Impact investment has taken Canada by storm, opening the doors to innovative partnerships that improve outcomes for vulnerable individuals.
The opportunity to make meaningful change through socially responsible investments has increasingly attracted corporations, foundations and individuals to this niche investment market.
Canadian governments have supported socially responsible investing by inviting the community, at large, to assist with helping define a solution to challenging social problems.
There are various impact investment tools that have gained local and regional popularity in the last 10 years. Examples include support for social impact procurement, social impact bonds, or doing better business with social enterprises that offer government a compelling social return on investment (SROI).
Socially driven investors, with the support of government, play an important role in contributing to positive social change, but the use of social impact bonds (SIBs), more specifically, is only an emerging trend.
Currently, there are four SIBs in Canada, addressing a spectrum of social outcomes in areas such as health, employment, child welfare and education.
In 2014, the Government of Saskatchewan introduced the first SIB. Saskatchewan’s Sweet Dreams SIB focuses on single mothers through a supportive group-home environment. The environment encourages a connection to sustainable employment and fosters positive parenting to ensure children remain with their mothers in a safe place.
Three other SIBs emerged in Canada since the launch of Sweet Dreams.
First, Saskatchewan’s Mother Theresa SIB, which focuses on improving academic outcomes of school-aged children.
Second, a federal SIB, in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, that targets pre-hypertensive individuals and aims to decrease blood pressure levels without creating a dependency on medications.
And third, a Manitoba government SIB, in partnership with the Southern First Nations Network of Care (SFNNC), which seeks to reduce the number of children in care.
Manitoba is one of a a few Canadian jurisdictions that face a high number of children in care, mostly of Indigenous decent.
Restoring the Sacred Bond is Manitoba’s first SIB and Canada’s only child welfare SIB. The objective is to prevent infant apprehensions and reduce the overall number of days that an infant spends in care, where an apprehension is necessary due to safety concerns.
The program connects high-risk mothers to an Indigenous doula
The program identifies expectant and high-risk mothers, who may themselves be in government care, and connects them to an Indigenous doula. The doula is recruited and trained by a grassroots organisation, Wiiji’idewag Ikwewag. The relationship with an Indigenous doula helps connect or re-connect the mother to traditional Indigenous teachings, connects the mother with community resources for mental health and addictions, and helps with pain management related to birthing. The doula spends up to 12 months working with the mother using traditional teachings and methods to support and parent.
In early 2019, the SFNNC became the Government of Manitoba’s official partner to deliver to three-year SIB, beginning in the spring to summer of 2019.
Restoring the Sacred Bond will be piloted across five Manitoba communities and will serve up to 200 mothers. Year three will focus on program evaluation and determine investor payout, estimated at a maximum of 5 per cent, depending on SFNNC’s ability to reduce the number of days in care.
While a discussion on the outcomes of Manitoba’s first SIB remains premature, there are a number of lessons that Manitoba has already learned along the way:
- Central expectations around an ROI: ensure alignment between the civil service and central government around an appropriate return on government investment. This includes effective communication with decision makers as early on in the project as possible to ensure that priorities are reflected in the program design.
- Professional service: consider recruiting the help of an intermediary to assist with pertinent design elements such as the financial structuring, return on investment calculations, operational and business plans as well as investor recruitment. This is especially prudent for jurisdictions that are delivering a SIB for the very first time.
- Education and sponsorship: SIBs are a new phenomenon in Canada and there are still misunderstandings around their ability to improve client outcomes. In order to promote effective communication around SIBs, it becomes important for government to host ongoing consultations with internal and external stakeholders, providing an opportunity to offer clarification and respond to questions. Equally important is the need to gain “sponsorship” and support from key stakeholders as early on as possible. For Manitoba’s child welfare SIB, this included effective engagement and collaboration with Indigenous partners who helped champion the model.
Impact investment tools, such as social impact bonds, capitalise on the immense knowledge, passion and influence of public, private and not-for-profit partners. Under the right framework, these critical partnerships have the potential to forge the pathway towards improved social outcomes.