Here on the VAHS Forum, we tend to focus on the voluntary sector in Britain, past and present. But in this global age, what happens here can have a direct impact on other parts of the world, as Jon Weier writes for us.
The Canadian government announced recently that it would begin a program of investing in social impact bonds. As the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s major national newspapers, reported, this would entail the creation of a system in which philanthropic and charitable organizations, as well as businesses, would be encouraged to invest in social programs. If these social programs were to then meet agreed-upon targets, the organization that had made the investment would be reimbursed, with interest, by the government.
As a subsequent op-ed piece pointed out, there are significant concerns about the move towards this kind of funding. There is some worry that existing funding envelopes would decrease in order to fund this new initiative, or that social bonds would be used as an excuse by the government to reduce funding to the charitable sector. Similarly, there are questions about whether this would further the trend that already exists to favour programs that have an easy, quantifiable, measure of success, rather than programs that are much more difficult to evaluate or that are more long term in their goals. Finally, this could lead to the practice of selecting participants for these programs from among those individuals most likely to succeed and less in need of services, in order to ensure that measurable targets are met, while neglecting those most in need.
As the articles both mention, this initiative is inspired by a similar program of social bonds that was introduced in the United Kingdom in the past few years. What neither article discusses is whether these social bonds have been successful, or whether critics’ fears were borne out. And this seems to highlight the importance of transnational research when it comes to the history of the charitable sector and its relationship with government. If governments and charitable organizations are going to be influenced by initiatives and movements that are developed in other countries and end up having an international impact, it’s important that we understand the national context in which these programs were developed. While representatives of the Canadian charitable sector have expressed some misgivings about this new program, most seem unaware of whether these programs have been successful in other jurisdictions.