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GDI’s Efforts to Localize Development

Over the last year, we’ve explored how GDI can help accelerate the field to localize development, unpacking the supply and demand barriers and outlining a series of interventions. We’re excited about the prospects of the efforts we are launching, most notably and immediately our Shared Services platform for domestically registered organizations.

At the same time, we realized that we needed to do some introspection and consider how we ‘walk the talk’ around localization. We’ve started to dig into three areas that we thought we could shift: our governance, organizational structure and team composition; our portfolio of initiatives; and, how we do our work. We are sharing our own assessment in a candid and transparent representation of where we are right now and where we need to go further. Our hope is both to hold ourselves accountable and to share our own journey in order to learn from others.

Shifting Our Governance, Organizational Structure and Team Composition

GDI started in Washington, DC in 2013. Since then, we have pursued a deliberate expansion to other regions, with regional hubs in East Africa (Kenya), East Asia (Hong Kong), and recently, South Asia (India). We have about half of our staff in the global south, and most of these team members are from the countries and regions in which we work.

Yet, our leadership team is still skewed to the global north and two of our offices are led by expats. We are working toward more local leadership with each office having a majority of leaders from the country or region. To that end, we’ve hired senior leaders in East Africa and India in the last few months and aim to continue to expand these local leadership teams.

From a governance perspective, GDI is currently set up as regional offices bound together under a shared mission and a Master Licensing Agreement held by GDI US, as the first office established. As our leadership and team goes global, so too will our governance structure.  We have started a process to shift GDI to a global affiliate structure under a legal association in Switzerland, called a Swiss Verein. In practice, it will mean that all of GDI’s regional entities will be on the same footing, bound together equally under a global structure and not under a global north organization.

Shifting our Portfolio of Initiatives

GDI sees its initiatives at three levels: (i) global public goods; (ii) global networks with local implementation; and (iii) grassroots national champions.  

GDI started out mostly focused on global public good efforts. These efforts are focused on building the global infrastructure or shifting global policies and financial flows to address big, global challenges. For example, GDI has launched Convergence, a global platform for blended finance transactions and Emergent, a global accelerator and trading platform for forest protection credits. We believe these efforts are critical to make big shifts on capital flows or global challenges, such as climate change.  

Global networks with local implementation are efforts that aim to build local coalitions for implementation, but also to leverage a global platform for learning, financing and otherwise. For example, GDI has launched the Global Opportunity Youth Network, a youth employment, place-based program in cities around the world and Aceli Africa, a financial market incentive for banks to lend to agri-SMEs in countries throughout East Africa. 

Finally, grassroots national champions are efforts that start in one country, often led by a local entrepreneur, who aim to scale nationally – and maybe eventually replicate in other countries. For example, Jan Sahas, with GDI as its strategic partner, has launched the Migrants Resilience Collaborative(MRC), which has delivered social security benefits to 2.5m migrants since its inception in 2020, and aims to reach 10m in the next 3 years; or, our support to Black Homes Matter in Detroit, US to provide financial and dignity reparations to people who unfairly lost their homes.

As the chart below outlines, since 2018 when we launched GDI East Asia and GDI East Africa, we have shifted our work from more global public good focused, to work with increased local ownership and implementation. With our localization push and additional strategic investments, we expect this trend to continue.

Both our global networks with local implementation and our grassroots national champions efforts aim to find, empower and support local entrepreneurs of domestically registered organizations to dramatically scale and elevate their work.  We continue to explore what we can do to help support these local entrepreneurs, through peer learning or leadership programs.

Shifting How We Do Our Work

Localization is a core principle in the evolution of our incubation model, especially in how we build a pipeline of initiatives and identify talent.

In GDI’s early years, our pipeline drew on the networks of the founding leadership, which skewed toward elite universities and global north power centers. We cultivated sourcing partnerships with mostly American think tanks, academic institutions, and donors. Over the last few years, we have sought to localize our pipeline in two ways. We’re hiring new portfolio directors who have built careers in the global south. Our newest hires – Suvranil Majumdar in India and Kim Matu in Kenya – will lead global portfolios, while also tapping their local networks to identify global south entrepreneurs. Secondly, we are cultivating local sourcing partners where we have regional offices. In Hong Kong, we work with one of the largest philanthropic foundations to develop local grant-making strategies (in the billions of HKD), and design programs aiming to tackle poverty alleviation and education to employment. In Kenya, we have developed partnerships with the government at the national and county levels. That partnership has led to the Kenya Social and Economic Inclusion effort with the government to reduce poverty in selected counties.

In most of our initiatives during our early days, the leadership of our initiatives reflected the same biases as our pipeline: mostly global north entrepreneurs seeking to affect the global south. In the last few years we have begun to shift this in two ways. Our initiative leaders in the global south are increasingly based in and from the countries they’re serving. For example, the leadership team and Steering Council of MRC are all Indian. And, while Aceli Africa’s founding CEO is an American based in Boston, the rest of the leadership team is African and based in East Africa. Secondly, we’re working with American entrepreneurs focused on American opportunities. Black Homes Matter is a good example. The founding ED is a Detroit born-and-raised lawyer who has spent her career in local development efforts. We have assembled a board of directors that includes affected citizens (who lost their homes) and EDs of community-based organizations.

Next Steps

We recognize that localizing our pipeline and talent will take further investment. As part of that effort, we provide some of our own unrestricted funding to identify and support local (non-north) founders, both to incubate their initiatives and to provide leadership support.

As we continue our efforts, we ask for your help to connect us to great ideas, entrepreneurs, or potential referral partners. We invite you to join us in considering how each of us can individually, and in partnership, localize development.