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How to make grants a better match for private sector development

Cecile Fruman's picture



From the Yemen Enterprise Reviltalization and Employment Pilot Project.

In December 2016, the 18th  replenishment of the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, put private sector development squarely at the heart of our organization’s commitment to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. In addition, the Internal Finance Corporation’s 3.0 strategy placed new emphasis on creating and catalyzing markets and scaled up the role of advisory services in providing firm-level support.

This new focus makes it even more important to answer the following question: Do we have sufficient evidence about the efficiency and effectiveness of the tools used by the World Bank Group to help firms grow in our client countries?

Building on a broad evaluation of the Bank Group’s support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), published in 2014, a recent report by the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, supported by the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program, reviews the experience to date of supporting SMEs through matching grant schemes. The report looks at the how and why of an instrument that has been used in more than 100 Bank Group projects since the 1990s.

Matching grants are short-term, temporary subsidies, provided to the private sector on a cost-sharing basis (typically 50 percent). The grants generally aim at building firms’ capacity and knowledge through the procurement of business development services (BDS), which include a wide variety of non-financial services such as employee and management training; consultancy and advisory; marketing and information services; and technology development and diffusion. For example, a matching grant initiative in Uganda targets businesses in priority sectors such as tourism, agribusiness and fisheries with the goal of diversifying their products and increasing exports. A similar facility in Afghanistan operates in four cities – Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad and Herat – and helps SMEs and business associations to improve product quality and processing technologies, and to gain market knowledge in order to expand their presence in domestic and international markets.

The economic rationale for subsidies to private firms is usually a perceived underinvestment in BDS. This could be due to market failures preventing a profitable investment in such services (e.g., lack of financing for intangible activities, insufficient awareness of the potential benefits or perceived high risk), or to positive externalities from an otherwise unprofitable private investment (e.g., knowledge spillovers). If these conditions are not present, however, matching grants could create distortions in resource allocation, could have limited additionality and spillovers, or could have non-durable impacts if they fail to address the underlying market failure.

The Trade & Competitiveness report reviewed virtually all matching grant projects financed by the Bank Group over the last two decades. Most of these have focused on SME development while some have also supported rural development. Over half of the reviewed projects are in Africa, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean. The average size of matching grant schemes is $11.5 million, with grants for agriculture projects typically being significantly larger than for SME development. The average number of beneficiaries per project is 450 and the average maximum cumulative funding going to a single beneficiary is $112,000, although this amount is much lower in many projects.

In terms of how, the report examines a number of common variables of matching grant projects, such as type of implementing agency and eligibility criteria. A key conclusion is that there appears to be no obvious correlation between the design features of matching grants and either positive or negative outcomes. Rather, matching grants need to be tailored to local circumstances and capacities.

The report does find that personalized technical assistance to beneficiary firms can increase the odds of success. In addition, contrary to perceptions, public implementing agencies generally outperform private consulting firms. Public agencies do particularly well in lower income countries where procuring large international contracts can be difficult and where the agencies know the local context. Whether public or private, strengthening of local capacities, broad stakeholder engagement, and transparent communication increase the chances that a matching grant will achieve its goals.

In terms of why, the report also examines how projects define what constitutes a successful outcome.  About three quarters of the reviewed projects received a positive outcome rating. However, the definition of success varied widely, and rarely reflected measures of broad and sustainable economic benefit. Projects should articulate a sound economic rationale identifying a specific market failure. Otherwise, the benefits of a grant may not extend beyond the recipient firm or be sustainable in the long term.

For this reason, the report recommends that, when considering the use of matching grants, development practitioners identify a clear economic rationale, consider alternative instruments, carry out an economic analysis, assess the potential for additionality and spillovers, and establish a realistic exit strategy that would leave sustainable benefits. A strong monitoring and evaluation system is an equally important requirement and an essential tool for real-time assessment of impact, potential course corrections and learning. Strengthening these elements could help development practitioners and their clients maximize the benefits of this potentially powerful tool for private sector development and competitiveness.

To gain access to the full report, click here.


 

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