Development Impact Bonds
Development impact bonds are an emerging financial model that is outcome-based — donors and governments only pay if the proposed interventions achieve set goals for improving the lives of people in poor countries. Original funding for development programs comes from the private sector.

In such a model, impact bond initiatives looking for profit mobilize private capital to invest in service activities, and an outcome founder — donors or governments — pays the original investor if the service activities produce results that meet agreed-upon targets.

The First Development Impact Bonds in Education

UBS Optimus Foundation launched The Educate Girls Development Impact Bond (DIB) in June 2015, the world’s first development impact bond in education. UBS Optimus Foundation serves as the investor who recruited Educate Girls, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in a remote rural district of Rajasthan, as the service provider. UBS Optimus Foundation directly funds Educate Girls’ programs, which works to help enroll girls into primary education and improve the learning of boys and girls in English, Hindi and mathematics.

ID Insights, a non-profit evaluation firm, serves as the third party that confirms and evaluates service progress. The outcome funder is the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, who pays UBS Optimus Foundation a fixed amount for each unit of improvement in the quality and enrollment of girls’ education.

Satisfactory Results

The DIB functions on a $270,000 budget, and Educate Girls’ services reach 166 schools in 140 villages in Bhilwara. The goal for the program is to help as many as 15,000 children, 9,000 of whom are girls.

By the end of the second year of the three-year program, Educate Girls has achieved 87.7 percent of the proposed total enrollment increase, and 50.3 percent of the proposed total learning progress improvement.

A Focus on Outcome

Precisely because of the program’s outcome-oriented nature, service providers on the ground receive more feedback to help the organization work more efficiently. Safeena Husain from Educate Girls told Brookings that DIB and traditional grant programs are very different: while traditional grant programs only send results to donors, DIB has designed a mechanism over mobile dashboards that allows performance data to circle back to the front line. Thus, more effective strategies could be adopted as early as possible.

As this example shows, development impact bonds best serve those programs that depend on productive human behavior for the delivery of results. In contrast to immunization programs where intended results are almost guaranteed given the availability of vaccines, education programs that require attentive human effort may benefit from the development impact bond model instead.

USAID’s Initiative in India

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has also tapped into the benefits offered by this innovative financial model. USAID administrator Mark Green announced the Utkrisht Bond in 2017, which is a development impact bond for health based in rural India. The investor is again UBS Optimus Foundation, with USAID and Merck for Mothers as the outcome funders.

“What’s most exciting to me is that, if this initiative is successful, which we expect it will be, the Government of Rajasthan will scale the approach throughout the State, which will leave a lasting and sustainable legacy for the people of India,” Green wrote.

These kind of positive, impactful and long-lasting benefits demonstrate the life-changing and, indeed, benevolent outcomes that development impact bonds can bring.

– Feng Ye
Photo: Flickr