Private Capital for the Public Good
Closing the Funding Gap
Development in the 21st Century is About Financing, Not Giving
By Judith Rodin and Saadia Madsbjerg . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i
Innovations that Broaden the Scope of Financial Capitalism
By Robert J. Shiller . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
The Innovative Finance Revolution
Private Capital for the Public Good
By Georgia Levenson Keohane and Saadia Madsbjerg . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
In Defense of Financial Innovation
Creative Finance Helps Everyone — Not Just the Rich
By Andrew Palmer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
The Risk of Small Goals
By Zia Khan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Innovative Finance Solutions
No Pain, Big Gain. How Micro-levies Save Lives
Philippe Douste-Blazy and Robert Filipp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Making Innovation Boring:
The Key to Low-Cost Finance for “Public Goods”
By Kenneth G. Lay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
African Risk Capacity:
An African-led Strategy for Managing Natural Disasters
by Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chair of the ARC Agency Governing Board . . . . . . . . 51
Investing in the Transformation of Financial Access in India
By Sucharita Mukherjee, Deepti George and Nikhil John . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Meeting the World's Infrastructure Investment Gap:
Innovate or Perish
By Lorenzo Bernasconi. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
Bitcoin for the Unbanked
Cryptocurrencies That Go Where Big Banks Won’t
By Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
The Mobile-Finance Revolution
How Cell Phones Can Spur Development
By Jake Kendall and Rodger Voorhies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Advancing Universal Development Goals
Through the Breathtaking Power of Innovation
By David Nabarro and Frank Schroeder. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
Finance, Growth and Sustainable Infrastructure:
The Shifting Logic of Climate Change
By Thomas Heller . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
From Sector to System: Reshaping Humanitarian Aid
By RT Hon. David Miliband. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation i
Closing the Funding Gap
Development in the 21st Century is
About Financing, Not Giving
By Judith Rodin and Saadia Madsbjerg
JUDITH RODIN is President of The Rockefeller Foundation.
SAADIA MADSBJERG is Managing Director of The Rockefeller Foundation.
n 2015, the world had set ambitious targets for addressing global challenges,
agreeing on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate
Agreement. The cost of implementing these agreements, however, will be astronomical. Over the next decade, the UN estimates that implementing the SDGs
will cost between $50 trillion and $70 trillion; the Paris Climate Agreement will cost
over $12 trillion over 25 years. At a time when the world economy is in a fragile
state, Overseas Development Assistance is in decline and being redirected towards
peace and security efforts. Philanthropy provides a few hundred billion dollars a
year, but that is far less than what is needed. The critical question is: how will we
pay for it all? The answer is to leverage innovative finance mechanisms that can tap
into the over $200 trillion in private capital invested in global financial markets and
effectively deploy these funds towards development efforts.
Development in the 21st century needs to be about financing, not just pledges and
giving—given the scale of the social, environmental, and economic challenges that
we face today. Innovative finance represents a set of financial solutions that create
ii Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
scalable and effective ways of channeling private money from the global financial
markets towards solving pressing global problems. These financing solutions take
a variety of forms across sectors and geographies, from insurance-linked securities
and pay-for-success structures to advanced market commitments.
As society’s provider of risk capital, philanthropy has over the years championed the
development of innovative finance solutions that have shown how to successfully
enable, accelerate, and harness private capital markets for public good. We have
seen early success with the adoption of innovative finance mechanisms such as
pooled risk insurance, social impact bonds, and green bonds. Yet this early success
isn’t enough to meet increasing need. Globally, more than 800 million people still
live on less than $1.25 a day; 2.4 billion people lack access to sanitation. Further, 795
million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished.
The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to using our philanthropic risk
capital to develop the next generation of innovative finance solutions that
are needed to close the gap between global development’s funding needs
and the resources that are currently available. We call this initiative Zero
Gap. Working at the intersection of finance and international development,
Zero Gap provides one model for how the development community can
support and de-risk new and innovative financing mechanisms—including
financial products and public-private partnerships—to mobilize large
pools of private capital that have the potential to create out-sized impact.
Zero Gap is a collection of bold ideas that we have sourced from around the world
for how to scale funding for critical development objectives such as energy access
in Sub-Saharan Africa or restoring natural infrastructure in the Americas. A core
value of Zero Gap is that finance can be a powerful tool for good. Imagine a forest
resilience bond investing in wildfire prevention in California, a micro-levy that
creates a stable funding stream for alleviating malnutrition in Africa, or insurance
being harnessed to not only respond to the next Ebola crisis but also to ensure better
preparation for disease outbreaks.
To fully unlock the potential of innovative finance, new financial mechanisms
must be structured to meet the needs of investors such as return on investment,
level of risk, and portfolio diversification. To encourage investors to go from
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allocating billions of dollars for social good to trillions we need to align with
financial principles without sacrificing the social or environmental objectives.
For example, investments that provide poor and vulnerable people with access to
energy must also meet the risk/return expectations of institutional investors. To
be successful, we must continue to structure these financial mechanisms for and
with the international financial community.
The only way to close development’s precarious funding gap is to make a sustained
commitment to innovation — innovation in developing novel financing mechanisms
and enabling public policy interventions that collectively have the power to mobilize
new and additional private sector capital. This collection of essays draws on the
expertise of practitioners and leading thinkers in the innovative finance field to
explore the role of global capital markets in driving social impact and the underlying
policy framework required to foster greater collaboration between the private and
2 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Innovations that Broaden
the Scope of Financial
By Robert J. Shiller
ROBERT J. SHILLER is Sterling Professor of Economics, Yale University and
President of the American Economic Association. He was co-winner of the Nobel
Prize in Economics in 2013, has authored ten books and is co-developer of the
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.
Critics of financial capitalism are correct in some of their indictments. Related to our financial institutions are issues of persistent and often increasing,
economic inequality; of political influence from financial interests; and of
speculative bubbles and crises.
But the changes that must be made need to broaden its scope, rather than constrain
the innovative power of financial capitalism. We have the potential to support the
greater goals of good societies—prosperous and free societies in the industrialized as
well as the developing world—if we expand, correct, and realign financial capitalism.
We have seen great evidence of this potential. Financial technology has been spreading
throughout the world by imitation, through the adoption and transformation of
successful financial ideas initially pioneered as isolated experiments. Dependence on
traditional economic systems has fallen in most of the world to financial capitalism.
The socialist market economy, with its increasingly advanced financial structures,
was introduced to China by Deng Xiaoping starting in 1978, adapting to the Chinese
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 3
environment the examples of other highly successful Chinese-speaking cities: Hong
Kong, Singapore, and Taipei. The economic liberalization of India, which allowed
freer application of modern finance, was inaugurated in 1991 under Prime Minister
P. V. Narasimha Rao by his finance minister Manmohan Singh, who later became
prime minister. The voucher privatization system introduced to Russia in 1992–
94 under Prime Minister Boris Yeltsin by his minister Anatoly Chubais, following
a modification of the Yavlinsky plan, was a deliberate and aggressive strategy to
transform Russia’s economy.
Such sudden integrations of sophisticated financial structures, originally designed
for other countries, were not introduced smoothly into these countries; there was a
degree of anger about the inequality of benefits that accrued to some, as opportunists
amassed great wealth quickly during the transitions. But China, India, and Russia
have seen a flourishing of financial sophistication and staggering economic growth
rates, but these three countries were not the only ones to benefit. According to
International Monetary Fund’s data, the entire emerging world—including the
Commonwealth of Independent States, the entire Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa,
and Latin America—has proved to be able to generate annual gross domestic
product (GDP) growth of over 6% during the past decade, when not compromised
by world financial crises.
In addition, a host of international agreements have created institutions that work
for the betterment of humankind using sophisticated financial tools. The World
Bank, founded in 1944, uses financial tools to remediate poverty and has since
expanded into the massive World Bank Group. It has engraved on its headquarters
in Washington, D.C. the motto, “Working for a world free of poverty.” The World
Bank was the first of more multilateral development banks: the African Development
Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development, the Inter-American Development Bank Group.
Modern financial institutions are pervasive throughout the world today. Moreover,
it is not just stocks or bonds that represent financial markets. One might not at first
consider the price of agricultural commodities as relevant to a discussion of financial
instruments, but the prices that they fetch on futures exchanges are analogous to
prices in the stock and bond markets. Wheat and rice markets are also financial
markets, in the sense that they engage in similar activities and rely on comparable
4 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
technical apparatus, and they are similar in their fluctuations and their impact on
the economy. The scope of such markets has been expanding and can further expand
in a new big data world as outcomes of risks are increasingly well measured and as
we bring more and more risks into such markets.
It is true that social barriers prevent many people from using financial institutions
to realize—and profit from—their talents. An illiterate farm boy from a remote
area finds it difficult and may not know he has access to a bank in a big city to ask
for capital to start a business. These barriers to entry are being transformed in the
Internet Age, with innovations such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies and the like,
but they still remain. There is a very real barrier to many people’s ability to access
capital, and there is substantial evidence of such a barrier in the extreme variation in
interest rates paid by borrowers in different regions and different categories.
This is not a fundamental problem of financial capitalism; it is rather a problem
of democratizing and humanizing and expanding the scope of financial capitalism.
We do indeed live in the age of financial capitalism. We should not regret that.
Regulations and restrictions can and need to be placed on financial institutions to
help them better function in the best interests of society, though the underlying logic
and power of these institutions remains central to their role. Financial institutions
and financial variables are as much a source of direction and an ordering principle
in our lives as the rising and setting sun, the seasons, and the tides.
Our task, both in the financial sector and in civil society, is to help people find
meaning and a larger social purpose in the economic system. This is no small task,
with all the seemingly absurd concentrations of wealth the system brings about, the
often bewildering complexity of its structures, and the games—often unsatisfying
and unpleasant—it forces people to play.
At its broadest level, finance is the science of goal architecture—the structuring of the
economic arrangements necessary to achieve a set of goals and the cultivation of the
stewardship of the assets needed for that achievement. The goals may apply to those
of households, small businesses, corporations, civic institutions, governments, and of
society itself. Once an objective has been specified—such examples include the payment
for a college education, a couple’s comfortable retirement, the opening of a restaurant,
the addition of a new wing on a hospital, the creation of a social security system, or a
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 5
trip to the moon—the parties involved need the right financial tools and often expert
guidance to help achieve the goal. In this sense, finance is analogous to engineering.
It is a curiously overlooked fact that the very word finance derives from a classical
Latin term for “goal.” The dictionary tells us that finance derives its name from
the classical Latin word finis, which is usually translated as end or completion.
One dictionary notes that finis developed into the word finance since one aspect
of finance is the completion, or repayment, of debts. But it is convenient for our
purposes to recall that finis, even in ancient times, was also used to mean “goal,” as
with the modern English word end.
Most people define finance more narrowly, yet financing an activity is creating the
architecture for reaching a goal—and providing stewardship to protect and preserve
the assets needed for the achievement and maintenance of that goal.
The goals served by finance originate from within us. They reflect our interests in
careers, hopes for our families, ambitions for our businesses, aspirations for our
culture, and ideals for our society; finance, in and of itself, does not tell us what our
goals should be. Finance does not embody a goal. Finance is not about “making
money” per se. It is a “functional” science in that it exists to support other goals—
those of a society. The better aligned a society’s financial institutions are with its goals
and ideals, the stronger and more successful the society will grow. If its mechanisms
fail, finance has the power to subvert such goals, as it did in parts of the subprime
mortgage market of the past decade. But if it is functioning properly it has a unique
potential to promote great levels of prosperity.
The attainment of significant goals and the stewardship of the assets needed for their
achievement almost always require the cooperation of many people. Those people
have to pool their information appropriately. They must ensure that everyone’s
incentives are being aligned. Imagine the development of a new laboratory, the
funding of a medical research project, the building of a new university, or the
construction of a new city subway system. Finance provides structure to these
incentives and other enterprises and institutions throughout society. If finance
succeeds for all of us, it helps to build a good society. The better we understand this
point, the better we will grasp the need for ongoing financial innovation.
An essential part of what finance professionals actually do is deal making—involving
the structuring of projects, enterprises, and systems, convergence for individuals’
6 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
often divergent goals. Financial arrangements—including the structuring of
payments, loans, collateral, shares, incentive options, and exit strategies—are just the
surface elements of these deals. Deal making means facilitating arrangements that will
motivate real actions by real people—and often by very large groups of people. Most of
us can achieve little lasting value without the cooperation of others. Even the archetypal
solitary poet requires financing to practice her or his art: income, publishers, printers,
the booking of public readings, the construction of suitable halls for public readings,
for examples. There is a hidden financial architecture behind all of this.
All parties in an agreement have to want to embrace the goal, do the work, and
accept the risks; they also have to believe that others involved in the deal will
actually work productively toward the common goal and complete all that should
be done. Finance provides the incentive structure necessary to tailor these activities
and secure these goals.
In addition, finance involves discovery of the world and its opportunities, which ties
it into our rapidly expanding information technology. Whenever there is trading,
there is price discovery—that is, the opportunity to learn the market value of what is
being traded. This in turn involves the revelation of people’s feelings and motivations
and of the opportunities that exist among groups of people, which may make even
more ambitious goals possible.
The economic inequality that we see in the world today is sometimes viewed as
having been caused by our financial institutions. But financial institutions that deal
with risk and incentivize people to be productive have exactly the opposite effect.
The insurance industry that we have today is a part of the world’s financial system
that deals explicitly with the random shocks to individual wealth, and that therefore
has the effect of reducing inequality. The history of insurance, over centuries and to
the present day, has reached milestones in advancing the scope of insurance. In the
future, in the coming information age, we can expect insurance to cover more risks
when outcomes in the past could not be measured properly and objectively—risks
that concern our homes, our health, our careers, our livelihoods.
The banking and investments sector are another element of the world’s financial
system that reduces poverty and inequality. Innovations make it easier and easier to
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sort through economic activities. The institutions of this sector continue to develop
through more diverse derivative markets and risk-management contracts. Despite
past progress, many risks are not being hedged or diversified today. Ancillary
professions, like accounting and auditors, play a role in this, as do regulators and
business associations. In the future, we may see new institutions and investment
vehicles that allow for vastly better economic outcomes.
The institutions of public finance, with their implicit insurance features and
their creation of a progressive tax system, health care systems, can also innovate.
Governments can stabilize speculative markets against bubbles and bursts either
through discretionary stabilization policy or towards regulatory safeguards. They can
impose regulations that deal with the problems of phishing broadly construed: phishing
meaning manipulation and deception that seems to accompany the development of
financial institutions until they are corrected. Governments can help deal with risks
for which the private sector is inadequate. Nations can share risks much more than
they do today, and they can incentivize each other for better behavior.
This technology is certainly not perfect. We need forward-thinking innovators, who
are willing to do controlled experiments and tabulate the outcome so that the best
experiments can be applied. Finance, when suitably configured for the future, can
be the strongest force for promoting the well-being and fulfillment of an expanding
global population and for achieving the greater goals of society.
1 This chapter derives from Robert Shiller’s book Finance and the Good Society (Princeton, 2012).
8 Foreign Affairs
Private Capital for the Public Good
By Georgia Levenson Keohane and Saadia Madsbjerg
GEORGIA LEVENSON KEOHANE is Executive Director of The Pershing Square
Foundation and author of Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative
Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems.
SAADIA MADSBJERG is Managing Director of The Rockefeller Foundation.
Assessments of how governments and international organizations have dealt
with global challenges often feature a familiar refrain: when it comes to
funding, there was too little, too late. The costs of economic, social, and
environmental problems compound over time, whether it’s an Ebola outbreak that
escalates to an epidemic, a flood of refugees that tests the strength of the EU, or
the rise of social inequalities that reinforce poverty. And yet governments and aid
groups rarely prove able to act before such costs explode: indeed, according to some
estimates, they spend 40 times as much money responding to crises as they do trying to prevent them.
One reason for this is that complex international problems tend to be dealt with
almost exclusively by governments and nonprofit organizations, with the private
sector typically relegated to a secondary role—and with the financial sector playing
a particularly limited part. Stymied by budgetary constraints and political gridlock,
Foreign Affairs 9
the traditional, primarily public-financed system often breaks down. Government
funds fall short of what was promised, they arrive slowly, and the problem festers.
Innovative finance has the potential to transform the way developing countries
manage the costs of natural disasters.
In recent years, however, a new model has emerged, as collaborations among the
private sector, nonprofit organizations, and governments have resulted in innovative
new approaches to a variety of global challenges, including public health, disaster
response, and poverty reduction. Instead of merely reacting to crises and relying
solely on traditional funding, financiers—working closely with governments and
nongovernmental organizations—are merging private capital markets with public
systems in ways that promote the common good and make money for investors
as well. By relying on financial tools such as pooled insurance and securitized
debt, these efforts—which have come to be known as “innovative finance”—can
unlock new resources and lead to cost-effective interventions. At the same time,
such solutions generate profits and give investors an opportunity to diversify their
holdings with financial products whose performance isn’t tied to that of the overall
economy or financial markets.
Technological advances and creative thinking have led to a boom in innovative
finance. To realize its full potential, however, solving public problems by leveraging
private capital requires more attention from policymakers, who should consider a
series of steps to encourage even more progress in this area.
A Shot in the Arm
A wide range of players have begun to embrace innovative finance, including
treasury departments, multilateral development agencies, nonprofit financial firms,
and traditional investment banks. In most cases, philanthropic foundations have
stepped up with seed money. Government aid agencies have then put new concepts
into practice by providing funds to create new financial vehicles.
The term “innovative finance” suggests complexity, but it’s less complicated than it
sounds. Three recent examples help demonstrate what it means—and what it can do.
10 Foreign Affairs
In the summer of 2002, the United Kingdom’s Treasury concluded that the
government’s budget had not provided enough funding to honor the country’s
commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, a set of ambitious global
efforts to tackle poverty and its many effects. The British were hardly alone in this
conundrum: in many of the 189 countries that had agreed to the MDGs, officials had
realized that good intentions and bold aid pledges would not yield enough money
to make good on their promises. Gordon Brown, then the British chancellor of the
exchequer, believed that private-sector expertise and capital markets might be able
to help, and he approached the investment bank Goldman Sachs. The firm’s bankers
turned to the tool kit of so-called structured finance to transform pledges for future
aid spending into immediate funding for MDG projects.
In essence, Goldman Sachs’ plan was one that would be familiar to people who hold
home mortgages, and who thus borrow from their future selves to pay for the housing
they need today. Although at that moment, governments in the United Kingdom
and elsewhere were short of cash for their MDG spending, they had pledged to
devote substantial amounts to MDG projects over the course of the next 15 years.
That promised future spending represented a kind of underlying asset—similar to
a mortgage holder’s home—which Goldman Sachs wagered investors would find
attractive. The innovation was to conceive of a new type of financial product: a bond
whose yields would be furnished by future government development aid rather than
by the proceeds of a specific project, such as road tolls or water-usage fees.
The British government and its banking partners also identified what they believed
to be the best way to spend the money they would raise by selling such bonds: on
immunization campaigns that would help reach the MDGs’ public health targets.
In 2006, they founded the International Finance Facility for Immunisation
(IFFIm) and developed the world’s first “vaccine bonds.” Fitch Ratings, Moody’s
Investors Service, and Standard & Poor’s gave the bonds a AAA (or equivalent)
rating, and IFFIm conducted its first bond issue in November 2006, raising $1
billion. Institutional investors such as pension funds and central banks, as well as
retail investors, purchased bonds that matured after five years and that offered an
annual yield of five percent—31 basis points above the benchmark rate offered at
that time by the five-year U.S. Treasury bond. In the years since, IFFIm has issued
30 bonds in a range of currencies and term lengths for a variety of investors, from
institutions to private individuals, and has raised $5.25 billion. IFFIm recently
Foreign Affairs 11
further expanded its investor base by issuing $700 million worth of sukuk,
or Islamic bonds, which adhere to Islamic lending rules by eschewing interest
charges or payments.
To help ensure that this money would be spent in the most cost-effective way, IFFIm
partnered with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a nonprofit that is funded in part by the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and that specializes in large-scale immunization
programs and creative ways to fund them. IFFIm’s bond issues helped Gavi increase
its annual budget from $227 million in 2006 to $1.5 billion in 2015 and expand
programs such as a polio eradication initiative that has financed the development
and testing of new vaccines and the stockpiling of proven ones in places such as the
Democratic Republic of the Congo and India.
A 2011 evaluation of IFFIm conducted by the health-care consulting company
HLSP (now part of Mott MacDonald) credited IFFIm with saving at least 2.75
million lives and improving the quality of millions more. All the while, IFFIm has
allowed the United Kingdom and other donor countries to make good on their
MDG commitments and has provided investors with healthy, reliable returns.
Two representative examples include a three-year, floating-rate sukuk that IFFIm
issued in 2015, which received a AA rating, offered investors a quarterly coupon
payment that was 14 basis points higher than the benchmark three-month U.S.
dollar LIBOR rate, and raised $200 million, and a five-year “kangaroo bond”
(denominated in Australian dollars and subject to Australian laws and regulations)
that IFFIm issued in 2010, which received a AAA rating, offered investors a 5.75
percent fixed rate (76 basis points over the benchmark Australian Government
Bond rate), and raised $400 million in Australian dollars.
Make It Rain
The semi-arid Sahel region, which stretches across northern Africa, is no stranger
to droughts—nor to the famines that can follow in their wake. There have been
three major droughts in the area in the last ten years, which have reduced the food
security of millions of people. The traditional response to such emergencies consists
of a UN appeal to donor countries for financial aid, which usually arrives too late to
prevent the worst effects of a drought. But last year, something different happened.
12 Foreign Affairs
In January 2015, soon after a drought struck the region, three countries—
Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal—received an unusual set of payments totaling
$26 million. Rather than aid donations, they were payments resulting from
claims the countries made on drought insurance policies they had purchased the
previous year. The total dollar amount might seem modest, but the money’s effects
were magnified by the speed with which it arrived: the countries received their
payments even before the UN had managed to issue an appeal for aid. Mauritania
used the money to make timely food deliveries to those most in need in the Aleg
area, preventing many families from deserting their homes in a desperate attempt
to survive. Authorities in Niger used the money to fund work programs for
farmers in the Tillabéri region who could no longer afford to feed their families
after their crops failed. Senegal used its funds to distribute food to the hardest-hit
households and also to give subsidies to ranchers who otherwise might have lost
These payouts were made possible by the African Risk Capacity (ARC), a specialized
agency of the African Union, and its financial affiliate, the ARC Insurance Company,
which is jointly owned by the union’s member states. Launched in 2012 with
funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations, and born out of
frustration with the inefficiencies of the international emergency aid system, ARC
was established to help African countries build up their resilience to natural disasters.
Capitalized with development assistance from the KfW Development Bank, which
is owned by the German government, and from the United Kingdom’s Department
for International Development, the ARC Insurance Company was established in
2014. Kenya, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal were the first African countries to sign
up for a so-called pooled risk insurance product. For annual drought coverage of up
to $60 million, each country paid an annual premium of between $1.4 million and
$9 million: around half the amount that any one country would have had to pay on
its own for a similar level of coverage. ARC has since been backed by some of the
world’s largest reinsurance companies, including Swiss Re and Munich Re.
In addition to providing access to insurance, ARC encourages preparedness. Before
countries can purchase a policy, they must produce detailed plans demonstrating
that they will use any payments they receive in a timely and effective manner. The
planning relies heavily on Africa RiskView, a software platform that was initially
developed by the UN World Food Program with funding from the Rockefeller
Foreign Affairs 13
Foundation and that projects crop losses and the cost of weather-related difficulties
using advanced satellite data and detailed records of past droughts and subsequent
Innovative finance leads to cost-effective international aid, generates profits, and
lets investors diversify their holdings.
ARC has the potential to transform the way developing countries manage the
costs of natural disasters, demonstrating that it is possible to shift the burden from
governments (and poor and vulnerable populations) to global financial markets,
which are much better equipped to handle risk. To date, ARC has issued $500
million in drought insurance to ten countries, and by 2020, ARC aims to provide
$1.5 billion in coverage to approximately 30 countries, helping protect some 150
million Africans against a variety of environmental risks, including extreme heat,
droughts, floods, cyclones, and even pandemics.
Paying For Success
Innovative finance is not just a developing-world phenomenon. In wealthier
economies, new financial tools have been brought to bear on a wide range of
challenges, including public health, an area in which traditional approaches often
fail to meet the urgent need for prevention and early intervention. Consider the case
of the Nurse-Family Partnership, a nonprofit organization in the United States that
sends nurses to make home visits to low-income, first-time-mothers, working with
them from pregnancy until their child is two years old. The NFP has an impressive
track record of improving maternal and child health and supporting self-sufficiency.
Indeed, it is one of the most rigorously tested antipoverty interventions in U.S. history;
30 independent evaluations have measured its effects. A 1997 study published by
researchers at three American universities found that 15 years after participating in
the NFP’s first-time-mother program, children were 79 percent less likely to have
suffered state-verified abuse or neglect, and mothers spent 30 fewer months on
welfare, on average. In 2013, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found
that the program had a pronounced positive impact, contributing to healthy birth
outcomes, child health and development, and even crime prevention, and estimated
that for each family served, the government saved $40,000 in spending on things
such as criminal justice systems, special education, and Medicaid.
14 Foreign Affairs
Yet despite this track record, the NFP, like so many effective social programs,
has had trouble securing the public dollars it needs to serve more families in
the 37 states in which it operates. So the NFP has begun to explore partnerships
to secure new sources of private funds in some of the states with the most
need, including South Carolina, where 27 percent of the state’s children live in
poverty. In February 2016, the NFP, the South Carolina Department of Health
and Human Services, and the Children’s Trust of South Carolina entered into a
groundbreaking “pay for success” contract structured and overseen by a nonprofit
financial organization called Social Finance. (As part of the initiative, the state
has also received technical support from experts at the Harvard Kennedy School’s
Government Performance Lab.) The contract calls for private investors to provide
the NFP with $17 million—money that, along with around $13 million in federal
Medicaid reimbursements, the group will use to expand its services to 3,200
mothers in South Carolina. If the NFP’s interventions succeed in demonstrably
improving the lives of the participants by hitting specific targets—reducing the
number of pre-term births, decreasing child hospitalizations and emergencyroom use, promoting healthy spacing between births, and serving more firsttime mothers in the lowest-income communities—the investors can be repaid
with money set aside by South Carolina and can expect to receive a return of
somewhere between five and 13 percent, assuming a performance similar to
those of previous pay-for-success arrangements. If the NFP fails to meet the
goals, the investors will lose their principal and the government will owe them
nothing. The outcomes will be measured against a randomized control trial, and
the evaluation will be overseen by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The U.S. Congress should pass the Social Impact Partnership Act, which would
fund public-private innovative financial initiatives.
Such arrangements—of which the NFP’s is one of the largest, but not the
first—are sometimes called “social-impact bonds.” That is a bit of misnomer: a
contract such as this is less like a bond and more like an equity investment, since
its returns depend on performance and investors share in both the potential
upside and the risk. In the past five years, public-private coalitions have entered
into more than 50 of these kinds of pay-for-success agreements in Asia, Europe,
the Middle East, and North America, addressing a variety of issues, including
Foreign Affairs 15
public health, work-force development, foster care, military veteran reentry,
housing, education, and criminal justice. Current estimates place the global
market for such investments at around $150 million and predict that it will grow
to somewhere between $300 million and $500 million over the next few years.
More Bang For The Buck
A number of factors favor the advance of innovative finance. First among them
are the exceptionally low interest rates in recent years, which have whetted capital
markets’ appetite for new kinds of investment vehicles, especially those whose
performance doesn’t necessarily depend on broader economic or financial trends.
Innovative finance can provide value to investors even when more traditional equity
and bond markets falter. Even if interest rates begin to rise, as many expect they will,
innovative financial solutions have already proved their value and will likely endure.
But to grow and expand, such products must reach a wider pool of capital, moving
beyond the institutional investors who currently represent the sector’s most active
players. Some innovative financial products are already available to retail investors,
primarily through specialized investment funds, such as the Goldman Sachs Urban
Investment Group, and through donor-advised funds that manage investments for
major charities. And a growing number of products, including vaccine bonds offered
by IFFIm in Japan, have become even more easily available to retail investors.
To achieve larger scale, the developers of innovative financial products must
continue to provide attractive yields and further mitigate the risks—real or merely
perceived—posed to investors who want to enter this still unfamiliar terrain.
Financial professionals who design these products need to take better advantage of
government guarantees and government insurance, such as the Development Credit
Authority program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which
provides partial debt guarantees to investors and is backed by the U.S. Treasury. Yet
fostering greater participation will require more than competitive returns. Investors
also need reliable data to assure them that innovative finance will help them do
well while doing good. Here, technological innovation is complementing financial
innovation. Consider, for example, recent advances in remote sensors, which can
measure the effects of complex processes such as deforestation. The new availability
of such data has made it possible to design pay-for-success contracts that depend
16 Foreign Affairs
on rigorous monitoring. Meanwhile, more accurate and comprehensive satellite
imagery has also made it possible to better assess the threats posed by bad weather
and natural disasters, allowing financiers to develop more sophisticated insurancebased investment products, such as the natural-disaster protection plans now
spreading in Africa.
Government policy is also beginning to shift in ways that will encourage more
innovative finance. For example, in October 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor
repealed restrictive rules that had prevented U.S. pension funds from considering
social, environmental, and good-governance factors when making investment
decisions. This “ERISA reform”—a reference to the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act—has the potential to catalyze investment in innovative financial
products by pension funds that must follow ERISA guidelines: a huge source of
potential funding. Meanwhile, in 2015, at a summit at Schloss Elmau, in Germany,
the G-7 countries adopted the InsuResilience Initiative, a collaboration between
the G-7 and a number of countries that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of
climate change; the initiative seeks to extend insurance protection against climate
disasters to 400 million people. Further progress will require leadership from
donor countries and coordinated international policy efforts; one good model
is the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, a G-8 initiative that was launched by
British Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013 and that tracks and reports on
global trends in impact investing.
Investor confidence in innovative finance would also improve if there were
clearer rules and norms regarding how financial analysts should measure and
assess environmental and social factors and integrate their findings into their
reporting. One important step in this direction was the establishment, in 2011,
of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, a U.S.-based nonprofit that
develops industry-specific methods for addressing such factors in their accounting
procedures and financial filings.
In addition, governments must improve their ability to make long-term decisions
about spending on investment in social and economic development, at home
and abroad. Budgeting processes in most rich countries do not allow for strategic
commitments to long-term development aid: the creation of IFFIm would have
been impossible had the participating countries not made exceptions to their own
Foreign Affairs 17
budgeting rules. In the United States, Congress should pass legislation—such as
the Social Impact Partnership Act, which was proposed in 2015 with bipartisan
sponsorship—that would direct federal funding to public-private innovative
financial initiatives at the state and local levels.
Capitalize On Capital
In February, international donors met in London and made an impressive pledge of
roughly $11 billion in aid and another $40 billion in loans to deal with the enormous
costs of the Syrian civil war, including the migrant flows currently overwhelming
the Middle East and Europe. “Never has the international community raised so
much money on a single day for a single crisis,” boasted UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon. But veterans of humanitarian aid and crisis response watched the
conference with a sinking feeling, knowing that a great deal of promised funding
fails to materialize and that even the best-intentioned aid frequently falls short of
achieving its goals.
Innovative finance can help improve the international community’s response to
some of the most costly aspects of such crises. Imagine, for example, how pay-forsuccess contracts or approaches similar to IFFIm’s could allow governments to raise
funds quickly for the health-care, housing, and educational needs of refugees by
securitizing future spending. Such proposals might once have seemed far-fetched;
not any longer. With continued philanthropic support and sustained commitment
from governments, innovative finance can put the power of private capital markets
to work for the public good.
18 Foreign Affairs
In Defense of
Creative Finance Helps Everyone—
Not Just the Rich
By Andrew Palmer
ANDREW PALMER is the Business Affairs Editor at The Economist. He is also
author of Smart Money: How High-Stakes Financial Innovation is Reshaping Our
World—For the Better.
At a 2013 conference held by The Economist in New York, business and
policy leaders debated whether talented university graduates should join
Google or Goldman Sachs. Vivek Wadhwa, a serial entrepreneur, spoke up
for Google. “Would you rather have your children engineering the financial system
[and] creating more problems for us, or having a chance of saving the world?” he
asked. He had a much easier time pitching his case than Robert Shiller, the Nobel
Prize–winning economist who advocated for Goldman Sachs by arguing that every
human activity, even saving the world, had to be financed. No use; in the end, the
audience voted heavily in favor of Mountain View and against Wall Street.
Such bias reflects the profound shift in public attitudes toward Wall Street that
followed the 2008 financial crisis. In the decade before the meltdown, bankers were
lionized. Policymakers applauded the efficiency of financial markets, and widespread
Foreign Affairs 19
praise for financial innovation drowned out any criticism. But when the crisis hit,
the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction. The new consensus now
portrays bankers as villains whose irresponsible practices and shady techniques
unleashed disaster. This view holds that only a small part of the financial industry
actually benefits society—the one that doles out loans to individuals and businesses.
The rest constitutes dangerous, unnecessary gambling, and so financial ingenuity of
all kinds is highly suspect.
Such anger is well founded; finance certainly did a bad job of applying itself to
big problems in the run-up to the crisis, and the popular myth of the industry’s
invincibility contributed to this failure. Eliminating this misperception was entirely
for the best. But demonizing finance is also a mistake, and restricting the sector to
its most familiar elements would do nothing to mend its flaws. Worse, such a course
could wreak damage outside the banking industry, because financial ingenuity
reaches far beyond Wall Street. Innovative financiers are currently helping solve
an array of socioeconomic problems—including those related to the strength
of social safety nets, the poor’s ability to save, and the capacity of the elderly to
support themselves—that weigh heavily on governments around the world. Instead
of fearing such innovation, policymakers and the public should welcome it, with
For critics of Wall Street, the financial crisis served as a warning against
experimentation. Financial innovation, they argue, has approached a point of
diminishing returns. If only finance could turn back the clock, all would be well.
Gone would be toxic practices such as securitization, the banks’ way of bundling
mortgages, credit-card loans, and other financial assets into bonds that they resell
to investors—a technique seen as having triggered the crisis. The out-of-control
financial wizardry that generated skyrocketing amounts of consumer debt would
come to an end. And stock exchanges would stop serving as the playthings of
Some skeptics go so far as to argue that “banking should be boring”—a slogan
adopted by Elizabeth Warren, the senior Democratic senator from Massachusetts,
who has demanded tighter restrictions on finance. In 2013, Warren launched a
20 Foreign Affairs
campaign to separate U.S. banks into two distinct groups. The first would include the
comfortingly familiar retail businesses that accept deposits and provide mortgages.
The second would contain investment firms that raise money and manage risks
through obscure capital-market practices, and they would be barred from taking
insured deposits to fund themselves. Although the bill that Warren introduced has
stalled on Capitol Hill, it counts plenty of sympathizers.
Going one step further, a few prominent observers have suggested that financial
creativity has reached the limits of its utility. They point to a host of seemingly out-ofcontrol pre-crisis financial forces, from the blinding speed of high-frequency traders
to the exploding volume of credit default swaps, a type of insurance policy written
against borrowers going bust. In 2009, for example, Paul Volcker, the former Federal
Reserve chair, said that no financial innovation of the pre-crisis period was as useful as
the simple automatic teller machine. Similarly, the economist Paul Krugman admitted
in a 2009 New York Times column that he had trouble thinking of a single recent
financial breakthrough that had aided society. Rather, he wrote, “overpaid bankers
taking big risks with other people’s money brought the world economy to its knees.”
To be fair, the motives behind many new financial products are far from pure, and
greater scrutiny would help stave off crises in the future. But widespread criticism
of particular Wall Street innovations has had the effect of unfairly smearing the
reputation of finance as a whole, and it has given rise to proposed solutions that
could do more harm than good. Calling a halt to financial inventiveness—freezing
finance in place; no bright ideas allowed—would not solve the problems associated
with the industry. In fact, the greatest dangers to economic stability often lurk in the
most familiar parts of the financial system.
After all, retail and commercial banks accounted for some of the most massive writedowns recorded during the crisis. The biggest bank failure in U.S. history was that of
Washington Mutual, which collapsed in 2008 with $307 billion in assets and a pile of
rotting mortgages on its books. The largest quarterly loss for a bank was suffered in 2008
by Wachovia, which was brought down by bad loans. And the product that caused the
most damage during the financial crisis was mortgages, the most familiar instrument
of all. The amount of mortgage debt in the United States had roughly doubled between
2001 and 2007, to $10.5 trillion. Real estate was by far the biggest asset held by U.S.
households, reaching $22.7 trillion in value in 2006, when house prices were at their
Foreign Affairs 21
peak. The United States was not alone in this vulnerability; wide holdings of residential
and commercial property were the common denominator across the countries most
affected by the crisis, including Ireland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Part of the reason is that property has inherently destabilizing characteristics. This
asset thrives on debt: in many housing markets, buyers routinely take out loans worth
more than 90 percent of the property’s value. Virtually the entire worldwide rise in
the ratio of private-sector debt to GDP in the past four decades has been caused by
rising levels of mortgage lending. Yet banks tend to see this type of secured lending
as safe, even though it could involve decisions made solely on the basis of collateral
offered by the borrower (say, a house) rather than the borrower’s creditworthiness.
Indeed, the great irony of the property bubble was that many banks and investors
had thought that concentrating on housing was a prudent bet. Although the financial
sector has since been criticized for recklessness, it was its pursuit of safe returns that
brought trouble. An insightful study by the economists Nicola Gennaioli, Andrei
Shleifer, and Robert Vishny revealed that much financial-sector creativity—from
the invention of money-market funds to the pre-crisis surge in mortgage-backed
securities—is rooted in a search for safety as well as profit. The reason investors
sought out mortgage-backed securities was that these instruments offered slightly
higher returns than more traditional assets (such as U.S. Treasury bonds) while also
appearing to be low risk. This pattern holds across a wide range of other financial
products; the siren song of safety is a recurring theme in finance.
The property market thus offers a lesson for the financial industry more broadly:
studying the ways in which people and companies manage money and risk—and
harnessing these behaviors for more constructive ends—could help address the
dangers that still lurk in plain sight. Rather than being a warning against innovation,
the crisis was a clarion call for creative thinking of a different kind. Indeed, when
it comes to property, finance is already demonstrating how using new techniques
could forestall future shocks.
Some entrepreneurs, for example, are exploring ways to temper the adverse effects
that fluctuations in housing prices carry for both borrowers and lenders. A housing
downturn can reduce the price of a property to less than the value of the mortgage
holder’s outstanding loan, triggering a loan default that hurts both the buyer and
22 Foreign Affairs
the bank. One answer is to offer borrowers no interest on their mortgages in return
for allowing the lenders to share in the gains or losses from movements in house
prices. If prices fall, owners are more protected; if they rise, lenders reap some of
the rewards. As for the adverse effects that market downturns can have on lenders,
one firm, London-based Castle Trust, has found a clever solution: tying its funding
to the national house price index in a way that makes assets and liabilities on its
balance sheet rise and fall in unison. The Castle Trust model is a radical break from
the norm—but one that is entirely welcome.
The Ideas Machine
Even the most ardent critics of Wall Street do not dispute the value of financial
innovation over the long sweep of human history. The invention of money, the
use of derivative contracts, and the creation of stock exchanges all represent smart
responses to real-world problems. These advances helped foster trade, create
companies, and build infrastructure. The modern world needed finance to come
But this world is still evolving, and the demand for financial creativity is as strong
today as ever. Fortunately, despite all the recent criticism, the financial sector has
been evolving as well. Today, this industry is home to not only big banks skimming
fat fees but also visionary innovators that are rethinking the ways in which money,
livelihoods, and technology relate to one another.
To take just one example, many countries, including the United States, face
unprecedented pressure to trim their budgets by cutting public spending. As a result,
social programs—say, rehabilitating prisoners and training the unemployed—
can fall by the wayside. Even where such initiatives do continue, they often end
up wasting taxpayers’ money, because they either fail to tie spending to desired
outcomes or focus on the wrong outcomes altogether. Many job-training programs,
for example, focus on the number of people they enroll and graduate rather than the
number of participants who subsequently find jobs. Flaws of this kind are common
across state-funded initiatives. According to the Brookings Institution, out of ten
rigorous evaluations of social programs run by the U.S. federal government in
1990–2010, nine found that the programs either produced weak positive results or
had no impact at all.
Foreign Affairs 23
Finance has stepped in with answers to both the funding problem and the shortfalls
of planning and monitoring. One innovative tool, known as a social-impact bond,
channels private investment to programs that track measurable social benefits. For
instance, a social-impact bond focused on rehabilitating prisoners might monitor
the number of new convictions of former inmates one year after they were released
from prison. Fewer repeat convictions means less spending by the government,
which can then use the cash it saves to pay back investors. The first initiative of this
kind was introduced in 2010 by the city of Peterborough in the United Kingdom,
and that program has already reduced reoffending rates vis-à-vis the national
control group. Other countries, including the United States, have introduced similar
programs of their own. New York City launched a social-impact bond in 2012
focused on adolescents incarcerated at Rikers Island; the program counts Goldman
Sachs as an investor. And Massachusetts has announced two social-impact bonds,
one of which will fund a seven-year effort to reduce prisoner recidivism with a
budget of $27 million.
The reason finance has a shot at solving problems of such complexity is its ability
to align the incentives of diverse market participants—in this case, governments
that commission services, social organizations that provide them, and investors
that supply capital. Governments are attracted to social-impact bonds because
they require payouts only when the programs they fund achieve results. Social
organizations come on board because these initiatives involve private investment
with longer time frames than federal contracts usually offer. And investors benefit
from detailed data on how well the programs are performing. Social-impact bonds
will never be the only answer to the shrinking state. But they are an extremely
promising avenue to explore.
The Next Frontier
Governments are not alone in facing an enormous financial squeeze; individuals
must grapple with similar challenges. Today, ordinary people in developed economies
expect to live longer than any generation did before them, yet they generally do not
save nearly enough for retirement. Too many of these people put far too little money
aside as protection against unexpected shocks. And a large share have trouble accessing
credit, especially if they find themselves on the periphery of the economic system.
24 Foreign Affairs
Finance has been providing ingenious answers to these kinds of problems by
drawing on the insights of behavioral economics. Recent years have given rise to the
birth of a subfield known as behavioral finance, which studies the different prompts
and nudges that help people achieve more financially efficient outcomes. This field
already counts one remarkable achievement: getting more Americans to save for
retirement by enrolling them in 401(k) pension plans automatically. People have
a tendency to dither, so requiring them to opt out of a scheme, rather than make
the effort to opt in, draws in scores of new customers. U.S. companies that have
introduced auto-enrollment mechanisms have reported sharp rises—of as much as
60 percent—in average 401(k) participation rates.
A more recent application of behavioral economics has allowed society’s least
creditworthy people to build up their savings accounts. Millions of people in
developed economies lack any sort of financial cushion. A 2012 survey by the
Financial Industry Regulatory Authority asked Americans whether they’d be able
to come up with $2,000 if an unforeseen need arose; almost 40 percent said no or
probably not. Nearly two-thirds did not have three months’ worth of emergency
funds on which they could draw if they fell ill or became unemployed. And whereas
the housing boom had once disguised these problems—as long as prices kept
climbing, people in distress could refinance or sell their homes—today, average
Americans have no choice but to save more.
When money is tight, of course, saving is difficult. To make matters worse, new
regulations discourage mainstream banks from reaching low-income households
by capping the credit-card penalties and overdraft fees that banks can levy. Once
again, innovative financial players have moved in to fill the gap. Some, such as
the Massachusetts-based Doorways to Dreams (D2D) Fund, have managed to
motivate savers via a simple trick: offering prizes for putting money aside. After
all, humans love lotteries, and the prospect of winning awards instantly makes
saving seem more attractive.
In 2009, the D2D Fund launched a prize-linked savings program in Michigan (one
of the few places that permits private lotteries) called Save to Win. For each $25 in
deposits, savers earn raffle tickets that give them a chance to win quarterly prizes of
as much as $5,000, as well as smaller monthly rewards. Nebraska, North Carolina,
and Washington State have since introduced versions of the program, and D2D
Foreign Affairs 25
hopes to eventually tap into state lottery systems directly in order to reach more
people. Meanwhile, in Michigan, its strategy has helped customers set up more than
50,000 accounts and put away over $94 million in new savings—a small amount by
the financial industry’s standards but a significant achievement for scores of lowincome families.
It’s not just the poor who have trouble accessing credit. At all levels, potential
borrowers get turned away by banks; other people get deterred by high interest rates
on bank-offered loans. One solution involves peer-to-peer lending, which allows
suppliers and consumers of credit to connect directly rather than rely on a bank
to intermediate. Leading the charge is a San Francisco–based firm named Lending
Club, which was launched in 2007; many others are following its example.
Lending Club invites borrowers to make a pitch for loans and then allows lenders to
choose those individuals they would like to fund. Both parties get a better deal than
they would at an established bank. Peer-to-peer lending does not carry the heavy
costs of the legacy information technology systems and branch networks that weigh
down established banks, so it can offer borrowers lower interest rates than a bank
can provide. The average rate that Lending Club borrowers paid on loans in 2013,
for example, was 14 percent—well below typical credit-card rates. Allowing for a
default rate of four percent and Lending Club’s service fees, the returns to investors
were nine to ten percent—not bad given how low interest rates have been.
Peer-to-peer platforms are designed to address some of the flaws of mainstream
finance. A firm such as Lending Club is inherently more resilient than a bank
because it does not run a balance sheet on which it incurs debts in order to fund
lending of its own. If there are defaults on a bank’s loan book, its creditors still expect
to be paid back. But when a customer defaults on a Lending Club loan, the investors
absorb the costs. Moreover, Lending Club locks up lenders’ money for the duration
of the loan. After investors fund a three-year consumer loan, for example, they can’t
demand the money back one month later in the way that bank depositors can. The
borrower, therefore, will not face a sudden call for cash and the scramble to raise
money that it entails.
Admittedly, the numbers involved in this new sector remain tiny. Lending Club
had facilitated loans totaling more than $7 billion by the end of 2014—an amount
26 Foreign Affairs
that pales in comparison to the outstanding credit-card debt of roughly $700 billion
in the United States that same year. Nevertheless, peer-to-peer lending is gaining
wide credibility. Lending Club was valued at $5.4 billion when it went public in
2014, and institutional investors now account for more than two-thirds of its loan
volume. Some insurers and sovereign wealth funds have made allocations of as
much as $100 million.
The success of these new lending platforms, of course, does not mean that
mainstream banks are about to disappear. Banks may be slower to innovate, but they
can mobilize an awful lot of money and operate across borders. They also offer their
customers many unique advantages, such as the ability to access savings instantly,
that make them hard to dislodge.
But banks have good reason to worry. For one thing, regulators are pushing them
to reduce their leverage—their ratios of debt to equity, a rough proxy for financial
fragility—which means that banks must find other ways to increase returns to their
investors. To do so, they could try cutting expenses, but it is hard to imagine that
they could ever run leaner ships than the innovators competing with them. Banks
could also increase the cost of credit, but that measure would simply create more
opportunities for the likes of Lending Club to exploit.
In the end, the two groups will probably drift closer. Financial innovators will
gradually eat away at the banks’ activities, and the banks will slowly evolve to
become more efficient. Some peer-to-peer platforms are already collaborating with
mainstream lenders; others will end up being bought by them.
Banking On Creativity
Anyone who defends the financial industry must recognize its inherent failings.
There is a destructive logic to the way that the seething brains of finance innovate,
experiment, and standardize. Even a banking sector populated by saints would tend
toward excess, and modern finance is rather short of halos. The words that finance
immediately conjures up—“bonuses,” “recklessness,” “greed,” “bastards,” “greedy
bastards”—are all part of the industry’s narrative.
Foreign Affairs 27
The banking industry has certainly not lost its destructive tendencies in the wake
of the crisis. Beyond a certain scale and beyond a certain point in their evolution,
good ideas have a tendency to run wild. But suppressing financial innovation is
the wrong answer to the problems facing Western societies. Instead, regulators and
financiers must strike a careful balance between watchfulness for the risks that can
cause economic damage and tolerance for creativity that can yield real benefits.
Two warning signs, in particular, ought to cause alarm among regulators. The
first is rapid growth. When a financial technology or product truly takes off, the
surrounding infrastructure often fails to keep pace. This pattern manifests itself
in many different ways, from the ability of high-speed traders to outrun the stock
exchanges on which they operate to the opacity of the credit default swap market in
the run-up to the financial crisis. During periods of quick growth, the front offices
of financial firms often sell at a breakneck pace, while the back offices struggle to
cope and the rapid flow of money relies on jerry-built plumbing. Regulators must
be wary of market overheating of this sort and seek to ensure that the infrastructure
of finance keeps pace with its innovators.
The second pitfall is the assumption of safety. Policymakers should remember that
the false comfort of the familiar helped precipitate the crisis in the first place. In the
United States, home buyers and lenders fell for the faulty notion that property prices
couldn’t crash nationwide and that AAA credit ratings represented a gold-plated
promise of creditworthiness. Such misconceptions are hard to uproot; after all, the
Western financial system remains heavily skewed in favor of providing supposedly
safe mortgages to affluent households. Introducing higher capital requirements
even for those assets that appear to be low risk could be one answer.
For all the problem-solving power of finance, growth and greed can distort any
good idea. But when the next financial crisis hits, its triggers will likely come from
an established market, such as property, in which mainstream investors and profitmaximizing institutions have once again gotten carried away. The true innovators of
finance will not be the ones to blame. They are the reason the world should look at
finance with a clear eye.
28 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
The Risk of Small Goals
By Zia Khan
ZIA KHAN is Vice President for Initiatives and Strategy at The Rockefeller
There is a growing consensus that innovative finance mechanisms are needed to mobilize private sector capital towards solving the world’s most
pressing problems. Philanthropic capital has played an important role in
developing these solutions by investing in early-stage, yet-to-be-proven opportunities that traditional private sector investors tend to avoid. This is conventionally
how people think about the role of philanthropic capital: taking on the risk of
early-stage failures. However, it doesn’t fully capture the full potential of philanthropic capital’s impact.
Generally speaking, “risk capital” is the capital used to invest high-risk, high-reward
opportunities. Every now and then, one of those opportunities succeeds, providing
a significant return that can compensate for losses in an investment portfolio.
A risk is usually defined as an exposure to a negative outcome. For private sector
investments, the negative outcomes are investments that don’t generate adequate
returns for a given level of risk.
In philanthropy, there are some additional considerations when determining what
is meant by “adequate” returns. With a capital grant, there is no expectation of a
financial return once funds are granted to an individual or an organization. Instead,
return is measured in the ultimate social and environmental impact that is realized.
This impact may be directly attributed to the grant, such as the number of water
wells that have become operational. The impact may also be indirect, such as how
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 29
access to water wells contributes to improvements in overall health in a community.
This is the key difference between philanthropic and private sector investments: while
the private sector focuses on direct returns on capital for investors, philanthropic
investments are intended to catalyze indirect impact that improve social and
These indirect returns are generated not only by the amount of philanthropic capital
that is deployed, but also by the flexible nature of that capital. Compared to others
who invest in realizing social and environmental impact, philanthropies have more
leeway when making their investment decisions. Governments are constrained by
bureaucratic and political considerations. The nonprofit sector is constrained by
donors’ expectations and environmental funding conditions. The private sector is
constrained by financial and competitive imperatives imposed by the market.
The flexibility of philanthropic capital is a unique asset that can generate two
kinds of additional returns. The first is the broad, and often unpredictable, benefits
generated by innovation. These benefits come from having the freedom to address
problems that have been avoided or are controversial; to seek disruptive instead
of incremental improvements; and to generate knowledge from well-designed, but
ultimately unsuccessful, attempts that can inform future efforts. When philanthropy
capital is invested in innovation, the returns can resemble those from government
investments into fundamental research.
The second kind of return is the ability of philanthropic capital to target, attract, and
productively coordinate resources from government, nonprofit, and private sectors.
Leveraging other resources based on initial philanthropic investments is critical because
no significant problem can be addressed, at scale, with philanthropic capital alone. The
flexibility of philanthropic capital allows it to fill specific gaps or market failures that, if
addressed, allow for the leveraged deployment of an entire system of resources.
It is to be expected that, due to its flexible nature, the indirect returns for philanthropic
capital should include the benefits of innovation and leverage—and not realizing
those benefits should be seen as a negative outcome. In other words, a risk for grant
capital should be insufficient returns in terms of innovation and leverage. Therefore,
the real “risk” of philanthropic capital comes from setting our sights too low.
30 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
This is why Rockefeller Foundation is committed to innovative finance. We believe
that our grant capital and other assets—reputation, relationships, and knowledge—
can realize significant returns by creating new partnerships that lead to innovative
financial products, and these in turn can be implemented and leveraged with
significantly more capital than what we could ever invest. This helps us catalyze
outsized impact on the problems that we care about most.
For example, we provided seed support for the research and development of the first
Social Impact Bond (SIB), a pay-for-success financing tool that harnesses private
capital for the delivery of innovative social services in partnership with government.
The Rockefeller Foundation was also an investor in the first SIB transaction in the
United Kingdom focused on reducing recidivism. Since this first SIB transaction
was implemented five years ago, there has been an explosion of growth around SIBs,
with 60 deals launched across 15 countries as of June 2016, and a strong pipeline
of new projects forthcoming. The Foundation’s investment around SIBs has also
spurred the creation of derivative solutions, which we continue to support as part
of our Zero Gap portfolio. These solutions include the Forest Resilience Impact
Bond, a new pay-for-success mechanisms to fund environmental conversation, and
the Social Success Note, a pay-for-success mechanism for crowd-in return-seeking
capital to social enterprises.
Investment capital from the private sector will always require a financial return,
and the ingenuity of most innovative finance solutions lies in how to generate those
financial returns while still realizing social and environmental impact—this is the
promise of innovative finance. Philanthropy has a critical role to play in helping
innovative finance to quickly drive innovative solutions to our hardest problems.
We can’t risk a smaller ambition.
34 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
No Pain Big Gain. How
Micro-levies Save Lives
By Philippe Douste-Blazy and Robert Filipp
PHILIPPE DOUSTE-BLAZY is Under Secretary-General of the United Nations
in charge of Innovative Financing for Development and is a former Minister of
Health and Minister of Foreign Affairs of France.
ROBERT FILIPP is Founder and President of the Innovative Finance Foundation(IFF).
When travelers surveyed at a Paris airport were asked if they were fine
with paying a dollar more for their air ticket if the proceeds went toward AIDS medicines in a poor country, the vast majority said, “Yes, no
problem, as long as the money is spent well and reaches the people.” Global travelers
have been saving lives for more than ten years now. How?
Solidarity micro-levies are small taxes on transactions, such as travel, that benefit the
most from globalization. They are a social contract between those who benefit the
most from the global economy and those who still live in extreme poverty. Because
micro-levies are very small and involve high-volume activities, they generate
significant new revenues for humanitarian, developmental, and social objectives
without burning a hole in our pockets. They are painless to travelers.
Air ticket micro-levy to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria
Created in 2006, the air ticket levy—essentially a one-dollar surcharge on the civil
aviation tax—was the first global solidarity micro-levy. France championed this new
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 35
financing tool and together with other supporters, such as Brazil, Chile, Norway,
the UK, and the Gates Foundation, created UNITAID, a fund hosted by the World
Health Organization (WHO). This fund collects the proceeds from the levy, and
other contributions, and uses them to finance innovations in the fight against HIV/
AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
To-date, ten countries have introduced the air ticket levy: Cameroon, Chile, Republic
of Congo, France, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, and the Republic
of Korea. The largest share of revenues, about $300 million per year, comes from
France, where fliers are charged $1 on top of economy class tickets within the EU,
and up to $42 on international first and business class.
Since 2006, UNITAID has raised over $2.5 billion. Thanks to its partnership
model working with organizations on the ground including the Clinton Health
Access Initiative (CHAI), Doctors Without Borders, Global Fund to Fight AIDS,
Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNICEF and others, eight out of ten children with AIDS
are receiving treatment, two million newborns and eight million pregnant women
have been tested for HIV/AIDS, 345 million anti-malaria treatments have been
distributed, and two million tuberculosis patients have been treated. UNITAID has
also been able to reduce the price of HIV/AIDS drugs for children by 80% and for
adults by 60%, the price of a new drug against malaria based on artemisinin by 85%,
and the price of tuberculosis tests by 40%. UNITAID also created the Medicines
Patent Pool (MPP), a vehicle that compensates major pharmaceutical companies
for contributing patents to produce low-cost versions of AIDS medicines and
formulations suitable for children.
UNITAID is paradigmatic of innovative financing for development. The organization
raises its funding in an innovative way, is governed in a participatory manner, and
spends its funds in innovative ways by leveraging its funding to achieve impact in
the market place for the benefit of patients in the poorest countries of our planet,
and ultimately for the security of us all.
Extractive industries micro-levy to fight malnutrition
In September 2015, four African countries decided to create the extractive industries
micro-levy covering oil, gold, bauxite and uranium to help finance the fight against
36 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. The Republic of Congo agreed to collect $0.10
on the barrel of oil, Guinea on bauxite, Mali on gold, and Niger on uranium from
state-owned companies. This levy is the first innovative financing instrument
created entirely by developing countries. If expanded to eight oil-producing African
countries, a 10-cent levy on state-owned companies would generate between $100-
200 million per year, and a global oil levy of ten cents would generate at least $1.64
billion a year.
Nearly a quarter of Africa’s GDP is based on extractive industries, the highest ratio
among all regions. There is considerable debate over how best to deploy natural
resource revenues. The most accepted model involves the creation of a sovereign
wealth fund (SWF) but if children are not nourished and educated, they cannot reach
their full potential, rendering the prospect of future wealth somewhat meaningless
to them. The extractive industries’ micro-levy is a way to advance a portion of
resource wealth to the present by targeting a major impediment to development:
severe malnutrition leads to stunting, a condition that leaves children’s brains and
bodies underdeveloped. In Africa, the countries producing the most oil have the
highest number of stunted children.
The extractive industries’ levy is paid into the UNITLIFE fund, modeled after
UNITAID, but used this time to finance evidence-based solutions for malnutrition,
including breastfeeding, with intake of vitamins and minerals, adequate
complementary and therapeutic feeding with specialized foods, and assured access
to health services and sanitary environments. While it may be too early to speculate
about the exact impact of the innovative financing approach on distributive justice
for natural resource wealth, it is certain that the participation of African countries
in an initiative that directs natural resource wealth towards life-saving interventions
for millions of children is a “game changer”.
Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) to fight extreme poverty
In 2010, a coalition of more than 50 civil society organizations came together under
the umbrella of the Robin Hood Tax campaign and proposed an FTT to finance
development and poverty alleviation, while at the same time reducing speculation
in international financial markets. In 2011, the campaign gained momentum when
the European Commission presented an FTT proposal with a tax level of 0.1% on
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 37
shares and bonds, and 0.01% on derivatives when traded between two financial
institutions, of which at least one resided in the EU. The additional revenues were
estimated at around 50 billion Euros a year.
To-date, the EU has not reached a unanimous agreement on the introduction of the
FTT. However, 11 member states representing more than 90% of Eurozone GDP,
have agreed to cooperate to introduce the tax. So far, only France and Italy introduced
the FTT with their own rates and stipulations, France for example went beyond the
original rate setting the tax as 0.2%. Looking at the scope and history of the FTT,
it is critical to ensure that at least 30% of the FTT revenue in each implementing
country is directed towards humanitarian, developmental, and social objectives, the
very reason the FTT was proposed in the first place.
Despite progress in lifting people from poverty, and the emergence of a middle class
in many developing economies, there are still more than 800 million people living
on less than $1.25 a day. No matter where one stands on the political spectrum,
there is consensus that the fulfillment of basic human needs—food, health care,
education, shelter, and water—is not only an ethical imperative, but also the basis
for economic growth, development, and an investment in peace and stability.
Solidarity micro-levies have proven that it is possible to achieve real impact through
small, painless contributions—and the impact is not limited to money. By virtue
of design, unique stakeholders and networks, innovative financing mechanisms
stimulate innovation and efficiency. While no panacea for financing of humanitarian,
developmental, and social objectives, innovative financing is a creative solution that
is in tune with the realities of the twenty-first century.
38 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Making Innovation Boring:
The Key to Low-Cost Finance
for “Public Goods”
By Kenneth G. Lay
KENNETH G. LAY is Senior Managing Director with The Rock Creek Group.
He is the former Vice President and Treasurer of the World Bank.
The world is facing a growing number of complex social, economic and
environmental challenges. A tremendous amount of creative thinking
has been going into innovative ways to meet these challenges, often in
projects that can generate financial returns or avoid future costs. These initiatives
have been attracting capital from a broad array of sources; however and almost
without exception, this capital has come from the public and charitable sources.
And the scale has been modest, especially in relation to the scope, complexity
and importance of the challenges confronting us. This is understandable: Governments face numerous conflicting demands on public resources. Development
finance institutions (DFIs) such as The World Bank and its national-level equivalents, meanwhile, have been creative and effective in leveraging public credit, but
their sovereign owners find it difficult to add to the equity that forms the foundation for their activities. So, how can we access funds at the scale we need and
a cost we can afford in order to address key global issues, such as climate change
mitigation, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture and fisheries?
As many have noted, one practical solution is to attract low-cost, long-term,
and large-scale resources from the institutions that hold and invest an estimated
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 39
$100 trillion of the global savings pool. These institutional investors—
including pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, endowments
and foundations and sovereign wealth funds—have been clear about what this
will take: investments that are competitive in risk-adjusted returns with the
other choices available. The reason is clear as well: they are fiduciaries for their
beneficiaries and their investments often are subject to extensive regulation.
In the following article I examine this issue in more detail, looking first at
where institutions are investing their assets. I focus on the liquid, high-grade
bond portfolios that are among their largest allocations and for which they
require the lowest return, other than for cash. We need to be doing a much
better job of structuring the crucial projects seeking these “global public goods”
so that they can access these bond portfolios while making as efficient use of
public credit as possible, and preferably without needing more of it at all. The
bond markets have the tools to do this, through pooling and securitizationm to
achieve scale and diversification.
Getting this done won’t be easy. The committed and highly creative developers
of today’s small-scale and broadly differing activities are going to have to
share one another’s best approaches and move toward defined project criteria
and robust and consistent legal frameworks in order to facilitate the needed
aggregation. Bankers—whether in the public or private sectors—will be
essential to making investable deals out of these often-disparate activities. But
taken together, these steps have the potential to establish a viable framework
and the trust required for the international finance community to step up their
social impact investments and allow funds to flow to critical social, economic
and environmental projects around the world.
The Problem: Public Credit Alone Can’t Meet the Biggest Challenges
The two most important tools required to tackle the many critical issues facing
the global community are the technical capacity to design effective solutions
for environmental and social problems, and equally important, the money to
pay for them.
40 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
IBRD: Efficient Leverage of Global Public Credit
From its establishment early in the process of institutionalization of savings
in developed countries, the International Bank for Reconstruction and
Development’s (IBRD) capital structure and business model have offered brilliant
solutions to the challenge of leveraging global public credit to mobilize savings
for public purposes. The IBRD capital structure, coupled with conservative
financial management, has enabled it to offer a triple-A, fixed-income investment
opportunity even though (1) only a handful of its members carry that rating
themselves, (2) its loan assets are obligations of unrated or much less highly rated
emerging market countries, and (3) IBRD leverages more than three times its
paid-in capital and retained earnings. The contingent obligation on the books
of IBRD’s owners—its “callable capital”—has never been drawn, even through
successive emerging market and global financial crises.
A key point for the present discussion is that IBRD’s triple-A-rated bonds go into
the high-grade, liquid part of institutional investors’ portfolios—the asset class for
which investors expect the lowest return, given the high credit rating, relatively
low price volatility, and good liquidity of the instruments comprising it.
IBRD’s public-sector equity (provided by members with no expectation of
returns) and low borrowing costs give it a weighted average cost of capital that
has enabled it over most of its history to lend to members at “concessional” rates
far below market. Even so, the interest margin it has maintained on its loans,
together with returns on its reserves, have been sufficient to fund the world’s
preeminent development resource management capacity (country teams and the
teams orchestrating solutions to GPGs—the signature business of the institution)
and an extensive consultancy across every major development-related discipline
that it offers essentially for free to members. Moreover, after funding its share of
World Bank Group knowledge and development resource management work,
IBRD generates a profit that, even after additions to reserves, enables its owners
to direct a dividend to the aid agency, the International Development Association
(IDA), that they asked IBRD to administer since 1960.
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 41
The principal constraint on the financial side, of course, is that political as well as
fiscal and macroeconomic realities make it nearly impossible for direct, unlevered
government money sourced from taxes and government borrowing to provide
resources at the scale required. This problem has become more evident over the
past several decades for two major reasons: the international community has
come to appreciate the full cost of dealing with issues such as climate change and
government resources have been stretched in response to developments such as
aging populations and the need for basic infrastructure to improve the standard of
living in emerging market countries.
At the same time, it has been challenging for the international community to develop
the consensus needed to repurpose the World Bank Group and similar institutions
and broaden their respective franchises to address issues beyond economic
development and poverty alleviation in developing countries. The World Bank and
other institutions are already moving in this direction: they created the Climate
Investment Funds (“CIF”)—and notably among them the Clean Technology Fund
(“CTF”)- which are up-and-running and achieving their goal to catalyze additional
investments by the World Bank and other multilateral development banks in
climate-related initiatives. The “green bonds” issued by the European Investment
Bank and IBRD that were pioneered late in the last decade are all examples of
innovative finance mechanisms directed toward a specific set of global priorities.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that even if a consensus were reached on
repurposing these institutions, the scale of sovereign capital investment required to
fully address the broader set of global priorities would be infeasible even in the most
financially efficient of these public institutions.
Global Savings: The Resource, Its Potential and Constraints
Given these circumstances, the challenge is to develop ways to access at scale the
much larger pools of public- and private-sector savings that have accumulated
and become extensively institutionalized in many countries since World War
II. Institutional investors (pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds,
endowments/foundations, and sovereign wealth funds) now hold roughly $100
trillion in assets, managed for various beneficiaries that are the ultimate owners
42 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
of these pools of resources.1
This is a vast pool of assets that could be redirected
to key global challenges and critical investment needs. To do that, however,
would require restructuring their financing to meet the needs of the institutions
managing these savings.
A surprisingly large amount of this $100 trillion is managed pursuant to relatively
consistent fiduciary standards and a more-or-less common investment approach.
These strategies are grounded in the obligation of institutional investors to serve
the financial objectives of their beneficiaries, and they are broadly informed by
the tenets of modern portfolio theory (“MPT”), in which practitioners diversify
holdings across assets to optimize return for a given level of portfolio volatility
and risk. MPT and its variants, despite a number of criticisms, remains core
to the investment process for most institutions managing shares of the pool of
Within this fiduciary and theoretical framework, institutions typically manage their
investments on a portfolio basis in order to achieve long-term savings objectives or
fund long-term liabilities (as in the case of pension funds and insurance companies).
Within the portfolio, most continue to make allocations to “asset classes,” each of
which has a characteristic risk and return profile. Historically, these have been
variations (e.g., public and private equity, investment-grade and non-investmentgrade debt) on equity and debt. In many cases, investors seek exposure to the
average performance of the asset class as a whole. Other investors attempt to select
the best-performing individual investments within the asset class or engage thirdparty specialists to make the investment selection for them. 2
These asset allocations
1 Traditional commercial bank lending has never been a great source for low-cost, long-term
financing needed to finance GPGs. Although total assets in the global banking system are
immense—roughly US$80 trillion based on BIS statistics—most of that is sourced from deposits
and other short-term liabilities, and the term transformation that banks provide necessarily
comes at a significant cost. That said, commercial banks play an important role in the early
stages of project financing and, of course, in the underwriting and distribution process that
facilitates access to the long-term investment discussed in the text.
2 In the interest of completeness, it is worth noting that the highly-correlated behavior of traditional
asset classes during the recent financial crisis and its aftermath is leading some investors to seek
to better-diversify their portfolios by allocating to “factors"—e.g., macroeconomic performance
and its constituents, real interest rates, currency exchange rates, credit, commodity prices etc. It
remains to be seen to what extent this approach gains traction.
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 43
and investment decisions also take into account the appropriate time horizon and
degree of tolerance for price volatility and principal loss given the objectives of the
investment within the portfolio as a whole.
Similarly, within this asset-management framework, institutional investors face
predictable challenges when considering using these funds for social impact, or
global public goods such as climate change mitigation or adaptation, sustainable
agriculture and forestry, marine conservation and the like. The key issue, of course,
is a relatively common assessment that these investments yield lower returns for
a given level of risk, and thus may be inconsistent with institutions’ fiduciary
obligations to beneficiaries. 3
This concern, ironically, sometimes is exacerbated by
public discourse in which institutional investors can feel pressured to make these
investments, notwithstanding this potential issue of fiduciary responsibility.4
The table below is a summary of total-portfolio asset allocations, variations of
which are typical in the portfolios of institutionally managed savings pools. It is
intended to be broadly illustrative, not precise or exhaustive. There are categories of
savings not included, and within each there are many individual institutions whose
allocations and return expectations will diverge—often substantially—from those
shown here. It is based on my experience and observation, validated with reference
to many sources.
3 Not surprisingly, an industry of sorts has grown up around the issue described in the text, with
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academics, consultancies, and “sustainable” asset
managers striving to demonstrate that some sacrifice of conventional risk-adjusted return is
warranted in return for achieving broader public goods. These public goods—so the arguments
often go—serve to reduce risks to institutional investors’ beneficiaries in other ways, a risk
reduction that should be valued (“priced”) and taken into account in asset allocation and
4 In this context, it is worth recalling the difficult experience of some institutional investors, for
example, when authorities in jurisdictions sponsoring investment funds have sought to pursue
local economic development objectives by directing fund investments into favored businesses
or other activities. Well-intentioned special pleading of this kind can give way to wholesale
departure from sound investment practice as authorities find it difficult to say “yes” to one or
several ostensibly salutary purposes while saying “no” to others.
44 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Institutional Investors’ Allocations and Return Expectations
Investor Category Asset Classes, Typical Expected Real Returns (% annualized)
and Typical Allocations (% of total portfolio)
(expected real return)
Type of institution
Pension funds 50 25 10 10 5
Insurance companies 10 70 5 10 5
Endowments/foundations 50 15 15 15 5
Sovereign wealth funds 45 40 10 5
Mutual funds (U.S.) 45 25 Not
Notes: a. 10-year maturities. b. Asset allocations among sovereign wealth funds vary
widely depending on their respective purposes and on the authorizing environment
in which they operate. Stabilization funds invest much more heavily in fixed income,
while long-term national savings funds invest in fully diversified portfolios similar
to pension funds or endowments.
The good news is that liquid fixed income, which is the asset class with the
lowest expected return and thereby producing the lowest cost of capital for
borrowers, is also one of the largest.. Worldwide, the bond market totals roughly
$100 trillion in outstanding securities, with new-issue long-term debt volumes
in the neighborhood $5 trillion per annum.
The bad news is that a relatively small proportion of the financing for GPGs
has been drawn from investors’ high-grade fixed-income allocations, and much
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 45
of that has come from bond issues by international institutions such as IBRD
and the regional development banks. These institutions have allocated only a
modest proportion of their own long-term lending to fund these major global
priorities given their historic focus on national development programs.
To date, most of the financing of renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable
forestry and agriculture, and other sectors that address global concerns has
produced assets that draw investment from the illiquid private equity or “real
assets” parts of investors’ portfolios. As evident in the foregoing table, these
represent a relatively small part of the portfolios; moreover, given the illiquidity
and other characteristics of the risk profile, investors’ return expectations are
relatively high. Therefore, the question facing the international community is
how to attract large-scale, low-cost, long-term financing into these sectors.
The allocation that competes in scale (though with a much higher expected
return) with high-grade fixed income is, of course, public equity, i.e., the
broadly distributed stocks of major private-sector companies for which there
is a continuous two-way market on established exchanges or over-the-counter.
Institutional asset owners can influence management decisions by these
companies through their decisions to purchase, hold or sell these companies’
securities and by exercising their rights as shareholders to participate in
governance. Increasingly, asset owners and the investment managers they hire
are doing both as they make investment and divestment decisions based on risks
related to climate change, quality of corporate governance and the like. This
can and does alter corporate behavior, but it is not a substitute for measures that
need to be taken to dramatically increase the flow of new, low-cost financing
into priority GPG-related activities.
Tapping the High-Grade Fixed-Income Resource: Quality and
What will encourage investors to put a material part of their high-grade fixedincome (HGFI) portfolios in GPG assets? We need financial instruments with three
characteristics: credit quality, liquidity, and competitive return.
46 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
The source for each periodic payment and for redemption at maturity must meet
minimum standards of reliability to achieve an investment-grade (Moody’s Baa3/
S&P and Fitch BBB-, or better) credit rating from major rating agencies. There are
two essential foundations of credit quality:
Economics of the business. The business or activity itself has to generate a cash flow,
covering both interest and principal, predictable and reliable enough to warrant
investment-grade rating. A single project can achieve this on its own, or the same
outcome can be achieved through a diversified portfolio of a number of projects of
Enforceability of the obligation. The legal arrangements surrounding the activity
and the financing, and the legal system and political economy in which they are
grounded, must provide a reliably enforceable obligation in favor of investors.
When in doubt, credit enhancement will have to be applied from a public or
Investors have to anticipate that there are likely to be reliable offers for their holdings
at a narrow spread to the price at which the same position then could be bought—in
short, on a tight bid-offer spread. Given the scale of institutional investors’ holdings,
moreover, this bid-offer spread has to work for trades of, say, $5 million or more.5
This level of liquidity or better is routinely achieved in conventional bond issues
by governments and their agencies, IBRD and other MDBs, and major corporate
5 Bid-offer spreads in the institutional-scale market ( for example, a plain-vanilla 5-year bond) can
be in the neighborhood of 5 basis points (.05%) for a $5 million ticket in high-grade corporate
debt, to well under one basis point (that is, less than .01%)for tickets in the tens of millions in
“on-the-run” U.S. Treasuries. It is important to note, of course, that compared with governmentbonds, liquidity in other sectors of the fixed-income market can vary widely—it is especially namespecific and tiered by credit rating, and it can improve or deteriorate with much greater sensitivity
to overall market conditions. It also is significantly more exposed to the impact of declining balance
sheet commitments by traditional market makers in the current climate of uncertainty around the
structure and regulatory capital requirements in the banking sector.
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 47
borrowers. It is provided by entities with capital committed to market-making in
these instruments—typically, the investment banks that underwrite and distribute
securities in the high-grade fixed-income market.
Most institutions will want to see a financial return for an investment within a given
credit risk and liquidity that is as good or better than others available.
Virtually without exception, instruments that meet these three criteria are offered
or guaranteed by entities such as developed country governments, supranational
institutions, and major corporations that themselves carry investment-grade credit
ratings. Typically, they are issued in large transactions (say, $300 million or more)
originating in established global financial centers.
Quality and Liquidity in GPG Finance: Pooling and Securitization
The challenge is that most of the important work currently being done to provide
financing for GPGs is local, relatively small-scale, and idiosyncratic. This is probably
unavoidable given widely varying demographics, economies and ecosystems. One
solution is to assure a minimum degree of consistency that will enable the resulting
diversified assets to be aggregated (“pooled”) and turned into relatively high-quality,
easily tradable bonds, with any required application of public credit enhancement
occurring in the most efficient manner to reach investment grade.
The basic mechanism for delivering these solutions—pooling and securitization—
is certainly not novel and in certain sectors supports a major financial industry.6
But despite extensive discussion, pooling and securitization have not developed to
the extent needed to support large-scale investment in key areas of global concern,
including sustainable energy, energy efficiency and infrastructure development.
To do this would require credible sponsorship and consistency of approach across
projects and sectors, as well as countries, that could permit pooling projects into
6 Variations on the pooling/securitization theme include mortgage-backed securities, assetbacked securities, and their collateralized debt obligation variants, as well as covered bonds
(issued as plain-vanilla debt, carrying the credit of an issuing institution, but with backing as
well from a specified pool of assets held by the institution).
48 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
the kind of large-scale, high-grade, liquid financial instruments that command the
highest prices from investors and achieve the lowest cost of capital for these crucial
In addition, these characteristics have to be met while providing
certainty for project developers that this form of long-term financing will be available
to justify the risk they take and the cost they incur in the development stage.8
Achieving this goal is simply not possible for all of the myriad activities supporting
delivery of GPGs. But it certainly can be achieved in important areas if the
international community is willing to coalesce around a few of the more promising,
scalable approaches to tackling significant global challenges. And if it also adopts
simple, standardized implementation and legal arrangements and diversifies projects
globally, as well (across both developed and developing countries), pooling and
securitization could be accomplished with the creditworthiness, size, and liquidity
necessary to dramatically reduce the cost of capital for these activities.
For this to occur the following conditions are required:
Agreement on HPAs: Broad international agreement on a limited number of
high-priority activities (HPAs) that would benefit from pooling and securitization.
The criteria for inclusion on this list are straightforward: An HPA must (a) have
the potential for major positive impact in a high-priority area; (b) generate cash
flow to service debt or cost avoidance that can enable the funds thus freed-up
to be directed to service debt; and (c) be susceptible to a standardized approach
across jurisdictions. Some examples are urban conversion to LED street lighting,
distributed generation of renewable energy, bio-shield restoration, and multi-peril/
multi-jurisdiction catastrophe risk insurance.
7 Pooling and securitizing assets has been employed widely and often without creating the
“plain-vanilla” investment grade instruments that enable financing at the lowest cost. In the
United States, for example, conventional mortgage-backed securities, carrying federal agency
guarantees, nevertheless require market participants to undertake complex modeling to allow
for prepayment risk and disparate cash-flow patterns among the mortgages in a pool.
8 A recent effort by individual renewable energy developers in vehicles known as “yieldcos” should
be distinguished from the approach discussed in the text. Yieldcos offers dividend-paying equity
investments in pools of projects and more explicitly the prospect of rising yields and prices as
project development continued. Experience with these instruments has been difficult, and, in any
event, they never sought to access the liquid, high-grade fixed-income allocations in investors’
portfolios. [cite to the CPI/Rockefeller report “Beyond YieldCos”, June 2016]
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 49
Defined project criteria: Each HPA needs a set of minimum criteria to create a
“conforming” project that can be pooled with others and securitized. Part of the
objective in limiting the HPA universe to high-impact activities that are susceptible to
standardization is to minimize the impact of idiosyncratic local approaches to essentially
similar challenges. This ex ante classification of activities should make it possible to
develop in each activity or category a small number of essential criteria for pooling,
while allowing significant variation across jurisdictions in all other aspects of projects.
Minimum legal standards: Similarly, for each participating jurisdiction there will need
to be a set of minimum legal standards to ensure enforceability of each project’s obligations
to investors in the pool. Meeting these standards ex ante would qualify a national or
subnational jurisdiction to originate HPA projects for pooling and securitization.
Established issuing vehicle: Each HPA needs an established vehicle to act as an
issuer of the fixed income instruments created from the aggregated and securitized
projects while meeting the requirements of items 2 and 3 just above. In most cases,
an HPA vehicle would outsource project and jurisdiction validation functions
(tasks 2 and 3) as well as the execution of financing and other aspects of financial
management. In addition, each HPA vehicle could provide modest intermediation
services, maintaining sufficient liquidity derived from borrowings to accommodate
timing differences between receipt of HPA project revenues, interest and principal
payments on HPA vehicle bonds. To the extent that project-related cash flows
may not be sufficiently reliable to warrant investment-grade credit rating, an HPA
vehicle could be an appropriate and efficient recipient of bilateral or multilateral
public credit, for example, in the form of guarantees, participation in financings,
hedging facilities, or capital contributions. 9 10
9 An example of a vehicle of this kind is the International Finance Facility for Immunisation
(“IFFIm”), which pools and securitizes future aid commitments of up to 20 years from several
countries to support issuance of high-grade bonds in the international capital markets. IFFIm
is organized as a UK charitable corporation. It outsources to the GAVI Alliance (formerly
the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) the delivery of vaccination services,
and outsources to IBRD implementation of its bond issue program, liquidity management,
accounting, and other financial services.
10 An alternative approach to pooling and securitizing GPG-related financing is to establish a separate
“special-purpose vehicle” for each transaction. This has been the approach in, for example, in a
“multi-cat” parametric catastrophe risk bond issue arranged by the World Bank Treasury.
50 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Obviously, the devil is in the details in the foregoing approach, and the details are
highly dependent on the specifics of the activities being financed, the characteristics
of the institutions undertaking them, forms of available credit enhancement (to
the extent necessary), and the complexity of the governance arrangements which,
if not handled well, can vastly and unnecessarily increase administrative costs.
Simplicity is key.
Having said this, we still are entitled to ask why so little of this work is getting done.
The answer in part market dynamics: For the investment banks that traditionally
would have undertaken it, the sheer efficiency of modern capital markets means
that the fees available for designing, underwriting and distributing an HGFI
instrument from multiple disparate initiatives are so small that the “heavy lift”
required isn’t worth the cost. And, as noted above, the MDBs and other public
institutions, with few exceptions, have found it difficult to adapt their existing
business models (originating projects for financing on their own balance sheets)
to include development of off-balance-sheet transactions that would attract major
allocations from institutional investors.
All of this creates a need—and an opportunity—for other parties to advance the
product development costs to “housebreak” key environmentally and socially
important initiatives for inclusion in investors’ HGFI portfolio allocations.
In conclusion, there is an urgent need—and an opportunity—for the international
community to come together to make financing GPGs a compelling investment for
the managers of the global savings pool. These investments can work both for the
immediate beneficiaries of that savings pool and for the long-term environmental
and social sustainability essential to the future of humanity. The money is there.
Now is the time for the public and private sectors to do the heavy lifting and reach
agreement on a consistent framework and workable vehicles that can aggregate the
highest-priority activities into diversified pools offering investors truly competitive,
*From the World Bank used by permission.
11 J. Warren Evans and Robin Davies, eds. 2015. Too Global to Fail: The World Bank at the Intersection of
National and Global Public Policy in 2025. Directions in Development. Washington, DC: World Bank
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 51
African Risk Capacity:
An African-led Strategy for
Managing Natural Disasters
By Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
DR. NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA is Chair of the ARC Agency Governing Board.
Natural disasters can strike at any time, and no region is more vulnerable than Africa to weather-related events such as droughts, floods and
tropical cyclones. The usual response when disaster strikes has been
for national governments to appeal for aid and humanitarian handouts after the
fact—a process that has inevitably led to delays in relief efforts and more misery
for the afflicted population. Such an approach has also led, to some extent, to an
erosion of public national systems for response delivery. This is perhaps a less
obvious but critical piece in the dialogue needed around supporting African
governments as they seek to develop national risk management capacities and
the broader shift required to bridge the gap between on-going humanitarian
response and actual development.
In 2014, however, a different scenario unfolded, which has heralded a transformation
in the way that African countries manage natural disasters. This transformation
was demonstrated after a significant rainfall deficit brought on drought conditions
in regions of Senegal, Mauritania and Niger, and led to poor performance of
their agricultural seasons. This time however, the governments were ready: the
drought triggered immediate pay-outs of just over $26.3 million in early 2015 from
weather-risk insurance policies these countries had purchased from the African
52 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Risk Capacity (ARC), a Specialized Agency of the African Union and Africa’s first
sovereign disaster insurance pool.
Instead of waiting for the slow process of international aid through the appeals
system, African nations had access to funds to quickly implement pre-planned
drought relief programs to affected populations. Mauritania received $6.3 million
for food distribution to 250,000 people in food-insecure areas. Senegal’s pay-out
was $16.5 million for food distribution for 925,000 people as well as subsidized
sales of animal feed for 570,000 cattle. Niger received $3.5 million for conditional
cash transfers, food distribution for 175,000 people, and rice distribution to 42,000
people. In total, the early response program in the three countries assisted around
1.3 million people, saving lives and supporting livelihoods through the delivery of
food, cash, or livestock fodder. It also demonstrated the importance of empowering
national governments to be able to respond to the needs of their people.
The $26.3 million ARC pay-outs came weeks ahead of a UN appeal in February 2015
for $2 billion to help more than 20 million people affected in the Sahel by drought,
conflict and other risk factors, and enabled national governments to push ahead with
and take full control of relief efforts. In many ways, it also upended traditional ways
of dealing with natural disasters. Historically, Africa and its partners have lacked the
appropriate financial mechanisms to respond effectively to natural disasters with
the unfortunate status quo being for governments to scramble to reallocate funds
from national budgets after the disaster has occurred, thereby depleting assets and
reversing hard won economic gains. In addition, many African nations did not have
advanced systems in place to determine when drought conditions were approaching
or contingency plans to deal with the impact and ultimately the resources to deliver
response to those affected. ARC’s model has helped to address these roadblocks.
ARC was established in 2012 to challenge the status quo of how natural disaster
response is managed by establishing the first sovereign insurance pool on the
continent. More importantly, it catalyzed the creation and improvement of risk
management systems in individual countries: governments could not only buy
insurance policies for natural disasters such as drought but committed to building
capacity to define their risk profile and establish a well-defined preparedness
program. A foundational idea of ARC is that African governments know what they
need to do and when they need to do it, and with readily available funds they can
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 53
put contingency plans into action. Pay-outs from insurance policies arrive in the
national treasury within two to four weeks, significantly decreasing the timeline for
assistance to reach needy households.
One critical component of managing risk is ensuring that reliable early warning
systems are in place. On the continent, millions of dollars have been invested into
the development of these systems. Their effectiveness is, however, contingent on
their link to actual response plans and resources needed to implement. Simply being
aware of an impending disaster is not a good enough strategy. Linking this to strong
national response systems supported with adequate financing is the goal and more
in line with better risk management. To participate in the ARC insurance scheme,
every country is able to harness the power of early warning technology using ARC’s
software, which translates satellite-based rainfall data into near real-time estimates
of number of people affected and the cost of response. The system interprets different
types of weather data, such as rainfall estimates, and information about crops, such
as soil and cropping calendars. This data is converted into meaningful indicators of
agricultural production and pasture and applied to the vulnerable populations that
depend on rainfall for crops and rangeland forage their livelihoods. The information
is customized by each country, and provides decision-makers with expected and
maximum costs of drought-related responses before an agricultural season begins
and as the season progresses.
Countries must also demonstrate the ability to effectively use potential pay-outs as
part of an early intervention program to mobilize domestic resources. This is a key
element because evidence indicates that providing early assistance to households
before they deplete productive assets, skip meals, and eventually leave their homes
and migrate elsewhere, far outweighs the cost of insurance premiums if countries
pool their risk through a facility like ARC. In fact, with risk pooling and reduced
response times, every dollar spent through ARC during a drought saves $4.40 in
traditional humanitarian assistance costs, according to a cost-benefit analysis
study based on work by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
and Oxford University. Effective contingency planning linked to early pay-outs is
therefore key to protecting livelihoods and ensuring a country fully realizes the
benefits of the ARC program.
The long-term benefits are potentially even greater. Predictable and well-planned
responses to events will help protect agricultural investments and GDP. Most
54 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
farmers in Africa are small-scale farmers who pour considerable investments into
their crops. If a disaster turns into a catastrophe, they may be inclined to take drastic
measures that could be devastating to their livelihoods, such as selling off productive
assets. On the sovereign level, disasters cause serious, sometimes catastrophic fiscal
strain, can worsen the balance of payments, reduce income, and impact economic
growth, as limited budget resources are reallocated to emergency response efforts.
Insurance policies and the risk pool that supports pay-outs are the main financial
foundation of ARC, and they can address the problems of spreading risk and
delivering funding to national governments in a timely way. ARC operates on
mutual insurance principles through a financial affiliate, ARC Insurance Company
Limited (ARC Ltd), which was created in 2013 with $200 million in risk capital and
is owned by member countries and capital contributors, including the U.K. and
German governments. Risk pooling combines the risk of drought and, in the future,
other extreme climate events occurring across several countries to take advantage
of the natural diversity of weather systems across Africa. The ARC pool then takes
on the risk profile of the group rather than the individual country, combining the
uncertainty of individual risks into a calculable risk for the group.
ARC has an innovative structure under international law, as it is an international
organization providing governmental services and a nationally regulated company
conducting financial operations. The design facilitates intergovernmental capacity
building and peer review through the Agency by setting and enforcing standards for
early intervention while also allowing complex financial operations to be conducted
by the company under an established and robust regulatory framework. Parallel to
the capital contributions that supported the establishment of the insurance company,
several donors including the UK Department for International Development, KFW,
the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Swedish International
Development Coordination Agency, the International Fund for Agricultural
Development, the United States Agency for International Development, the
Rockefeller Foundation, and the United Nations World Food Programme, have
supported the work of the Agency and continue to do so. These contributions have
been crucial as they have facilitated the essential research and development activities
of the ARC and also the necessary capacity building work of the Agency towards
improving risk management understanding and systems in member states.
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 55
For a facility like ARC to be successful in the long term, continued expansion is
required to scale up weather-related risk transfer. Three additional countries joined
the pool in May 2015, increasing drought coverage to almost $180 million for the
2015-16 rainfall seasons for a total premium of $26 million. In a sign of increasing
self-sufficiency and confidence, participating governments paid almost all of
these premiums out of their national budgets, thereby providing strong evidence
that nations are taking control of their risk planning and relief efforts. While this
represents significant progress, the goal is for ARC to reach as many as 30 countries
by 2020 with $1.5 billion in coverage against drought, flood and cyclones, as part
of an expansion that would indirectly insure around 150 million Africans. This is
an ambitious target that reflects a broader initiative launched by the G7 countries,
which pledged in June 2015 to provide climate risk insurance to an additional 400
million people worldwide by 2020.
African governments have shown their commitment to this initiative through
support for ARC. However, experiences have also shown that there is a need for
continual support for these governments if we are to achieve this goal of 150 million
Africans insured by 2020. There are currently 32 African governments which have
endorsed the ARC initiative at the Head of State level. All of these countries need
to translate this commitment into participation in the insurance mechanism as the
more countries participate in the pool the lower the cost of the insurance coverage.
For the governments, integrating premium into national fiscal strategy, including
integration into the portfolio with IFIs, is essential to ensure sustainability of these
payments and the growth of ARC’s comprehensive risk management footprint.
Despite significant interest in accessing parametric insurance coverage from ARC
Ltd, one of the major barriers countries face in ensuring their participation in the
ARC Ltd pool is the mobilisation of premium funds in the early years of participation
as they seek to build this cost into national budgets. In the traditional natural disaster
response universe, African sovereign budgets and response systems are often bypassed as international humanitarian actors both finance and execute assistance.
The cost of natural disaster risk, in both direct losses and impact on economic
development, is thus not often recognized or fully embedded into most national
financial systems, and budgetary provisions to manage risk for resiliency against
such costs are not made. ARC therefore presents an opportunity for international
organizations and partners to support this risk systemization process that African
governments are embarking on through their participation in ARC.
56 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Together, these efforts would radically transform the way weather risks are managed
by embedding disaster preparedness and financing in sovereign risk management
systems. The case for such support for the most fragile and vulnerable states is
strong. It will mean pushing the boundaries around how disaster risk management
is undertaken on the continent and breaking down silos within this community.
It will mean a commitment to working with African governments to strengthen
their systems and broaden the dialogue around disaster risk management into nontraditional spaces such as Ministries of Finance so that there can be a critical analysis
of how these risks are managed through the strategic budgeting required to address
these scenarios and an exploration of legislative options to support improvement in
national resilience. It will also mean working with the international development
community to support a strategy that builds on the systems of these governments,
identifies the weaknesses and develops solutions that are in line with the strategic
policies of countries. It is a long-term strategy and reformation conversation which
the ARC process has catalysed in countries.
Within this context, it is also important to recognize the fact that the total ARC
disaster funding now provides only 10 percent to 30 percent of total disaster funding
requirements, with the remainder largely coming from the UN appeals process.
To overcome this problem, ARC recently launched Replica Coverage, an initiative
that allows UN agencies and NGOs to take out similar policies that match policies
purchased by a government. This would immediately result in a doubling of the
coverage in a particular country and the amount of people who can be assisted when
a disaster occurs. In addition, it helps align the government’s contingency plans with
those of international organizations and non-governmental organisations operating in
the country and in turn supports better risk management through the strengthening
of government systems and coordinating capacity, which is a fundamental component
of the ARC ethos. Support for African Governments is therefore not only simply
about ensuring participation in the ARC mechanism but ensuring that partners
that are engaged in this space are also aligned with the broader vision of system and
coordination improvement to ensure timely response when a disaster occurs.
As African nations increasingly use this new financial mechanism to confront cyclical
weather crises, it is necessary to also build resilience to future climate shifts and
extreme weather events that happen due to climate change. It is a cruel irony that Africa
contributes least to climate change but stands to suffer most from its impact. Africa
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 57
is recognized as the region most vulnerable to weather risks, which could undermine
record growth across the continent and threaten development gains and the future
of agriculture. Increasing climate volatility could also counteract investments made
by countries to mitigate, prepare for and manage current weather risks. The World
Bank estimates an adaptation investment cost between $14 billion to $17 billion per
year over the period 2010-2050 for sub-Saharan countries to adapt to an increase of
approximately 2 degrees Centigrade warmer climate forecast for 2050. Climate change
is particularly threatening to the future of African agriculture, which impacts global
food security and the economic livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Africans.
To confront this threat, a multi-year funding mechanism called the Extreme Climate
Facility (XCF) was launched by ARC in 2014 at the UN Climate Summit in New
York. XCF is an African-led initiative using public and private funds to provide
financial support to African countries to build climate resilience to multi-hazard
weather events. It is designed to access private capital, diversify the sources, and
increase the amount of international funding for climate adaptation. Using ARC as
a platform, XCF will issue climate change catastrophe bonds to help governments
respond to the impacts of increased climate volatility. Still in the R&D phase, XCF
will be structured to issue more than $1 billion in African climate change bonds
over the next thirty years, which will be made available to participating countries for
their own use if weather shocks such as extreme heat, droughts, floods or cyclones
increase in occurrence and intensity.
Innovative financial models like ARC have proven that pooling risk and resources,
contingency planning, and early intervention provide the tools and resources for
African nations to take control of their disaster relief efforts. This framework can
also be applied to other crises, including disease outbreaks and epidemics. After
the devastating Ebola epidemic in 2014 in the West African countries Sierra Leone,
Guinea and Liberia, the member states asked ARC to establish outbreak and epidemic
insurance to support immediate, country-led action to manage infectious disease
outbreaks before they become global threats. This new ARC facility is expected to
become operational by 2018 with the first participating states.
ARC’s mission is to use modern finance mechanisms such as risk pooling and risk
transfer to create pan-African response systems that enable African countries to
meet the needs of people harmed by natural disasters. With insurance pay-outs,
58 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
early warning systems, and contingency plans for emergencies in place, national
governments have the tools and resources to initiate and take control of relief efforts
long before international aid arrives. In that sense, ARC empowers governments to
transform their emergency response systems; increase capacity to face the challenge
of weather events and other disasters, including pandemics; and to ultimately save
lives and support the livelihoods of those most affected. It is truly an African-led
solution to address African problems.
ARC has made a strong start, yet its value and impact will grow exponentially as more
countries purchase policies and integrate its core principles into disaster planning
and financing, as the international community lends its support to scale up coverage
in poorer and more fragile states. This unique financial mechanism demonstrates
the power of insurance to manage loss and damage from natural disasters and shift
the focus to fast, efficient and locally-led responses. At a time of growing concern
about future limitations on international resources and humanitarian aid, ARC will
help African nations be better prepared, stronger financially, and more resilient in
the face of natural disasters, wherever and whenever they may arise.
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 59
Investing in the
Transformation of Financial
Access in India
By Sucharita Mukherjee, Deepti George and Nikhil John
SUCHARITA MUKHERJEE is the CEO of IFMR Holdings.
DEEPTI GEORGE is the Head of Policy at IFMR Finance Foundation.
NIKHIL JOHN leads new business strategy at IFMR Holdings.
ndia has had a long history of attempting to solve the problem of financial exclusion and to bring its citizens, their households, and their enterprises under
the fold of formal financial services. Despite a combination of interventions and
institutional reforms introduced to accelerate the process of financial inclusion, India has a long road to cover.
As of 2015, only 42% of adult Indians hold active bank accounts.1
Rural branches, which
constitute 37% of the banking system, contributed only 10% and 8% to banks’ deposit
and credit respectively.2
As of 2014, credit depth for India, which is measured by the
credit to GDP ratio, stands at almost 76%.3
However, the regional variations in financial
access and depth are vast at the district level. For instance, credit to GDP for Maharashtra
1 India Wave Report, FII Tracker Survey, Financial Inclusion Insights, March 2016
2 RBI Basic Statistical Returns, 2015
3 Domestic credit provided by financial sector (% of GDP), World Bank, 2014
60 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
(excluding Mumbai) is comparable to that of the more rural state of Bihar at 16%. The
districts in the North-Eastern States have a median credit to GDP ratio of 6% (for rural)
and 18% (for urban) with the lowest values of 0.40% (for rural) and 1.15% (for urban).
Individuals and enterprises are hardly protected from risks that insurance products can
mitigate. As of 2015, only 13% of Indian adults had insurance, largely by life insurance
(10 out of the 13%).4
Non-life insurance penetration5
stood at 0.8% in 2013 for India—
the lowest compared to other emerging economies—meanwhile it is 2.7% for South
Africa, 1.8% for Brazil and 1.4% for China.6
Households save predominantly in physical
assets. NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) data indicate that for both rural and urban
India physical assets form 86.55% and 82.27% of their asset portfolios, respectively. This
finding is validated by service area data from IFMR Holdings’ retail financial services
delivery arm which show households that rely on agriculture labor typically have 90%
of its asset portfolio in three categories of physical assets, namely land, house and gold.7
The ubiquitous absence of financial assets as an important component of household
asset portfolios is further reflected in the fact that 74% of assets under management for
the mutual fund industry is concentrated in the top 5 cities of the country. From the lens
of public policy, one of the pivotal roles of financial services is to cover for unforeseen
catastrophic events through market-driven approaches in order to reduce the fiscal
burden on governments. Estimates indicate that India faced losses that accounted for
up to 2% of its GDP due to natural disasters.8
There is no catastrophe risk insurance
market that exists to help households, businesses, institutions or governments protect
themselves against these potential losses. The Uttarakhand floods of 2013 saw the state
lose 11% of its GDP with losses to tourism pegged at USD 1 billion9
for the same year.10
4 India Wave Report, FII Tracker Survey, Financial Inclusion Insights, March 2016
5 Insurance penetration is measured as the ratio of premium to GDP
6 Sigma Volumes 3/2014, SwissRe
7 How much can Asset Portfolios of Rural Households Benefit from Formal Financial Services? Vishnu Prasad,
Anand Sahasranaman, Santadarshan Sadhu, Rachit Khaitan, NSE Working Paper Series No. WP-2014-2
8 Government of India Planning Commission Report of the Working Group on Disaster Management for
the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-2017), October 2011
9 Exchange rate is assumed throughout is USD 1 = INR 65
10 Rapidly Assessing Flood Damage in Uttarakhand, India, World Bank, 2013
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 61
The above numbers reflect the innumerable challenges that a well-functioning
financial system can effectively mitigate for India’s individuals, households,
enterprises and local governments. A design for such a well-functioning financial
system can be considered to have three pillars, namely, high-quality origination,
orderly risk transmission and robust risk aggregation.
A Vision for the Financial System
To elaborate further, High Quality
Origination is understood to be the design
and delivery of financial services that provide
households and firms the ability to manage
liquidity (moving resources across time) and
risk (moving resources across “states of the
world”) in a smooth, convenient and
affordable manner. Origination spans
activities and functions such as the design of
products to overcome moral hazard and
adverse selection, establishment of the identity of the customer, underwriting of
risk, and servicing on an on-going basis. Financial institutions that deliver the
service of origination are called originators. India needs thousands of high quality
originators across the length and breadth of the country that can fully understand
each and every household they serve and offer financial services that maximise their
financial well-being. Orderly Risk Transmission in the financial system involves the
movement/assignment of risk from entities that originate risk to entities that are
best placed to manage these risks, in return for a compensatory payment at a marketdetermined rate, thus improving the overall capability to manage risk. Robust Risk
Aggregation involves the movement of risk to external, well-capitalized and welldiversified counterparties that are better positioned to hold those risks. Any wellfunctioning financial system should have robust risk aggregation capacity with a
range of institutions, such as commercial banks, insurance companies and mutual
funds, and the appetite and the ability to play the role of aggregators.
IFMR Holdings was set up to establish and strengthen the three pillars elucidated
above. It operates, invests in and provides strategic direction to commercially
operating companies and other business opportunities that further its mission to
62 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
ensure that every individual and every enterprise has complete access to financial
services. Today, IFMR Holdings provides the following services:
§ a complete suite of financial products and services to remote rural India through
a wealth management approach
§ complete access to debt capital markets to high quality financial institutions that
serve the financially excluded
§ technology and product platforms that enable the growth of highly customercentric financial institutions
A subsidiary company, IFMR Rural Channels (IRCS) operates a network of rural
financial institutions called KGFS (Kshetriya Gramin Financial Services) that offer a
full suite of financial services and cumulatively reach more than 650,000 customers
across 4,200 villages through 236 branches in remote rural India. Another subsidiary
is IFMR Capital, which is a debt capital markets platform serving 105 originators
offering micro-loans, small business finance, agricultural finance, affordable housing
and commercial vehicle finance, that reaches more than 19 million financially
excluded people. Relevant to the overall mission of IFMR Holdings is its cosubsidiary,11 IFMR Finance Foundation (IFF), a non-profit research and advocacy
entity that carries out nonpartisan, evidence-based policy research and dialogue
with policy makers and regulators across the important themes of financial systems,
design customer protection and household finance.
IRCS delivers financial services at a retail level through its network of KGFS
branches in remote rural areas that offer a complete suite of financial products
and services through a wealth management approach. The wealth management
approach has been a core part of the financial services offering since its inception in
2008, and is designed to ensure financial planning, asset growth, asset protection,
and risk diversification for rural households and enterprises only after obtaining a
comprehensive understanding of the customer’s needs and aspirations. The most
important part of the approach is the conversation that the wealth manager (the
field staff of a KGFS branch) has with the customer about her financial needs and
11 Both IFMR Holdings and IFF are subsidiaries of IFMR Trust, a private trust and controlling shareholder
in IFMR Holdings. IFF is the ultimate beneficiary of the IFMR Trust
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 63
goals, both immediate and long-term. This is supported by a robust customer
management system, which enables the capturing of all household income,
expense, asset, liability, and cash flow details, to generate a Financial Wellbeing
Report (FWR). This system-generated comprehensive financial plan highlights the
unique aspects of the individual customer’s and household’s risk profile and helps in
making specific financial recommendations for the household along a pre-specified
pathway (Plan, Grow, Protect, and Diversify) for household financial wellbeing.
Critical to the delivery of financial services through a wealth management
approach is IFMR Rural Finance (IRF), which offers technology and product
platforms that enable the growth of highly customer-centric financial
institutions. It also forms the technological backbone of the KGFS. IRF’s
technology and financial product solutions provide originators with the
infrastructure to become customer-centric by facilitating deeper conversations
with their customers as well as enabling them to potentially offer multiple
products to serve their customers’ varying needs. The technology platform also
provides vital business intelligence capability that helps originators continuously
learn from their customers’ financial behaviour as well as mobility solutions
that offer the full functionality of all its technology products on mobile devices,
reducing the effective distance to the customer.
IFMR Capital sits squarely in the risk transmission pillar. IFMR Capital’s aim is to
provide efficient and reliable access to capital markets to high-quality originators
serving financially excluded sectors. Loan pools contributed by a single originator
are often too small and too geographically concentrated to take to the capital
market. A secure pool must have a minimum critical size in order to make them
financially viable and hence only large originators can traditionally access capital
64 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
through securitization. Small originators, therefore, are most in need of access to
capital markets. Spurred by the overarching need, IFMR Capital developed the
Multi-Originator SECuritization or MOSEC. MOSECs allow smaller MFIs
(microfinance institutions) to participate actively in securitization transactions
and collectively access capital markets when they are too small to access capital
markets individually, and by pooling loans across originators and geographies, a
well-diversified portfolio is achieved which provides an attractive risk-return tradeoff to investors.
12 CRISIL Credit Rating Report IFMR Capital MOSEC 1, 2010
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 65
The first MOSEC closed in January 2010. Since then, MOSEC has transformed the
way financial inclusion focused originators access capital markets in India. The small
MFIs that participated in the first MOSEC in 2010 had on average loan assets of
USD 5 million and have since grown to a balance sheet size of USD 234 million in
the past six years, representing an annual growth rate of more than 80%. One of the
largest MOSECs IFMR Capital executed had nine MFIs contributing a pool of almost
45,000 loans. Since the launch of the first MOSEC in January 2010, IFMR Capital has
structured, arranged and invested in 88 such transactions. The structure is flexible
enough to accept a wide range of underlying loans with varying sizes and tenures. The
MOSEC structure gained a higher level of prominence in January 2013 when the senior
securities issued under IFMR Capital MOSEC XXII were listed on the Bombay Stock
Exchange. This was the first instance of listing of securitized debt in India and marked
a significant step towards greater disclosure, liquidity, transparency, and sustainability
in IFMR Capital’s efforts towards financial inclusion and simultaneously marking a
milestone for debt securitization in India. Similar to the evolution of the MOSEC,
IFMR Investments emerged from two underlying needs. Indian MFIs primarily have
access to Priority Sector Lending (PSL) bank-funding, which is primarily motivated by
regulatory obligations, and is short-term and expensive in nature. Since India has the
largest microfinance sector in the world, the opportunity to expand financial services
and deepen bond markets is substantial. As a natural externality from this construct,
there was a clear dearth of access to affordable long-term debt funding for MFIs and
other originators. To meet this need, IFMR Holdings set up IFMR Investments, an
asset management company that would help bridge this gap in access to long term
funding. IFMR Investments has launched three funds so far with total assets under
management at USD 62 million.
Each of the pillars that IFMR Holdings has focused on has had several innovations.
In time, these innovations will reach their full potential when other stakeholders
interested in financial inclusion replicate each one and truly scale their impact. There
are some innovations that traverse all three pillars and one such innovation that is
critical to hold together the fabric of the Origination-Transmission-Aggregation
framework is the tenet IFMR Holdings strongly believes in: the Suitability of advice
and sale of financial products and services. Suitability entails placing a primary
responsibility on financial services providers for recommending and selling
products that are ‘suitable’ for their customers, given their goals, needs and financial
66 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
situation, and IFF has been advocating for this protection.13 This is important because
India has so far had a customer protection regime for retail financial services that
overwhelmingly emphasised a combination of disclosure requirements (of product
terms and conditions) otherwise called caveat emptor or buyer beware, and customer
education measures, both of which have been inadequate to prevent rampant missale of products and services. Under the ‘suitability’ regime, accountability and
supervision are to be driven by the extent to which providers adhere to processes
laid down in their own policies instead of (traditionally) placing such responsibility
on customers to decide for themselves. IFF performed the function of the Technical
Secretariat to the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) Committee on Comprehensive
Financial Services for Small Businesses and Low-Income Households,14 and within
this, provided a detailed rationale and set of recommendations for moving towards
a suitability-based customer protection regime of regulation and supervision.
Thereafter, the newly published RBI’s Charter of Consumer Rights,15 for the first
time enshrined such a Right to Suitability. The provision of such a Right for retail
customers will pave the way for customer protection to shift from being an ex-post
redressal process to becoming an ex-ante feature of product advice and sale.
Over the past 8 years, IFMR Holdings, through its direct operations via IFMR Rural
Channels covering 650,000 rural customers, has been able to assess households’
liquidity needs, taking into account their unique financial situations and goals, and
deliver efficient and suitable financial solutions to help meet their individual goals.
In the last fiscal year, an average of 62% of all active customers and 80% of all loan
customers had an active insurance cover for their human capital or for other income
earning assets—a level of protection that simply did not exist before. By essentially
bringing to market viable debt capital markets products in financial inclusion, IFMR
Capital has, in the last financial year itself, provided almost USD 2 billion in debt
financing to 105 high quality local and/or specialised originators, indirectly impacting
13 A New Framework for Financial Customer Protection in India—IFMR Finance Foundation Position
Paper. Anand Sahasranaman, Deepti George, Darshana Rajendran, Vishnu Prasad, 2013
14 Report of the RBI Committee on Comprehensive Financial Services for Small Businesses and LowIncome Households (Chair: Dr. Nachiket Mor), 2014
15 RBI Charter of Customer Rights, 2014
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 67
more than 18 million people. Prior to the existence of IFMR Capital, debt capital
markets infrastructure for financial inclusion originators was not present. In the
last fiscal year, structured products enabled partner originators to raise more than
seven times the amount IFMR Capital invested from its own balance sheet in their
transactions. Furthermore, IFMR Capital has helped partner originators grow into
mature institutions. For example, MFI Satin Creditcare Network went from managing
under USD 3 million of loan assets in 2009, to more than USD 54 million today. Eight
out of the ten small finance banks (regulatory structure specifically created by the RBI
to serve the underbanked) are partner originators of IFMR Capital.
Although we have come a long way toward fostering financial inclusion in India,
more work can be done towards this goal by amplifying and scaling-up existing
IFMR Holdings’ businesses. Still many critical challenges remain:
1. How do we ensure that there are many more multi-product customer-centric
originators delivering financial wellbeing for their customers?
2. How do we protect households and enterprises against risks beyond their control
such as life, accident, health and catastrophes?
3. How do we better facilitate access to finance for SMEs (small and medium-sized
enterprises) and vital sectors such as agriculture and local infrastructure?
4. How do we implement a workable suitability regime for originators that is not
prohibitively expensive and yet provides value to both customer and originator?
It is clear that many more game-changing innovations are required. Some of
the answers lie in innovating to leverage several enabling mega trends currently
seen in the Indian regulatory, infrastructural and market landscape. More than
one billion Indians now have a unique biometric identification number called
the Aadhaar number, which makes it possible to enable real-time paper-less selfauthentication through biometrics such as iris and fingerprint matching. This,
along with other specific components of the IndiaStack16 such as the Aadhaar
e-sign, an online electronic signature service, and the Digi-Locker, a secure online
e-document storage space, makes possible paperless signing of contracts and
the authentication of financial transactions as a 3rd party utility. The RBI has also
68 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
provided 21 new bank licenses including 11 payments banks and 10 small finance
banks, dramatically increasing the number of banking transaction points, and
providing likely competition to incumbent banks. India has 76 million smartphone
users, and this is expected to cross 700 million by 202017. Since its inception in
2013-14, IMPS (Immediate Payment Service, an electronic funds transfer service)
has overtaken debit card POS volumes by 2015-16, an indication of the grand shift
towards electronic payments by Indians. The unprecedented generation of rich
customer data through various digital and payment channels, is finding its way to
applications in financial intermediation and credit and insurance underwriting.
Better understanding of the customer due to the presence of specialized credit
bureaus with in-depth data on customers in the informal sector as well as rich
customer data owned by several financial inclusion focused originators will become
much more valuable in underwriting. We are convinced that by capitalizing on
these mega trends, we will make faster strides than ever before towards our mission
of achieving complete access to finance for every individual and enterprise.
17 Indian Financials Sector, Credit Suisse 2016
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 69
Meeting the World’s
Gap: Innovate or Perish
By Lorenzo Bernasconi
LORENZO BERNASCONI is Senior Associate Director of The Rockefeller Foundation.
The world is in desperate need of infrastructure investment. Our future economic growth and prosperity as well as our ability to address the world’s
most critical global challenges, from inequality to climate change, depend
upon our ability to increase investment into areas such as power generation and
transmission, roads, ports, railroads, water and sanitation, telecommunication
systems, schools and hospitals. According to a 2016 McKinsey report, we need an
estimated $3.3 trillion in infrastructure investment annually through 2030 just to
support projected economic and industrial growth. Yet, global investment into infrastructure is currently only $2.5 trillion annually, jeopardizing future productivity
and growth. The size of this investment gap more than triples when we consider
the infrastructure investment needed in areas such as health, education, agriculture,
and climate change mitigation and adaptation to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Why are we so underinvested? The traditional view is that while there is plenty
of capital to invest, there are not enough attractive, “bankable” projects. But
this masks the real and often overlooked problem: we are stuck with outdated
financing mechanisms and approaches that hinder rather than promote investment.
Investment flows into infrastructure remain subscale not because there are too few
70 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
opportunities, but because investors cannot invest in projects in cost effective ways.
We need to dramatically scale up investments—and that requires innovative 21st
century investment models.
The core problem is a lack of fit-for-purpose investment vehicles that effectively
address the needs of long-term institutional investors looking for the type of stable,
inflation-protected cash flows that infrastructure projects can provide. For the
most part, mainstream investment vehicles are too costly, short-term, and risky
for institutional investors, although they offer attractive fees to asset managers.
Creating fit-for-purpose investment vehicles is a critical first step, but it is still not
enough to meet our global needs: we also require public sector innovation and, in
particular, new public-private partnership models that can effectively drive private
sector investment into infrastructure. Such innovation would deliver value to
both tax-payers and investors while also helping address our most pressing social,
economic and environmental challenges.
Government cannot meet the challenge
Traditionally, governments have funded infrastructure development and are still
the largest source of global capital. However, increased public debts, low economic
growth, and budgetary pressures have led to a reduction of government investment
into infrastructure, despite increased need and clear evidence of its direct and indirect
socioeconomic benefits. In advanced economies, average public investment as a
percentage of GDP declined from 5 percent in the late 1960s to an average 3 percent
by 2012 (IMF, 2015). In emerging markets and low-income economies, investment
increased in the late 1970s and 1980s to 8 percent of GDP but declined to between
6 percent and 7 percent by 2012 (IMF, 2015). Since the most recent financial crisis,
infrastructure investment has declined in a majority of G20 countries including the
United States, UK, Japan and the Euro area (OECD, 2016). At the same time, banks have
retreated from infrastructure due to increased regulation around capital requirements
introduced through Basel III, and only in selected cases still provide long-term financing.
Against this backdrop, institutional investors—such as the world’s pension
funds, insurance companies and sovereign wealth funds—stand out as ideal
candidates for infrastructure investment. They represent the largest pool of
investment capital globally, controlling an estimated $91 trillion in assets under
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 71
management (CPI, 2015). In addition, institutional investors favor the kinds of
long-term investment opportunities that infrastructure can provide in order to
match their long-term liabilities.
Infrastructure projects such as airports or mass-transit systems are natural
monopolies with high barriers-to-entry, which means that once built, they offer
predictable, relatively low-risk cash flow over time. Returns from infrastructure
are only indirectly correlated with stock market movements, allowing for portfolio
diversification. Another attractive feature of infrastructure investments is that they
tend to be protected against inflation as revenues or concession agreements are
generally linked to price increases.
Despite these advantages, institutional investors remain reluctant to invest in
infrastructure. According to a 2015 OECD analysis of the 99 largest pension
funds, only 1.1 percent of these funds—which have over $10 trillion in assets under
management—are dedicated to infrastructure. Moreover, all the pension funds that
set an allocation goal for infrastructure failed to meet their targets, achieving only
between 51 percent and 64 percent of their intended funding (using the high and
low end of targeted ranges).
A lack of fit-for-purpose investment solutions
One obstacle facing institutional investors when considering investing in infrastructure
is scale. Building an in-house investment team is costly and only makes sense for
investors with deep pockets. An industry analysis by the Climate Policy Initiative
(CPI, 2013) suggests that a portfolio of between $40 billion and $50 billion is the
minimum necessary to justify the costs of building the team and capacity for direct
investments. This precludes almost all but the very largest investors.
The alternative approach for institutional investors is to use pooled, externally
managed “infrastructure funds.”1
The promise of these funds is that they overcome
1 Investing through public corporations such as utilities is also an option to gain exposure to infrastructure.
However, these investments do not generally fall into the infrastructure allocation target of investors as
they are correlated with movements in equity and/or bond markets. In addition, investing in a public
company introduces risks related to corporate strategy (e.g. around the purchase and sale of assets) and
dividend policy (e.g. around whether to reinvestment or distribute profits). These factors dampen two core
features that make infrastructure particularly attractive: uncorrelated and predictable cash-flows.
72 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
the prohibitive costs of investing directly in infrastructure while providing access to
a diversified pool of assets. In theory, these features are attractive and should drive
investment. In reality, infrastructure funds are designed in a way that prevents investors
from benefiting from the true promise of infrastructure as an investment proposition,
dampening its attraction as an asset class and limiting desperately needed investment
into both new projects and the maintenance of existing infrastructure.
The reason is structural. Mainstream pooled infrastructure funds follow the model
of private investment funds that were designed and popularized with the emergence
of venture capital and private equity a half-century ago. A wave of technological
innovation in the late 1960s and 1970s led to a new breed of high-risk, highpotential start-ups. At the time, however, institutional investors did not have a
way to invest in these companies. In response to this growing opportunity, a set of
entrepreneurial asset managers developed a novel private investment fund structure
which has come to be known as the private equity model (PE model).2
PE model is an illiquid fund with a time horizon of seven to ten years, in which
investors pay a management fee of between 1 and 2 percent on committed capital,
and the asset manager receives 20 percent of profits over a typical pre-determined
hurdle rate of 8 percent.
This PE model remains largely unchanged since it was first introduced in the 1960s,
and has grown in prominence to become an asset class in its own right. Today, the
PE model represents the main conduit through which institutional investors gain
exposure to private, more illiquid investment opportunities. These opportunities
include infrastructure, even though infrastructure could not be more different
than the high-risk, high-return opportunities for which the PE fund model was
It is not surprising, then, to find that fitting infrastructure investments into the PE fund
model creates a number of challenges for realizing its true promise as an investment.
First, the attraction of the long-term investment horizon of infrastructure is limited.
2 My reference to the “private equity” model is meant to be general and also encompasses
venture capital (VC).
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 73
The traditional PE fund model has an investment time-horizon of roughly seven to
ten years, which precludes institutional investors from matching their long-term
liabilities through this structure.
Second, because of the need to sell or “exit” underlying investments at the end of
the fund life in order to pay back investors, the PE model also reduces the lowrisk promise of investing in infrastructure. Selling an infrastructure project is
not an easy task—interest rates changes, market volatility, financing availability,
regulatory uncertainty, socio-political stability and so on are all factors that can
hamper the sale of an asset. These factors introduce risk as asset managers in the
PE model face the challenge of needing to exit their investments before the end
of the fund life. Moreover, to justify the high fee and compensation structure
of the PE model, asset managers need to achieve outsized returns through these
exits. The challenge here is that as opposed to innovative, start-up companies
with disruptive new technologies, not many infrastructure assets double, let alone
triple, in value over a five to seven year period.
Finally, and most critically from a societal perspective, the pressure of the PE model
to deliver outsized returns means that the universe of investible infrastructure
projects is significantly restricted. When investors evaluate whether to invest in
a traditional infrastructure fund, they evaluate this opportunity against other
investment opportunities sharing the PE fund model (and fee structure) such as,
for example, technology venture capital or growth capital private equity which
are designed to offer outsized returns in return for their higher risk. As a result,
infrastructure asset managers are incentivized to cherry pick only the most
commercially attractive infrastructure projects that will deliver the most value
in the short-to-medium term. In practical terms, this means that only a small
subset of the vast universe of potential infrastructure projects meet the restrictive
criteria of being “bankable” or “attractive” to traditional asset managers. A 2014
study published by INSEAD and Harvard Business School professors Lily Fang,
Victoria Ivashina and Josh Lerner, reports that traditional PE funds pick less than
5 percent of deals available to them (Fang, Ivashina, Lerner, 2014). This, however,
only reflects the limitations of the employed investment model and not the true
opportunities for infrastructure investment on the ground.
74 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
The innovation imperative
Just as entrepreneurial asset managers in the 1960s and 1970s identified a new
financing model to allow institutional investors to effectively invest in hightechnology start-ups, we need new models for channeling institutional investment
into infrastructure. Momentum is slowly building for such approaches and a number
of new investment models have already been launched to address this challenge.
One example is the investment model spearheaded by Meridiam, a global
infrastructure asset manager. Founded in Paris in 2005 by Thierry Deau, an engineer
and former manager of infrastructure projects (not an investor), Meridiam’s
approach disrupts the traditional PE model through four key features. For one,
Meridiam’s funds have a time horizon of 25 years as opposed to the standard seven
to ten years. Two, investment returns are based entirely on contracted cash flows
generated from infrastructure assets under management rather than returns on
Three, Meridiam not only acts as an investor, but it also designs, builds and
manages the projects in its portfolio. Finally, Meridiam works in partnership with
public authorities using an innovative results-based contracting approach to develop
projects that would traditionally not be funded by the private sector.
In aggregate, these factors make the Meridiam model better suited than the traditional
PE model for realizing the potential of infrastructure investments for institutional
investors. Similar to the PE model, investors benefit from access to a diversified
portfolio of projects without making large single investments into individual projects.
But unlike the PE model, Meridiam allows institutional investors to match their longterm liabilities with dependable returns from stable, long-dated infrastructure assets
while avoiding the exit risk of the traditional PE model. An additional benefit of
the Meridiam model is that it does not compete with traditional private equity or
venture capital investment funds. Instead, Meridiam’s funds represent an alternative to
investments in long-dated government bonds. In today’s unprecedented low-interest
rate environment, where one-third of all government debt is negative-yielding and
3 These contracted cash flows come from user fees such as in the case of toll roads and airports
or, in cases where there are no direct revenue streams from users, such as in the case of a school
or court house, Meridiam is paid back by on the basis of performance based contracts for the
construction, operation and maintenance of projects on behalf of public procuring entities.
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 75
the supply of long-duration bonds is limited, Meridiam’s promise of stable, positive
returns over the long-term satisfies a critical unmet need for institutional investors.
The Meridiam model is also more attractive from a societal perspective. With its
less aggressive, longer return profile than the traditional PE model, the universe
of attractive or bankable projects expands. In eleven years, for example, Meridiam
has engaged in 48 greenfield public infrastructure projects across 15 countries
with a total value of more than $40 billion—projects that would not be considered
bankable using the traditional PE model.
In addition to the lower investment return requirements, Meridiam has unlocked
these opportunities through the implementation of innovative Performance-Based
Infrastructure (PBI) procurement contracts with public entities. With this model,
responsibility for all the key phases of a project’s life cycle—from design to financing,
construction and maintenance—are transferred to the private sector through a
performance-based contract. The infrastructure assets remain in public ownership
and the private partner is compensated only if it delivers on the contracts as promised.
This model leverages the financial expertise and managerial acumen of the private
sector and shifts construction and operational risk away from the public sector.
Results suggest that this model not only opens up new investment opportunities for
the private sector, but it also delivers value-for-money to the public sector. Research
suggests that taking into consideration the full cost of project delivery, publicly built
infrastructure costs, on average, 20 percent more than private financed projects due
to systemic cost overruns (EDHEC, 2013).
Finally, the Meridiam model—with its focus on financing as well as operating and
maintaining infrastructure projects—provides an incentive for full life cycle thinking.
The full range of costs and risks that affect the quality and use of an infrastructure
asset throughout its productive life are factored in. The result is better alignment
of interests between public and private stakeholders and ultimately better quality
infrastructure for the benefit of society at large.
While Meridiam reforms the traditional PE fund asset management model, another
innovative approach is to bypass investing through an intermediary altogether
and instead invest directly into infrastructure via a shared, low-cost platform
that pools together the investments of several investors. Over recent years, this
76 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
“disintermediated” approach has gained traction among institutional investors as it
promises more aligned incentives, lower fees, and higher net returns. One notable
example of this approach is Industry Funds Management (IFM), founded in 1995
and owned by 29 Australian pension funds.
IFM acts as an in-house investment team collectively owned by the pension funds to
invest directly in infrastructure projects. In this way, the IFM model overcomes the
cost hurdle of building a dedicated internal team that individual pension funds face.
By pooling the capital of several funds, it also provides the diversification benefits
of traditional funds.
The IFM fee structure is also more attractive than the traditional PE model as the
platform is wholly owned by the pension funds and, as such, there are no incentives to
create additional asset management-generated fees. Moreover, IFM’s infrastructure
funds differ from traditional ones in that they are open-ended, meaning that they
have no predetermined divestment date. This allows IFM to invest in long-term
assets that match its pension funds’ long-term liabilities while also removing the
exit risk of the traditional PE model.
Meridiam and IFM are evidence that alternatives to the PE model can work at scale.
IFM currently manages $24 billion in infrastructure assets across Australia, North
America and Europe in sectors that include transportation, energy, water, education
and healthcare. IFM has also attracted major investments from other institutional
investors including CalSTRS, the largest pension fund in the United States.
Similar disintermediated models include the Pensions Infrastructure Platform
in the UK, the Canadian-based Global Strategic Investment Alliance, and the
recently launched Aligned Intermediary in the United States. Another innovative,
disintermediation model under development is the Clean Energy Investment Trust
(CEIT), a proposed listed investment vehicle under the auspices of the Climate
Policy Initiative (CPI) with support of The Rockefeller Foundation, to facilitate
large-scale institutional investment into renewable energy.
While all of these models hold promise to mobilize the institutional investment
into infrastructure that we need, they are still not sufficient. We also require public
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 77
Public-Private Partnership Innovation
The widespread consensus around the role of government in attracting greater
private sector investment into infrastructure is the need to reduce policy and
regulatory risks. To be sure, large, long-term investments are particularly sensitive
to these risks and it is important for governments to establish long-term stability
and security. But creating a stable regulatory environment is not enough. To unlock
the full potential of institutional investment, there is also a need to implement more
effective partnership models with the private sector.
The traditional approach to public-private partnerships is for public entities to seek
one-time private investment for the development of individual projects. This is
generally done on the basis of detailed public-sector project designs which are then
awarded to the lowest bidder. This approach is neither efficient nor maximizes value
for taxpayers. For one, it incentivizes bidders to strategically underestimate initial
budgets to win bids knowing that once a project is initiated, it is rarely halted and
there is room for price inflation. In addition, it keeps all operational risks with the
public and fails to incentivize development contractors to think about the life-cycle
costs or performance outcomes of the projects.
A second challenge with the traditional approach is the lack of public sector capacity
and expertise to develop a strong pipeline of projects for public-private partnership.
Public infrastructure investment generally happens at the sub-national level and is
managed across many agencies or departments. In the United States, for example,
most of the over $500 billion in annual infrastructure spending takes place at the
state and municipal level with responsibility spread across various agencies such as
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responsible for water, and the Army
Corps of Engineers, responsible for ports. The resultant decentralized nature of
decision-making and permitting adds complexity that not only hampers the creation
of effective public-private partnerships but also breeds inefficiencies as there is no
single public center of expertise responsible for the coordination, structuring and
delivery of projects.
In recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of “infrastructure accelerators,”
or dedicated public sector entities focused on facilitating private sector project
development and investment into infrastructure that help address these challenges.
78 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Infrastructure accelerators serve local, regional and/or national interests by providing
expert advice on the planning, delivery and oversight of complex infrastructure
projects with the private sector.
The Canadian province of British Columbia was the first public entity to introduce the
accelerator model when it launched Partnerships BC in 2002. Partnerships BC is a
one-stop-shop for all public-private infrastructure projects, offering an array of services
including pre-development analysis and feasibility studies; sharing and development
of best practices; project development and oversight; and the implementation of
performance based infrastructure contracting with the private sector. The agency has
been instrumental in mobilizing private sector financing and expertise into more than
forty public infrastructure projects worth $7 billion. This model has been replicated
in other Canadian provinces and has more recently taken root in the US with the
launch of the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange (WCX) in 2012 focused on spurring
infrastructure investment in California, Oregon and Washington. Similar accelerators
are under development in other regions of the United States and the model has been
successfully exported to the United Kingdom and Australia.
The next step is to translate this infrastructure acceleration model to the developing
world where most of the world’s future infrastructure will be built and where there
is an even more critical need for creating an effective translation point between the
public and private sectors. Across the developing world, there is a lack of public
sector expertise and capacity when it comes to preparing and executing complex
infrastructure projects, much to the detriment of private sector investment. No
amount of insurance or credit enhancements can resolve this problem. The creation
of accelerators at regional levels across Africa, South and South-East Asia, and
Latin America would be a game changer, allowing for the implementation of best
practices, the strengthening of public sector capacity and project preparation,
and most crucially, the facilitation of effective private sector investment through
innovative PBI approaches benefiting both taxpayers and investors.
The stakes could not be higher if we fail to close the infrastructure investment gap.
We risk losing generations of economic growth and prosperity while intensifying
political strife, socio-economic inequality, and environmental degradation. We
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 79
have, however, the financial resources to meet our critical investment needs and an
emerging set of fit-for-purpose investment vehicles to jumpstart investment into
productive infrastructure. If this can happen, it will put the world on a path towards
more inclusive and sustainable growth. This requires political will and changing the
status quo, a difficult task in the face of large vested economic interests.
But it can be done if institutional investors double down on their commitment to
infrastructure and innovate around how they invest through better solutions that
truly meet their long-term investment needs. On the other hand, politicians must
acknowledge that there are trillions of dollars in private sector capital sitting on the
sidelines that could be mobilized for investment into infrastructure if only there
existed a more conducive enabling environment and more effective conduits for
private sector partnerships and investment.
No specific outcome is pre-ordained. The good and the bad news is that it all
depends on the choices we make.
82 Foreign Affairs
Bitcoin for the Unbanked
Cryptocurrencies That Go
Where Big Banks Won’t
By Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
PAUL VIGNA is a markets reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering equities
and the economy. He writes for the MoneyBeat blog and hosts a daily news show
of the same name. He is also co-author of The Age of Cryptocurrency, How Bitcoin
and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order.
MICHAEL J. CASEY is Senior Advisor, Blockchain Opportunities at MIT Media
Lab and was former senior columnist covering global economics and markets at
The Wall Street Journal. He is also co-author of The Age of Cryptocurrency, How
Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order.
Roughly 2.5 billion adults in the world don’t have access to banks, which
means somewhere in the order of 5 billion people belong to households that
are cut off from a financial system that the rest of us take for granted. They
can’t start savings accounts. They don’t have checking accounts. They can’t get credit
cards. They live in places where banks don’t want to go, and because of this, they remain effectively walled off from the global economy. They are called the unbanked.
But they are not unreachable, not by a long shot, and one of the biggest and most
exciting prospects bitcoiners talk about is using their cryptocurrency to bring these
billions of people roaring into the twenty-first century.
Foreign Affairs 83
The Caribbean is an area of the emerging-market world where a strong case can
be made for locals to use bitcoin to get around a restrictive financial system.
Jamal Ifill, a young, soft-spoken artist with a head full of dreadlocked hair and a warm
smile, has been blowing glass in Barbados for 11 years and has had his own oneroom studio-cum-showroom for five years. One of his latest pieces is a two-foot-high,
rectangular, latticework lamp that to our New York eyes looked like one of the Twin
Towers. He sells his artwork locally and has attracted some attention; a piece he made
was presented to Princess Anne when she visited the island in 2011. He wants to
expand into the U.S. market, but the logistics and costs of moving money from there
to here are prohibitively high, so most of his business remains local.
“I tried everything,” Ifill says, sitting at the desk that doubles as his office and
workspace in his small glass-blowing studio in Bridgetown, Barbados. “Credit cards,
PayPal, Western Union. They’re too expensive.”
Leroy McClain, managing director of the government-run Barbados Investment
Development Corp., explained why that is: The big international banks are happy to
provide merchant-banking services to companies in the United States and Canada,
but they make island businesses jump through far more hoops for the same services.
Ifill understands the problem all too well. In fact, he has all the problems of an
international business. The particular glass he uses must be imported from Ukraine.
His customers are not only on the island, but overseas. He is competing with foreign
artists who aren’t hamstrung by the costs that tie him up. He tried e-commerce—
through a local company—but gave up on it because not enough customers were
using it, which meant he wasn’t getting any business out of it. A vicious circle. “I
even tried Etsy,” he says, the online arts-and-craft site. Again, he couldn’t compete
on costs with U.S. artists.
Ifill’s problem stems in part from the difficulty in shifting money around the region’s
island nations, which requires constant and costly currency exchanges. Barbados
and virtually every nation in the British West Indies has its own, separately printed
currency—each called the dollar, each fluctuating in value against the others and
against the better-known U.S. dollar. And the former Spanish, Dutch, and French
colonies all have their own pesos, guilders, and gourdes. The governments of the
84 Foreign Affairs
region have long talked about creating a monetary union to deepen the region’s
free-trade arrangement, the Caricom common market. But as with the development
of that free-trade area, progress toward building a single monetary authority and
the other institutions needed for a common currency has been fitful. A Caribbean
dollar remains a pipe dream.
To make matters worse, a number of central banks impose capital controls on
their citizens. Barbadians such as Ifill, for instance, are limited in the amount
of foreign currency they can buy. That Barbados, the Cayman Islands, the
Bahamas, and other Caribbean nations serve as tax havens for hedge funds and
other foreign financial institutions is an irony not lost on the region’s tightly
controlled residents. This mix of monetary systems and financial regulations,
and the frustration that it breeds, make the sunny islands of the Caribbean ripe
for bitcoin—or so says Gabriel Abed.
Abed, 27, turned to cryptocurrencies as the answer to a problem: how to expand
e-commerce. He is the CEO of Web Designs, a local business that sells Internet
domain registrations, Web site designs, maintenance, and e-commerce platforms.
The last has been a particularly tough sell. Because of the costs of foreign exchange,
credit cards, and PayPal, which can add up to eight or nine percent, he said, most
merchants—Ifill was one of them—simply avoid selling abroad.
Abed learned of bitcoin early on and saw its potential to solve this problem. He
began with the idea of a Caribbean cryptocurrency, which he dubbed CaribCoin,
but realized quickly it was a bigger project than he wanted to take on. He pivoted
to the idea of a bitcoin exchange, and a merchant service that he could bundle with
his Web-design and hosting service, and began building Bitt (the URL is actually
bi.tt, the .tt being the domain for neighboring Trinidad and Tobago). He also began
mining his own bitcoins—in Trinidad, taking advantage of relatively low electricity
costs there, and using the profits from that and from Web Designs to fund Bitt.
Bitt is designed as a Caribbean-focused online exchange and merchant service,
providing trading between different cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies, as well as a
module for helping local businesses adopt digital currencies for payment. His appeal
to them is simple: What if I can give you a payment option that costs only one percent?
Foreign Affairs 85
The catch is that the one percent fee comes with bitcoins, which as of this writing
can’t buy you much in Barbados. To say that cryptocurrencies are not big in Barbados
would be an understatement. They effectively don’t exist on the island, and neither
does mobile commerce. While virtually everybody has a cell phone, the proverbial
badge of a digital citizen, people use them only for texting and talking. E-commerce
is barely getting started, as is online banking.
The way to get over the chicken-and-egg problem and encourage adoption, Abed
believes, is to focus on the merchants. He believes that if he can offer them a
dramatically cheaper payment method, they can be talked into accepting that
method at their shops. But he has his work cut out for him.
The chicken-and-egg dilemma will require incentives. The promise of saving
money is certainly one of them. But there are others. As in the developed world,
one hope is that if big firms or institutions whose relationships run deep in the
economy start using bitcoin, they can create incentives for their suppliers and
customers to use it.
Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Salt Lake City-based online retailer Overstock.com,
which began accepting bitcoin in early 2014 to become what was then the biggest
revenue-earning merchant to do so, believes his firm can play such a catalytic role
creating a bitcoin “ecosystem” in the developing world.
When we met in June 2014 in Utah, Byrne explained that he viewed bitcoin as a
way to widen economic opportunity, if only he could get people to accept it. He was
still figuring out the carrots he would use, but he had some ideas. “In the world of
payments and dealing with vendors, there’s all this sensitivity around the terms of
payment. Vendors will sometimes give you a two percent discount for shaving off
20 days, because to them that’s like a 36 percent cost of money over the year. That
affects all kinds of things. The very fact that vendors offer those terms means there’s
an enormous opportunity for bitcoin to step up in this area.” A few weeks later,
Byrne announced he would not only be paying bitcoin-accepting vendors one week
early, but that he’d also pay his employee bonuses in bitcoin.
86 Foreign Affairs
What companies such as Overstock are trying to do with digital-currency payments
has parallels with what Walmart achieved by pioneering communications technology
to revolutionize supply-chain management in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Arkansasbased retailer famously developed a sophisticated network with which to tie all of its
suppliers worldwide into a single, integrated database for managing the goods and
services flowing in and out of Walmart’s warehouses. Along with big improvements
in shipping logistics, this allowed the company to optimize its just-in-time inventory
management, which drastically cut costs. Walmart parlayed those cost savings into
the cheapest prices anywhere in the United States, which turned it into the iconic and,
to some, infamous behemoth that now dominates American suburbia.
Just as important, its high-tech network had a feedback effect on suppliers,
contributing to the concentration of manufacturing in hubs such as China’s Pearl
River Delta. As Walmart became an increasingly powerful but relentless hunter of
the cheapest manufacturing sources, and as other Western buyers caught on to its
high-tech lead, factories paying low wages in the developing world would congregate
in locales where it was most efficient to tap into Walmart’s network. Byrne now sees
similar opportunities for firms like his to build influence by leveraging bitcoin in its
international payment relationships and thus creating a tipping point from which
change starts rippling over the global economy. As a group of businesses in one
region begins adopting the currency, it will become more appealing to others with
whom they do business. Once such a network of intertwined businesses builds up,
no one wants to be excluded from it. Or so the theory goes.
“Just as American retail collapsed into Walmart, who knows how much can collapse
into us? And I don’t mean Overstock. I mean bitcoin,” Byrne said. “You start getting
network effects. You are incentivizing everyone—it’s like we have the first fax
machine but nobody else has a fax machine, so it doesn’t do you any good. But you
start adding other nodes and making incentives to add nodes and eventually get a
critical mass. Now people aren’t just faxing us, they are faxing each other.”
From M-Pesa To Bitpesa
The remittance business, where emigrants and expats living abroad send money home,
is another market that should be ripe for disruption by low-cost cryptocurrencies.
The current business model relies on electronic transfers over the old banking rails,
Foreign Affairs 87
and its practitioners charge high fees for that privilege. Globally, it’s a huge business.
Emigrants are expected to send home more than $500 billion in 2016, according
to the World Bank. “Those are only the official flows,” says Dilip Ratha, an expert
on the subject who tracks it for the World Bank. Another estimated $200 billion is
sent that isn’t tracked by the bank. Those numbers dwarf the roughly $125 billion
the developed world sends annually in aid. For many countries, more money comes
in through remittances than through exports. Moreover, the totals are net of the
charges and fees emigrants pay to transfer agents such as Western Union; on average
those costs are about 8.5 percent globally, but in many countries, it’s roughly 10
percent or more. In countries where annual salaries can be counted in hundreds of
dollars, those costs are a serious burden.
Kenyans living abroad who want to send money home can choose between, say,
Western Union and MoneyGram, but both charge high fees. Although at 42 percent
the proportion of Kenyan adults with a formal banking relationship exceeds that of
many countries, a majority in the country are still unbanked. But Kenya’s experience
with microfinance and telecommunications has inspired people’s imaginations
over how to address some of these problems. In particular, the excitement revolves
around one key product: M-Pesa.
M-Pesa (the M is for “mobile,” and “pesa” is Swahili for “money”) started out as an
experiment by Kenya’s biggest telecom company, Safaricom. Because many more
Kenyans had phones than bank accounts, microfinance experts realized during
the 2000s that they could use those phones to deliver loans to borrowers and
receive repayments from them. So in 2007, Safaricom began a pilot program that
allowed users to send money via their phones—effectively converting the standard
units of prepaid calling minutes into a form of currency. The system proved wildly
popular. Today two-thirds of Kenyans use it, and about 25 percent of Kenya’s GDP
flows through it.
M-Pesa had a few things going for it. For one thing, Safaricom already had a
massive infrastructure in place, not just the telecommunications equipment, but
also thousands of agents. M-Pesa was also lucky enough to escape government
regulation early on.
88 Foreign Affairs
But here’s the rub: M-Pesa is not a frictionless system, and what appears automatic to
the user has a massive, unwieldy, and expensive infrastructure behind it. Safaricom’s
agents must deal with huge amounts of cash daily. This is not only cumbersome,
but can also be dangerous. When agents run out of money, they have to either stop
what they’re doing, close the shop, and go to a bank, or stop what they’re doing and
send somebody on their behalf. Agents in rural areas, where the customers are more
likely to be withdrawing money rather than depositing it, face a special challenge:
Not only is their liquidity—their literal cash pile—drained faster, but the odds are
higher that they are farther away from a bank branch, meaning a trip there takes
longer and leaves less time to do actual business.
Then there’s the question of how to import funds into the M-Pesa system from
overseas. It is not borderless. Its mobile, phone-linked system offers an easier “onramp” for remittances than other countries’ more traditional financial systems,
but it’s still going through traditional pipelines. Vodafone has partnerships with
MoneyGram, Western Union, and other payment networks—with all their routine
fees and banking-system dependent costs. With bitcoin, it is possible to send money
via a mobile phone, directly between two parties, to bypass that entire cumbersome,
expensive system for international transfers.
Perhaps inevitably, then, someone like Duncan Goldie-Scot, a veteran of microfinance,
would come to see Kenya as the right place to start a full-scale remittance business.
He approached fellow microfinance expert Elizabeth Rossiello, a native of Queens,
New York, who was then working as a consultant in Kenya, with an idea: How about
combining M-Pesa with a digital currency? It would offer all the advantages of M-Pesa,
but would make the costs to users even cheaper for those who import money into that
system from abroad, because those remittances from relatives in London or New York
would arrive via bitcoin rather than the traditional banking system. Call it BitPesa.
They would begin with a simple and achievable goal: Take a single “corridor” in
the remittance business—between the United Kingdom and Kenya—and build a
bitcoin-based money-transfer business around it. They hired a development team
to build the initial prototype, then a coder to revamp it. Next, they sent a staff
member to London, to go into the cafés in the Kenyan neighborhoods and recruit
beta testers for the initial trials. They began their beta test in the summer of 2014
with about two dozen emigrants.
Foreign Affairs 89
Rossiello hadn’t even heard of bitcoin until Goldie-Scot mentioned it to her. But
she quickly caught on to the possibilities and now has ambitions for BitPesa that go
beyond bitcoin, or digital currencies. For all the good it has done, the microfinance
industry pioneered by Nobel Peace Prize-winning Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen
Bank still operates within what she described as “a busted financial system.” An
alternative based on cryptocurrency could bypass a lot of the costs of the existing
system, and it offers the promise of doing more than just allowing cheap remittances.
Rossiello sees bitcoin as a way to spark not just a financial revolution in Kenya, but
a technological one as well. The idea is that cryptocurrency fosters innovation, as
we’ve seen in San Francisco and other places. She has started a meetup culture and
teaches coding to schoolchildren. Five people were at her first meetup; six months
later, there were 40, and they were doing coding and coming up with their own apps.
“People are responding, people are excited about it,” she says.
As is the case with all efforts of outsiders attempting to better the lives of distant
people, an uneasy awareness exists of the legacy of colonialism and the fine line
between assistance and paternalism. It’s important to resist the impulse to view
cryptocurrencies’ technology, or any technology, as a panacea. For all the promise that
technology holds—this idea that developing nations are going to “leapfrog” decades
of development thanks to cheap, distributed, decentralized technology—the reality
on the ground resists easy solutions. What M-Pesa has achieved, and what BitPesa
promises, matter because they are effective tools for promoting economic activity,
and thus development. This is why the stories coming out of Silicon Savannah are
important—not only for Kenya but for the developing world as a whole. “There’s a
much bigger story here,” Rossiello says. “We’re just getting started.”
From The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey.
Copyright © 2015 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
90 Foreign Affairs
How Cell Phones Can Spur Development
By Jake Kendall and Rodger Voorhies
JAKE KENDALL is Director of Digital Financial Services Innovation Lab at
Caribou Digital and is former Deputy Director of Research and Innovation at the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
RODGER VOORHIES is director of the Financial Services for the Poor initiative
at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The roughly 2.5 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day
are not destined to remain in a state of chronic poverty. Every few years,
somewhere between ten and 30 percent of the world’s poorest households
manage to escape poverty, typically by finding steady employment or through entrepreneurial activities such as growing a business or improving agricultural harvests.
During that same period, however, roughly an equal number of households slip
below the poverty line. Health-related emergencies are the most common cause,
but there are many more: crop failures, livestock deaths, farming-equipment breakdowns, even wedding expenses.
In many such situations, the most important buffers against crippling setbacks are
financial tools such as personal savings, insurance, credit, or cash transfers from
family and friends. Yet these are rarely available because most of the world’s poor
Foreign Affairs 91
lack access to even the most basic banking services. Globally, 77 percent of them do
not have a savings account; in sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is 85 percent. An even
greater number of poor people lack access to formal credit or insurance products.
The main problem is not that the poor have nothing to save—studies show that they
do—but rather that they are not profitable customers, so banks and other service
providers do not try to reach them. As a result, poor people usually struggle to stitch
together a patchwork of informal, often precarious arrangements to manage their
Over the last few decades, microcredit programs—through which lenders have
granted millions of small loans to poor people—have worked to address the
problem. Institutions such as the Grameen Bank, which won the Nobel Peace Prize
in 2006, have demonstrated impressive results with new financial arrangements,
such as group loans that require weekly payments. Today, the microfinance industry
provides loans to roughly 200 million borrowers—an impressive number to be sure,
but only enough to make a dent in the over two billion people who lack access to
formal financial services.
Despite its success, the microfinance industry has faced major hurdles. Due to
the high overhead costs of administering so many small loans, the interest rates
and fees associated with microcredit can be steep, often reaching 100 percent
annually. Moreover, a number of rigorous field studies have shown that even when
lending programs successfully reach borrowers, there is only a limited increase
in entrepreneurial activity—and no measurable decrease in poverty rates. For
years, the development community has promoted a narrative that borrowing and
entrepreneurship have lifted large numbers of people out of poverty. But that
narrative has not held up.
Two trends, however, indicate great promise for the next generation of financialinclusion efforts. First, mobile technology has found its way to the developing world
and spread at an astonishing pace. According to the World Bank, mobile signals
now cover some 90 percent of the world’s poor, and there are, on average, more
than 89 cell-phone accounts for every 100 people living in a developing country.
That presents an extraordinary opportunity: mobile-based financial tools have the
potential to dramatically lower the cost of delivering banking services to the poor.
92 Foreign Affairs
Second, economists and other researchers have in recent years generated a much
richer fact base from rigorous studies to inform future product offerings. Early
on, both sides of the debate over the true value of microcredit programs for the
poor relied mostly on anecdotal observations and gut instincts. But now, there are
hundreds of studies to draw from. The flexible, low-cost models made possible by
mobile technology and the evidence base to guide their design have thus created a
major opportunity to deliver real value to the poor.
Show Them The Money
Mobile finance offers at least three major advantages over traditional financial models.
First, digital transactions are essentially free. In-person services and cash transactions
account for the majority of routine banking expenses. But mobile-finance clients
keep their money in digital form, and so they can send and receive money often,
even with distant counterparties, without creating significant transaction costs for
their banks or mobile service providers. Second, mobile communications generate
copious amounts of data, which banks and other providers can use to develop more
profitable services and even to substitute for traditional credit scores (which can be
hard for those without formal records or financial histories to obtain). Third, mobile
platforms link banks to clients in real time. This means that banks can instantly
relay account information or send reminders and clients can sign up for services
quickly on their own.
The potential, in other words, is enormous. The benefits of credit, savings, and
insurance are clear, but for most poor households, the simple ability to transfer
money can be equally important. For example, a recent Gallup poll conducted in
11 sub-Saharan African countries found that over 50 percent of adults surveyed
had made at least one payment to someone far away within the preceding 30
days. Eighty-three percent of them had used cash. Whether they were paying
utility bills or sending money to their families, most had sent the money with bus
drivers, had asked friends to carry it, or had delivered the payments themselves.
The costs were high; moving physical cash, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is
risky, unreliable, and slow.
Imagine what would happen if the poor had a better option. A recent study in Kenya
found that access to a mobile-money product called M-Pesa, which allows clients to
Foreign Affairs 93
store money on their cell phones and send it at the touch of a button, increased the
size and efficiency of the networks within which they moved money. That came in
handy when poorer participants endured economic shocks spurred by unexpected
events, such as a hospitalization or a house fire. Households with access to M-Pesa
received more financial support from larger and more distant networks of friends
and family. As a result, they were better able to survive hard times, maintaining their
regular diets and keeping their children in school.
To consumers, the benefits of M-Pesa are self-evident. Today, according to a study
by Kenya’s Financial Sector Deepening Trust, 62 percent of adults in the country
have active accounts. And other countries have since launched their own versions
of the product. In Tanzania, over 47 percent of households have a family member
who has registered. In Uganda, 26 percent of adults are users. The rates of adoption
have been extraordinary; by contrast, microlenders rarely get more than ten percent
participation in their program areas.
Mobile money is useful for more than just emergency transfers. Regular remittances
from family members working in other parts of the country, for example, make up
a large share of the incomes of many poor households. A Gallup study in South
Asia recently found that 72 percent of remittance-receiving households indicated
that the cash transfers were “very important” to their financial situations. Studies
of small-business owners show that they make use of mobile payments to improve
their efficiency and expand their customer bases.
These technologies could also transform the way people interact with large formal
institutions, especially by improving people’s access to government services. A study
in Niger by a researcher from Tufts University found that during a drought, allowing
people to request emergency government support through their cell phones resulted
in better diets for those people, compared with the diets of those who received cash
handouts. The researchers concluded that women were more likely than men to
control digital transfers (as opposed to cash transfers) and that they were more
likely to spend the money on high-quality food.
Governments, meanwhile, stand to gain as much as consumers do. A McKinsey study
in India found that the government could save $22 billion each year from digitizing
all of its payments. Another study, by the Better Than Cash Alliance, a nonprofit
94 Foreign Affairs
that helps countries adopt electronic payment systems, found that the Mexican
government’s shift to digital payments (which began in 1997) trimmed its spending
on wages, pensions, and social welfare by 3.3 percent annually, or nearly $1.3 billion.
Savings And Phones
In the developed world, bankers have long known that relatively simple nudges can
have a big impact on long-term behavior. Banks regularly encourage clients to sign
off on automatic contributions to their 401(k) retirement plans, set up automatic
deposits into savings accounts from their paychecks, and open special accounts to
save for a particular purpose.
Studies in the developing world confirm that, if anything, the poor need such
decision aids even more than the rich, owing to the constant pressure they are under
to spend their money on immediate needs. And cell phones make nudging easy.
For example, a series of studies have shown that when clients receive text messages
urging them to make regular savings deposits, they improve their balances over time.
More draconian features have also proved effective, such as so-called commitment
accounts, which impose financial discipline with large penalty fees.
Many poor people have already demonstrated their interest in financial mechanisms
that encourage savings. In Africa, women commonly join groups called rotating
savings and credit associations, or ROSCAs, which require them to attend weekly
meetings and meet rigid deposit and withdrawal schedules. Studies suggest that in
such countries as Cameroon, Gambia, Nigeria, and Togo, roughly half of all adults
are members of a ROSCA, and similar group savings schemes are widespread
outside Africa, as well. Research shows that members are drawn to the discipline of
required regular payments and the social pressure of group meetings.
Mobile-banking applications have the potential to encourage financial discipline
in even more effective ways. Seemingly marginal features designed to incentivize
financial discipline can do much to set people on the path to financial prosperity.
In one experiment, researchers allowed some small-scale farmers in Malawi to have
their harvest proceeds directly deposited into commitment accounts. The farmers
who were offered this option and chose to participate ended up investing 30 percent
more in farm inputs than those who weren’t offered the option, leading to a 22
Foreign Affairs 95
percent increase in revenues and a 17 percent increase in household consumption
after the harvest.
Poor households, not unlike rich ones, are not well served by simple loans in
isolation; they need a full suite of financial tools that work in concert to mitigate
risk, fund investment, grow savings, and move money. Insurance, for example, can
significantly affect how borrowers invest in their businesses. A recent field study
in Ghana gave different groups of farmers cash grants to fund investments in farm
inputs, crop insurance, or both. The farmers with crop insurance invested more
in agricultural inputs, particularly in chemicals, land preparation, and hired labor.
And they spent, on average, $266 more on cultivation than did the farmers without
insurance. It was not the farmers’ lack of credit, then, that was the greatest barrier to
expanding their businesses; it was risk.
Mobile applications allow banks to offer such services to huge numbers of customers
in very short order. In November 2012, the Commercial Bank of Africa and the
telecommunications firm Safaricom launched a product called M-Shwari, which
enables M-Pesa users to open interest-accruing savings accounts and apply for
short-term loans through their cell phones. The demand for the product proved
overwhelming. By effectively eliminating the time it would have taken for users to
sign up or apply in person, M-Shwari added roughly one million accounts in its first
By attracting so many customers and tracking their behavior in real time, mobile
platforms generate reams of useful data. People’s calling and transaction patterns
can reveal valuable insights about the behavior of certain segments of the client
population, demonstrating how variations in income levels, employment status, social
connectedness, marital status, creditworthiness, or other attributes shape outcomes.
Many studies have already shown how certain product features can affect some groups
differently from others. In one Kenyan study, researchers gave clients ATM cards
that permitted cash withdrawals at lowered costs and allowed the clients to access
their savings accounts after hours and on weekends. The change ended up positively
affecting married men and adversely affecting married women, whose husbands could
more easily get their hands on the money saved in a joint account. Before the ATM
cards, married women could cite the high withdrawal fees or the bank’s limited hours
to discourage withdrawals. With the cards, moreover, husbands could get cash from
96 Foreign Affairs
an ATM themselves, whereas withdrawals at the branch office had usually required
the wives to go in person during the hours their husbands were at work.
Location, Location, Location
The high cost of basic banking infrastructure may be the biggest barrier to providing
financial services to the poor. Banks place ATMs and branch offices almost
exclusively in the wealthier, denser (and safer) areas of poor countries. The cost of
such infrastructure often dwarfs the potential profits to be made in poorer, more
rural areas. In contrast, mobile banking allows customers to carry out transactions
in existing shops and even market stalls, creating denser networks of transaction
points at a much lower cost.
For clients to fully benefit from mobile financial services, however, access to a
physical office that deals in cash remains critical. When researchers studying the
M-Pesa program in Kenya cross-referenced the locations of M-Pesa agents and the
locations of households in the program, they found that the closer a household was
to an M-Pesa kiosk, where cash and customer services were available, the more
it benefited from the service. Beyond a certain distance, it becomes infeasible for
clients to use a given financial service, no matter how much they need it.
Meanwhile, a number of studies have shown that increasing physical access points
to the financial system can help lift local economies. Researchers in India have
documented the effects of a regulation requiring banks to open rural branches in
exchange for licenses to operate in more profitable urban areas. The data showed
significant increases in lending and agricultural output in the areas that received
branches due to the program, as well as 4–5 percent reductions in the number of
people living in poverty. A similar study in Mexico found that in areas where bank
branches were introduced, the number of people who owned informal businesses
increased by 7.6 percent. There were also ripple effects: an uptick in employment
and a seven percent increase in incomes.
In the right hands, then, access to financial tools can stimulate underserved economies
and, at critical times, determine whether a poor household is able to capture an
opportunity to move out of poverty or weather an otherwise debilitating financial
shock. Thanks to new research, much more is known about what types of features
Foreign Affairs 97
can do the most to improve consumers’ lives. And due to the rapid proliferation
of cell phones, it is now possible to deliver such services to more people than ever
before. Both of these trends have set the stage for yet further innovations by banks,
cell-phone companies, microlenders, and entrepreneurs—all of whom have a role
to play in delivering life-changing financial services to those who need them most.
100 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
Through the Breathtaking
Power of Innovation
By David Nabarro and Frank Schroeder
DAVID NABARRO is Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on
the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change.
FRANK SCHROEDER is an Economist who works in the Office of Special Adviser
on financing solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One year ago, the world embarked on a collective journey. Leaders agreed to
implement a new plan for the future of people and the planet that has the
potential to transform our world and make it a place fit for coming generations. The plan reflects four agreements adopted by the United Nations Member
States in 2015: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris
Agreement on climate change.
The stakes are high: global prosperity, equity, a healthy planet, and peace.
Implementation calls for ambitious, creative thinking and innovative solutions. It
also requires sustained partnerships that bring together businesses, science, civil
society, and government.
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 101
The 2030 Agenda can enable the world to rise to this moment in history if we
tap into the full potential of all actors, promote financial innovation, and correct
unsustainable behavior. The power of financial markets can catalyze the innovation
and entrepreneurialism required to meet human needs sustainably and to deliver
the goods and services for a growing global population.
The United Nations is evolving to help build the capacity that will harness financial
markets to support commercial innovations that deliver on the Sustainable
Development Goals. This is more than an exciting opportunity to bring partners
together for the greater good; it is a matter of survival for the planet and all people.
The agreements that were reached in 2015 are a triumph of multilateralism, offering
a vision for renewed international cooperation for a better world that leaves no one
behind. The imperative now is for that agreed vision to become manifested through
smart investments in people and the planet at the scale that they are needed.
The financing required to bring about the global transformation needed to realize
the aspiration captured in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to
make our world more inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous, are estimated to be in the
order of trillions of dollars annually. This redirection of capital flows can be realized
through a combination of means including efforts to attract, leverage and mobilize
investments of all kinds—public and private, national and global. This will require
scaling-up existing solutions, finding new financial mechanisms, and harnessing
capital markets, including all asset classes.
There are more than enough savings in the global economy to drive this transformation,
but they need to become better aligned with sustainable development. Moreover,
incentive structures in financial markets, both at the level of institutions and the
individual decision-maker, often do not seek to achieve social returns. As a result,
large disparities have become evident in all countries, with particular significance
in developing economies.
By realizing the full potential of all actors, it is possible to achieve a world where
all people live in dignity. The benefits will reverberate back to the investors in the
form of secure markets, thriving consumers, and natural resources that have not
102 Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation
The case for innovation
History tells us that ideas and new concepts have been a driving force in human
progress, and they may be the most important legacy of the United Nations.1
beginning of the 21st century and in response to the adoption of the Millennium
Development Goals, innovative finance was on the top of the UN agenda. The MDGs
marked a momentous turn that offered political leaders an opportunity to revise the
terms of global cooperation. That spirit gave rise to the Monterrey Consensus at the
UN Conference on Financing for Development in 2002. The conference document
recognized “the value of innovative sources of finance,” stimulating a wide range of
efforts to build and implement a variety of new and innovative financing mechanisms,
and it mobilized countries on innovation at a number of levels. It was an extraordinary
time of political leadership and inspired the Presidents of Brazil, France, and Chile in
2004 to launch the initiative “Action Against Hunger and Poverty” with the concept
of “New Innovative Sources of Development Finance” as the central reference point.
This unique initiative grew quickly to a global leaders group comprising 66 countries
from North and South, and brought forward a number of financial innovations: a levy
on air tickets that was in support of the drug purchasing facility UNITAID, a finance
facility for immunization, advanced market commitments for vaccines, the debt to
health initiative, and a financial transaction tax.
All of these financial innovations, while carried out in partnership with the private
sector and civil society, were predominately financed through public resources.
Their successes were tangible, but scalability remained at the uncertain whim of
budget and election cycles.
The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals present a very different picture.
The principle of universality is one of the centerpieces of the new goals, holding
all nations accountable for conditions among their most needed and vulnerable
populations. That is a refreshing and positive message. Unlike their predecessors,
the MDGs, which only applied to those countries deemed to be “developing,”
the SDGs will require all nations to work towards them. This is an important
1 Richard Jolly, Louis Emmerij, and Thomas G. Weiss (2009): UN Ideas That Changed the
World, New York
Commissioned by The Rockefeller Foundation 103
and unprecedented global acknowledgement that the pursuit of prosperity and
inclusiveness is not just something for people inhabiting one part of our global and
Sustained investment will be the crucial driver of economic growth and development
in line with the SDGs. Investment in infrastructure and innovation are explicitly
called for in SDG 9, and an integrated approach on all 17 Goals will be crucial for
progress across the board.
Several trillion US dollars must be redistributed annually to bring about the future
that world leaders want. The sheer scale of this challenge makes it abundantly clear
that the majority of financing will need to come from private sources. There is hope
that the SDGs can in particular become a catalyst for leaders in the financial and
banking sector as they review the contribution of their respective institutions to
the common good. The financial and banking sector has the potential to deliver
innovations that have positive social returns while improving the use of underutilized
economic resources in developing countries. The economist Mohamed El-Erian
underscored this point by referring to the fact that it took a leading US hotel
corporation 100 years to deliver their clients 700,000 rooms globally, while the
internet platform AirBnb took 6 years to deliver 1 million accommodations.2
achieve this accelerated progress, financial innovation in support of the SDGs will
have to focus beyond creating new assets to leveraging underutilized ones.
That innovation goes to the heart of development as an enterprise. Recent
breakthroughs in financial technology, both from within and beyond the financial
services industry, are unleashing a wave of change that promises to transform
every aspect of financial services. The transformative agenda of the SDGs calls for
ingenuity and innovation. The financial sector can play a major role in achieving the
results-focused, risk-informed creativity that can drive SDG implementation.
The United Nations welcomes a willingness on the part of the financial service sector
to engage in the SDG process—along with the determination of companies to make
finance work for the less advantaged.
2 Mohamed El-Erian, Milken Conference, May 1 , 2016
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The sector itself stands to gain enormously. If it showcases that financial talent is
realizing new market opportunities and delivering on SDG solutions instead of
engaging in innovative efforts directed at circumventing regulations, taxes, and
accounting standards, that could dramatically change public perception.
Various sources suggest that innovative thinking is already driving decision-making
at the global and national level. Approaches to development cooperation increasingly
prioritize the interests of local communities. The submission of Intended Nationally
Determined Contributions (INDCs) by 189 countries in the climate context
indicates government priorities at the country level and signals investors to where
funding for climate action is most urgently needed. Countries are moving equally
fast in aligning their national plans with the SDG agenda. They are supported in this
task by the United Nations and backed by a global movement of civil society and
Broadening the investment horizon
Private investors—often supported by public policy and finance—are driving global
development efforts by channeling billions of dollars into many countries around the
world. Individual projects are bringing renewable energy to communities, improving
agriculture yields for small-holder farmers, spurring economic growth, and helping
countries to tackle climate change and poverty eradication. To accelerate more private
flows, it will be necessary to unpack new investment opportunities imbedded in the
transition stimulated by the SDGs but also to scale-up the results-focused creativity of
pioneers and innovators who are already active within the business sector.
In recent years, a small group of bold financiers, policy-makers, development
experts, and entrepreneurs have offered new models for cooperation. With support
from philanthropic organizations, these pioneers have developed new solutions for
harnessing additional capital, or improving the efficiency of capital, for addressing
the world’s most critical social, economic, and environmental problems.3
solutions have taken varied shapes and forms—from novel securitizations to
micro-levies—and have addressed a wide range of development challenges that
3 Saadia Madsbjerg/ Lorenzo Bernasconi (2015): Development Goals Without Money Are Just a
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are at the heart of the SDG challenge. In the process, these initiatives have laid
down the blueprints for public policy interventions and new forms of collaboration
between private sector corporations, institutional investors, governments, and the
philanthropic and nonprofit sector.
In aggregate, these financial innovations represent only a very small fraction of
the financing needed to realize the 2030 Agenda. Development organizations can
help to bring these SDG solutions to scale through promotion, opportunities for
networking, and connecting to relevant stakeholders that can provide seed financing.
Implementing these strategies will inevitably require novel thinking on the part of
development organizations, NGOs, governments and donors. It will require close
cooperation with the private sector, a willingness to learn from—and even acquire
and internalize—social enterprises, and the flexibility to integrate new methods and
ideas that adapt to new forms of development cooperation.
Tapping into local wealth and providing channels for high net worth individuals
into direct investments in the SDGs presents another area with growing potential.
Wealth has been accumulating in many countries and some of the asset owners
are looking for social investment opportunities. “Impact investing” is catching on
among investors who seek market-based solutions to the world’s most pressing
challenges, including sustainable agriculture, affordable housing, affordable and
accessible healthcare, clean technology, and financial services for the poor.
While the social impact investment market has been growing significantly and has
drawn increasing interest and attention, it is still in the early stages of development
and represents a very small share of the global capital markets today. The OECD
states in a recent report that given the intergenerational transfer of wealth,
estimated at $41 trillion over the next 50 years, nearly $6 trillion of that is expected
to be directed towards social issues. 4
A growing range of actors is emerging in the
social impact investment market to form ecosystems made up of social ventures,
intermediaries, and investors committed to addressing social needs. Governments
will play a key role in support of these ecosystems, in terms of setting conditions for
enabling environments as well as for indirect or direct engagement in the market.
The United Nations system will play a catalytic role in promoting social impact
4 OECD (2015): Social Impact Investment- Building the Evidence Base
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investment by advocating for a conducive regulatory environment, encouraging
greater transparency and promoting concrete steps to help develop the market in
support of targeted SDG interventions.
There is increasing interest particularly among younger investors to support
financial instruments designed to have positive social impact. This reflects their
wish to address important issues such as social justice, climate change or income
inequality. The United Nations system can help harness this motivation by embracing
and promoting innovative finance and bringing sustainable development to the
mainstream of financial markets. The first movers in this field are already helping
the financial sector to encourage positive change.
Aligning capital markets with the SDGs
The vision set out in the SDGs—for people, planet, prosperity, and peace—will
not fully succeed if shocks and stresses in our financial system are not properly
addressed, systemic and interconnected risk is not correctly priced, and the value
of assets is not aligned with the SDGs. The notion that financial markets are selfregulating seems dangerously misguided, contradicting key lessons from history
and theory. For generations, policy-makers have sought to align the interests of
financial markets and society. Nowhere is this tension more keenly and persistently
felt than in capital markets. With over US$200 trillion in assets5
and annual growth
advancing at a very fast pace, they represent the largest pool of potential financing
for the SDGs. The question on how to shape financial markets so that they will
deliver on the SDGs is getting to the heart of the issue.
The difficult truth is that capital markets are characterized by short-term biases, risk
management blind spots, and investors that tend to allocate capital to unsustainable
uses. Regulators can create enabling conditions for investor decisions to take
account of longer-term objectives; recognize the importance of environmental and
social issues, such as poverty, climate change and human rights; and ensure that
the risk enshrined in these issues is adequately priced. If capital markets factor in
sustainability, capital will be better allocated on a massive scale. Governments can
5 UNEP Inquiry (2015): The financial system we need- Aligning the financial system with
sustainable development , UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
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mandate the internalization of environmental and social costs into companies’ profit
and loss statements. As a consequence, capital markets would then incorporate
companies’ full social and environmental costs.6
This means governments can have
the potential to promote a capital markets regulation that integrates sustainable
development factors in the mandates of financial supervision agencies, listing rules
and financial stability and in so doing redress what Mark Carney referred to as the
Tragedy of the Horizons.7
One particular area of concern is the scale of economic losses caused by natural
disasters, which have risen significantly as a direct result of climate change. Despite
this growing challenge, the reflection of natural disaster risk in the regulation of
capital and the protocols of accounting has been insufficient, with little movement
to address the problem emanating from governments and regulators.
The desirable result is for disaster risk to be revealed in all financial transactions and
incorporated into capital and reflected in every transaction, such as infrastructure
investment, bank loans and the equity price on stock exchanges as well as into the
accounts of every country and city. Populations are increasing, wealth is growing
and the climate is changing, and without appropriate reforms, risk will grow
significantly in the decades to come, at the cost of trillions of dollars in loss and
damage and, worse, the cost of millions of lives and livelihoods.
The UN system is well placed to work with others to develop initial suggestions
for how public policy-makers can move capital markets onto a more sustainable
basis. Representatives of several governments have indicated, to the UN SecretaryGeneral, their interest in promoting greater private sector investment in the SDGs:
to this end the Secretary-General is exploring options for a multi-stakeholder
Financial Innovation Platform. This global initiative will support the identification
and piloting of innovative SDG finance instruments that can drive this investment
and turn innovative initiatives and ideas into strong, actionable, and well thought6 Steve Waygood (2015): How to Harness the Global Capital Markets for the Sustainable
7 Mark Carney (2015): Speech at Lloyds London, 29 September: “With better information as a
foundation, we can build a virtuous circle of better understanding of tomorrow’s risks, better
pricing for investors, better decisions by policy makers, and a smoother transition to a lowercarbon economy.”
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out SDG interventions. In addition to launching innovative financing solutions it
will also engage key development actors, such as leaders from governments and civil
society, philanthropic organizations, entrepreneurs, institutional investors, banks,
project developers, and development finance institutions.
With the right spirit of enlightened self-interest, the private sector can more than
match this advocacy by accelerating its own significant progress towards global
sustainability. The momentum generated would be self-perpetuating, triggering a
virtuous cycle of investment and reward that demonstrates the symbiotic relationship
between advancing development and thriving economically. As societies become
more inclusive, stability will take root and the environment will flourish thanks to
this new approach; both the private sector and the people it depends on will realize
the promise of the SDGs—a transformation of our planet by 2030 that ensures
dignity for all and leaves no one behind.
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Finance, Growth and
The Shifting Logic of
By Thomas Heller
THOMAS HELLER is founder and board Chair at Climate Policy Initiative,
affiliate partner at SystemIQ (London), and the Shelton Professor of International
Legal Studies (emeritus) at Stanford University.
t has been nearly two decades since policy-makers and the international community first began taking climate change seriously. Even then, the indissoluble link between growth and climate change was clear. Emissions-intensive
growth, primarily in the energy, agriculture, and industrial sectors, threatens the
natural resources upon which future growth trajectories depend. Without solutions, the prosperity of both current and future generations is at stake.
Now, in 2016, we have made real and significant progress toward addressing
climate change: public subsidies have resulted in declining costs and rapidly
increasing deployment of renewable energy so that today, even without subsidies,
renewables are often as cheap or cheaper than fossil fuels in many markets.
Policy has also made variable, though usually lesser, progress driving down
emissions through energy efficiency, curbing deforestation, and improving
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This progress has created a virtuous cycle for policy contexts, allowing both advanced
and emerging economies to expand their national mandates to move toward lowcarbon economic systems. These new mandates were directly reflected in the Paris
Agreement made by world leaders late last year, which aims to keep warming to
“well below” 2o
C. This target makes sense—climate science experts are clear that
warming beyond 2o
C, say in the 4o
C or 6o
C range pathway we are on right now,
would have disastrous consequences for humanity’s ability to survive in large parts
of the currently populated earth.
Still, implementing the Paris Agreement will be replete with new challenges. To
name just a few, analysts suggests that financing renewables at the scale and pace
compatible with political targets will require an approximate doubling of the current
annual investment in sustainable infrastructure. Indeed, many estimates, including
those from the New Climate Economy, project that through the next twenty years,
total investments for renewable energy and energy efficiency must grow from the
current ~1.5 to 2.0 to ~3.0 to 3.5 trillion dollars per year. Furthermore, it is clear
that much of this investment will need to come from public sources. Currently, even
advanced economies rely on average on public finance for more than 40% of their
clean energy investment; in emerging economies, where the need for clean energy
investment is most intense and capital markets are often plagued by high cost debt,
this figure is even higher—projects in these markets regularly rely on more than 65%
public finance. In addition, renewable energies, while having close to zero operating
costs once built, are more capital intensive to build than the fossil technologies
with which they compete, and therefore require different ways of thinking about
financing infrastructure than those used in the past.
Given the still widespread practice of public budgeting and development banking in
infrastructure supplies; the political importance of energy access and affordability;
public sector control of the regulatory risks associated with tariffs, currency, and
transmission; the aversion of institutional investor portfolio models to direct
investment in illiquid assets and unfamiliar technologies, and the sheer volume of
capital for needed to build out the new infrastructure platforms of a 2 degree world,
innovative finance needs to aim to more efficiently align global private flows with
public finance, than to sharply shrink the roles public capital will continue to play.
There are many reasonable solutions for bridging these next gaps. Some of these
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solutions include special purpose institutions like the Green Climate Fund or the
Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance that can facilitate specific financial
instruments for land use, renewable energy, and energy efficiency; calls for green
bonds and monitoring to ensure their impacts; normative calls for deepening
carbon taxes or linking carbon markets; UNFCCC monitoring, enforcement, and
more ambitious targets; more development aid to low income countries or for
conditional national pledges like forest conservation; requests for higher public
funding or impact investor funding in blended project finance; more assistance to
project pipelines in low income countries; more focus on off-grid projects in low
income countries; and more funds from national development banks or multilateral
financial institutions for support of national commitments.
All of these solutions are necessary features of a more successful climate
implementation program. However, questions remain as to where any of these large
increases in (primarily public) funding will come from, why should public funds be
used this way when there are so many calls for similar financial commitments, and
under what conditions could sustainable infrastructure be targeted as a means to
grow the economies and public treasuries that could supply these multiple demands.
Thus, an interesting outcome of the Paris Agreement is that the central focus of climate
politics and policies must shift from microeconomic questions to a macroeconomic
context. In the face of declining incremental costs and projected near doubling of
demand for public investment in new energy infrastructure, instead of asking “How
much more will it cost and who will pay,” policy-makers and finance ministers
should now be asking, “How can we ensure adequate and affordable capital for the
world’s growing sustainable infrastructure needs given current conditions?”
In essence, climate politics are moving from the sidelines to the mainstream of capital
and infrastructure, and the work now is to ensure these systems work together to
These new questions get to the core of the political and organizational mandates of
treasuries, central banks, financial regulatory agencies, and development finance
institutions, which are charged to ensure financial stability and promote steady
growth. These goals are in theory well aligned with sustainable infrastructure. Just
as climate change threatens future growth by threatening resources, the connection
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between growth and climate is equally clear in reverse, the lack of credible actions
to address higher economic growth threaten the renewal of infrastructure essential
to reduce climate risk.
However, unfortunately, as climate politics move to the mainstream, it means that
climate advocates must also confront mainstream problems of economic growth, the
most pressing of which include restoring growth rates to pre-2005 levels, managing
multiple competing claims for public money, and ensuring the institutional and
systemic conditions necessary for effective delivery and expected returns of efficient
To the first problem of restoring growth rates, it is imperative that advocates
recognize that since the financial crisis of 2008, public finance communities have
been preoccupied with macroeconomic problems associated with prolonged low
growth at rates well below long-term historical averages. These challenges have
plagued advanced economies as well as emerging markets.
Policy to regenerate pre-crisis rates of growth has been troubled by assertions that
the era of high growth (1870-1970) has ended, the overburdened state of monetary
instruments, multiple competing demands for a proposed fiscal expansion, and
pervasive uncertainties about the relationship between scale investment in targeted
asset classes and output, particularly with regard to countercyclical and signaling
effects. Operating under these constraints, and in the face of a pervasive search
for liquidity and deleveraging by private investors, unconventional monetary and
macro-prudential policies have failed to stem macroeconomic decline, restore rates
of higher growth, or mitigate intense debate over both the causes of slow recovery
and appropriate policies to accelerate investment consistent with better long-term
Variants of all classical explanations for growth—including technology-led, improved
access to capital and land, institutional and organizational innovation, public
goods coverage and quality, and more equal income distribution—are regularly
cited as offering exceptional productivity returns when appropriately adjusted to
fit contemporary political and economic conditions. However, with prolonged low
growth, pleas for increased flows of targeted public resources for income transfers,
education and health, financial inclusion, research and development, and security
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budgets proliferate. Since attempts to target a wide portfolio of such pleas for scarce
public capital will likely preclude the scale of investment consistent with substantial
productivity gains at system level, demands to substantially expand rates of public
investment in sustainable infrastructure must be evaluated against credible evidence
for growth and revenue effects, impacts on short- and long-term investor behavior,
political incentives salient to public finance officials, public institutional capacity
to deliver funds effectively, and the probability of enacting complementary policy
reforms required to realize potential productivity gains.
In this context, fiscal prescriptions that promise exceptional macroeconomic
growth through investment in cost and resource-saving technology applications in
sustainable energy, transport, and agricultural infrastructure would present strong
claims for increased public support that can equally appeal to climate advocates.
Such growth benefits are frequently expressed in terms of continued falling costs,
stocks of new jobs, relief from resource price volatility, and reduced health and
work absence losses. There are prima facia correlations between national income
and infrastructure, especially in the early stages of industrial development, which
would underlie this hypothetical proposition. However, recent empirical analyses
by the International Monetary Fund argue that infrastructure, more and less
sustainable, as an asset class has a mixed record of short- and long-run stimulus to
economic output, which varies with different stages of economic and institutional
The contribution of environmental sustainability to growth as conventionally
measured is equally contested. It is widely acknowledged that avoided environmental
damages have non-monetized benefits that could be counted in a more comprehensive
assessment of well-being and growth. Still, in practice, valuation of these effects has
proven to be sporadic and difficult. Although cost-benefit analysis of regulation and
judicial decisions have in some countries assigned relatively high shadow prices to
ecosystem effects, explicit carbon prices have been stable at very low levels, even when
packaged with other benefits from renewable energy development. Generally, there
is evident political willingness to mandate price or quantity controls on emissions
when the incremental costs of low carbon energy projects are close to parity with
fossil and to postulate much higher values when climate damages would imminently
render unstable broader systems of economic production. Between these extremes,
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there is little clear indication of how avoided damages or environmental quality
ought be estimated for growth accounting. Climate policy must continue to wrestle
with the questionable record of political response to the issue of avoided costs in
order to move forward in the next phase of implementation.
Furthermore, climate advocates must also acknowledge that the value in theory of
expanded public funds for targeted asset classes, such as low-carbon infrastructure,
depends in practice on the institutional quality of the public institutions and
instruments through which the portfolio of public investments is defined, delivered,
and aligned with private co-investment.
Yet IMF and other analyses of the performance of public finance vehicles often
show large post-deployment discounts in expected productivity gains returned by
these investments due to poor institutional quality tied to routinized organization,
weak planning in and between government financial agencies, misaligned internal
incentives, gaming and corruption. This finding is often more pronounced in
emerging markets and in financial systems where state banking remains the near
dominant supplier of infrastructure finance—systems where energy demand and
carbon intensive production have grown more rapidly in the past decade.
Without improved appraisal, understanding, and assurance of the quality of public
finance institutions, there is little hope for the productivity gains that justify targeted
expansion in sustainable infrastructure, enhanced investment in other asset classes,
or alternative fiscal policy programs that yield macroeconomic gains and credibly
raise investor expectations that are essential to sustain long-term growth.
The final piece of the implementation puzzle stems from the mixed performance
of stimulus programs in infrastructure in the age of digital innovation. Some
argue that the advent of renewables is just one aspect of a larger transformation in
telecoms, energy, mobility, and agriculture, with the next stage of climate action
increasingly being shaped by systems transformation and driven by disruptive
digital technologies. Among growth economists, there is open debate about the
contribution of free and network goods to productivity since 1990, the proper
measurement of these innovation effects on market and non-market welfare, and
their impacts on fiscal returns and the incentives of private investors. However, todate, new energy investment and renewable generation has been inserted into the
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margins of existing systems long organized around the dominant fossil technologies,
usually in the absence of networked systems, and with mixed results on overall
growth. Therefore, if it is true that exceptional productivity gains from sustainable
infrastructure will derive from applications of intelligence and connectivity in
the integration (supply and demand management) of fundamentally transformed
energy systems that are associated with a wider wave of digital industry innovation,
technology-led growth may be realized only when combined with complementary
system reforms of market designs, adapted business practice, and financial models.
In this vision of growth-driven energy futures, any macroeconomic claims for
sustainable infrastructure must be disaggregated and evaluated both for the risk and
timing of productivity effects in order to make the case for continued investment.
In summary, as climate action moves to the center of finance and macroeconomics,
and finance and macroeconomics move to the center of climate action, a shift
in strategy and institutional focus is advisable. A plausible theory of growth that
would support targeted programs for public finance investment, including credible
hypotheses about the macroeconomic growth effects of sustainable infrastructure,
could require a three-part proposition that combines technology innovation, quality
institutional delivery and system transition. Analyzing, testing, piloting, monitoring
and evaluation of how more generalized macroeconomic and growth strategies
could be applied and delivered would require both a connected network of local and
regional actors with practical public finance responsibilities, a common conceptual
framework, and coordinated capacities to execute appropriate methodological
techniques to variable specified conditions.
These challenging objectives and questions are being explored by an informal
network of public finance officials, economists and financial theorists in a proposed
Advisory Finance Group. The Group will be composed principally of experienced
practitioners from the public finance community—including directors of ministries
of finance, central banks, financial regulatory agencies, and development finance
institutions—and supported by economists and financial strategists recognized for
leading expertise on investment productivity and by analysis groups in all regions
to specify locally adaptive applications of these programs.
The conceptual framework of the Advisory Finance Group inverts the logic of
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climate change analysis. It begins not with climate change as an environmental
issue, but rather with financial problems central to macroeconomics and growth.
We already have a reasonable idea what expanded and targeted public investments
in low carbon infrastructure can contribute to meeting climate goals. What we
need now to understand is whether investment in sustainable infrastructure has
credible productivity potential greater than other plausible claims upon increased
public funding. In a world caught up in prolonged macroeconomic stagnation, the
primary mandate of financial officials is to define and deliver the fiscal and monetary
options that can lift investor expectations of long-term growth.
Without such long-term growth, climate change will remain trapped in good
intentions, with an increasing gap between what we know is needed and what is
achieved on the ground.
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From Sector to System:
Reshaping Humanitarian Aid
By RT. Hon. David Miliband
RT HON. DAVID MILIBAND is President and CEO of the International Rescue
Committee. He is a former Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom.
n May of this year, I visited the refugee camps at Dadaab, the desert complex in Kenya’s remote northeastern region that some 350,000 Somalis call
home. Many of those whom I met in the camps have been there since 1991,
the year that the United Nations (UN) planted the first tent poles; after a quarter
century of false dawns in Somalia, they told me they have abandoned hope of
ever seeing their country again. Among their children and grandchildren, born,
raised and stranded in the camps, the sense of dislocation, limbo, and enforced
transience was depressingly palpable, as was the feeling of utter helplessness.
The plight of Dadaab’s residents is extreme but illustrative. Modern conflicts
rage on for an average of 37 years, making the return for those forced to seek
shelter in neighboring or far-flung states an ever-distant prospect: less than one
percent of the world’s 21.3 million refugees went home in 2015.
The levels of forced displacement such as these have not been seen since the last days
of World War II. The human toll has been immense: the unending conflicts in places
like Somalia and Afghanistan and newer wars in the likes of South Sudan and Syria
behind such upheaval –alongside increasingly intense natural disasters, environmental
degradation, impoverishment and epidemics—have given rise to unprecedented levels
of global humanitarian need. More than 125 million people currently require urgent
assistance, which has increased from 32 million a decade ago.
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The funding requested by the UN and its partners to meet such needs has risen
tenfold since the Millennium, reaching an all-time high of $21.9 billion this year.
Yet despite record levels of donor contributions, the gap between needs and the
resources provided to meet them is growing, not shrinking; according to the UN
High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, the overall emergency relief effort is
underfunded to the tune of $15 billion.
There is, then, an obvious and immediate need for more aid, especially in the
conflict-ridden, fragile states that produce 60% of the world’s displaced and 43%
of its extreme poor (yet receive only 30% of total overseas development assistance).
For a planet generating a global gross domestic product of $78 trillion annually,
finding the resources to save lives and mitigate the impacts of conflict and disaster
should be more than feasible.
But there is a further, equally urgent imperative, which is the subject of this essay: the
need to transform humanitarian action from a mission-driven but fragmented sector,
characterized by plethoric areas of focus and organizations, into a high-performing,
dynamic system that is directed towards clearly shared outcomes, underpinned by
agreed metrics of success, bearing common methods of accountability, founded
upon a commitment to drive practices based on evidence, and financed on the basis
of a methodology that supports rather than subverts its goals and efforts.
From Sector To System
So much humanitarian action is genuinely heroic. The work carried out amidst
conflict by UN staff, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the civilians
themselves afflicted by war and disaster is remarkable. Its setting is axiomatically
volatile and intensely dangerous. Those endeavoring to get aid into the hands of
those who need it seek to uphold the highest humanitarian and professional ideals
in places notable for their absence.
We must not take such heroism for granted, nor should we fall into the trap of believing
that heroism is, in and of itself, an adequate response to the levels of humanitarian
suffering with which the world is currently confronted. While having more resources
is vital, the stark reality is that the scale and complexity of current humanitarian needs
are increasingly out of step with the policies and practices available to meet them.
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For instance, even though nearly 60% of refugees live among host communities in
towns and cities, the primary service delivery model is focused on camps. Despite
the obviously protracted, long-term nature of the displacement that typically befalls
those forced to flee their homes, humanitarian interventions aimed at meeting their
needs continue to be funded on a short-term basis and are not complemented by the
provision of access to jobs and education. While an increasingly large proportion
of those displaced by conflict find themselves seeking shelter in middle-income
states, the mandates of international institutions and donors are often premised
on the notion that impoverished and vulnerable people are only to be found in
poor countries. And in both middle- and low-income settings, development and
humanitarian actors segment themselves by the different populations they serve
and work according to separate timescales and funding streams, regardless of their
commonalities in need or vulnerability.
The mismatch between need and response is, therefore, also one of concept,
institutions and mindset that have resulted into the play of an organic, ad hoc fashion
in which the humanitarian sector has evolved since the 1940’s. Transforming that
sector into a system that does justice to the heroism underpinning it cannot be
accomplished overnight; nevertheless, a degree of urgency and focus is essential if
we are to meet the humanitarian challenges of the 21st century. With this in mind, the
call of my organization, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which delivers
aid to millions of people in more than 30 war-torn, disaster-prone countries, is for
action in three key areas: outcomes, effectiveness and financing.
The humanitarian community has always embraced fundamental principles of
action; independence, neutrality, impartiality and humanity both underpin and
govern all aspects of our work. But unlike our development counterparts, we have
yet to define limited and specific results to guide our programs and investments and
to measure progress and performance.
The Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDG’s) framework, to which national
governments signed on last September, enshrines 17 goals and 169 targets. But
specific targets for the millions of people affected by conflict and disaster, who
increasingly constitute the locus of global poverty, was lacking. This severely
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undermines the prospects of the SDG’s attainment; more widely, the absence of
a limited set of agreed, collective outcomes measured by meaningful indicators is
preventing us from operating like a proper system. They are an essential first step
if we are to overcome the divide between humanitarian and development actors
working in the same countries with overlapping populations.
As a starting point, the IRC’s recommendation is that those working in humanitarian
settings—both nongovernmental and governmental actors—establish and adopt at
both the global and national level clear priorities for collective outcomes to track
improvements in the health and economic wellbeing of those displaced by conflict,
as well as in the education of children and the protection of women and children
from violence that is uprooted by war. The indicators to measure these outcomes
will need to be carefully and precisely crafted; whether a child has access to
education, for instance, should be assessed in terms of attendance and participation
rates, not merely enrollment. And the ‘collective’ element needs to act as a discipline
on donors by ensuring that they replace the costly diverse multitude of indicators
that aid agencies currently responsible for measuring with a harmonized, effective
accountability system that drives out wasteful information collection.
Focusing on outcomes is the first stage in the battle for effective aid; the second
relates to how that aid is delivered. While there have been more than 4,000 rigorous
evaluations of programming in stable countries over the past decade, approximately
100 of them have been conducted in conflict settings. In the absence of a strong
evidence base to inform the selection and prioritization of interventions, the
humanitarian community is currently relying on assumptions, experience and
intuition, rather than research founded on facts and data. This needs to change.
Since 2006, the IRC has launched 66 research studies, including 29 impact evaluations,
across 24 crisis-affected countries, as well as in the United States. The evidence
that such studies generate offers a wealth of insights into how outcomes for those
receiving aid can be improved; the reduction in violence and promotion of healthy
child development that targeted target programs for parents and caregivers can yield
in high-income and stable countries is but one example. Where such evidence exists,
donors and aid agencies should work to agree on its implications for the achievement
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of desired outcomes, with programs demonstrating high impact receiving greater
support. Where it doesn’t, serious international investments in terms of time and both
public and private sector resources should be made to generate it through impact
evaluations that can inform program design, outcomes to monitor and measure
change between different interventions, the allocation of risk capital for research and
development, and a concerted push to secure breakthroughs in innovation.
The humanitarian community stands to gain dramatically by aligning behind
interventions that work. As a starting point, we suggest that a collective evidence
drive focus on a few priority areas, for example: improving learning outcomes for
children affected by conflict (including a benchmark of the costs entailed in doing
so); reducing violence against women and children in communities ruptured by
the coincidence of poverty and war; and increasing family incomes and assets in
contexts of protracted urban displacement.
Such an evidence base, if it is to support a high-performing humanitarian system
rather than a fragmented sector, will need to be common, easily accessible, and
shared with consensus around the standards of evidence required to inform
programming. The IRC’s new Outcomes and Evidence Framework, which draws
together the best available evidence on how to achieve defined improvements in our
beneficiaries’ lives and presents it via an online tool, will be available to everyone,
from practitioners to donors and grant managers to program planners. We believe
that this open-sourced approach—as opposed to separate evidence bases for
different players—represents the way forward.
Finally, the humanitarian community needs to confront head-on the reality that key
aspects of our contemporary financing system are dramatically out-of-sync with the
nature of modern humanitarian need. The UN’s High-Level Panel on Humanitarian
Financing has already raised the standard for a more efficient and effective system:
it is vital that its insights are turned into daily practice.
For donors, that means embracing a shift to predictable, multi-year funding, dedicated
to securing clear outcomes for affected populations. Despite the fact that refugees are
displaced for an average of 17 years, the IRC’s median grant length is just 12 months;
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the attendant accountability systems are multiple, overlapping and divergent, and
they consume time and resources. This means funding measurement, evaluation and
evidence-generation at appropriate levels. It means ensuring that funding follows
that evidence and that programs with high levels of impact and which are tracked
and delivered against clear collective outcomes grow. It means pooling funds across
humanitarian and development agencies and, where required, sectors like health and
education for women and children, to ensure that money is targeted towards meeting
people’s needs, not organizational mandates. And finally, it means establishing a
harmonized reporting framework that cuts the costs of managing grants.
Donors have a further, vital role to play. Within the humanitarian sector, though the
cost of particular interventions is widely recognized as important, we do not reliably
know how much it costs us to change individual’s lives. The current “value for money”
approaches employed by individual NGOs tend to focus on administrative savings,
regardless of whether they have actually contributed to overall efficiency, and reveal
little about how these costs relate to the actual outcomes achieved by programs,
and do not lend themselves to cost comparisons. A far more meaningful analysis
would examine and compare the cost-efficiency (cost per latrine constructed, for
example) and cost-effectiveness (cost per increase in, say, nutritional status) of
specific programs, and enable us to significantly increase the numbers of people
who benefit. With data on the cost per output and cost per outcome of different
interventions, we could direct funding towards the programs that achieve the
greatest change in the lives of beneficiaries per dollar spent, multiplying the impact
of our dollars exponentially .
For the multiplier effects of better costing to be truly realized, however, the
humanitarian community needs a common costing methodology that allows figures
to be compared across agencies, systems that help to automate calculations, and
shared metrics of efficiency, towards which we can collectively strive. This will only
happen if donors coordinate their requirements, and invest in building capacity
within implementing organizations. Our call in this regard is for a successor
to the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing—a High-Level Panel on
Humanitarian Costing—which brings, under independent chairmanship, all sides
of the debate together to develop the cost benchmarks and guidelines that the sector
needs. Moreover, instead of embedding varying analytical requirements within
grants or sectors, they should target support towards implementers who develop
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transparent and rigorous in-house systems that generate the necessary information
systematically. The IRC has taken the lead in establishing a first-generation Systematic
Cost Analysis (SCAN) tool to track costs on key interventions, and by 2018, we will
have rolled out a full cost monitoring system across our various country offices to
enable the delivery of cost-efficiency estimates in all proposals and final reports.
More Aid, Better Aid
This essay has sought to make the case not just for more aid but for better aid. Business
as usual is no longer an option, if it ever was. Those uprooted by conflict are crying
for a humanitarian response that reflects the length of their displacement and the
complexities of their needs; meanwhile, growing climate risks, increasing economic
imbalances, escalating urbanization, and deepening pressures on domestic budgets
further mitigate against the status quo.
There are some grounds for hope. Under the leadership of President Jim Yong
Kim, the World Bank has demonstrated its readiness to support the creation of job
opportunities for those forced to flee to middle-income countries. The commitments
made at February’s Supporting Syria and the Region Conference in London, where
international financing—and trade preferences—were offered in return for job
opportunities for Syrian refugees point the way forward, as do pledges to ensure that
all refugee and vulnerable host community children in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey
are enrolled in school by the end of the 2016-17 school year. Canada’s strong show of
solidarity with these countries, in resettling tens of thousands of vulnerable Syrians
across the Atlantic, is an example to all able states, and should be emulated. The
‘Grand Bargain’ struck six months ago in Istanbul between the top 30 international
donors and aid agencies endorsed a general shift towards the greater use of cash
transfers as aid. September saw world leaders gather in New York for two summits
aimed at tackling the global displacement and migration crises.
Crucially, the heroism and commitment of aid workers—in settings from Mali to
Myanmar—proves that the fundamental humanitarian impulse is alive and well.
The task for donors over the coming months and years—possessing as they do the
money, leverage and bearing, therefore, the responsibility—is to capitalize on that
impulse, overcome the muscle memory of the past 70 years, harmonize their efforts,
focus on outcomes rather than inputs, and break out of the moribund categorizations
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that events on the ground have long left behind. If the incoming UN SecretaryGeneral can galvanize the necessary political and institutional energy to take such
an agenda forward, then the world has a chance to radically transform the lives of
those in Dadaab and elsewhere, and to build—for the first time—a humanitarian
system worthy of its name.