Third sector and social impact investments


the first change of pace must be from the Third Sector

Requests are being made from many quarters to the Government to push on social impact investments for a post-Covid recovery in the name of environmental and social sustainability. However, the same request must also be addressed to two other categories of subjects.

First, at banks, whose product portfolio for the third sector has not yet adequately included those solidarity securities introduced by the third sector reform in 2016. Innovative financial instruments, designed to activate the over 4,600 billion in private savings, which constitute the true Italian wealth and that they are increasingly moving towards investments greens and social. After all, this is the direction also strongly supported by the European Union, with the approval of the so-called Green New Deal and the establishment of the European Fund for Social Innovation and Impact, managed by the European Investment Fund (EIF).

Secondly, the request for an openness to social impact investments must also be addressed – and indeed above all – to the third sector, which should be the first to understand its innovative scope and which often, however, continues to be wary, if not downright hostile.

Whether we like it or not, old-fashioned volunteering is no longer enough. The exponential growth of needs – just think, primarily, to poverty – forces us to rethink the very idea of social policies: no longer confined to emergency interventions to plug the constant gaps in the welfare, but extended to the ambition to act on the causes of the problems, whether they are related to the disabled or migrants, drug addicts or prisoners. An idea of social policies, therefore, to be addressed also as economic policies, in which the financial resources spent on the welfare are no longer a mere cost, but become an opportunity for economic development for the entire community.

The Italian legislator already understood this in 2016, with the approval of the aforementioned Reform, and nevertheless, still today too many third sector organizations show a closure, sometimes a priori, towards the innovations introduced by it, as well as towards that "movement in fact” that all over the world is experimenting with the so-called Social Impact Investments.

And yet, our country is very rich in social projects, many of great value. But with a weakness: the lack of attention to their financial sustainability. Today, however, innovation cannot consist only in the idea, but must also extend to the methods of financing.

Why, then, is there still so much distrust of social impact investments in the third sector? Perhaps because it is easier for everyone to resort to traditional financing methods, continuing to knock on the doors of the Municipality or the Region, or those of a banking foundation or a wealthy philanthropist?

But this approach can no longer work today: on the one hand, because public money is progressively decreasing in the face of growing needs; on the other, because it is unrealistic to think that philanthropists can take charge of the many project proposals that in Italy compete for funding, in a sort of insane competition between non-profits that even risks debasing their value. The same banking foundations no longer have the resources of the past and, in any case, are unable to reach all territories.

This is why we all have a duty to try to measure ourselves with innovative instruments also from a financial point of view: they are not all the devilry of an "ugly and bad" finance, as some associations continue to think, for example, by the way, of social bonds, only to then return to cash from the commissioner or philanthropist on duty.

Why, instead, not learn to distinguish between "good" financial instruments and "bad" financial instruments? Simply designing is a luxury that we can no longer afford today: it's time that even volunteers learn to compete in the search for new ways of financing. Just take inspiration from the (few) cases of real social impact investments made in Italy and start experimenting them on a large scale from there.

We have to do it if we want to really affect change and become a constructive goad for governments at all territorial levels.

Published on Huffington Post