Linking social performance with financial return is the key to the social revolution that the world desperately needs, delegates at the Skoll World Forum heard last night.
Speaking during a theatrical and carefully orchestrated opening plenary, Sir Ronald Cohen, chairman of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, refocused the room on the harsh realities of the world they were living in.
Referring to “equality of opportunity” as an “empty slogan nowadays”, Cohen said that many people were left behind. “We need a revolution in how we tackle social issues, or we will lose our way as a society,” he said.
A determined Cohen told the audience that government spending on social services since 2008 had remained flat, and that it could not cope. He said that among ministers, financiers and social entrepreneurs the common theme was that the status quo could not continue.
Cohen talked the audience through the birth of social investment bank Big Society Capital and the Social Impact Bond in the UK – which he described as a breakthrough.
“The breakthrough wasn’t the Social Impact Bond itself,” he said. “It was saying we’ve always presumed that you can’t measure the performance of a social organisation – and that is why they have had to rely on philanthropists.”
He explained how the first Social Impact Bond worked to the international audience, concluding that: “The linking of social performance and financial return is the key to the revolution, the key to the capital markets, the key to giving social entrepreneurs access to capital on the same basis as the for profit entrepreneur.”
After comparing the coming social revolution to the previous tech one, Cohen predicted that there would be new organisational forms that locked in social mission.
A small interruption from an unruly microphone backstage failed to distract Cohen from building his momentum as he launched into his final crescendo, telling the audience:
“We’ve heard a lot about the invisible hand of markets. Let’s hear about the invisible heart of markets to help those whom the invisible hand has left behind.”