David Floyd: Social entrepreneurs and the mainstream

Changes at the top of entrepreneurial support organisation UnLtd plus big targets for Rob Wilson's Social Impact Bonds

David Floyd
David Floyd

UnLtd, which provides support to social entrepreneurs, has appointed Mark Norbury as chief executive. Norbury, previously boss of the Chelsea & Westminster Health Charity, celebrated his appointment by praising UnLtd's work with early stage entrepreneurs before echoing his new employers' recently published optimistic new strategy document with the rallying cry: "Now the challenge is to help social entrepreneurship break into the mainstream". Almost as a big a challenge is working out what that actually means.

Moving from optimistically non-specific to specifically optimistic, mid-March saw the Cabinet Office publish its 2016 strategy document, 'Social investment: a force for change'. It is hardly big news that the government is keen on social impact bonds, but the document is most notable for the statement by Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, that he wants the SIBs market to be worth more than £1bn by the end of this parliament. There are 32 SIBs, the majority of which have received subsidy from central government, the Big Lottery Fund or both. The £5m first SIB, in Peterborough, is currently the biggest one (in the UK) and many of the others are worth under £1m. At that rate, the minister is expecting at least 200 to launch by 2020 but maybe as many as 1,000.

There is wide-ranging discussion in policy circles about when it is legitimate to describe a payment-by-results contract as a SIB, but it may take some creativity to come up with a definition loose enough to meet Wilson's target.

David Floyd is managing director of Social Spider CIC, which provides research and training

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