By Rodney Ghali
Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Impact and Innovation Unit
Privy Council Office
Role of Government in Impact Investing
My Path to this topic...
My path towards shaping a role for government in the world of impact investing was not an intentional one. Having spent the first part of my career in policy development, I decided to transition into policy implementation to better understand the intricacies of how policy ideas actually translate in real world contexts.
Not surprisingly, the path from idea to successful implementation was more difficult than expected! Having assumed a leadership role in the Public Health Agency of Canada responsible for tens of millions in healthy living/chronic disease funding, I was quickly drawn to understanding how federal funding could be used to incentivize new partnership models, be leveraged with like-minded investors to amplify impact and transform federal funding paradigms and be outcomes oriented.
The work was atypical, ground-breaking and immensely satisfying when measurable results in improving the lives of Canadians could be demonstrated. Based on the success of those efforts, I moved into my current role where we are trying to test out these concepts at a broader scale in government, in multiple policy domains. I am now in a position to help shape and advise government efforts in orienting aspects of federal spending for greater impact, including how governments can create the right conditions for a more robust impact investing ecosystem.
Rodney's Reading List
The role of governments in impact investing goes beyond investing in, regulating or engaging with the financial sector. Government departments have a number of financial instruments to tackle important social, environmental and economic issues. Innovative finance is changing policy, structures and the way funding is distributed, increasingly focusing on outcomes. Understanding the government’s perspective, workings and means will strengthen all sectors’ efforts to use finance in the service of impact.
To help illustrate the path I have been on over the last decade, I have selected a few key pieces that can help illustrate the concepts we are trying to crystallize and mainstream within the public sector.
In 2014, the Mowat Centre released a seminal piece on what outcomes-based approaches mean within a public sector context. At that time, these concepts were still nascent from Canadian perspectives with few examples of how they were being applied in a real world setting. This report continues to provide important and relevant information for public sector employees as both a primer and roadmap for adopting these methods.
Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention
While I was Director General at the Public Health Agency of Canada, I released this strategic plan which, to my knowledge, was the first time an organization within the federal government aligned its mandate around outcomes
based methods. As the title states, it was a paradigm shift both within the Agency and in the external public health sector. It was viewed simultaneously as both exciting and uncomfortable, from how we would harness technology to incentivize positive, healthy behaviour change to the shift to funding on outcomes and not outputs and activities. Real change must be uncomfortable for some, so the natural tension that came with its implementation reinforced the team’s collective resolve that we were on the right track.
With a proof of concept achieved, I sought to scale up efforts with a new role I assumed in the Privy Council Office. Launched in 2017, Impact Canada is the government’s flagship program to scale up outcomes-based policy and program approaches, in a rigorous and methodologically sound manner. With a new centre of expertise established to work with departments and external partners, we have been forging the path as a central agency and government acting as an enabling partner towards more inventive ideas that can have measurable impact on the lives of Canadians. More info on this work can be found in our 2018-19 Annual Report:
As we move forward with the implementation of Impact Canada, I continue to look for thought leadership to help guide and inspire our work. Most public sector practitioners follow the writings of Marianna Mazzucato out of the University College London’s Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose. Two in particular that resonated with me, found here and here capture important implementation approaches. The so-called “mission-oriented innovation” is reflective of the ideology of our whole of government approach to Impact Canada - moving beyond the natural silos of our Westminster-style of government. A good introduction to her work is her WIRED UK talk on rethinking missions and governments as creative agents (find it below this paragraph). The second is a complementary piece of how the financing can work alongside a mission-oriented approach. Finally, this piece by Sir Ronald Cohen, the grandfather of impact investing and member of the Impact Canada Advisory Committee captures much of what governments can and should do to incentivize investment for impact.
About the Author
Rodney is the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet of the Impact and Innovation Unit at the Privy Council Office, Government of Canada. He is responsible for leading the exploration and execution of new and innovative policy and programmatic approaches under Impact Canada, focused on improving impact, accountability and value for Canadians. Prior to his current role, Rodney was Director General of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention, Public Health Agency of Canada, where he was responsible for overseeing the Federal Government's policy and programs in the areas of healthy living and chronic disease prevention. Previously, Rodney spent a number of years at Health Canada in various positions such as Senior Advisor to the Deputy Minister and Director of Strategic Policy. He has worked on numerous legislative/regulatory initiatives and health-related issues including: food and consumer product safety, reproductive technologies, aboriginal health, blood safety and mental health. Rodney holds a Master of Science (neurobiology) from McGill University and an Honours Bachelor of Science (genetics) from the University of Western Ontario.