In the broader context of impact investing, Program-Related Investments (PRIs) enable foundations to make investments that generate both financial return and social impact. Although PRIs have existed for more than 40 years, they are underutilized as a means of achieving development outcomes at scale. After decades of declining aid resources, there is a growing consensus among funders, philanthropists and the development community that PRIs hold great potential to significantly augment and expand the funding available to achieve more and better development outcomes for the world’s poor and vulnerable populations.
Recognizing that PRIs are a powerful tool to complement grantmaking in reaching program goals, The Rockefeller Foundation formally launched its PRI portfolio in the 1990s. Today the $25 million portfolio contains international and domestic investments in the form of loans, equity investments and guarantees. Through this growing portfolio, the Foundation enables investees to support poor and vulnerable people – by improving asset ownership, expanding access to services and creating or preserving jobs.
Recognizing the need to develop an evidence base of what does and does not work in PRIs, and as part of the Foundation’s commitment to learning and accountability, the Foundation’s Evaluation Office in collaboration with the Foundation’s PRI Team asked Arabella Advisors to evaluate the relevance, effectiveness and impact of the Foundation’s PRI Portfolio. This independent evaluation’s results draw on extensive research, field visits to investees in Asia, Africa and the US, and in-depth interviews
with experts and peer investors that have provided valuable insights, observations and recommendations aimed at strengthening the Foundation’s use of PRIs to achieve social impact.
The Foundation has learned a great deal from this evaluation. While it has been gratifying to see evidence of the benefits of many of the individual PRIs, it is sobering to see the impact limitations of a PRI portfolio that operates without an overarching strategy.