Fast Social: news for the week beginning 19th August 2013

Charlton HestonFast Social has been lost in the wilderness the past few weeks. But with a full-blown beard and wearing only a loin cloth, it’s re-emerged from the jungle of speculation and normative theory tooled up with lots and lots of facts, thanks to a flurry of reports and publications from across the Third Sector.

The first beast to get clobbered with some serious empirical evidence is the Social Impact Bond (SIB). This week NPC published its paper on lessons learnt from Allia’s ‘Future for Children’ bond. The bond heralded a new era for SIB, opening up the possibility of the public investing in one for the first time. However low take-up meant the bond was never issued (although the work it would have funded still went ahead thanks to alternative investment sources). The report highlights several reasons why it didn’t work, including ‘too short a timescale’ and ‘marketing challenges’, amongst others.

Also stepping in with a dose of realism, the Social Market Foundation questions whether the benefits supposedly generated by SIB’s will actually materialise in reality. Despite the obvious successes to date, what both papers point to is a long road ahead before this approach breaks through in to the mainstream.

The biggest beast in the jungle, Big Society Capital, published a blog this week with its key lessons from its first year as the world’s first social investment bank. They argue:

  • That change isn’t going to happen over night
  • The sector needs to get on board and support them
  • Governance is crucial, and it’s important for BSC to be independent from the politicians
  • That the wider ecosystem of support also needs to be developed – BSC can’t do it all
  • Definition is important (and worms shouldn’t live in cans)
  • Most social investment requires subsidy, and subsidy should not be a dirty word

On a slight tangent, new economics foundation published an interesting report this week looking at how people are dealing with austerity. They argue, among other things, that in weakening the ‘core economy’ (i.e. unpaid time, caring, support, friendship, expertise, giving, and learning that underpin society and the formal economy), the programme of spending cuts has undermined the government’s Big Society Agenda. So fingers crossed that the growing social investment market and public service reforms counteract this.

Uh oh – what’s this? Co-operatives UK and the TUC clubbed together this week to tackle the issue of mutualisation and public sector spin-outs, suggesting staff should be balloted first, and not have changes ‘forced through’ against their will. They highlight that whilst there are numerous examples of good staff engagement, many don’t exhibit the levels of accountability expected of a true mutual. Not to mention pension issues! The dynamic duo has since issued best practice guidance.

Speaking of thorny issues, gender inequality is still hanging around, with recent research from the Third Sector Research Centre suggesting that while A) the boards of social enterprises are generally more gender-balanced than mainstream businesses (41% of social enterprise board members are women), B) this still isn’t proportionally reflective of the sector’s workforce, with 57% of social enterprise employees estimated to be women.

The Third Sector Research Centre have been busy, releasing another report looking at how environmentally oriented enterprises could scale up their impact. The report argues there are a range of strategies that can be used, such as staying niche, sharing knowledge and prioritising creating jobs.

The report also suggests that we need to recognise that there are limitations to conventional indicators of growth. Although I have previously argued such here, an unfortunate, real life example of the challenges of growth came to light this week with the news that the Create Foundation has to close down their previously award-winning ethical restaurant. It really is like a jungle sometimes!



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