The Robertson Trust Foundation in Scotland recently published the results of an initial evaluation of their Social Bridging Finance scheme (SBF) pilot.

Supporting a highly demanding social services’ transformation in Scotland, SBF is a finance and operational partnership between a private funder, a social enterprise, and a local authority. It is structured to develop and sustain an evidence-based social innovation in preventative services, while “enabling public services to innovate and move resources towards preventative services and measures“.

SBF is being currently trialed by three demonstration projects located in Dundee, East Renfrewshire and South Ayrshire. So far, the early findings are promising and very instructive.

Is Social Bridging Finance a kind of Social Impact Bond?

A contract between a public body (in the trial cases, local authorities), a social enterprise involved in preventative services, and an independent funder looks very much like a Social Impact Bond. However, it is shown in the illustration provided by The Robertson Trust Foundation, SBF is quite different.

The scheme is fully grant-based and relies on the commitment of the public body to fund the project after a successful trial phase.

The independent funder brings the necessary risk capital to develop the innovation. It funds a set-up phase and a trial period (up to 3 years), after which, in case of success, the public body commits to support financially the program for at least longer than the trial period.

Why should we look into it closer?

The scheme has been structured to be easily replicated by other funder as well as to support the strengthening of social services in a time of austerity and ever-growing social challenges.

  • SBF is, as the Robertson Trust Foundtion puts it, “legal light”: the contract itself does not exceed 10 pages and is a standardized document.
  • The trial is being thoroughly documented and shared.

The first findings already highlight a few key success factors (evidence-based social innovation enabling identification of criteria for evaluation – 3 at the most – preexisting partnership among actors, strong involvement of senior representatives from the partners, hands on support of the funder, to name a few) as well as challenges that are to be addressed.

The question of the long-term funding of the social innovation at the end of the contract seems to remain open.

Over the course of the trial, could SBF develop into a sequential hybrid model involving other types of funders (possibly through social bonds) in the “sustaining phase” of the scheme, once the public body takes over from the initial risk capital provider?