SIM TIG Week: Developmental evaluation provides outcomes in real-time by Olivia Rebanal

My name is Olivia M. Rebanal, Director of Inclusive Food Systems at Capital Impact Partners, a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) with a 35-year history of expanding equity and justice in underinvested communities.

As a CDFI, our mission is to create communities of opportunity across the country through mission-driven lending, incubating social impact programs, impact investing, and policy reform. Many organizations working in low-income communities measure their efforts in loan sizes and buildings constructed, but as a mission-driven organization, we feel that our success is tied to our ability to create true social impact in our communities.

CDFIs finance a range of healthy food projects, from production and distribution to retail outlets, like grocery stores, farmers markets, bodegas, and food co-ops. These projects expand access to healthy foods—particularly in underinvested regions—and strengthen local economies by supporting the creation of new businesses, creating and retaining jobs, and generating state and municipal tax revenues.

In 2015, Capital Impact launched the Michigan Good Food Fund (MGFF) with a $3 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) award. MGFF is a $30 million public-private partnership that improves healthy food access and sparks economic development while committing to racial and social equity. The initiative offers a range of financial products to good food entrepreneurs, which are bolstered with strategic technical assistance.

Rad Resource: Scorecard measures mission alignment

Because impact drives its investment at the onset, MGFF uses a scorecard to measure alignment with priorities early on in its outreach process, based on categories informed by a statewide task force that contributed to the creation of the initiative.

To date, MGFF has deployed $12.7 million to 52 good food enterprises. Of all MGFF loan recipients, 55 percent are owned by people of color, 56 percent are women-owned, and 63 percent are in communities with demonstrated low-access to healthy food.

Lesson Learned: ‘Start with the end in mind’

As we sought ways to determine if we were meeting the social objectives we originally established, MGFF enlisted an independent evaluation team to evaluate the initiative design, implementation, and socioeconomic impacts. The evaluation found MGFF has made progress toward its objectives of healthy food access, economic development, racial and social equity, environmental stewardship and local sourcing, and that it is contributing to a “more inclusive, sustainable more inclusive, sustainable, and equitable food system and stronger local economies across the state.”

Lesson Learned: Real-time feedback provide quick fixes

An added benefit of the evaluation is its developmental approach, which allowed MGFF to see opportunities and challenges in real-time. MGFF received its first evaluation report two years after inception, allowing the team to accept feedback on areas needing refinement.  Evaluation results led to a clarification of roles, responsibilities, and strategic leadership that improved overall efficiencies. Timely feedback has also been critical for the multi-faceted MGFF partnership to make its products and services more responsive to community needs.

 

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Social Impact Measurement Week with our colleagues in the Social Impact Measurement Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SIM TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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