Social Impact Bonds: An Update

A recent Brookings piece on the use of social impact bonds in Colombia prompted me on a little research project to examine what’s been happening in this space since I wrote about it a few years ago.  The Colombia project, which supports skills training for at-risk populations, is itself is a big deal.  It’s the first time that a social impact bond (SIB) has been used in a developing economy to support a development project.   Otherwise, the SIB field appears to be chugging along.   It’s not living up to all the early hype, but it is becoming professionalized as practitioners get a better sense of the types of projects and interventions that can best be supported via SIB funding.  Early childhood development is one promising area.   Generally, in the US, we still have somewhat limited experience with SIBs.  But, many observers, including me, remain hopeful that they can become part of the funding mix for education and training programs.   I continue to believe that SIBs hold great promise as a funding tool for workforce development (see this useful review from the Atlanta Fed) at a time when direct federal dollars are sure to be drying up.   On another front, there is legislation in Congress to help promote use of SIBs.  The Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act (HR 576) has been introduced by bi-partisan group of House members, led by Reps. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and John Delaney (D-MD).   Interest in new financing tools appears to be growing.