In Its Third Year, the Pay for Success Lab is Catalyzing Social Finance

By Adam Jones

This is the first of a series of blog posts to share the University of Virginia Pay for Success Lab’s impact as it enters its third year. In this post, Adam Jones, Fellow for Strategic Initiatives, interviews Joshua Ogburn, the lab's Director.

The University of Virginia’s Pay for Success (PFS Lab) was started in September of 2015 to educate the University and its surrounding communities about social finance and evidence-based policymaking. Dr. Christine Mahoney, Director of Social Entrepreneurship @ UVA, and Josh Ogburn, then a Masters of Public Policy candidate, discussed the possibility of convening stakeholders from across the state to foster conversations around these topics. Since then, the PFS Lab has engaged with dozens of communities, employed almost 30 student researchers, and developed strategic partnerships with several leading PFS advisory firms.

“I’ve always been interested in how governments can achieve their objectives more effectively. There are a lot of evidence-based ways to solve problems, but communities aren't adopting them on a large scale,” said Ogburn, founder and Director of the PFS Lab.

Pay for Success (PFS) contracts, also known as Social Impact Bonds, are an innovative funding vehicle to draw private capital into traditionally government-funded services. Because Pay for Success facilitates government payments based upon achievement of results, instead of traditional upfront funding, these contracts lend themselves to bipartisan support - a key advantage in a purple state such as Virginia. By efficiently allocating public funds to projects that have retroactively proven their worth, PFS contracts promote fiscal responsibility. Additionally, PFS contracts provide access to private capital through investment, meaning more people get more social services. By striking this balance, PFS projects have the potential to increase services for at-risk populations through a bipartisan channel.

The advantage of housing the PFS Lab under the umbrella of the University of Virginia extends beyond the state’s political climate. “The PFS Lab gets UVA involved in one of the most exciting ideas in the public sector,” said Ogburn.

By leveraging the institutional support of the University, the Lab hopes to act as a catalyst in getting communities to adopt more innovative policy solutions. The PFS Lab also makes UVA part of a select group of elite universities that have dedicated research wings for exploring the intersection of evidence-based policy and impact investing. As the PFS Lab continues to build its brand, building connections to other national organizations at the cutting-edge of policy innovation will be instrumental to its success.

Since the opening of the Lab, Ogburn and his team have worked on projects ranging from workforce development to environmental sustainability. It wasn’t until the end of its second year, however, that the Lab found its competitive advantage in the market. In its early stages, the PFS Lab envisioned itself as having a role similar to the ten leading PFS advisory firms that provide a full suite of project development services. Now, the Lab focuses on only on “project discovery”. During this phase, the PFS Lab identifies a community wrestling with a difficult public policy issue, educates local stakeholders about PFS and other results-based strategies, and assists them with developing a PFS project outline. Should the community want to do more, it can refer them to advisory firms that can assist.

“There are a lot of organizations that help communities develop projects, but no organizations exist just to educate communities and let them know that Pay for Success is even an option,” said Ogburn.

The PFS Lab’s mission is now to identify and advance promising projects through education, engagement, and networking. Ogburn is confident that this new approach will bring more localities into the social-finance fold. With a new mission in place, the PFS Lab has high hopes for the future. Within the next five years, Ogburn hopes to partner with all leading PFS advisory firms: “Under our model, there is a streamlined progression from us to advisory firms.”

Furthermore, the PFS Lab will keep churning out the policy leaders of tomorrow. With sixteen former fellows and fifteen current fellows, the lab is on track to educate over seventy-five students on the principles evidence-based policy and social finance. Ogburn believes these students will go on to spread awareness of how communities can increase their impact.

The PFS Lab has found its place in the market, and its current trajectory is promising. But at the end of the day, it all gets back to public service. According to Ogburn, “This is about serving people, we’re making a positive impact on at-risk people’s lives.” 

How Pay for Success Can Improve Water Infrastructure

By Henry Crochiere and Joshua Ogburn

The mission of the University of Virginia Pay for Success Lab is to identify and advance impactful Pay for Success projects in localities across the nation. One of the Pay for Success Lab’s current projects is to identify communities that can benefit from an Environmental Impact Bond (EIB), a novel Pay for Success (PFS) model recently implemented in Washington, D.C. to address a critical water infrastructure problem. Combined Sewer Systems collect stormwater, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe and direct it to water treatment facilities. While these systems were an innovation in the mid 1800’s, during periods of heavy rainfall, they overflow excess capacity through Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) into surrounding bodies of water. Over the past 150 years, society has recognized that these overflow events represent a significant hazard for the health of communities and the environment.

There are two main methods to address CSO problems. The first and most traditional method is Gray Infrastructure, which often consists of building immensely large, underground water retention tanks that store water during periods of heavy rainfall. The other option is Green Infrastructure, a term for various approaches and technologies that allow rainwater to enter the water table naturally. While Gray Infrastructure is a more certain solution, the underground tanks hold a specific amount of water, Green Infrastructure provides numerous other benefits such as improved cost effectiveness, water and air quality, job creation, and health benefits.[1] Over the past few decades, the lower costs and greater effectiveness of Green Infrastructure has increasingly made it a viable solution for communities.

Types of Green Infrastructure



The Environmental Protection Agency currently provides localities with permits that monitor the amount of allowable CSO levels. To maintain compliance, the EPA issues fines and sometimes Consent Decrees, a court-mandated agreement for the locality to reduce the amount of overflow. Washington D.C. is one of the cities that is facing a CSO problem and a Consent Decree. George Hawkins, CEO of DC Water, wanted to address DC’s overflow problem while also being environmentally and cost conscious. However, Hawkins had a dilemma: how can D.C. justify spending the time, money, and resources on a Green Infrastructure project if it does not work? The answer was an Environmental Impact Bond (EIB), the first of its kind.[2]

The EIB is a performance-based municipal bond that allows localities to implement Green Infrastructure to address their CSO problem while also providing financial protection should the Green Infrastructure fail to meet expectations. While the EIB is a 25-year bond, there is a check-up after five years to measure the success of the GI using predetermined milestones. If it does not meet expectations, the government pays back a lower interest rate. If the EIB reduces CSOs by more than what was expected, the locality pays back a higher interest rate.[3]

The PFS Lab believes this performance-based model is applicable in many communities beyond Washington, DC. We have been working to contact every locality currently under Consent Decree. We have found that while most of the water authorities were unaware of the EIB model, they are often interested once we explain it to them in detail. Of course, the process for a locality to decide whether to utilize an EIB is not short. Over the next several months, we look forward to working with leading Pay for Success advisory firms to advance these projects. If you have any questions or ideas, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.


Henry Crochiere is a Fellow in the University of Virginia Pay for Success Lab. He is a rising Fourth Year at the University of Virginia studying Economics and Spanish. Henry is the current president of the Inter-Fraternity Council as well as the co-chair of Pancakes for Parkinson's, UVa's largest student-run philanthropy. Henry wants to pursue a career in consulting or impact investing after he graduates.

Joshua Ogburn is Director of the University of Virginia Pay for Success Lab. He has worked to initiate numerous Pay for Success projects in the areas of early childhood education, workforce development, supportive housing, home visiting, and pediatric asthma. Joshua holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and a Bachelor of Arts in Public and Urban Affairs from Virginia Polytechnic and State Institute (Virginia Tech).





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