News and analysis
March 04, 2015

Pay-for-Success Expert Named to Lead White House Office

Dave Wilkinson, an adviser to President Obama with a background in community-development finance and pay-for-success efforts, has been named to lead the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

Mr. Wilkinson will replace Jonathan Greenblatt, who in November announced plans to step down to lead the Anti-Defamation League, a leading nonprofit in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Mr. Wilkinson will launch a "data-driven" approach to domestic priorities that will include education, jobs, economic development, and health, according to a statement from Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Most recently, Mr. Wilkinson was the White House senior policy adviser for social finance and innovation and worked extensively with the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Previously, Mr. Wilkinson was executive director of City First Enterprises, a nonprofit bank holding company that financed projects in low-income communities. He also was director of Common Cause New Jersey, a group that promotes civic engagement.

Melissa Bradley, former acting director of the Social Innovation Fund, a National Corporation for Community Service program that supports pay-for-success grants, described Mr. Wilkinson as a "policy wonk" who works late hours.

As a special adviser to the White House, Mr. Wilkinson focused on pay-for-success efforts, which provide investors with a financial incentive to support social goals.

That experience will come in handy in the coming months, Ms. Bradley said, as Congress debates several pieces of legislation designed to encourage social-impact bonds and other pay-for-success financing models.

"He’s been helpful in translating what’s important about pay-for-success between the agencies and [Congress]," she said. "Having someone in that office who understands pay-for-success will be a big help pushing things in Congress.

Mr. Wilkinson said he would like to change incentives for nonprofits that receive government grants. To keep getting federal support, he wants charities to prove their programs work rather than just following the terms of the grant. He said he’ll champion an approach that uses data to measure success.  
Pay for success, he said, is a good example of how the emphasis on measurement can result in greater social benefits as well as support from legislators of both parties. Because government support would depend on a program’s achievements, “it reduces the political risk of failure,” he said.

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