back of a pick-up truck with no record, receipt, or insurance? The answer: trust.

Try to imagine all the players in this supply chain that have to uphold their end of the bargain in order for this to run smoothly. You’re counting on the fact that your goods won’t be stolen, that your contact on the other end is there on time, that the vehicle doesn’t crash or get robbed. The possibilities for disaster are endless. Yet, I’d be lying if I said that SolarRoute hasn’t sent a box or two of Greenlight Planet SunKing solar lights on top of a chicken bus for a staff member to pick up in his hometown two hours away from our base. Trust plays an important role in ensuring that informal last mile distribution networks function in Nicaragua, where the petty crime rate is high. It is an impressive system that functions against all odds.

Thus, selling solar lights in Nicaragua forces you to see things through this new lens. You naturally start to think more about supply chain and distribution of universally popular products: where do things move, where do people go, what is best advertised? Simply standing in a bustling market or at a busy bus stop for several hours in the municipal capital of a rural zone can teach you more than you could possibly imagine about local last mile distribution tactics. And that’s what inspires SolarRoute’s strategy.

What is the last mile and how can we reach them?

SolarRoute provides dual solar lamp-cell phone charging technologies to the last mile in Nicaragua. The “last mile” is a development term used to describe geographically and economically isolated populations with little access to relevant information, services, and resources to lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a definition largely applicable to the 30 million people in Latin America and the 1.3 billion people in the world who do not have affordable access to energy. This group makes significant use of kerosene lamps for energy, which are harmful for their health, the environment, and provide limited visibility during evening hours. Lack of lighting and proper technologies inhibits productivity — resulting in fewer hours spent studying or working, which translates to a smaller chance of progressing out of poverty.

There is an entrenched system of last mile interactions that SolarRoute has tried to replicate in order to maximize customer reception. For example, the most far-reaching and recognizable companies in Nicaragua are the two competing cell phone carriers, Movistar and Claro, Coca-Cola, and the largest chicken distributor, Tip Top. What they do best? They ensure that their brand is everywhere. In every corner of Nicaragua, you can add Movistar and Claro minutes to your phone, and you can buy a Coke to wash down your Tip Top chicken. Lucky for them, these companies gross huge profits so they can easily afford to take big off-road vehicles around the country every week to distribute their product. So if your goal is last mile distribution, the most logical, scalable, and cost-effective thing to do would be to tack onto the guys already going the last mile.

SolarRoute does last mile distribution like the local experts

SolarRoute works with agro stores, microfinance banks and school teachers to reach each institution’s last mile network. Our most recent development in last-mile strategy lies with a network of dirt-bike mounted distributors contracted by Movistar to deliver Movistar cell phone credit throughout the country. They span most of Central and South America and we recently scaled nationwide with them—allowing us to reach their 30,000 resellers (and more along the way). So, in addition to selling cell credit and cell phones, they also sell solar products. At every kiosk in every corner of a developing country you can find a “Movistar: recharge here” sign indicating where you can add more minutes to your cell phone. SolarRoute hopes to make small solar solutions as accessible and commonplace as cell phone minutes.

It’s doing the little things to imitate already successful brands that will hopefully add to SolarRoute’s success. For example, every SolarRoute retailer gets a sign indicating that SolarRoute products are sold there, a move inspired by the Movistar, Claro and Tip Top retail signs seen outside shops. Movistar and Claro paint their logo on concrete walls in every town: so do we. Movistar and Claro host small marketing events in the local markets and bus stops once per week: so do we. The idea is to engage in marketing, sales and business strategies that are already employed by the local experts in Nicaragua.

Of course there’s a need for improvement in these markets. Increased reliability and accountability, and a reduction in bureaucracy can help make huge strides towards increased availability of life-changing resources, services and technologies. But a huge discussion exists around creative last mile solutions. It’s a challenge, but it’s important to remember that there are already companies doing this. The question to ask is, “What can we learn from them in order to better distribute life-changing things such as tablets, cell phones or vaccinations?” In fact, it would be taking undue credit by saying SolarRoute employs “innovative” last mile distribution tactics. SolarRoute has really just latched on to what the country already does best. Maybe it’s innovative to us outsiders, but in Nicaragua, it’s the norm.

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Blog Tags: interns   last mile   Latin America   Nicaragua      solar light   solar technology   

Morgan Babbs, founder & CEO of SolarRoute, conducts a solar tech demonstration.
Morgan Babbs (far right), founder & CEO of SolarRoute, conducts a solar tech demonstration. Photo © SolarRoute

Investors Report for the second quarter of 2014

Subscribe to GP's blogIf you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog via email. Click here or enter your email in the subscription box at the top right corner of www.globalpartnerships.org.

In our Investors Report for the second quarter of 2014:

  • Our Chief Investment and Operating Officer, Mark Coffey, highlights the important role intermediaries play within the impact investing sector, and presents five factors GP uses to evaluate our partners’ management and governance. 
  • We take a deeper look at Contactar, a Colombian microfinance institution that integrates credit with a variety of services, including financial education, agricultural assistance and health education. 
  • We made investments in two new partners and one renewed partner in the second quarter: CENFROCAFE, IDH and Fundenuse. Learn more about what they do, why we're investing in them, and more. 
  • We provide updates on our Social Investment Funds' performance.

If you are a current investor, login here to view our latest Investors Reports.

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Blog Tags: Colombia   Contactar   governance   intermediaries   investors report   Latin America   management   

Luis and Francisca are clients of GP partner Contactar.
Luis and Francisca are clients of GP partner Contactar. Learn more about them in our latest Investors Report. © Global Partnerships.

In the glow of the kerosene lamp: Finding happiness and creating opportunity in Latin America

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by Annie O'Donnell, Capital Resource Intern, Global Partnerships

Annie O’Donnell is the Capital Resource Intern at Global Partnerships (GP), assisting GP with event planning and other fundraising activities. She became interested in GP’s work after returning to Seattle from serving as a Peace Corps Community Environmental Conservation volunteer in Panama for two years. Annie will begin her master’s degree in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University this Fall.

For two years, I lived and worked in the small farming community of Caisán. It’s home to about 200 families and is nestled in a world of equatorial vibrant green in Panama’s western highlands. Those who live along the main road in Caisán are lucky to find themselves on the power grid, but most families live down dirt roads in homes without electricity. They are dimly lit by kerosene lamps but warm and inviting all the same.  

Making the evening meal in only the glow of a kerosene lamp never seemed a challenge for Chelena, my host mom. She enjoyed that time at the end of the day – when the animals were fed, her three children were home from school, her husband from the farm, and me from touring the town. My Panamanian familia and I would gather in the kitchen, and eat and laugh as we swapped stories from our day.

I came to cherish our mealtime together, when the stresses of the day would dissolve with the sun light. It didn’t matter that my Spanish was imperfect or that, as a blonde standing three feet taller than everyone else, I looked different. Chelena called me mi’ja, short for my daughter, and I called her mamá. Though their home was small and their resources tight, I was part of the familia. This meant I was not allowed to contribute financially. My family watched out for me. Mamá never let me leave the house without an umbrella. They don’t have many material possessions but they treasure family, and that makes them rich in all the ways that really matter.

Living in rural Caisán, I learned to wake up early every morning to fill buckets before the water ran out for the day. I made sure to always have a flashlight and to shake out my boots in case of snakes. In the evening, people left their front doors open as a symbol of invitation for a cup of coffee or lemongrass tea for passersby. During my evening strolls I would learn deep history of the intertwined families in my small town. Though I felt like I was millions of miles from home, I also felt like I was a part of the local community.

Family and community are highly valued by Panamanians and their neighbors, and I think that’s the reason the region holds the top seven spots of the 2014 Gallup Happiness Report. This is despite Latin America being rife with economic hardship, crime and drug trafficking. The report surveyed people from 138 countries; it measured frequency of their feelings of enjoyment, being treated with respect, and how often they laughed or smiled. The report makes a strong statement: though life in Latin America can be hard, happiness endures.

Yet, Panamanians—and other Latin Americans—living in poverty do yearn for better things. My host mother accepts kerosene lamps, but knows it would be easier for her children to study if they had electricity to light their home. She dreams of her children becoming professionals but there are few economic opportunities in Caisán; almost every family tends a small farm and sells produce to earn income. Life isn’t easy in rural, poor communities like Caisán. But despite the challenges, positivity, as I saw it, and as the Gallup article suggests, can overcome a great deal.

Imagine the impact that could be possible if positivity were paired with opportunity – such as the chance to study at night with solar lights or receive training on sustainable farming techniques to grow more food.

By learning about my family and my community’s hopes and dreams, but also seeing the challenges they face, I recognize the importance of GP’s market-based approach to help people who don’t have access to essential services and goods. By investing in their futures GP is effectively working to help eliminate the very conditions that allow poverty to thrive. It is an honor to be a part of Global Partnerships’ work.

Blog Tags: kerosene lamp   Latin America   Panama   peace corps   poverty   

Annie and Chelena
Chelena (left) treated Annie like one of her own children, and baked a cake and cooked a special tamale to celebrate Annie's birthday. Chelena's kerosene lantern can be seen hanging in the background. © Annie O'Donnell

Evaluating impact investing [Part 5/5 Perspectives in Impact Investing series]

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Note from Global Partnerships: This is the fifth and final installment of our "Perspectives in Impact Investing" series, which presents the variety of perspectives of different actors in the impact investing space

Part 5: Evaluating impact investing

by Srik Gopalakrishnan, Director, Strategic Evaluation, FSG

Over the past few years, as the field of impact investing has grown in size and complexity, a lingering question has followed in its wake, “How do you evaluate impact investing?” Finding a way to effectively evaluate impact investing is important not only to ensure that investment resources are being put to good use, but also to continue to find ways to develop, improve, and refine the approach. Below are three distinct but related ideas that those seeking to evaluate impact investing may want to bear in mind:

1. Apply the right evaluation approach: It is important to consider the particular context and circumstances of the impact investment while choosing the right evaluation approach. In other words, not every impact investment might warrant an impact evaluation. As Richard Gomes from the Shell Foundation pointed out earlier in this blog series, it took several years of piloting new technologies and testing business models before a viable approach was found for a clean cookstoves business with a global reach. This is often true of many social innovations; there is a period of trial and error before settling in on a “scalable” solution. In such cases, a “developmental evaluation” approach that provides real-time feedback in a non-threatening way may likely be the appropriate evaluation approach. As the social innovation matures, one could shift gears to move to “formative evaluation” approach, and ultimately move towards a “summative evaluation”. The graphic below shows how this progression may happen over time.

Progression of Evaluation

(Click image to enlarge)

2. Go beyond performance indicators: Impact investors are naturally inclined to look for indicators of impact, just as they would look for indicators of financial return. While it is tempting to provide easy dashboards with impact and financial metrics side by side, one should recognize that the impact indicators, while useful, may be limited in their validity. Performance indicators, in general, are considered valid when the theory of change that underlies the initiative is “correct”, and they are collected in a rigorous manner (for e.g., triangulated using multiple measures). Neither of these conditions might hold true for social innovations, at least until they are reasonably well established. Hence, it is important to take a more holistic approach to evaluation - one that includes the examination of contextual and qualitative information, and avoids over-simplification of impact.

3. Expand the definition of “impact”: A characteristic of working in complex social systems is that unintended outcomes are as or more likely to happen as intended ones. A social entrepreneur who works on getting medical care in a timely and affordable way to villages in Africa might find that school attendance, and consequently learning, is improving, as children who were previously forced to stay home sick, are now able to go to school. This is a “ripple effect” benefit that may not be captured by a narrow definition if impact. As Loren Rodwin from OPIC illustrates earlier in this blog series, an initial investment in a promising social enterprise may act as a catalyst that attracts other types of funding. This could very well count as “impact” under a broader definition. On the flip side, there may also be unintended consequences that aren’t as desirable, but still need to be captured and understood in order to improve and replicate the initiative.

The salience of the above points is highlighted nowhere more eloquently than in the “origin story” of impact investing itself. In a recent article titled in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, my FSG colleagues tell the story of the Rockefeller Foundation’s role in fostering the field of impact investing. Rather than use traditional philanthropic tools of grantmaking, the foundation chose instead to convene key field leaders, build cross-sector partnerships, created a global network, and influence government policy, eventually spurring investments worth billions of dollars, a multi-fold return on the few millions that were spent by Rockefeller.

This would likely have been impossible if the foundation had chosen the wrong evaluation approach, focused solely on performance indicators, and stuck with a narrow definition of impact. It’s a lesson that the various actors in the impact investing field may want to keep in mind.

About FSG
FSG is a non-profit consulting firm dedicated to discovering better ways to solve social problems. FSG meets its mission by working with philanthropic funders, non-profits, and corporations to develop high impact strategies, tailor operations, and measure and evaluate results. FSG offers a wide range of evaluation and learning services, which include designing and implementing developmental, formative, and summative evaluations; conducting retrospectives and strategic reviews; building organization-wide learning and evaluation systems; and developing shared measurement systems.

Read the rest of the Perspectives in Impact Investing Series

Blog Tags: Developmental evaluation   formative evaluation   impact   impact evaluation   impact measurement   measuring impact   metrics   performance indicators   summative evaluation   

An Aprocassi member and his family.
Global Partnerships (GP) meets with clients of our partners as one component of evaluating their impact. This APROCASSI member (blue and white shirt) says the cooperative is "like a new school" and has had a significant positive impact on his yield, prices, and well-being. APROCASSI is a GP partner in Peru. Photo © Global Partnerships.