Expert Insight
National Disasters Management Institute | Photo © Dominic Chavez/World Bank
Published on July 13, 2020

Diverse Innovation Portfolio for SDGs – Part 2: Managing and Learning


In the previous post in this series, I outlined the design and development the first programme portfolio of the innovative Joint SDG Fund that invested $USD 70 million in 35 countries to accelerate of the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Joint Programmes (JPs) in this portfolio involve 615 partners addressing 11 SDGs through 109 policy innovation and by leverage broader, “eco-system” financing and capacities for systemic impact. Issues addressed in this post are: a) How does one manage such a diverse portfolio efficiently and effectively?; and How to do it in a way that provides for both local impact and global relevance?

 

Efficiency and Effectiveness

It is possible to be efficient but not effective, and it is possible to be effective but not efficient. However, the combination of the two is what the management of this portfolio seeks in order to create synergies. This led to a ‘dynamic balance’ between high degree of flexibility and high degree of accountability of the JPs. On the efficiency side, the implementation of JPs is fully devolved to the local level. Besides certain generic requirements for ensuring requisite quality, JP management arrangements, decision-making, planning and ‘course-correction’ are developed, made operational and applied by local local stakeholders. JP operations are based on procedures of implementing partners and coordinated locally. It will suffice to mention that any change of the work plan that implies less than 25% of the change of the overall budget does not require portfolio approval. The only exception to this ‘non-prescriptive’ approach are strategic changes that involve the whole portfolio (e.g. re-purposing, as explained here).

Marginal transaction cost of management of the portfolio is close to zero: after the initial investment into JP development, the involvement of portfolio manager is limited to light monitoring and annual reporting. The role of the portfolio manager is limited to: developing generic templates and procedures, offering ‘hot-line’ and methodological support, and facilitating aggregation of results. JPs are required to implement the plans (and adjust them whenever needed) towards expected results, while maintaining continued commitment of the partners, leveraging existing and new opportunities, and steering the role of the JP collective, catalytic impact of the broader ‘eco-system’.

 

Local impact and global relevance

The approach differentiates between local/country level and global/portfolio level. As mentioned, operations are devolved to the local level and there is only ‘light’ touch from the portfolio manager. Nevertheless, the linkage between local and global level exist when there is an ‘added-value’ for both JPs and the portfolio.

The first main linkage is portfolio learning and sharing. Each JPs has its own learning and sharing plan which is focused on what happens within the JP team, between the JP team and other stakeholders, and in local ‘eco-system’. In contrast, the portfolio manager seeks to facilitate engagements between countries. Given the diversity of the portfolio, learning and sharing does not include all issues and all countries simultaneously. Such a task, even if feasible, would require major investment and it might even undermine efficiency (and possibly also the effectiveness) previously described. JPs are not meant to ‘serve’ the portfolio as their main business is to engage locally to co-create and co-deliver local results. Instead, portfolio learning and sharing prioritizes specific innovations that have the potential to be relevant across country contexts and/or facilitate additional global impact.

Portfolio learning and sharing initiatives ‘start small’ (e.g. informal learning meet-up) and then evolve depending on interest, commitment and capacity of learning peers from the country level. Each is considered experimentation and does not seek ‘guaranteed’ results - with learning understood as an emergent process. These initiatives scale only after nurturing the ‘seeds’ within a narrower learning community and after shared insights sufficiently mature. An adjunct role of the portfolio manager is to explore the contribution of such learning for design of future investments, promotion of ‘thought-leadership’, and introducing feedback loop to original portfolio management design.

The second and third main linkages are strategic communications and partnerships development. Both of those also operate at local and at global level: each JP has a partnership strategy and a plan for strategic communications, but there is also a global extension. The portfolio level is involved when it seems relevant to bring together partnership networks across countries, regions and globally. Another opportunity is to facilitate collaboration between JPs that involve the same (e.g. the World Bank) or similar partners (e.g. innovation labs). Partnerships that are prioritized are often focused on regional and global initiatives for specific vulnerable groups, involvement of research centers and academic, or the broader work of the UN system on innovation. Regarding strategic communications the main role of the portfolio is to ensure minimum requirements for shared visual identity across JPs, and advisory and methodological guidance – as well as to amplify local messaging and communications content in global fora and social media. It is a task worth investing into: each JP has dedicated communication person, and the Joint SDG Fund benefits from a full-time Communication Specialist.

Final linkage between portfolio and JP level is aggregation of data and results. This is done in ‘lightly’ throughout the implementation, and substantively on annual basis. JPs have their own local reporting system, while the portfolio reporting is limited to requirements considered most strategic and relevance for across the countries. Global data and reporting aims to present the combined impact of portfolio investment, ensure global accountability towards its investors, and informs assessments of portfolio contribution to global progress on the SDGs and ‘leaving no one behind’.

 

Where next?

The portfolio addresses vulnerabilities through integrated and innovative social protection in diverse local contexts. Many of those vulnerabilities represent long-standing, complex, systemic, ‘wicked’ social issues.  Some countries address the same vulnerable group through a multidimensional approach, while others focus on interactions of vulnerabilities of different groups within same local/national community.

 

Read more: Diverse Innovation Portfolio for SDGs - Part 1: Design and Development