Market-Based Solutions

As global challenges continued to mount in 2014—and the ambitions of philanthropies, development agencies, and other social actors continued to rise—one thing became exceedingly clear: the resources available to those very actors just isn’t enough to do the job. Given that gap between our goals and our resources, The Rockefeller Foundation worked across a number of initiatives during 2014 to leverage the participation of the private sector in pursuit of our mission.

We talked to Saadia Madsbjerg, The Rockefeller Foundation’s managing director for innovation, and Ashvin Dayal, The Rockefeller Foundation’s associate vice president and managing director, about how the work’s getting done.


Given the size of the “need gap” that we hear so much about, what is there, really, for foundations like Rockefeller to do?

SM: Well, in one, purely monetary sense, not much. The dollar amounts add up very quickly, if you’re looking at the wide range of challenges that our sector exists to address—health, environmental, economic, and on and on. There’s just no amount of philanthropic capital that can now—or ever—make those issues disappear. But, in another way, there’s a lot that we can do—but only if we effectively partner with and channel the energies, expertise, and resources of the private sector. That’s the idea behind our Zero Gap initiative, to uncover new financing vehicles, like our early support to develop the social impact bond—to power social change. Our charge is to make this an obvious proposition for our friends in the private sector, not something cordoned off under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility. When we make corporate attention to our goals a net positive for their bottom lines, that’s when we’ve done our job. The same concept applies for the investor class: there’s an incredible hunger in that community for investments that are both financially savvy and socially impactful. Our work is to make those goals one in the same.


And how does that idea show up not only through our Zero Gap portfolio but across our entire portfolio of work?

AD: These ideas are at the heart of so much of what we do, including, for example, our newly launched Smart Power for Rural Development initiative, which aims to electrify 1,000 rural villages in India to spur economic growth. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say that this work couldn’t exist without the collaboration—and, yes, the resources—of multiple private sector partners. Here’s the thing about Smart Power: what we did was create the model, whereby working with telecom companies with significant energy needs as anchor tenants, we can make it profitable for smaller-scale energy-services companies using alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass to bring reliable, twenty-four hour electricity to households and small businesses in rural areas.

  • Man installing the final module on a solar panel.
    Installing the final module on a solar panel.

We created a new organization—Smart Power India—to bring this all together but it’s the private sector that populates both “ends” of the service we want to provide. On the one hand, we’ve sought out representatives from telecom and other growing sectors with significant energy needs—they’ll serve as the anchor tenants and contractually guaranteed customers for the energy we want to provide to energy-starved rural areas. On the other hand, we’re working to make it profitable for smaller-scale energy service companies (ESCOs) to provide the electricity that those tenants need. Meanwhile, there’s the environmental benefit of having invested in cleaner sources of energy. This is a win-win-win solution for the poor and vulnerable, with all sides of the deal facilitated by private enterprise.

What do we hope to see as the future of this kind of collaboration?

SM: There’s no question that the political winds, in the U.S. and around the world, point toward a growing awareness of issues like income inequality—concerns that we at The Rockefeller Foundation share. Whether it’s through focused initiatives like our work to connect smallholder farmers to more efficient markets to ensure less post-harvest waste, or the more than fifty companies joining the 100 Resilient Cities’ platform to offer cities a set of curated resilience-building tools, we’re continuing to find ways to enlist private enterprise and capital in service of our work to build inclusive economies.

Learn More About Market-Based Solutions

Reports & Publications:

Leveraging Telecom Towers to Address Energy Poverty and Secure Livelihoods | The Rockefeller FoundationThe Power of Impact Investing | Judith Rodin & Margot BrandenburgDe-Centralized Electricity in Africa and Southeast Asia | AccenturePeterborough Social Impact Bond Reduces Reoffending by 8.4%; Investors on Course for Payment in 2016 | Social Finance Limited