Measurement and performance – there’s an app for that

I recently returned from Bhilwara, in Rajasthan, India. I was there to see how the innovative Educate Girls (EG) Development Impact Bond (DIB) financing model has changed the way impact is delivered. Whilst it is still early days, I was delighted to see that not only are girls enrolling in bigger numbers and boys and girls are learning more, but also that the DIB framework is enhancing Educate Girls’ ability to do that.

By John Fairhurst, Executive Director of Programs, UBS Optimus Foundation

A priority for me – alongside meeting the key people who work so closely with girls, their families and communities – was to gather thoughts and learnings from our current DIB model. This enables me and my team to consider how we can make it a better investment concept to attract a new form of investor to development, as well as encouraging implementers to focus on improving performance.

What stands out from the visit is the immense energy of the Team Balika volunteers to encourage girls enrolment and improve the learning levels. The finance instrument is a tool with great potential to unlock this energy for change.

Being in Bhilwara made it clear to me that since villages and communities are diverse in their culture, economic situation and needs, a fixed “one-size fits all” approach is unlikely to create change at scale. That is why this change requires a financial tool that incentivises outcomes and encourages flexibility in order refine and improve the delivery model to ensure success.

The importance of performance

One of the main points of contention with impact investments lies in the requirement to demonstrate measureable impact. Many hold that establishing these metrics is too subjective and instead just creates additional work that prevents implementers from focusing on the social change they’re trying to bring about. What’s clear from this DIB is how powerful that measurement focus can be when the DIB approach pushes measurement data to become performance analysis.

I saw performance tracking in action, thanks to the help of technology. Educate Girls teamed up with Mumbai-based Lionbridge Technologies to develop an app that helps field staff record, and have access to, real-time data on school enrolment and learning outcomes.

Armed with smartphones provided by Educate Girls, field officers in seven program districts are using the app to record and access real-time data. This data provides EG with the information necessary to affect prompt course correction where necessary and best allocate resources to the areas most in need.

Critical to this course correction is the fact that the DIB model supports a flexible approach to utilising resources – ensuring Educate Girls can act in the best interest of the girls they’re aiming to empower. In one instance, this has meant creating a revised curriculum for Maths that unblocked a bottleneck in learning that was identified in monitoring performance results. As a result children have progressed faster and further in their learning.

According to Dheeraj Singh, an EG Impact Officer in Bhilwara, “The data collection is now easy, prompt and accurate. It has helped immensely in tracking attendance and movement of the staff. The number of visits and the time spent during the visit can also be validated easily. Since all villages are geo-tagged, it is easy to find the location of the remote villages.”

The app has opened new conversations in these remote villages by encouraging information sharing in a uniform way, comparable across different areas. By implementing a standard measurement practice, EG’s field officers not only reduce the amount of time spent on creating reports, but the real-time availability means they can share data, information, reports, and discuss how they can best improve learning in the schools.

Looking ahead

The gender gap in education is a challenging problem and delivering long-term, sustainable impact is not easy – but I was hugely encouraged by the work of Educate Girls – and by seeing first-hand the improvements and developments the DIB has enabled.

The field staff and Team Balika volunteers were inspiring, the quality of their work and commitment leaves you with no doubt that the financial capital has unlocked a local asset of immense value. This, combined with the flexible and smart implementation, gives you great hope that the gender gap in education can be a thing of the past for many girls in Bhilwara.