Shaping the future of municipal bonds in India

When Omidyar Network proposed working with Bridgespan to Indian grantee Janaagraha, the nonprofit’s CEO Srikanth Viswanathan was initially skeptical.  “To be honest, my immediate thought was to say, ‘why can’t we do this ourselves?’” says Viswanathan. “I went into the engagement with a certain degree of cautious skepticism.”

A 20-year veteran in the field of urban governance, Janaagraha is highly regarded in India. But the challenge to improve life in India’s cities is huge, and growing bigger every day. The McKinsey Global Institute reports India’s urban population rose by 230 million between 1971 and 2008—and anticipates that it will rise by another 250 million by 2030, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the country’s population.

What’s more, the project Janaagraha had identified—catalysing the use of municipal bonds in India in order to improve financial sustainability and accountability in cities—was complex. India lags far behind other countries in using municipal bonds to finance urban infrastructure development. While the United States and China have municipal bond markets of $3.8 trillion and $2.3 trillion, respectively, India has issued just $200 to $250 million in municipal bonds. Janaagraha wanted to find a way to realise this untapped potential.

Bharath Visweswariah, director of investments at Omidyar Network India, wanted some new minds on the problem. “What we were looking to Bridgespan for was a fresh external perspective, and the rigor of doing detailed analysis of the problem and framing it appropriately,” he says.

Viswanathan was glad he worked with Bridgespan. “Bridgespan challenged us throughout the engagement,” he says. “In the end, their method and discipline led us to very specific pathways to meet our objective.”

Meanwhile, Bridgespan Partner Pritha Venkatachalam found in Janaagraha a bold and engaged partner. “For us, working with Janaagraha was one of the greatest experiences in terms of collaborative working through all phases of the engagement. Our teams worked in close coordination in both the stakeholder engagement and solution development stages.” The net result of that collaboration is shaping the future of municipal bonds in India.

Read the full article about Janaagraha at The Bridgespan Group.