Heather Esper

Best Ideas of 2010: Pushing Metrics Forward

Editor’s Note: This post is one in a series on the Best Ideas of 2010 for the BoP. We asked the NextBillion staff writers and editors to share what they considered to be the year’s most impactful – or potentially impactful – concepts, startups or initiatives that came to fruition in 2010.

In 2010, discussions about metrics, largely with a focus on impact investing, were everywhere.

The metrics related conferences (ANDE’s Metrics and Evaluation Conference in Washington, D.C., Take Action! in Boston, the annual Aspen Network for Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) meeting in Long Island, SoCap in San Francisco, Net Impact’s National Conference in Ann Arbor, Opportunity Collaboration in Mexico, the Impact Investing Conference in London (NB’s recap is here) and the International Impact Investing Summit in New York) and reports (JP Morgan & Rockefeller’s Impact Investing Report , as well as the Center for Global Development’s report, More than Money: Impact Investing and Development ) made for a busy year. Among the many interesting ideas that emerged, the topic I followed most closely from these discussions, and will continue to track closely in 2011, is the development of a set of standard metrics.

Albeit without as much momentum as those related to impact investing, another set of discussions also grew: the need to hear the poor’s voice when evaluating what works and doesn’t work. In early December, ALINe recognized nine organizations that listen and respond to farmers’ voices (the presentation by Richard Ponsford from Keystone Accountability can be viewed here). Additionally, TMS Ruge, co-founder of Project Diaspora, organized Villages in Action in response to the lack of grassroots’ voices at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit, in September. Approximately 600 villagers attended the conference to discuss eradicating hunger, transitioning from subsistence to commercial farming, community health initiatives and education. At the same time, at the William Davidson Institute, we held our second Hearing the Voices of the Poor through Impact Assessment workshop to build capabilities in developing and implementing rigorous, cost-effective processes to understand, measure, and improve local poverty alleviation impacts. It was also great to hear that USAID plans to make details of their work accessible to people in developing countries and the US taxpayers this month. This transparency is an important first step for USAID to increase involvement of those they seek to serve.

Over the course of the year, experts and leaders lifted many of these discussions by pushing for results-based aid:

  • In September, President Barack Obama said: “For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines that we delivered … Let’s move beyond the old, narrow debate over how much money we’re spending, and instead let’s focus on results – whether we’re actually making improvements in people’s lives.”
  • In June, Andrew Mitchell, UK Secretary of State said: “We’re also fundamentally redesigning our aid programs … The focus will be on outputs and outcomes rather than inputs. In these difficult, economic times donors have a double duty, a responsibility to achieve maximum value for money: not just results but results at the lowest possible cost”
  • And just this month, former President George W. Bush wrote: “In all of these efforts, my concern was … results. I was frankly skeptical of some past foreign assistance programs. … (We) needed not only more resources but also to use them differently. So we . . . set clear, ambitious, measurable goals; insisted on accountability. . .”

Nacy Birdsall, founding President of the Center for Global Development, noted that this new focus on results-based aid could be productive for the field, if: third parties are used, the results are clearly related to outcomes, and aid is disbursed ex post as compared to ex ante.

Although many, many more discussions are needed before we can compare the poverty alleviation impacts of all venture strategies, I feel confident that the diverse set of stakeholders engaged in the conversation will help us get there and am excited by the progress the field made in 2010. I am also thrilled by the great coverage NextBillion was able to offer on many of the 2010 metric related topics: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Impact Assessment
impact investing