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SIB functioning process diagram

A social impact bond, also known as pay-for-success financing,[1] pay-for-success bond,[2] social benefit bond[3] or simply a social bond,[4] is one form of outcomes-based contracting. Although there is no single agreed definition of social impact bonds, most definitions understand them as a partnership aimed at improving the social outcomes for a specific group of citizens.[5] The term was originally coined by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of the Young Foundation.[6] The first SIB was launched by UK-based Social Finance Ltd.[7] in September 2010.[8]

As of July 2019, 132 SIBs have been launched in 25 countries, raising more than $420m in investment to address social challenges.[9] In July 2016, the Social Finance Global Network launched a white paper on the state of the SIB market: Social Impact Bonds: The Early Years. Social Finance also released a live global database of SIBs. The database can be sorted by country, issue area, investor, payor and service provider, providing a comprehensive overview of SIBs launched to date and a snapshot of the many in development.


The social impact bond is a non-tradeable version of social policy bonds, first conceived by Ronnie Horesh, a New Zealand economist, in 1988.[10] Since then, the idea of the social impact bond has been promoted and developed by a number of agencies and individuals in an attempt to address the paradox that investing in prevention of social and health problems saves the public sector money, but that it is currently difficult for public bodies to find the funds and incentives to do so.

The first social impact bond was announced in the UK on 18 March 2010 by then Justice Secretary Jack Straw, to finance a prisoner rehabilitation program.[11][12] In the UK, the Prime Minister's Council on Social Action (a group of ‘innovators from every sector’ brought together to ‘generate ideas and initiatives through which Government and other key stakeholders can catalyse, celebrate and develop social action’)[13] was asked in 2007 to explore alternative models for financing social action. The group began to develop the idea of a social impact bond, and the work is being taken forward by a number of organisations including Social Finance, an organisation committed to increasing investment in the third sector,[14] the Young Foundation,[15] the Center for Social Impact in Australia, and other NGOs and private firms. In the UK, the Government Outcomes Lab was set up through a partnership between the UK government and the University of Oxford to investigate evidence around the use of social impact bonds and outcomes-based contracting approaches more broadly.[16]

The idea of a social impact bond has generated significant interest from across the political spectrum in multiple countries, including U.S., UK, and Australia.[17][18][19][20] Social impact bonds have generated a particularly large amount of interest in the United States. In February 2011, Barack Obama’s proposed 2012 budget stated that up to $100m would be freed up to run social impact bond pilot schemes.[3] In August, 2012, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to use a competitive procurement process to secure social innovation financing for social services. The state legislature authorised spending up to $50 million on the initiatives.[17][21] In Australia, the intention to trial social impact bonds was announced in New South Wales in November 2010 by Premier Kristina Keneally of the Australian Labor Party.[22] The policy direction was continued by the Coalition after a change in Government in 2011.[23]

In November 2012, Essex County Council became the first local authority in the UK to commission a social impact bond in Children’s Services,[24][25] with the aim of providing therapeutic support and improving outcomes for adolescents at risk of going into care. Nick Hurd, the minister for civil society, commented: "Social impact bonds are opening up serious resources to tackle social problems in new and innovative ways. This is about communities, businesses and charities all working together to change people's lives, whilst at the same time making savings for the taxpayer."

In February 2013 Allia, a charitable social investment organisation, announced the first public opportunity in the UK to invest in a social impact bond.[26] Although the product was later withdrawn from sale due to lack of investors,[27] the Future for Children Bond combined a relatively low-risk ethical investment into affordable housing to provide the funds to repay capital to investors, with a higher risk investment into a social impact bond with the aim of delivering a high social impact and providing an additional variable return. It would have invested into the social impact bond for Essex County Council to ‘improve the life outcomes’ of children aged 11–16 at risk of going into care.[28]


SIBs as partnerships: partners and responsibilities

There are a range of interpretations of what the term ‘social impact bond’ means. Broadly speaking, social impact bonds are a type of bond, but not the most common type. While they operate over a fixed period of time, they do not offer a fixed rate of return. Repayment to investors is contingent upon specified social outcomes being achieved. Therefore, in terms of investment risk, social impact bonds are more similar to that of a structured product or an equity investment.[29]

Third Sector Capital Partners describes social impact bonds as: 'a potential financing option available to support pay-for-success programs. Social impact bonds bring together government, service providers and investors/funders to implement existing and proven programs designed to accomplish clearly defined outcomes. Investors/funders provide the initial capital support and the government agrees to make payments to the program only when outcomes are achieved. So government pays for success.'[30]

Social Finance UK describes social impact bonds as: ‘a social impact bond is a public-private partnership which funds effective social services through a performance-based contract.’[31] Social Finance therefore specifies that the investment is from non-government bodies.

The Young Foundation describes social impact bonds as: ‘a range of financial assets that entail raising money from third parties and making repayments according to the social impacts achieved.'[18] The Young Foundation envisages that public bodies could be potential investors.

The Non-Profit Finance Fund describes social impact bonds as: 'PFS financing agreements, in which private investors provide upfront capital for the delivery of services and are repaid by a back-end, or outcomes payor (usually a government), if contractually agreed upon outcomes are achieved, are often referred to as "Social Impact Bonds" (illustrated and described below). Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are a mechanism by which to shift financial risk from service providers to investors, with investors underwriting service providers’ based on their ability to deliver on positive social outcomes.'[32]

The Government Outcomes Lab identifies four main dimensions along which SIBs might vary: 'the nature and outcome of payment outcomes', 'the nature of capital used to fund services', 'the strength of performance management', and 'the social intent of service providers'. According to the GO Lab, a 'core' SIB is therefore defined by '100% payment on outcomes', 'independent and at-risk capital', 'a high degree of performance management', and 'a strong social intent of service providers'.[33]

In developing countries, a development impact bond (DIB) is a variation of the SIB model. DIBs are outcomes-based funding structures for the delivery of public services in low- and middle-income countries.[34] As with SIBs, investors would provide external financing and only receive a return if pre-agreed outcomes are achieved. Funds to remunerate investors come from donors, the budget of the host country, or a combination of the two. Financial returns to investors are intended to be commensurate with the level of success. DIBs have the potential to improve aid efficiency and cost-effectiveness by shifting the focus onto implementation quality and the delivery of successful results. In October 2013, Social Finance Ltd. and the Center for Global Development released a report[35] outlining the findings of a high level working group set up to explore the potential of this new mechanism.

Benefits and costs of SIBsEdit

Advocates of these performance-based investments claim that they encourage innovation and tackle difficult social problems, asserting that new and innovative programs have potential for success, but often have trouble securing government funding because it can be hard to rigorously prove their effectiveness.[36] This form of financing allows the government to partner with innovative and effective service providers and, if necessary, private foundations or other investors willing to cover the upfront costs and assume performance risk to expand promising programs, while assuring that taxpayers will not pay for the programs unless they demonstrate success in achieving the desired outcomes.[37] The expected public sector savings are used as a basis for raising investment for prevention and early intervention services that improve social outcomes.[17][38]

In many cases, SIB programs can achieve positive social outcomes, may create fiscal savings for government, but also involve changes in funding arrangements that bring risks to service agencies. The assumed benefits makes SIB politically attractive to governments and businesses. For example, $250 million of investments towards preventive programs that reduce recidivism might eventually make it possible to close prisons that cost taxpayers $1 billion per year to run.[39] The benefits of social impact bonds depends on the definition being used, but the broad benefits (though not measured and verified yet) are that:

  • Prevention — more funds are available for prevention and early upstream intervention services.[40]
  • Risk transfer — the public sector only has to pay for effective services; the third party investor bears all the risk of services being potentially ineffective.[41]
  • Innovation — risk transfer enables innovation since investors and service providers have an incentive to be as effective as possible, because the larger impact they have on the outcome, the larger the repayment they will receive.[42][43]
  • Performance management — the SIB approach imbeds vigorous ongoing evaluation of program impacts into program operations, accelerating the rate of learning about which approaches work and which do not. Governments will therefore fund "what works"; repositioning government spending to cost-effective preventive programs.[43] Additionally, independent evaluation creates transparency for all parties.[39]
  • Collaboration — enable collaboration across multiple commissioners and within service provider networks[43] and attract new forms of capital to the social, educational and healthcare sectors.

Critics note that because the outcomes-based payments are dependent on governmental funds which must be budgeted,[44][45] social impact bonds do not actually raise additional capital for social programs, but instead displace funding for other programs.[46] Given the need to budget for a return on investment, a program evaluation, middle managers, and the expenses of designing the complex financial and contractual mechanisms, social impact bonds, according to critics, may be an expensive method of operating social programs. Other criticisms include:

  • Criteria for success — donors will seek to fund that which can be observed and measured, the outcomes (not just the outputs). This will leave agencies addressing the huge structural problems in society unable to access these funds. This is going to be particularly true for advocacy, arts and alternative organizations. It will be difficult for social coalitions to get funding as their contributions are dispersed through member organizations and the effect they have on government policies, for example. The terms of these instruments may be set to overpay for more readily achievable goals. Doing so would increase long term government spending and divorce such spending from direct deliverables.[47]
  • More donor influence — donors, or now investors, will want to make sure their money is being used according to contract, and will therefore want to be more involved in the delivery of social services. They may even want to see NGOs adopt a more business style of delivery.
  • Unfair competition — among NGOs will emerge. Agencies that secure funds will be able to operate in areas where NGOs now operate, but they will have greater resources, more narrowly defined goals (and therefore successes to publicize) and will set the standard for government funded agencies and their actions.
  • Reduces public responsibility — by reducing the government's responsibilities and accountability for delivering services. Though governments may not genuinely represent their societies, they are still the best representatives of the public will and governments play an important role in maintaining a civil society sector. Social services are a part of our national social contract and the government is devolving their responsibility to businesses though encouraging such funding when other tax and program options can be made available.
  • Non-tradability — because they are not tradable, SIBs favour existing institutions, are inherently narrow and short-term in scope, and impose relatively high monitoring costs.[48]

Existing SIB initiativesEdit

Governments across the world are currently piloting SIB initiatives. Below are a few examples of these initiatives.

Public safety and recidivismEdit


On 18 March 2010, Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw announced a six-year Social Impact Bond (SIB) pilot scheme run by Social Finance that will see around 3,000 short term prisoners from Peterborough prison, serving less than 12 months, receiving intensive interventions both in prison and in the community. Funding from investors outside government will be initially used to pay for the services, which will be delivered by Third Sector providers with a proven track record of working with offenders. If reoffending is not reduced by at least 7.5% the investors will receive no recompense. The Social Impact Bond in Peterborough was launched by Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke MP and Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt on 10 September 2010.[49][50]


New York City: On February 2012, the City of New York issued a $9.6 million social bond for prisoner rehabilitation to be run by The Osborne Association with support from Friends of Island Academy.[51] Goldman Sachs bought the bond and will profit if recidivism decreases.[51] While the City of New York didn't actually issue bonds or put up-front capital for MDRC to run the program (this was done by Goldman Sachs directly with MDRC), the City may be liable for some amount if the program is successful, presumably to be paid with savings associated with reduced recidivism. An independent evaluation, performed by the Vera Institute of Justice, found the goal of reducing teenage recidivism by ten percent had not been met, at all, and the city paid nothing to Goldman Sachs.[52]

New York State: In mid-2012, the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) selected Social Finance US as its Intermediary partner in structuring an application for federal funding for a Social Impact Bond. In 2013, New York approved $30 million in its budget to support Social impact bonds over the subsequent five years. In September 2013, New York State received a $12 million grant from the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) to fund a Pay for Success project designed to increase employment and reduce recidivism among 2,000 formerly incarcerated individuals in partnership with Social Finance US and the Center for Employment Opportunities. This was the largest grant awarded by USDOL for Pay for Success projects.[53]

Massachusetts: On 1 August 2012, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced that Third Sector Capital Partners will serve as lead intermediary, in partnership with New Profit Inc., for the youth recidivism initiative. Roca, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, and Youth Options Unlimited will also participate in the youth recidivism project.The program, called Social Innovation Financing, operates on a simple "pay for success" model, in which nonprofits must demonstrate that by keeping youth from being reincarcerated.[54] According to the state's press release, the juvenile justice contract "will be designed with the specific goal of reducing recidivism and improving education and employment outcomes over several years for a significant segment of the more than 750 youth who exit the juvenile justice system, and the several thousand who exit the probation system annually."[37]

Federal: The U.S. Department of Justice gave "Priority Consideration" to Fiscal Year 2012 Second Chance Act grant applications that include a Pay for Success component.[55] The Second Chance Act (P.L. 110-199) authorizes federal grants to support services that help reduce recidivism.[56] In 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded nearly $24 million in grants for Pay for Success projects that provide employment services to formerly-incarcerated individuals in order to increase employment and reduce recidivism.[57]


The Government of New South Wales, Australia, announced on 20 March 2012 that it will develop a pilot to reduce adult recidivism with Social Ventures Australia[58] and Mission Australia.[59] Several States in Australia have now launched Social Impact Bonds - the latest of which is Victoria which, on 21 December 2017, announced the conclusion of a SIB deal with Sacred Heart Mission.[60] Key external advisers to Sacred Heart Mission were Latitude Network. Also in 2017, Social Ventures Australia funded the Aspire Social Impact Bond, marking the first SIB in South Australia[61]

Rough sleeping and chronic homelessnessEdit


Housing Minister Grant Shapps and London Mayor Boris Johnson announced in March 2012 that a Social Impact Bond would be launched to help London's persistent rough sleepers off the streets and into secure homes.[62] The two Social impact bonds under this programme were launched in December 2012.[63]


Massachusetts: The second of two pilots launched by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2012 addresses the issue of chronic homelessness. In this Pay for Success model, Third Sector Capital Partners will partner with the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), lead intermediary for a chronic homelessness project, as well as the Corporation for Supportive Housing and United Way.[37] The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance represents nonprofit housing organizations that provide housing and support services, such as medical care and vocational training. The consortium will try to raise the number of housing units it provides to around 600 from 220.[54][64] Through the social innovation financing contract, MHSA and its partners plan to expand MHSA's Home & Healthy for Good (HHG) low-threshold housing initiative. HHG has demonstrated that the often traumatic and undertreated health conditions which beset chronically homeless individuals are better treated after a person gains the basic level of stabilization that permanent housing provides. In addition to successfully housing those often considered the hardest to serve, HHG has demonstrated significant cost savings to the Commonwealth.[65]


Australia's second Social Impact Bond focused on chronic homelessness was launched on 21 December 2017 by the Victorian Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing.[60] The SIB will be focused on three cohorts of 60 individuals, providing rapid housing and wrap-around, individualised, case-management support for three years each. The SIB provides expansion capital for Sacred Heart Mission's 'Journey to Social Inclusion' program which had previously been through pilot testing.[66] Lead external advisors for this SIB deal were Latitude Network.



Fresno, CA: In April 2013 Social Finance US and Collective Health launched an asthma management demonstration project in Fresno, California. This two-year project is designed to prove the effectiveness of up-front investment in asthma management, by focusing on solid evidence and performance measurement. Fresno is one of the nation's asthma hot spots; around 20 percent of its children have been diagnosed with the disease, which takes an especially heavy toll among poor communities. Two service providers with proven track records, Central California Asthma Collaborative and Clinica Sierra Vista, will work with the families of 200 low-income children with asthma to provide home care, education, and support in reducing environmental triggers ranging from cigarette smoke to dust mites. Social Finance expects that the program will produce meaningful cost savings and quality of life improvement for these children, and will deploy rigorous data collection and analysis techniques to prove its effectiveness. This proof-of-concept project will build a foundation for the first health-focused Social Impact Bond, and will pave the way for future SIB opportunities in the health arena.[67]



The chief secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, announced that Social Impact Bond trials could be expanded across government departments. "The Department for Children, Schools and Families have pledged to explore the potential of SIBs to lever in additional resources to support early intervention approaches with children and young people," he said in Parliament."Communities and Local Government are also working with Leeds City Council and NHS Leeds to enable them to use a SIB approach to reduce health and social care costs among older people. Similarly Bradford Metropolitan District Council are considering applying this model as part of their involvement in the government’s Total Place programme."[68]


Federal: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced in 2013 it will provide $5 billion in grant dollars to assist in the rebuilding and strengthening effort following Hurricane Sandy and encouraged the five states impacted by the storm to make use of evidence-based, Pay for Success strategies where appropriate.[69] In 2013, the Department of the Treasury issued a Request for Information (RFI) that will help design a proposed $300 million Incentive Fund to further expand Pay for Success. The Fund is intended to empower cities, states and nonprofits to test new Pay for Success models. This same Fund was also part of the President's commitment of nearly $500 million in this year's Budget to expand Pay for Success strategies.[69]

Children and familiesEdit


Social Finance worked with UK local authorities to assess the potential for social impact bonds to improve family support services. These studies assessed the potential of social impact bonds to fund preventive and early intervention services which improve outcomes for children and generate cost savings for Local Authorities.[70][71]

In March 2012 Manchester City Council announced a social impact bond to fund Multi-dimensional treatment foster care.[72]


New South Wales: The Government of New South Wales, Australia, announced on 20 March 2012 that it will develop three pilots in the area of child protection, foster care and juvenile justice. One of the child protection pilots is with a consortium involving the Benevolent Society, Westpac Bank and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. The other child protection pilot is led by UnitingCare Burnside, a division of UnitingCare Australia. The juvenile justice pilot to be delivered by Mission Australia[59] did not go ahead.


Utah: In August 2013, the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group (UIG) together with the United Way of Salt Lake and J.B. Pritzker formed a partnership to create the first ever Social Impact Bond designed to finance early childhood. Goldman Sachs and Pritzker jointly committed up to $7 million to finance The Utah High Quality Preschool Program, a high impact and targeted curriculum focused on increasing school readiness and academic performance among at-risk 3 and 4 year olds in Utah. As a result of entering kindergarten better prepared, it is expected that fewer children will use special education and remedial services in kindergarten through 12th grade, which results in cost savings for school districts, the State of Utah and other government entities. The first $1 million investment in this program will enable approximately 600 children to attend pre-school in the fall of 2013.[73]

Illinois: On 5 May 2014, the State of Illinois announced the state's first Pay for Success (PFS) contract will increase support for at-risk youth who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems in Illinois.[74] The first contract awarded under this innovative initiative will go to One Hope United, in partnership with the Conscience Community Network (CCN). The program is intended to generate new private investment for support programs targeting at-risk youth, putting them on the right path by reducing their dependence on the state's welfare and criminal justice systems, which will lead to long-term savings for taxpayers.[75][76]

Early stage explorationEdit


States across the country are currently exploring opportunities to use social impact bonds to achieve their social goals, including:[77]

  • California: In August 2013, Santa Barbara County released a Request for Information on Social impact bonds and approved a feasibility study to explore the potential use of pay for success financing in reducing prisoner recidivism; Additionally, Santa Clara agreed to fund a pilot project exploring SIB feasibility.[78] By 2015, Santa Clara County had implemented an SIB known as Project Welcome Home, administered by a local non-profit and focused on housing the highest-need homeless people over six years.[79]
  • Colorado: In June 2013, Colorado and Denver were selected to receive support from a Harvard Kennedy School SIB Technical Assistance Lab (SIB Lab) fellow. Both jurisdictions have released a "Request for Information" (RFI) on SIBS.[80] Denver's was implemented by February 2016. This, like Santa Clara's, focused on reducing chronic homelessness and the negative social phenomena associated therewith.[79]
  • Connecticut: In 2013, the Department of Children and Families released a Request for Information to explore how Social impact bonds might be used to address substance abuse among families involved in the child welfare system.
  • Illinois: In April 2013, Governor Quinn announced that the State would pursue a Social Impact Bond program with technical support from the Harvard SIB Lab. In September, Illinois issued a "Request for Proposal" (RFP), focused on youth engaged in the juvenile justice and/or foster care systems.
  • Maryland: In 2013, Social Impact Bond legislation was introduced to the Committee on Appropriations in the Maryland House of Delegates.
  • Michigan: In September 2013, Michigan was selected to receive support from the SIB Lab to develop pay for success programs funded by social impact bonds. The state initiated an RFI to obtain initial input about potential projects.
  • New Jersey: In December 2012, the State Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee approved the New Jersey Social Innovation Act, which would establish a five-year pilot program to attract private funding to finance social services. The target areas are prevention and early intervention health care for low-income and uninsured people, in order to reduce government health care spending.
  • North Carolina: In 2013, the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University began exploratory work around using SIBS for dissemination of a universal home visiting program known as Durham Connects found to reduce emergency care in infants.[81]
  • Ohio: In November 2012, Cuyahoga County released an RFP on funding social service programs through pay-for-success contracts. In the summer of 2013, the state of Ohio was selected to receive assistance from the SIB Lab.
  • Oregon: The Governor's 2013-2015 budget proposal included $800,000 for the Early Learning Division. The funds are intended to cover start-up costs for a "Pilot Prevention Health and Wellness Demonstration Project for Social Impact Financing."
  • South Carolina: In June 2013, South Carolina was selected to receive assistance from the SIB Lab and looks to use the support to develop a home-visiting program. In September 2012, the state issued an RFI related to Social impact bonds.
  • Washington, D.C.: The District of Columbia initiated a Request for Qualifications in September 2013 for a feasibility study of DC Social impact bonds.


  • The government of Ontario included Social Impact Bonds in the list of innovative social financial tools to be explored as of 2016.[82]


  • "El Futuor en Mis Manos" was piloted in 2016 in the Guadalajara metropolitan area and, over 30 months, provided support to more than 1300 female-headed households.

Intermediaries and technical assistance providersEdit

A list of over 20 intermediaries and providers of technical assistance in the UK is maintained[83] as part of the Big Lottery Fund's Commissioning Better Outcomes programme.


  • Social Finance UK (2009) Social Impact Bonds: Rethinking finance for social outcomes[29]
  • Social Finance UK (2010) Towards a New Social Economy: Blended value creation through Social Impacts Bonds[84]
  • Young Foundation (2010) Social Impact Investment: the challenge and opportunity of Social Impact Bonds[85]
  • Social Finance UK (2011) A Technical Guide to Developing Social Impact Bonds[86]
  • Centre for American Progress (2011) Social Impact Bonds[87]
  • Impact Economy (2011) Four Revolutions in Global Philanthropy[88]
  • Social Finance (2011) Technical Guide to Commissioning Social Impact Bonds[89]
  • Social Finance (2011) Social Impact Bonds: The One Service, One Year On[90]
  • Rand Corporation (2011) Lessons learned from the planning and early implementation of the Social Impact Bond at HMP Peterborough, RAND Europe, 2011[91]
  • Social Finance US (2012) A New Tool for Scaling Impact: How Social Impact Bonds Can Mobilize Private Capital to Advance Social Good[92]
  • Benjamin R. Cox (2012) Financing Homelessness Prevention Programs with Social Impact Bonds[93]
  • Maryland Department of Legislative Services (2013) Evaluating Social Impact Bonds as a New Reentry Financing Mechanism: A Case Study on Reentry Programming in Maryland. [94]
  • Third Sector Capital Partners (2013) Case Study: Preparing for a Pay for Success Opportunity[95]
  • Social Market Foundation (2013) Risky Business: Social Impact Bonds and public services[45]
  • The New Zealand Initiative (2015) Investing for Success: Social Impact Bonds and the future of public services[96]
  • Government Outcomes Lab (2018) Building the tools for public services to secure better outcomes: Collaboration, Prevention, Innovation.[43]
  • Government Outcomes Lab (2018) Are we rallying together? Collaboration and public sector reform.[97]

See alsoEdit


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