Social Impact Bond (SIB) is the most controversial and talked-about funding mechanism for delivering public services, recently introduced in the UK and, currently developed worldwide.
This emerging practice has gained the momentum amongst scholars, policy-makers, investors, charities and social enterprises but still require a better conceptualization and a serious understanding (Clifford and Jung, 2016). De facto the current academic literature is partial and incomplete: several aspects are not properly considered or analysed generating confusion and suspicious on SIBs. By overcoming the literature gaps, this new development piece introduces a missing voice in the SIB debate: the social enterprises’ perspective.Within the SIB scheme, a social enterprise acts as the social provider who is the actor in charge of the service delivery to the final beneficiary. Thus, the social provider is directly engaged in the SIB process of social service provision and social value creation (Emerson, 2003).
The stable and long-term revenue streams associated with the possibility to scale a project are mostly listed as the social enterprise motivations in setting up a SIB (Gustafsson-Wright, Gardiner, & Putcha, 2015). On the other hand, critical voices emerged expressing concerns about the possible marketization of the third sector (Joy and Shields, 2013) and, suspicious about public authorities may use SIB for replacing exiting public funding for charities (Murray and Gripper, 2016). Generally, social enterprises seem neglected in the SIB academic discussion. The existing scholar debate is focused on SIB and the public sector reform (Fraser, Tan, Lagarde, et al.
, 2016), or related to the so-called financialization of the “public interest” (Chiapello, 2017; Chiapello, 2015) or welfare state (Dowiling, 2016). As a nascent phenomenon, the literature has also addressed some concerns and future research trajectories of SIBs (Warner, 2013), but also technical aspects (Fox and Albertson, 2011) such as configuration (Arena et al., 2016) and outcome measurement (Jackson, 2013). Furthermore, criticisms underlying the unclear effects of SIBs, challenging whether this instrument is the right tool for achieving social benefit and the cashable savings (Whitfield, 2015; Demel, 2013). At the moment, little research encompasses social enterprise role, incentives, perspective in SIBs.
SIBs market is at its embryonic stage and, social enterprise movement can play a vital role for its institutionalisation. Globally social enterprises are recognised as subjects of public policy overcoming the welfare failure in delivering social services (Sepulveda, 2014; Nyssen, 2006; Borzaga and Defourny, 2001; Dees, 1998). Over the years, social enterprises demonstrated to be “at the crossroads of market, public policies and third sector” (Defourny and Nyssens, 2010) helping public authorities in addressing unsolved social needs.It is time to fill the gap in SIB debate and starting to discuss social enterprises.
Hence, the aim of this new development article is to develop and enrich the debate on SIBs by introducing a missing voice. The article explores the potentiality and limitation of such instrument for social enterprises, proposing a research agenda to ensure social enterprises as well as public authorities, social investors, intermediaries and, beneficiaries can take advantage of SIBs.