Billionaire Donors Team Up for Global Impact Fund

(Bloomberg) -- When Olivia Leland was running the Giving Pledge, she learned a few things about billionaires with good intentions. They like to learn from one another. They’re also interested in lifting up the world’s poorest people but find it hard to identify the right opportunities.

Billionaire Donors Team Up for Global Impact Fund

For her next act, Leland started a venture -- called Co-Impact -- designed for just such funders. It pools donors’ money and brings them into the decision-making to support proven solutions in Africa, South Asia and South America.

The year-old fund is making its first $80 million in grants and has 25 backers, including Bill and Melinda Gates, Jeff Skoll and Rohini and Nandan Nilekani. Bill Ackman’s foundation provided seed funding for Co-Impact, as did Skoll’s.

Five projects will receive monetary and technical support over the next five years with the potential to reach 9 million people, said Leland, a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation, which helps run the program. “The core of what we’re doing is answering what role philanthropy can play in driving large-scale impact.”

Last Mile Health will work with Liberia’s health ministry to bring primary health services to a projected 1.2 million rural people. Another grant will help governments in Latin America and India introduce a program of cash assistance and training developed in Bangladesh and active in 43 countries on four continents.

‘Certain Speed’

And a program developed by nonprofit Pratham that helped boost the reading and math proficiency of children in India will be brought to Africa with an aim of reaching 3 million students. It will start with pilot programs in Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

“For the last 15 years, we’ve worked at how you can get kids to pick up the skills, and how to do it at very low cost and at a certain speed,” said Pratham Chief Executive Officer Rukmini Banerji. “Because by the time you are 8 or 9, you’ve already spent three to four years in school, you’re kind of wasting time.”

The move to Africa will require adjustments including greater reliance on non-government aid and the methods of instruction. In India, much of the work is done in the regional language, which children have learned to speak but not read.

“In Africa, the language of instruction in school may be French or Portuguese, and the language the kids speak at home could be a whole other thing,” Banerji said.

Extreme Poverty

The Rockefeller Foundation, the Gateses and Skoll have committed $25 million to $50 million over 10 years, allowing them to participate in site visits and convene for “deep dives” in places like Davos, Switzerland, and Palo Alto, California. While the foundation has long worked in areas of extreme poverty, engaging philanthropists as partners is relatively new and partly a response to the accumulation of wealth and the small percentage that goes to international issues.

“We know that investing in the lives of the poorest families and children around the world is probably the highest return on investment we can make,” Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah said. “We’ve designed a project where as philanthropists, we’re standing on each others’ shoulders to scale the hardest and highest walls in philanthropy.”

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