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Amel Karboul is the CEO of the Education Outcomes for Africa and the Middle East, a  $1 billion Outcomes Fund that seeks to transform education attainment by raising public and private investment and using development impact bonds to maximise outcomes. She has over 20 years experience collaborating with global corporate, non-profit and government leaders to release strategy, effective transformational change within communities and organisations.

We caught up with her in a lunch break at the our session at the Challenges of Government Conference late last year and asked her about her work on outcomes contracts, collaboration and leadership. 

1. Setting up an outcomes based contract involves different sectors coming together. 

What do you think the private and social sectors have to offer public service delivery, and therefore why is collaboration between them so important?

The question is really about whether the private and social sector can offer better services than the government can. For example, in education, NGOs are good at getting children not in school back into education. The private sector can play a big role in terms of offering employment and being an intensive part of their training process, along with ancillary services. 

If we look at the African Leadership University, founded by Fred Swaniker, we find a totally innovative model. Through integrating students’ learning with real world experiences, they support people to think entrepreneurially and imaginatively. We need more innovation in education and we need something radically challenging the current legacy. The government may not be best placed to do this initially as other providers can help innovate through piloting programmes and if they are suitable they can be made available for government to scale.

2. The Education Outcomes Fund for Africa and the Middle East seeks to use results based financing to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development 4 – ensuring inclusive and quality education for all. 

Do you think results based financing is the best way to unlock value from the private and social sectors? If so, why?

It may not be the best for every case, but the right question is when does it makes sense? Again, using education as an example, there have been some foundations and philanthropists who have been wary of investing in education because there were many complexities and they were not sure it would impact on results. So, paying for results may unlock more capital in that sense.

On the other side, it is a good thing for NGOs and service providers to be paid in a way that doesn’t stifle their innovation and entrepreneurship. If it is risky they won’t try to innovate as they are worried about the outcomes. As we bring the investment capital, we can guarantee that they have their income. They don’t have to take on debts.

Another way you can unlock value is by understanding what is working. You pay for outcomes and leave the eco-system the opportunity to innovate and find out. If you already know what programmes deliver good results there are probably easier ways to fund it, you could probably pay for it directly. When scaling a programme it may be easier to pay for outcomes because you can find new sources of capital to support you.

3. What have you learned in your career about the importance of leadership for improving citizen outcomes? 

Can you give examples from a few different roles?

Leadership is about the decisions you make and the conversations you have. It is also about the time you give. If you say, you want to achieve X, Y and Z it is the time you give to citizens, the time you give to making the decisions is the time to involve stakeholders. 

When I was Minister for Tourism in Tunisia, we had a tourism strategy 3+ and I thought I was communicating all the time about it, but I had employees coming to me saying we only hear what is going on from the news. I thought, ‘really?’ As leaders when you feel like you’ve overdone it, you’re probably just done barely the minimum. Repeating and repeating and communicating and communicating – it’s so important.

Another lesson for me is that sometimes when people say they want more leadership they are actually saying they want more communication. They want a relationship and more dialogue. It is not by sending them a newsletter or saying something on TV. 

At the end, if you think about Africa and the Middle East, there is a huge lack of leadership. It has to be integrated with ethics. Do you care about your citizens? Are you listening to dissenting voice?  Maybe the human side of leadership is the most important piece.