Caroline Ashley

Caroline focuses on how innovative economic models can deliver more inclusive and resilient development.

Caroline has worked on markets, business models and investment approaches that deliver social impact for many years in roles with challenge funds, impact investors, entrepreneurs, corporates, NGOs and policy makers. As Results Director of the DFID Business Innovation Facility, and Sida Innovations Against Poverty programme, she founded the Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business in 2010, then took on hosting it, and acted as Editor of the Hub for 7 years before it transitioned into managed by IBAN.

Most recently Caroline led economic justice programmes at Oxfam GB, before moving to Forum for the Future, to lead global systems change programmes to accelerate our transition to a sustainable future.

Portfolio tracking of inclusive business: dealing with apples, pears and indices

South Asia
20. Jul 2014

Inclusive businesses come in all shapes and sizes. If you're operating one business, you probably know what the key performance indicators are. But if you're running a portfolio of several, how can you compare large and small, start-up and mature? At the least, it's comparing apples and oranges. At worst, it's trying to compare fruit and widgets on the same scale.

Nerdy or not, it feels like Christmas to me when other organisations share their monitoring system. We all face similar challenges, invent different solutions and make different assumptions.

So whether it's very early Christmas, slightly early Eid, or just because you deserve it, I want to share a few nuggets with others that face the challenge of tracking inclusive business progress. Some comes from my own experience over the past four years, designing and running Monitoring and Evaluation on the Business Innovation Facility (pilot) and Innovations Against Poverty, and some from the ANDE metrics Conference, held last month in Washington DC.

First a hidden gem: the M&E system that we used in BIF has been written up and shared, warts and all. Carolin Schramm (M&E Manager) and I have documented what we measured, how we measured it, what worked well and what didn't. It explains how we answered some fundamental questions: are the businesses progressing towards commercial viability? How significant is their actual or likely development impact? How useful was the technical support?

For each big question, we developed several sub-questions. To aggregate the answers in some sort of systematic way, we created an index for each topic: based on several sub-metrics, each business scores high, medium or low on a commercial viability index, development index, satisfaction index, and additionality index. In Innovations Against Poverty, we had a similar approach based on indices, including an innovation index too. The details of the metrics and their weighting were different, in line with programme goals, but the system followed the same principles.

This approach to portfolio tracking was shared at the ANDE Metrics Conference. The conference was a great chance to share approaches between different organisations that support inclusive business, or 'small and growing business' in ANDE terminology. Various highlights, also shared on the Hub include:

It was clear from the conference that most sharing of systems happens only face to face, inconsistencies between our approaches are huge, but some very useful progress is being made. In the BIF report on our M&E system we shared 11 top tips, based on things we would do, or do differently, next time. Enjoy them and let us know if you agree.

Further information

The M&E System of the Business Innovation Facility can be downloaded here