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Podcast Episode 12: Ronald Abraham Enabling Impact Evaluation & Data Analytics for Social Impact

Ronald Abraham “Worked on Annual Status of Education Report, the first of its kind learning outcome survey in India and probably the world. “

This publication elaborates on the podcast with Ronald Abraham. In recent years, impact evaluation has played a pivotal role in the development sector. Evidence-based projects and interventions are exponential to complement an increase in accountability, transparency, and structured solutions to complex problems within the social sector. The rise of awareness within the civic society followed by an increase in activism in promoting private capital by the United Nations and other supranational and multilateral organizations is spearheading imbibing the best business and social practices within the international development sector. Today, projects in the social sector are outcome-driven intertwined with well-connected interventions to link metrics and key performance indicators to the outcome. In this podcast, I (Nishant Malhotra) interview Ronald Abraham, the founding partner and India Director of IDinsight. We have a deep dive conversation on the social and development sector focusing on impact evaluation, recent social innovation within this space, various data analysis methodologies, including machine learning, development impact bonds, and randomized controlled trials. The podcast’s objective is to understand the innovation enabling social change and impact and understand from Ronald the nuances of makings of a successful career within the data-driven development ecosystem. The conversation will update the audience on the best sustainable development practices driving all actors within the international development sector. Ronald has led several projects, including the State of Aadhar Initiative, learning partnerships with Governments of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, and education projects with STiR, Akanksha, and Going to School. Previously, Ronald worked at Pratham on the Annual Status of Education Report (it’s the largest citizen led survey in India) and led their state-wide learning program with the Government of Punjab. He holds a BA (Honors) from St. Stephen’s college, Delhi University and a Master of Public Administration in International Development from Harvard Kennedy School.

IDinsight is a global advisory, data analytics, and research organization that uses data and evidence to help leaders maximize their social impact. Its collaborations deploy an extensive analytical toolkit, including machine learning and randomized evaluations, to help clients design better policies, rigorously test what works, and use evidence to implement effectively at scale. IDinsight works with multiple actors from the social and business sectors and works in all major sectors, significantly health, education, agriculture, governance, digital ID, financial access, and sanitation. They have offices in Dakar, Lusaka, Manila, Nairobi, New Delhi, and San Francisco. IDinsight worked as an impact evaluator for the first Development Impact Bond implemented globally.

# Introduction to Impact Bonds

Development Impact Bonds are impact bonds that are very similar to Social Impact Bonds (SIB) except that the outcome payer is a third-party non-government entity, for example, a donor. Impact bonds are pay for successful outcome-driven quasi derivative instruments used to attract private capital for social good through public-private partnerships. Social Finance credited with pioneering this payment by results instrument when in 2010, they implemented one service intervention Peterborough SIB. Ministry of Justice, supported by Big Lottery, was the outcome payer to the investors. The purpose of the collaborative project was to reduce reoffending in Peterborough. Today there are more than 120 impact bonds in 24 countries with ~$391.4 million mobilized based on the Social Finance database and 194 contracted bonds with $441 million of capital mobilized based on the Brookings report. Although Social Impact Bonds are predominantly contracted in developed countries, there are instances wherein they have been employed in developing countries. They implemented collaborative partnerships across multiple actors, including investors, outcome payers, intermediaries, service providers, and impact evaluators backed by technical assistance providers. Development Impact Bonds are primarily implemented in medium to low-income countries, with 11 of them in existence. India has the highest number of these bonds, with two in the education sector and one in the healthcare sector. Educate Girls and the ongoing largest development impact bond Quality Education India and India (Rajasthan) Maternal and Newborn Health DIB in the healthcare sector. Educate Girls project was successfully implemented, kickstarting deployment of development impact bonds to solve problems affecting underserved communities within the society. (Above Source: The middle Road). The discussion starts with Ronald’s work in the social sector in India. He worked at Pratham early in his career as a researcher as part of the national coordination team for the Annual Status of Education Report for policy analysis and as an implementer of the Learning Excellence Program called Parrho Punjab. Parrho Punjab spanned 13,000 schools and 1.3 million children in Punjab in India, generating considerable social change and impact within the educational sector. The program was designed to increase the knowledge level of children from class 1 to 5th

Listen to the podcast here.


Impact Bonds | Online Courses — Stay tuned for a course on Impact Bonds 

Ronald’s credits experience at Pratham as a career-defining experience prompted him to continue and structure a career within the development sector. With childlike enthusiasm, he recounts his experience of traveling to villages across India on projects serving less privileged sections of the society, meeting people from all walks of life, and interacting with multiple actors who enable social change and impact within the social ecosystem. Annual Status of Education Report, the first learning outcome survey in India, simplifies and provides a clear understanding of the status of numeracy and literacy in every single district in India every year. The report shares a startling insight on how India performed across various parameters in promoting education. While India scored well in setting up and accessing schools for children, it did not do well in creating an ecosystem for children to either attend or learn at these schools. This evidence-based exercise laid down an empirical understanding of the nuances of policy analysis, setting the plan, and research going forward for his entrepreneurship work. This specific implementation program laid down the foundation of work at IDinsight, which deals with the intersection of research and evidence-based work customized for various implementers and practitioners within the impact sector.

“Working with governments is a strong opportunity to create deep impact” Ronald Abraham

# Pandemic Response Initiative Podcast with Ronald Abraham 

In the podcast Ronald Abraham talks about collaboration and aligning the interests of different stakeholders for a common goal of utmost importance. We discuss Theory of Change with a focus on program evaluation with an example of mid-day meals to understand linkages of outcome with the objective of interventions. I understand from Ronald, about IDinsight’s Pandemic Response Initiative (PRI)a multifaceted and collaborative partnership with Global Health Group at the University of California, San Francisco, and Evidence Action. Under this pandemic initiative, IDinsight is using data analytics for developing a tool to assist low and medium countries to prioritize the deployment of testing kits in a resource constraint environment. The discussion emphasizes the philosophy behind building the tool, its stated purpose and key learnings from COVID-19 impact in Delhi, India among others.  The tool will soon be freely available in India.

Major policy decisions are not backed by data and evidence-based inputs. The evidence-based inputs are much more broad-based level both qualitative and quantitative methods. An important Insight is the demand side is not keeping pace with the supply side of data and evidence community which includes research institutions, academicians, consulting & advisory organizations, data analytics companies, selected government organizations etc.


# Impact Evaluation

This part of the conversation is a deep dive into machine learning and randomized evaluation tools used in various projects significantly in the Educate Girls project. In the Educate Girls Development Impact Bond (EG DIB) project, IDinsight evaluated a sample of ~12,000 students across 332 schools in 282 villages. As part of the randomized control trial evaluation, half of the villages were in the control group and a half in the intervention group. Educate Girls, a nonprofit, worked on a mandate to improve both school enrolment and learning outcomes of school girls in Rajasthan. As a service provider, Educate Girls used the expertise of IDinsight to both increase the effectiveness and scale-up the project.

Listen to the podcast on Apple Podcast here

IDinsight used data learning and statistical algorithms to predict which villages to target out of school girls. Based on the observation that 40 percent of out-of-school girls reside in 5 percent of the villages in the northern part of India, IDinsight used machine learning statistical tools to predict the villages. In doing so, it increased the effectiveness of the project by 60 percent for the same amount of investment. The use of data analysis is increasingly being deployed within the international development sector and Ronald outlines important steps involved within this iterative process. IDinsight talks about the importance of randomized control trials to understand the casual linkages between the interventions and outcomes. The discussion revolves around impact evaluation and focusses on selected statistical concepts including omitted variable bias, a concept in regression analysis. Towards the end of the podcast, Ronald shares thoughts on career guidance for people who are interested in making a career within the social and development sector. Our discussion ends with Ronald narrating an event wherein a marginalized women’s story touches a chord within him during a sampling event.

Listen to the podcast with Ronald Abraham.


     If a face can launch a thousand ships, poignant stories can touch a million if not millions of hearts.



Note: The name of iTunes has been revised to Apple Podcast. 

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