Monday, 31 October 2011

3 tips for Social Entrepreneurs and Charities wanting to engage with Government

At the weekend, I was one of the speakers at a session on government and society at the Emerge Conference at Said Business School, Oxford University, run by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Student Hubs. Liam Black, our panel chair asked me what my 3 tips for Social Entrepreneurs wanting to engage with Government were. I replied:
  1. Engage with Civil Servants, not just Ministers: Too often we can get trapped into thinking that speaking to a Minister means that our cause will be advanced by the Government. But more often than not the Minister will be involved in setting vision but not in the detailed design or implementation of individual policies. This is usually undertaken by individual Civil Servants who we should also engage with. It is now a lot easier to find out who does what in the UK Government as it has published its organisational structures, known as organograms, online. You can find them here on or you can Google the Department you want to talk to with the word "organogram". With a bit of Googling and detective work you'll be able to work out what Civil Servants' email addresses are.
  2. Help don't hinder: As my co-panelist, Jim Robinson from the Office for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office said, Civil Servants "will bite your arm off" if you offer to provide them with information that helps them with the development of their policy, either by collaborating with them on your social innovation or by assisting them in policy formation. If however Civil Servants feel that you are solely trying to promote your cause, they'll feel lobbied and will more often than not be less inclined to engage with youIn this process, also be clear about what is your Intellectual Property and what isn't so that it isn't accidentally tendered out. 
  3. Speak to the Opposition, other political parties and think tanks: Teach First is undoubtedly one of the UK's social innovation successes of the last decade. One of the many things that they did (and do) excellently is engage with all of the main political parties in the UK, whether they are in Government or not. One of things this has achieved is that political parties don't see Teach First as one party's toy but instead, there is cross-party consensus that Teach First is an excellent intervention in the UK education system. As well as speaking to Ministers and Civil Servants, make sure you talk to the Shadow Ministerial teams from all the main political parties. Don't worry if some of them don't agree with you, at least you know some of the arguments against what you're doing, which will help you make your case stronger. Think tanks are also a really good way of allowing you to shape Government and Opposition policy; have a look to see which think tanks are engaging in the areas you are interested in. Good think tanks on the centre-right (Conservative leaning) include Centre for Social Justice, Policy Exchange and ResPublica, on the centre-left (Labour leaning) include Demos, IPPR and it's dedicated Northern think tank IPPR NorthCentre Forum is a good think tank which heavily influences Lib Dem thinking.
What are your tips?

9:35 update: @SimonSimply has just tweeted me to suggest an excellent tip: Never raise a problem without suggesting a solution

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

8Ps of Powerful Social Innovation

Time shows us what some of the successful social innovations are; examples include Teach for America and it's UK equivalent Teach First, The Big Issue, Divine Chocolate and Grameen Bank. They have transformed teaching in inner-city schools, the lives of homeless people, the earnings of farmers in the developing world and some of the world's most deprived - turning them into successful entrepreneurs through microfinance.

But, how can we tell whether a socially innovative idea has the power to be transformative or not? I've been thinking about this for a while and have come up with 8Ps of Powerful Social Innovation:
  • Problem: How big is the problem the social innovation is wanting to address and is there a need for systemic change?
  • Progression: Will the solution have a significant positive impact on the problem it is tackling and propose to tackle it altogether? If it doesn't tackle it altogether, does it move the problem along significantly?
  • People: What is the track record of the people behind the solution? Do they understand the problem, have they suggested a solution that seems to tackle it and can they or a team around them turn the idea into a reality?
  • Partnership: Who are the innovators proposing to collaborate with? Are they aiming to work with stakeholders in the private and public sectors, and civil society at large? Are they seeking the advice - and tapping into the expertise - of leaders in the field at which they are attempting to innovate in?
  • Participation: How has the innovation involved the users in its design? How does it propose to involve the users in shaping the design as it moves into delivery and more importantly, how does it build on the strengths of its users and build their capacity?
  • Price: Is the cost of the innovation cheaper than what it costs to tackle the social problem at the moment? Is it - for example - proposing to use technology to drive down costs, or is it using a more cost-effective model of delivery?
  • Prevention: How does the social innovation tackle the root of the problem? Prevention is always better than cure as the saying goes and increasingly social innovation is looking more at earlier interventions that can prevent the problem getting larger or manifesting significantly in the first place.
  • Proof: Even if the idea is in its early days, what proof is there that the idea will work? Has it been tested elsewhere, if not, has the idea been tested with proposed users?

What are your thoughts? Is there anything you would add or change?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Social Impact Bonds both sides of the Atlantic

Social entrepreneurs and investors in the UK have been hearing the term social impact bond for a few years now. In case you haven't heard of it, a social impact bond is funded by private investors and the money is used to finance projects run by charities, social enterprises or businesses. Crucially, the investors would only be repaid, or make a profit, if the projects achieve certain results agreed in advance. I think social impact bonds have three main benefits:
  • They make more funds available for early intervention and prevention at no risk to government;
  • Government funding only pays for those services that are effective as the investor bears all the risk of services being potentially ineffective;
  • Investors and deliverers have an incentive to be as effective as possible as  the larger impact they, the larger the repayment.
In the UK, we're already see a Social Impact Bond working at reducing reoffending, launched in September 2010 by the Ministry of Justice and Social Finance and funded by investors including the Big Lottery Fund. The Office for Civil Society has also recently announced four new social impact bonds to aid troubled families.

Now the US are looking at this model - under the American term "Pay for Success Bonds". Barack Obama’s proposed 2012 budget contains a rule change that allows various government agencies to issue social impact/pay for success bonds and he has proposed that up to $100m of federal money be freed up to run pilot schemes to test the idea.

Social Finance, the pioneers of the Social Impact Bond in the UK, have recently launched a US sister organisation, Social Finance US which President Clinton highlighted at his recent Clinton Global Initiative in September.  Social Finance US also announced some new stellar Directors including former Gates Foundation CFO Alexander Friedman, the leading Harvard business professor and thinker Michael Porter, Luther Ragin, head of the Global Impact Investing Network and the excellent Sonal Shah, the former Director of the Office of Social Innovation at the White House. Wow. Exciting times for social impact bonds both sides of the Atlantic and for social innovation scaling internationally.