During the last three years, the World Bank’s Development Marketplace program (call it DM 2.0) has been testing a new approach in nine of India’s low-income states, representing a population of more than 380 million of the world’s poorest. Based on the most difficult development challenges identified by governments and country teams, the new DM leverages the joint resources of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank (IBRD) to surface innovations in service delivery by non-state actors. The goal is to identify scalable models that improve basic services to the poor in Bihar, Odisham and Rajasthan (2011), Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh (2013), and now in Assam, Meghalaya, and Mizoram (2014).

In many states, government providers of basic services lack the capacity to deliver high-quality, timely and cost-effective services to last-mile clients. A purposive DM competition in 2013 surfaced a range of development solutions with potential to adapt to local environments and scale up in low-income states. In these areas, inclusive businesses and not-for-profit non-state enterprises complement the state’s capacity to reach the most vulnerable people effectively and efficiently.

Crowdsourcing Innovations in Delivery

Early results are encouraging. What we’re seeing in India are a range of models that show promise for adaptation in similar environments (i.e. Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of South Asia). We’re also finding competitions are a very efficient way to crowdsource innovations around intractable development challenges. Although several of the delivery innovations are small, many lend themselves to expansion through organic growth, replication, or adaptation, and they can benefit from the “spotlight and megaphone” of the World Banks’s finance, knowledge, and convening power to scale up.

Understanding and Adapting What Works

In recent years, the DM has shifted from exclusively supporting individual social enterprises to focusing on enabling ecosystems for non-state providers of basic services. This requires building an evidence base of what models work under what conditions, and what specific constraints inhibit the growth of successful innovations in a given geography and across sectors. This requires the Bank and IFC to be more deliberate in understanding the role of multiple actors in basic service delivery, including government, the private sector, and civil society. Attention must also be paid to implementation challenges and to building staff, client, and partner capacity to adapt innovations to a particular local context. This presents the opportunity for the Bank group to build coalitions with like-minded partners across problem areas to identify approaches that work and scale.

In the case of Waterlife, a social enterprise providing clean water to base-of-the-pyramid (BoP) clients, support from the 2013 DM translated into expanding “water ATMS” into low-income states at a price point affordable to poor consumers and with significant health impacts. The state government of Jharkhand is now considering how to replicate and scale up this low-cost water delivery model working through a World Bank loan. Other models include i-Merit, which is training rural women with IT skills and has in many cases nearly tripled their incomes, and Alternative for India Development (AID), which provides financial services like savings, insurance, and credit to poor women in urban slums and remote areas.

Creating Pathways to Scale

India and the new DM model provide rich opportunities to identity, study, and adapt a variety of last mile delivery innovations addressing our biggest development challenges. In working with a variety of partners—public and private—and understanding the conditions that allow successful models to adapt and grow, there is an opportunity to scale-up and support innovations that work.

Social innovations like microfinance, mobile payments, and conditional cash transfers have positively impacted the lives of millions of people globally. What would it take to identify innovations like these faster, more often, and with the full might of public and private partners? That is the challenge before us.

This post originally appeared on the World Bank’s Voices blog.

About the author

Aleem Walji

Aleem Walji

Aleem is Chief Innovation Advisor within the Leadership, Learning, and Innovation Vice Presidency at the World Bank Group. He was the first CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation in Syria, managing a portfolio of health, education, rural development, water management, and microfinance programs, and he was Head of Global Development Initiatives at Google.org.

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  • This seems like a fantastic project. What are the stats though, as to what the price of this service would be? Is there a drastic increase of interest? A decreased? Once these services are handed out, how are they repaid?

  • This is a marvelous article. The point brought across is that the World Bank and other companies should be funding non-state actors to help bring essential needs to the world’s poorest people.

  • Looking at the poor as producers and consumers, I believe is crucial to helping them out of poverty. Training women as entrepreneurs, who can sell goods and items, while also developing a skill set, helps foster autonomy among women in oppressive patriarchal communities. Women are key to this last mile effort, and bridging the gap between urban locations, and what can be dismissed as inaccessible rural areas. In Project Shakti, women were instrumental in developing a distribution channel that previously had not existed. I appreciate what the article said about measuring impact. The faster we are able to assemble and gather feedback, and convert that into useful data, the quicker we can make improvements to systems already in place.

  • Being able to quickly gather and interpret feedback is critical in any business, and has this article point out, critical for social businesses. Being able to get consumer feedback can not only better the product, but keep the company from spending unneeded money.

  • I think that it is a great idea as well!! We need more women innovators. I actually believe that there are plenty of female innovators out there, but they just don’t get the credit they deserve.