A piece from our 10 year magazine by Emily Bolton, Director at Social Finance
THE IMPACT INCUBATOR is an ambitious partnership between Social Finance and leading philanthropic foundations. It works to develop systemic responses to difficult issues that so often elude tried and tested methods. To date, its partners have included the Big Lottery Fund, City Bridge Trust, Comic Relief, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, LankellyChase, Paul Hamyln Foundation, the Treebeard Trust and the Tudor Trust.
The Impact Incubator was set up in 2014. Unlike a commercial incubator model, it is not about creating and nurturing new organisations. Instead, the Impact Incubator is about driving transformative social change that is beyond any one organisation. Over the last three years, the Impact Incubator has worked with a diverse range of partners to explore new ways of tackling difficult social challenges. It starts with no agenda and looks to understand the problem. It is open to any models that could affect change and seeks long term approaches with the potential to be effective at a national scale.
The first four issues it has worked on are perpetrators of domestic abuse; black mental health inequalities; refugee integration; and young people leaving care. These are diverse issues with different underlying causes. With each issue the Impact Incubator has built strong partnerships with experts to develop, launch and mobilise fresh responses. The Drive pilot tackles domestic abuse. Black Thrive is responding to black mental health issues. Reset is a collaboration mobilising to support communities to resettle refugees. Leaving Well is dedicated to supporting young people leaving care.
The team has learnt a lot over the past three years and has been lucky to work with some inspiring partners. Working to address social challenges is often overwhelming. It can be tempting to seek out simplicity. Instinctively, society looks for a single leader or organisation as the route to change and creates a linear relationship between issue and solution. In Social Finance’s experience, there is rarely an easy fix. Addressing social problems is not straightforward and imagining that there is a silver bullet in the form of an individual, organisation or intervention creates fault lines in how society tackles social problems. If an issue has existed for decades it is rarely within the province of one organisation to fix it and often the answer lies beyond any one sector.
The Drive pilot is an illustration of the collaborative approach taken by the Impact Incubator. It shows how different systems can work together to tackle the root causes of domestic abuse. In order to stop the abuse, it is essential to address the behaviour of the perpetrator alongside ensuring the victim is supported. The public narrative must shift from “why doesn’t she leave?”” to “why doesn’t he stop?”.
The Impact Incubator brought together the leading experts tackling domestic violence to create a shared ambition and identify barriers to change. It formed a partnership with Respect and SafeLives to develop Drive. Alongside this, Drive’s development partners included the Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities, leading foundations, support services, the voluntary sector, the police, the local prisons and children’s services.
This approach has led to a model which is based on the knowledge and expertise in each sector. Drive is now operating in three areas, Essex, South Wales and Sussex. It is supported by a blend of philanthropic, local and central government funding. Drive works closely with support services to ensure that the victims are safe. It engages with agencies such as the police or children services to gather information and understand the levers that can be used to change behaviours. It liaises with services such as drug and alcohol charities to ensure that positive outcomes are supported during the intervention and afterwards. As such, it is a broad local response to tackle domestic abuse.
Drive only came into being due to the commitment, vision and expertise of a diverse group of people. This was not collaboration for collaboration’s sake. It was about building relationships around an agreed understanding of the issue and using all the resources within the system to develop the most effective response.
Through the process of developing models like Drive, the Impact Incubator has learned that collaboration is a powerful route to change. Tackling complex issues is usually beyond the ability of any single stakeholder. The solution relies on bringing people together but that does not mean parties need to compromise on the outcomes.
As long as there is a clear shared ambition and vision, bringing partners together who would never normally consider working together becomes easier and very productive.
This collective approach has given the Impact Incubator team real optimism that together can it improve outcomes in some of society’s most difficult issues.