Friday, March 5, 2010

Social Capital Partners - the story continues

For many of you who read this blog, the Social Capital Partners story will be familiar to you. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to hear Bill Young speak, and once again I was inspired, and I thought -this is a story worth repeating.

Bill Young came into a lot of money at the time of the technology stock frenzy, and he used it to found Social Capital Partners in 2001. He wanted to figure out the answer to the question “is there a way to harness market forces to do social good?” He held a contest for business plans for real projects that would be profitable both financially and on social metrics, with the prize being funding by SCP of the project. The winner was Inner City Renovation, a fascinating project based in Winnipeg that helped recipients of social housing gain valuable and transferable skills in the construction trades by renovating houses that would become social housing units. Inner City Renovation was followed by a variety of other projects across the country, all with quantifiable social and financial aims. This was what Mr. Young calls Phase 1 of SCP, where “we proved that you can make these double bottom line companies work.”

Five years later, Mr. Young realized that although they were doing good work, SCP "had not changed the landscape. We wanted this to become the prevalent model and it wasn’t.” In order to move ahead, he identified two things. First, they had to figure out how to engage the private sector in what they were doing, and second they had to find a way to make the projects more replicable so that they could do more projects. The solution was to work with franchises. The benefit being that the business end of things was already being taken care of by the franchisor and SCP needed to focus only on the social returns. So, SCP loaned the franchisee the money to buy the franchise on the condition that the franchise then employ people from the job ready pool of applicants that SCP was working with. This too was successful, and constituted Phase 2.

But it wasn’t enough either. Now Mr. Young wants to change the way HR works with respect to entry level employees. His new 10 year vision is for every company to have a social hiring program integrated into their HR function and reported on using standard CSR mechanisms. He believes that “employment outcomes of people hired through these channels will be as good or better than those of people hired through regular channels.” And he’s in the process of creating a pilot project that will demonstrate this. “In order for this (initiative) to scale up, we have to prove the economics of it.”

This summary gives you the bare bones. I can’t do justice to the humour, the eloquence and the inspiration provided by Bill Young. Sometimes it seems like the S in ESG gets short shrift, and it takes someone like Bill Young to bring it all back into focus.

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