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‘Moneyball’ – Rethinking Our Strategies in a Changing World

In SCGV's April 2024 blog, our CEO, Paul Ronalds, explores what 'Moneyball' can teach us about the importance of innovation and results-driven approaches in the face of industry challenges.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to understand the ‘disruption’ that the 2002 Oakland Athletics team caused to the game – a tale that has profound lessons for business, life and even aid and development.

Oakland had a very modest budget of $44 million – at least modest in baseball terms – compared to other teams that had more than double their budget. Yet by shunning the conventional wisdom of baseball insiders and taking a radically different approach they competed with the very best and almost won the World Series.

The results were so stunning, it inspired the Michael Lewis book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The book inspired the Oscar-nominated movie, Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as the team’s manager Billy Beane.

The core theme of Moneyball is how the collective wisdom of long-time insiders can become outdated, subjective and often deeply flawed. And how resistant they can be to new approaches.

So, what is the relevance of Moneyball to the aid and development sector?

It is a sector that faces multiple challenges: declining public and private support in many countries; rapidly growing demands due to climate change and conflicts; and an increasingly antagonistic operating environment. Despite the professed support for the UN’s sustainable development goals, on current trajectories, there is no chance they will be achieved. Programs that are funded often only achieve marginal improvements and almost all lack any real source of sustainability beyond more grant funding.

Yet far too few NGOs are engaged in genuine soul searching and even fewer are radically rethinking their strategy. The insiders remain firmly in control.

This is despite the huge opportunities presented by new technologies and new funding sources. For example, new AI powered health interventions hold out the potential to provide high-quality health care at affordable prices in some of the world’s low-income countries.

Why? The aid industry’s traditional approaches to funding fail to incentivise results and lead to systemic underinvestment in new technologies that may significantly increase our impact. Most government and philanthropic grants and contracts prioritise compliance over outcomes. Donor’s low tolerance for risk and short-term payment structures are inconsistent with the financial model that is needed to nurture the development of new, technology-based business models.

At Save the Children, we recognise our responsibility, as industry leaders, to support greater innovation. It is one of the reasons we have created Save the Children Global Ventures: to be one way for more nimble, innovative approaches to access large bilateral and multilateral funders and scale for impact. We are following in the footsteps of pioneers like Acumen or Calvert Impact Capital.

We have developed a family of impact-first investment funds that use our unique child-lens investing approach to provide patient, catalytic capital to scale new, sustainable ways to intervene for children.

Despite all the opposition, Beane’s approach is ultimately vindicated and the leading baseball franchises adopt it to remain competitive.

I suspect the aid industry’s traditional approach is far more entrenched than baseball. On the other hand, the ‘prize’, improved outcomes for the world’s most vulnerable, is far more important.

If you are interested in joining with us in helping revolutionise the aid and development sector, get in touch!


Paul Ronalds is CEO of Save the Children Global Ventures (SCGV) |