An Intern’s Perspective: My Summer at Social Finance

This summer, I had the privilege of serving as the first [Harvard University Institute of Politics] Director’s Intern at Social Finance (SF), a Boston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to mobilizing investment capital to drive social progress.

Central to SF’s work is an innovative financing tool called the Social Impact Bond (SIB), a public-private-nonprofit partnership that has the potential to scale evidence-based social interventions, create taxpayer efficiencies, and generate financial returns for investors. SF structures and manages SIB transactions, and also helps governments and service providers develop the capacity to become stakeholders in these initiatives.

Today, there are four SIBs operating in the United States—directing $50 million in capital to the social sector—and over two dozen additional states and counties actively pursuing SIBs in their respective jurisdictions. These projects are aimed at addressing a diverse array of issues in areas such as health, education, homelessness, criminal justice, and workforce development.

The work I was assigned at SF was engaging and informative, providing me the opportunity to gain real insight into the emerging field of Pay for Success and Social Innovation Financing. In my role as a communications intern, I updated SF’s social networking outlets, marketing materials, and website on a regular basis and took on ad hoc responsibilities as they materialized. The most challenging and rewarding projects I worked on this summer involved constructing a comprehensive database of SIBs in operation and development around the world and writing a post for the SF blog that was later picked up and circulated by the global daily SIB Newsletter.

When I first walked into the office, I was surprised (as most visitors are) by the conspicuous absence of cubicles or partitions. Everyone—from Associates to the Vice President, Managing Director, and CEO— sits side by side at adjoining desks. As I bounced between temporarily available seats over the course of the summer, developing a deeper understanding of different projects and closer relationships with my fellow coworkers, I quickly realized the value of the open floor plan. This unique layout facilitates a collaborative work environment and speaks to the firm’s people-centric culture.

Throughout the summer, I received constant guidance and support from my supervisors, who were just as willing to answer questions in my seventh week as they had been on my first day. The team members, universally inspiring in their knowledge and passion, were always open to sharing their experiences and offering advice. Bonding occasions ranging from impromptu coffee breaks to newly instituted “Food Truck Fridays” were highlights of the internship.

I am incredibly grateful to the SF staff for taking a genuine interest in my development and making me feel like part of the team. I would also like to thank the IOP for coordinating what was truly a fantastic internship experience.

This summer marked a particularly exciting period of growth for this nascent sector with the introduction of bipartisan federal Pay for Success legislation in Congress (the Social Impact Bond Act in the House of Representatives and the Pay-For-Performance Act in the Senate), the publication of the United States National Advisory Board on Impact Investing’s recommendations for supercharging the industry, and the launch of the Social Innovation Fund’s $11.2 million Pay for Success grants competition.

Though I will no longer be held accountable for remaining informed of such advances in the field, I fully anticipate following the evolution of this exciting space to a mature and established industry trusted to tackle society’s most complex challenges.

Entry by Maddie Sewani, Harvard University ’16

This post was also published by Harvard University Institute of Politics here.

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First Official Results Demonstrate Positive Outcomes at Peterborough

Today, Social Finance UK released the first official results on the Peterborough Social Impact Bond (SIB)—the groundbreaking transaction that inspired numerous projects around the world.  An independent evaluator found that the SIB-financed program, One Service, reduced reoffending among the first cohort of 1,000 ex-prisoners by 8.4 percent compared to the national experience.  If this trend continues, investors in the transaction will recoup their principal and earn a positive return when the project concludes in 2016, as this reduction exceeds the performance threshold of 7.5 percent.[1]

Beyond remaining on track to deliver social and financial returns to investors, the project at Peterborough is also demonstrating some of the core benefits of SIBs.  The project catalyzed a policy conversation throughout the United Kingdom about how to better rehabilitate short-term offenders, and the Ministry of Justice recently announced a nationwide program to deliver services to this population.  This underscores the potential for SIBs to spur government reform.

Additionally, the program illustrates substantial operational improvement over time, reflecting the power of data-informed project management and flexibility that are core to the SIB model.  Engagement and uptake of services in prison increased from 74 to 86 percent since services began, and from 37 to 71 percent post-release as One Service adjusted its operations.

As the world’s first SIB, Peterborough has become an iconic program, and in that context we are pleased and encouraged by these results – both as a sign of progress for the Peterborough project itself, and for the evolution of the entire sector.  They indicate that active performance management is critical, that investors are indeed taking on risks, and that the deal was well-structured to benefit all stakeholders in a fair and reasonable manner.  As clear-eyed practitioners in the field, we are well aware of the challenges inherent in launching a new financial instrument, and are mindful of the need for continual learning.  In that sense, early data points like these are valuable to all of us seeking to advance and build a strong field.

Perhaps most important, however, today’s announcement reminds us that the real value of SIBs lies in their ability to improve lives for vulnerable and underserved populations; the financial instrument is a means to an end.  As rigorous evaluation now reveals that the Peterborough project is delivering a meaningful improvement in life outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals, which translates into fewer crimes, fewer families divided by the return of a father or son to prison, and increased numbers of ex-offenders who find gainful employment. This is the real bottom line, conveying the promise and power of the SIB model.


[1] There was a provision for early outcome payments in August 2014 had the program outperformed and delivered a 10 percent reduction in recidivism for the first cohort.  Investors will not be receiving these early payments, but are well on track to receive outcome payments for both cohorts as scheduled in 2016.

Entry by Jane Hughes, Director of Knowledge Management 

Guest Blog from SFUK Director of Peterborough Project: The One Service Delivers Results for Peterborough Prisoners

Finally we can answer the question about how things are going in Peterborough. All the indicators so far had been positive but it’s great to hear that reconvictions are down by over 8%. If we keep up our hard work, our investors look likely to make a return in 2016.

This project oozes innovation and it has been so exciting to be part of it. The team of staff and volunteers are incredible, as are our local partners, so it is no surprise to find that we have had a positive impact. You often hear people talk about multi agency working but I’ve never experienced it quite like this before. The fact that we had seven years, a flexible budget and one outcome, to reduce crime, resonates with agencies across the spectrum and their buy-in has been fantastic.

It’s been hard to get an accurate sense of performance up until now as the control group hadn’t been created. We do know that clients and stakeholders have been reporting that crime is down and people are changing habits of a lifetime but it is so good to see it in black and white. (It’s official!)

Our clients face multiple barriers and often have entrenched behaviour patterns so this journey hasn’t been an easy one. I am so proud of the way they have embraced the opportunities and made efforts to change their lives. It has been really exciting to see them open up and engage with the service. Some take time to build trust, and progress has been slow and steady over the last three years. This reinforces my view that projects like this need to be long term, so we can establish meaningful relationships and integrate fully into the local landscape. It’s been really hard work and at times immensely frustrating but it’s great to know that it is working.

The One Service was set up to be a seven year project and that is what we all signed up for, so it could evolve and improve further over time. It is a big personal disappointment that it was brought to a close two years early and it is a decision that clients and stakeholders are also struggling to accept. The team will however do our best for the remainder of Cohort 2 and use the learning to date to continue to improve. Thanks for everyone’s support!!

Entry by Janette Powell, Social Finance UK Director of the One Service and the Peterborough Social Impact Bond