Batmanghelidjh: Social impact bonds won’t work for everyone

Batmanghelidjh: Social impact bonds won’t work for everyone
Civil Society, by Niki May Young

Charity leaders should be "brave" enough not to accept prescribed funding models, said Camila Batmanghelidjh in her closing speech at the NCVO Trustee Conference yesterday.

In a powerful half-hour address to an audience of around 300 trustees, the Kids Company founder and director made a plea for charities “not to be homogenised”. She said that her trustees have been “brave” and have resisted taking the “safest option”. But she warned that charities now feel great pressure to adhere to strict limitations in order to gain funding:

“We are living in a context where there is such focus on procedural excellence that sometimes trustees can be bombarded into functioning in an over-safe manner in the service of adhering to governance requirements and they lose sight of what potentially the voluntary sector was set up for, which is the mad passion of individuals who have perhaps intuitions about how things could be done differently. They need the space to innovate the provision and listen to their clients."

 Batmanghelidjh paid particular focus to social impact bonds, which she says will not be appropriate for all services:

“Social impact bonds are brilliant for people who have and produce outcomes that have a beginning, middle and end, that administratively competent people can measure. But when you’re talking about neuro-developmental change, when you’re talking about deficits in love, about the brain changing as a result of terror and needing long-term re-parenting to provide reversal of that terror trajectory, or compensatory mechanisms to address it, you are not talking about something that can be absolutely defined on paper sufficiently to produce a visible outcome that is uniform that the government can buy and sell.

“It’s up to people like you who are sitting at the head of these organisations to have the moral courage to know when to say yes to someone else’s idea and when to say no,” she said.

Batmanghelidjh said that it is possible to provide a service without accepting prescribed funding models, advising that “from those early beginnings in the railway arches, we are now an organisation, reaching out to some 36,000 children, we’ve got 600 paid staff, 11,000 volunteers, and we’re still living month-by-month and don’t have the money ahead”.

The charity saw its income grow by ten per cent last year. She gave thanks to the “really visionary philanthropists; charitable trusts who gave us money; volunteers, people who helped us along the way; and the kindness of the media” that help the charity survive.