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SIBdev Family: The End of the Journey?

Edited on

04 September 2022
Read time: 7 minutes

In the interim article, we reported that the SIBdev partnership was halfway towards exploring Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). Let's see where the participating cities are at the end of the project!

Group photo - Transnational Meeting in Aarhus

To find out more about social impact bonds, read the article on the launch of the project

Cities learned about SIBs

Aarhus (Denmark), Baia Mare (Romania), Fundão (Portugal), Heerlen (the Netherlands), Kecskemét (Hungary), Pordenone (Italy), Vőru (Estonia) and Zaragoza (Spain) all started the project with different backgrounds and, with one or two exceptions, minimal experience but with a lot of curiosity. Therefore, cities needed to learn about SIBs. This was done through masterclasses, in which experts with extensive experience in SIBs shared their knowledge. At the project's initiation, these sessions focused on providing a general theoretical understanding of SIBs. Later, cities learned about outcome measurement and how SIBs can be used as an instrument of social change and innovation. The fourth and fifth masterclasses were about SIBs as an investment tool and how they can contribute to innovation in public procurement. During the visits to Voru and Zaragoza, cities also saw a glimpse of the Estonian and Spanish social investment scene. Finally, the last masterclass offered valuable lessons on the management of SIBs. In total, 24 lecturers held 30 lectures, with a total duration of 52 hours.

Cities learned from each other

The knowledge exchange process continued with further physical meetings. After the meetings in Voru, Pordenone and Zaragoza in the first half of the project, the participants travelled to Aarhus, Kecskemét, Baia Mare and finally Heerlen during the spring of 2022.

The ninth transnational meeting was hosted in Aarhus and featured site visits. Partners learned about several good practices, the most prominent of which was the Staircase to Staircase model. Other highlights included a presentation by the Aarhus Municipality on SIBs under implementation and a presentation on the Aarhus Social Investment Fund.

The tenth transnational meeting was a combined city visit of Kecskemét and Baia Mare. Hosting cities focused on presenting their SSA and good practices in the employment or social domain.

The eleventh transnational meeting was the last opportunity for all partners to meet within SIBdev. The highlight of the meeting was the Peer review session, where cities presented their IAPs and reflected on each other's IAPs in pairs. Heerlen, the hosting city, also organised several site visits, helping partners put their IAP and SSA in context.

Physical meetings also allowed two staff exchanges: Zaragoza hosted social workers from Heerlen and Pordenone, and Aarhus hosted social workers from Võru.

During the second phase of the project implementation, cities participated in 11 transnational (5 online, 6 physical) meetings, totalling 120 hours.

Where did cities arrive?

Let's take a look at the final outputs of the project!

Main outputs of each city
CityFocus of the IAPSummary of the Small Scale Action
AarhusThe IAP identified and started social initiatives in cooperation with civil society organisations and private investors, contributing to positive changes for citizens and reducing municipality expenses. Such initiatives include combatting vulnerable youth homelessness, unemployment, and domestic violence. The aim is to finance these actions via SIBs.The SSA created a community that connects culture, health, and employment in working with challenged young people. The project combined the experiences of three different actors working with people with mental vulnerabilities in one place to create synergies that greatly benefit young people's development.
Baia MareThe IAP's objectives are related to the city's Local Development Strategy and Smart City Strategy. Based on the Smart City Model, it includes using Social Impact Bonds for each Smart City component, such as Governance, Environment, Economy, Lifestyle, Population and Mobility. The aim is to promote SIBs as a tool for sustainable local development.Connect Youth and Jobs aimed to increase the employability of young people by preparing students for job interviews and providing soft skills training. The pilot included a contest of entrepreneurial ideas, simulation of job interviews with private sector representatives, research, identification and testing of social services for training students, focused on developing socio-professional soft skills.
FundãoFundão explored how SIBs can improve the delivery of public services and focused mainly on ageing and migration. Within these topics, four main areas were defined: (1) active ageing, (2) combating loneliness and social isolation, (3) migrants' integration into society and (4) attitude change towards migrants.The city developed Play Memo Move, a new technological tool combining exercises and gaming. The tool facilitated the practice of physical activity and enabled improved health and a more active lifestyle for the elderly. The game includes cognitive stimulation, brain health monitoring and cognitive training, physical activities and dual-task training.
HeerlenHeerlen's goal is to promote a healthy lifestyle, lower care costs, and find investors to participate in the search for methods to help people age healthier. Experimenting with interventions to accomplish the city's vision and mission was also vital.The SSA focused on loneliness, collaborating with several general practices and a large health care organisation. The idea was to issue a 'prescription' for meetings with a neighbourhood connector, which helps look for suitable solutions or activities instead of providing traditional medicine. The goal was to change medicalisation into socialising.
KecskemétThe key objective of the city is to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers by reducing structural unemployment caused by the labour market situation of youth and the elderly. Actions include improving the employability of the elderly and the youth by enabling learning, skills development, intergenerational mentoring, and supporting multigenerational, age-friendly workplaces.Kecskemét tested an intergenerational mentoring program; mentors over 50 taught the mentees soft skills essential for a successful start in the labour market. The personalised mentoring process provided an opportunity to transfer the professional and human values accumulated by the older generation.
PordenoneThe main objectives of the IAP are: 
(1) Developing new housing solutions for active ageing
(2) Avoiding loneliness and a sense of isolation within the community
(3) Revitalising a marginal neighbourhood in the city
(4) Guaranteeing a minimum essential level of home services to the whole population.
The action was carried out in a peripheral neighbourhood in a newly renovated building. The house serves a community with a mix of ethnic groups, religions, and cultures inserted in a rural culture proud of its traditions. The city created a place that could accommodate all this potential, capitalising on the skills of the local elderly for the advantage of younger people, especially immigrants.
VõruThe goal of the Võru Integrated Action Plan is to examine the readiness of the social impact of bonds to be used to improve the delivery of public services to address the problem of dementia among the elderly. In the long run, the city intends to involve private investment in social services, such as services for people with disabilities and the elderly.The main idea of the action was to introduce new tools, technologies, and approaches for providing better social services. The main change was to move from a booklet to a tablet and software used by social workers who provide day-to-day home care for clients. This allows a better overview of the client's needs and social services budget.
ZaragozaThe city's objective was to develop a diagnosis measuring the city's age-friendliness, involve participants in the analysis process, and gather proposals for improvement in the city's services and features for the elderly. Based on these, the city generated recommendations in an action plan adapted to the needs and demands of the elderly.The main objective of the action was to reduce the feeling of loneliness.Zaragoza implemented a project aimed at 36 elderly intending to reduce their sense of loneliness and increase their social network through videoconference conversation groups and their cognitive stimulation. The team carrying out the action also measured the action's impact.


SIBs, a promising new tool

The main aim of cities involved in SIBdev was to learn about social impact bonds. SIBs are a promising new tool with a significant potential to engage private capital in social change, finance preventive actions and co-create innovation. In addition, SIBs draw the attention of cities to impact, i.e. the part of the results attributable to their efforts, not changes that would have occurred anyway.

Some cities started or got closer to setting up a SIB

Cities will hopefully incorporate the knowledge gained through the masterclasses into their strategies in the longer term. The success of SIBdev is that two cities have already started or are very close to setting up a social impact bond scheme. Aarhus initiated such a model during the SIBdev project. Heerlen has gained enough experience through the SSA that they can rely on for setting up a SIB in the short term. It should be noted that Fundão has already been involved in developing a SIB, and Pordenone also got considerably closer to implementing their planned SIB.

Some cities will need more time to set up a SIB

For the other cities, developing a SIB will take longer for understandable reasons. Setting up a social impact bond model requires a significant amount of time and knowledge, a strong political will and the involvement of a wide range of costly expertise. In addition, the global challenges emerging after launching the project (Covid-19 epidemic, aggression against Ukraine, energy crisis, rising inflation) caused a high level of uncertainty. They removed the focus of cities from SIBs to more urgent issues. However, these cities will undoubtedly benefit from their increased knowledge about measuring impact or defining target groups.

Uncertainties about the implementation of social impact bonds are also reflected in IAPs. Some cities have focused their IAPs explicitly on setting up a SIB. In contrast, others have focused on the social domains (ageing, housing, employment, migration, dementia, or a broad spectrum of these) where SIBs could be applied as a tool.

Small Scale Actions are a successful tool for testing

SSAs successfully allowed partners to experiment, and cities have taken advantage of this. Small Scale Actions are concrete, tangible, visible interventions. In contrast, the IAP is considered a valuable but somewhat abstract document summarising plans. The possibility of carrying out SSAs positively impacted the cities' involvement.

Clever use of online and physical meetings is advised

The experience of the project shows that online meetings are suitable for knowledge transfer and exchange of experience only with certain limitations. Virtual meetings are excellent when the need for input from participants is lower but perform poorly when the goal is knowledge exchange between partners. Good practices or interventions can be presented online. Still, meeting face-to-face is essential to understanding the socio-economic context. SIBdev cities needed personal meetings and dared to organise them as soon as travel restrictions allowed. 'SIBdev Family', which in the beginning seemed to be only a joke, became a reality by the end of the project, with participants building lasting personal and professional relationships.

Is this really the end of the journey?

SIBdev Network has concluded its activity as an Urbact Network. But four cities (Aarhus, Heerlen, Pordenone and Zaragoza) have jointly developed an Interreg Europe project based on the Staircase to Staircase model, Aarhus's good practice. The project aims to create Citizen Centered Social Services, improving the access of vulnerable target groups to services of general interest. Heerlen, the project's lead partner, submitted a hopefully successful application on 31 May 2022, allowing a part of the 'SIBdev Family' to continue working together.

To find out more about SIBdev, read the final network product, a Handbook for Cities Developing SIBs.