Only as strong as our weakest link

Annual Review 2020 UBS Optimus Foundation

2020 turned out to be the year we didn’t expect, and it may seem difficult to find the good in living through a pandemic that has uprooted nearly every part of our lives. But we remain hopeful and confident that together we can further limit the spread of the coronavirus and overcome the challenges to achieve the global goals.

Please accept our heartfelt gratitude on behalf of all who will benefit from your generosity.

Warm regards,

Phyllis Costanza

Founder of the UBS Optimus Foundation

Surpassing fundraising targets: 2020 – our strongest year yet

We set a target: to raise USD 100 million. Only months into 2020, we had already exceeded that goal – it goes without saying that our efforts wouldn't be possible without your generous support.


million USD raised


million children reached

157 000

thousand professionals reached


million USD in grants approved*


programs managed


countries we deployed grants to


offices globally


philanthropy experts globally


years of experience

Helping communities during a global pandemic

Locally, nationally and globally

Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic likely changed your life on a daily basis. Though the pandemic has affected everyone worldwide, it hasn’t done so equally – the situation of the most vulnerable people has been severely aggravated, threatening to undo decades of hard-won social progress. But, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we are only as strong as our weakest link. That’s why we were thrilled to see you and so many of your peer philanthropists reach out proactively to offer support and partner with us on an effective long-term response to tackle the pandemic.

You donated USD 17 million to support the UBS Optimus Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund – we matched this amount 100%. That means together, we raised USD 34 million, supporting 48 partners, working in 35 countries. This is by far the most successful fundraising – in such a short time frame – that we've experienced at the Foundation. Thank you!

The money we've received allows our trusted partners to prevent the spread of the virus, detect cases as they emerge, and respond to situations as they unfold.

We've made a great deal of progress since COVID-19 struck

Thanks to your donation…


  • Nearly 60,000 health workers are now trained to adequately respond to the pandemic
  • 175 health facilities have already improved their quality of care
  • Frontline health workers got access to over 13 million units of personal protective equipment (PPE)


  • Over 10 million children now have access to remote learning models
  • Over 13,000 education professionals are now trained to effectively teach their students – even during school closures 


  • More than 7,000 families with children get the  support and resources they need
  • Over 5,500 children living in institutions are safe and protected
  • Over 70,000 individuals vulnerable to human trafficking get the support they need

For USD 10 per person per year, a community health worker can provide quality care to people in rural areas, who otherwise wouldn't have access to care. Or USD 12 can provide a family, struggling to feed itself in the economic lockdown, with a weekly food hamper.

Americares is active globally and has shipped over 48 tons of protective gear, disinfecting wipes and other critically-needed supplies to health facilities in hot spot areas. It also continues to care for patients at its clinics, and refers patients with suspected COVID-19 infections for testing.

One to One Children’s Fund continues its work in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province to reduce under-5 mortality and morbidity rates. In the face of COVID-19, One to One’s team of mentor mothers, community health workers (CHWs) and nurses are supporting communities to stay as safe as possible. One to One also set up a text message triage service for the much wider community and are distributing leaflets in Xhosa, the local language, as widely as possible across the Eastern Cape.

Beijing United Charity Foundation is leveraging its long-standing relationships with NGOs and hospitals in Wuhan to help facilitate the timely procurement, transfer and delivery of quality protective equipment and other essential supplies to fill temporary gaps and prevent transmission of the virus. BUCF is also providing psychosocial support for local children in Wuhan.

The Food Bank Singapore is pioneering an innovative food distribution solution using vending machines that addresses pandemic-heightened food waste and food security issues for migrant workers and low-income families.

The Swiss Red Cross COVID-19 response is focused on providing support to hospital staff by carrying out COVID-19 tests, setting up a testing center in Bern, and providing shopping services for high-risk individuals (over 65 years) in cooperation with Coop at 20 locations in Switzerland.

In support of the Utkrisht Development Impact Bond for maternal and newborn health in Rajasthan, India, Palladium is implementing a telemedicine initiative to address barriers to accessing essential maternal, newborn and child health information and services.

How your support is helping those most affected by COVID-19

The Fund’s focus is on programs addressing challenges in health, education and protection related to the pandemic. Partners range from global emergency response organiza­tions – like Americares, the Beijing United Charity Founda­tion, Médecins sans Frontières and the International Committee of the Red Cross – to local partners focusing on specific issues – like Last Mile Health, Room to Read and the Freedom Fund.

Keeping children learning during school closures

The immediate health needs of battling COVID-19 are immense — but that doesn’t mean other health, economic, and societal needs are standing still; on the contrary, the global pandemic instead magnified these other societal issues, affecting children’s lives in profound ways. For the first time in human history, an entire generation is experiencing a disruption in their education. As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the globe, a majority of countries have announced the temporary closure of schools, impacting more than 91% of students worldwide - approximately 1.6 billion children and young people.1

As the world responds, countries rely on increased government and philanthropic spending and support while at the same time increasing scrutiny on development budgets. Worryingly, education projects risk receiving less funding in the coming years thanks to an increase in spending on COVID-19 relief initiatives. Governments and funders will need to rigorously assess programs to see what works, what doesn't, and why, making sure that funding is being put to work efficiently, effectively and in an accountable manner. Results-based funding meets these needs. The opportunity now exists to apply learnings that have been tested, proven and scaled more widely.

To this end, we work with some of the most innovative education programs, ones pushing the envelope on children’s quality education. A program that particularly pivots to meet the COVID-19 and educational challenges is our Quality Education India Development Impact Bond (QEI-DIB), which focuses on learning outcomes for children from low income families.

What is a DIB? An innovative delivery model

  • Development impact bonds are performance-based investment methods, intended to support development programs in low economy countries.
  • The investor funds the implementation of a program with predetermined outcome targets.
  • An independent evaluator verifies whether results are achieved.
  • If the intervention succeeds in achieving its goals, the outcome payer will pay the investor based on the performance.
  • As an incentive, a portion of the outcome payment may then be passed on to the implementing NGO(s).
What is a DIB? An innovative delivery model

Seeded with capital by the UBS Optimus Foundation, the QEI-DIB supports four result-oriented, leading education non-profit organizations in the Indian states of Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. With around USD 10 million spent over four years, the DIB program aims to reach 200,000 children.

As teachers and students across the globe were forced to shift to a virtual classroom, the education programs participating in the DIB had to adapt the way they previously provided education to maintain academic excellence and rigor throughout 2020. Unlike in traditional grant models, the QEI-DIB allowed the education providers flexibility throughout the project, based on intermediate results, without needing pre-approval from funders. This benefit was particularly helpful in reacting to COVID-19, which required a speedy adoption of new digital technologies and different strategies. 

Supporting education providers in India to improve learning outcomes 

The results so far speak for themselves: Since the launch, the DIB has funded the delivery of teaching enhancement programs to more than 600 schools, reaching over 100,000 students. Building on a very successful first year, the independent evaluation of 20,000 students shows that students in the DIB program surpassed the learning targets in year 2, learning twice as fast as their peers in comparable schools. Considering an average student is at least two years behind in grade appropriate learning, the results show that these programs are helping to close this learning gap.

Using blended finance to leverage philanthropy

We experience a growing amount of people who want to use their wealth to do good. And the existing level of private philanthropic capital – at least USD 1.5 trillion – is expected to rise significantly by 2030. Clients increasingly appreciate that traditional approaches and the resources currently available are insufficient to solve the societal and environmental challenges we face. Coming with that is a growing interest in tackling pressing social issues in a more strategic way.

If you’ve read the above Quality Education India Development Impact Bond example, you see the benefits results-based funding brings to the developing world. What we need now, is funding at scale. And this is what we’re aiming for with the launch of an impact bond fund.

How it works in practice

The concept uses  blended finance – philanthropic and commercial capital – to invest USD 100 million in a portfolio of 15-20 DIBs to improve healthcare, education and livelihoods globally. This joint funding across multiple programs, with pooled outcome funding over the next decade, is cost efficient and diversifies risk. Rather than investing in one impact bond in one area, we’ll invest in a portfolio of impact bonds with validated outcomes for the most vulnerable people across different geographies.

Capital structure

Fund with USD 100

Fund with USD 100 million

Fund with USD 100

20% or 20 million philanthropic capital

Fund with USD 100

80% or 80 million commercial capital

  • The philanthropic capital acts as a catalyst for the entire structure, unlocking that additional 80% of commercial capital that otherwise might not engage because of perceived risk. The philanthropic capital aims to take the first loss risk, protecting the more senior investors.
  • The outcome payers of the fund concept will include entities like the multilateral development banks, donor agencies and governments. Initial pledges come up to 300-500 million US dollars if predetermined results are achieved and independently verified.
  • The funding will invest in projects where the social and financial returns are correlated. For example, the more children that attend school and show learning advances, the larger the outcome payments.
  • Increasing social returns leads to more financial returns – and, importantly, returns are not correlated to the market, an attractive feature for investors like you.

Pooling funds with fellow philanthropists to model, replicate and scale philanthropic solutions

As all eyes are set on pooling funds for COVID-19 relief measures, other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are getting less attention. Yet, it’s critical that we acknowledge the far reaching consequences for the 2030-Agenda, and that we don’t lose sight of what still needs to be done.

In 2020, due to COVID-19…

Approximately 71 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty.

Half of the global workforce experienced a 60% salary decrease.

An increasing amount of mothers and babies died due to malnutrition and disruptions in health and vaccination services. 

More women and children endured domestic violence. 

Up to 70 countries failed to adequately vaccinate their children. 

The global improvements in reducing child labor were reversed for the first time in 20 years.

Our planet showed alarming downward trends in climate (SDG 13) and biodiversity indicators (SDGs 14 and 15).

CO2 levels in the atmosphere are at their highest level in three million years.

More than four million people still die every year from air pollution. 

Partnerships, and the need to work together, are now more critical than ever. Not only to tackle the global pandemic, but also to achieve the SDGs by 2030. One of the key principles of how we operate in philanthropy is grounding our strategy and operations in collective actions. By bringing multiple clients together, we try to solve the issues we’re facing today. And, we’re partnering with outside organizations to achieve the best possible outcomes. 

All of that is why, in 2020, we spent a good amount of time preparing for the future, and developing an offering for philanthropists like you, who think mid- to long term, and not just in disaster mode. The outcome is what we call the UBS Collectives – where we connect philanthropists around strategic aspirations to model, replicate and scale philanthropic solutions. Your philanthropy can be effective on its own, but by pooling funds and expertise with fellow philanthropists and delivering aligned outcomes, you reinforce each other’s efforts, and achieve exponentially more impact.

We look forward to taking our philanthropists on a deep learning experience over three years – in three different areas:

The Transform Collective

supporting vulnerable children in India, and creating a model of child care to keep them out of institutions, the model will be scaled globally.

The Climate Collective

focusing on climate adaptation and mitigation in the Mekong Region (SE Asia)

The Accelerate Collective

social impact investing for health and education for vulnerable children in Africa and Asia

UBS Collectives

Getting leverage for your donation is just one of the benefits of giving collectively. At UBS, we cover the costs of running the collectives, match your funding by 10 percent and we take you through a deep learning experience over three years.

Going green before green goes

Along the years, you have improved millions of children's lives. As those kids grow, we're partnering with you for their planet's future too. By popular demand, we have expanded our focus area in 2020 from children to now also include our environment. And rightly so – recent studies have shown climate receives as little as 2% of philanthropic funding. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need USD 2.4 trillion in the energy system alone, until 2035, to limit the temperature increase to below 1.5 °C.2

But the effort to tackle climate and environmental issues goes beyond transforming energy systems: it takes spending on reforestation, coastal conservation and many other efforts to cut emissions and adjust to rising temperatures. To make sure we maximize your environmental impact with your philanthropy, we, together with experts, conducted an extensive landscape analysis. The outcome is a systematic approach for you to assess where to invest philanthropically, and how to best contribute to accelerate environmental and climate action.

Two ways for you to get involved

To make sure you maximize your environmental impact with your philanthropy, we, together with experts, conducted an extensive landscape analysis. The outcome is a systematic approach for you to assess where to invest philanthropically, and how to best contribute to accelerate environmental and climate action.

Sustainable land use

Sustainable land use

Contribute to land restoration, conservation, food system transitions, climate-resilient agriculture and agroforestry. 

Coastal and marine ecosystems

Coastal and marine ecosystems

Contribute to wetland restoration and conservation, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and reduction in ocean waste as well as pollution.

Relying on our unique network

The UBS Optimus Foundation Network consists of the UBS Optimus Foundation in Switzerland, its branch in Hong Kong and the representative office in China, its sister organizations UBS Optimus Foundation Europe Deutschland, UBS Optimus Foundation UK and UBS Optimus Foundation Singapore, as well as a donation platform in the United States.

We receive funds from UBS, its clients and employees. We give grants to program partners who are helping underprivileged or vulnerable children and youth around the world in the areas of health, education and child protection, as well as funds for emergency response. Additionally, we added environmental and climate philanthropy to our offering.

Our Network is governed through individual Boards in Switzerland, the UK, Singapore and Germany. The Boards are made up of UBS employees and independent external members (except for the German Board, which comprises only UBS employees). Annually, a strategic meeting of representatives from each of these Boards is held in Zurich, Switzerland.

To make sure we have the highest standards of transparency in terms of decision making, and in line with good governance practices, the Network has established a Network Management Committee.