19 October 2019 LESSONS

Out of Strategy Grant Making

Two women sitting on the ground next to a pot on the fire talking

The New Ventures Fund (NVF), a philanthropic pool of capital for Water.org, aimed to support an expansive portfolio of innovations to address the global water and sanitation crisis directly affecting people and communities


The New Venture Fund was mandated to support a wide portfolio of innovations, situating its interventions at the base of the economic pyramid (BOP), with reference to people who live on less US$1.25-6/day, creating and responding to bottom-up demand for water supply and sanitation (WSS) solutions. The design of NVF allowed Water.org to innovate, pilot and scale new as well as existing solutions. Since 2011, the NVF invested in 81 innovations in 10 countries with a reported leverage of over $73 million to $5.4 million invested in the NVF.


Partner: Water.org

Investment: US$1 million (C&A Foundation) (17% of NVF’s total value US$ 5.9 million that was disbursed from October 2010 to September 2017)

Duration: 2014-2017

Geographic region: Global


The NVF was relevant to priorities of the donors, Water.org, the water supply and sanitation sector and the BOP beneficiaries, in both overlapping and differentiated ways

The NVF was relevant to priorities of the donors, Water.org, the water supply and sanitation sector and the BOP beneficiaries, in both overlapping and differentiated ways

  • The NVF was based on the belief that the donor driven model had been insufficient for addressing the global WSS crisis.
  • The unrestricted approach of the NVF enabled Water.org to mature internally and expand externally. Water.org was able to reinstate its identity as an organisation funding innovative, finance based solutions on WSS priority matters. Externally, the NVF allowed for 1) scale-up the WaterCredit model into new geographies; 2) test, refine and pilot new scalable WSS finance models and; 3) build its credibility as a global actor in the WSS sector
  • The NVF supported relationship building and partnership development with governments, WSPs, national financial institutions and microfinance institutions (MFIs), donors, and to a lesser extent with regional and multilateral banks (e.g. through Global Advocacy)
  • Through the NVF, Water.org was able to clearly reframe the WSS crisis into opportunities for national and sub-national priorities and worked directly with some governments to establish and operationalise WSS national policies. However, it was less relevant in terms of enabling global-level, multi-sectoral WSS partnerships.

The results of the NVF have been mixed with successful outcomes in some areas (piloting and scaling models, country level effectiveness etc.) and fewer outcomes in areas of global advocacy and accountability and transparency

The NVF enabled Water.org to pilot and/or scale successful WSS finance models targeted at the BOP. At the sector level, some of the most successful outcomes of the NVF included: demonstrating the viability of WaterCredit, supporting the inception of the Water Credit Investment Fund (WCIF) that ultimately led to WaterEquity (impact investing fund), Alternative Channels, and Water Credit Advisory Services (WCAS).

WaterCredit, a mechanism that leveraged existing microfinance markets to enhance access of households to WSS, reached more than 12 million people in twelve countries through more than 2.9 million loans, amounting to US$1 billion. More than 90% of borrowers were women, and loan repayment rates were above 99%

As a catalytic and transformative fund, the NVF allowed different countries to pursue innovations that were specific to context and needs. NVF contributions ranged from policy change in India, to entry into Peru, to expansion of partnerships in the Philippines

Two innovation types namely Global Advocacy and Accountability and Transparency had poor outcomes and the evaluation recognized that policy outcomes take longer to achieve than market studies. For example, the use of prepaid water meters was to be explored by bringing in private finance in Haiti and Uganda. This did not emerge as a successful model and was abandoned

While the NVF was not set up as a sustainable fund, it enabled Water.org to scale and sustain WSS-focused initiatives besides supporting internal organisational functions

The NVF supported piloting, scaling and modification of WaterCredit and related projects for WSS financing.

By supporting the expansion to and within geographies, and by introducing new partners to WSS finance, NVF innovations promoted the sustainability of Water.org externally

The NVF also helped support functions within Water.org where the organisational needs were evident. The NVF allowed Water.org to become more sustainable by infusing innovative and necessary initiatives such as a reformed Enabling Partnerships. Further, it contributed to a strengthened Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) function within Water.org. To some extent, NVF in part provided much needed unrestricted core support to strengthen Water.org capacity.

What did we learn?

C&A Foundation

The merits of providing unrestricted support to carefully screened and selected organizations, particularly those engaged in innovation are many. When innovation as a field is done well by the right organization, it can have significant beneficial repercussions and effects.

It is vital that the funding organisation be clear about its priorities and expectations regarding the relationship with the recipient organizations of unrestricted core funding, ensuring that both partners are committed to the same type of relationship. 

Unrestricted core funding gives the opportunity to organisations to learn where to be involved and where not to, acting as a strategic intelligence fund. Further it can support a pre-existing culture of innovation at the organisation (if it exists).

For Partners & Others

Some countries considered for implementation or policy work can have barriers that impede implementation. For example, too many barriers to entry were found in few countries and in others, the policy context was not appropriate. In such cases, the fund was key in allowing for such intelligence to be generated in a timely way, which helped avoid potentially costly failures.

Different levels of support for different innovations are best tailored and matched to the multiple trajectories and timeframes of anticipated impacts, informed by the organisation’s own experience. 

By participating programmatically, offering enabling support and technical assistance, to funded initiatives, the organisation can benefit from being positioned as an innovation incubator.