Putting the task in taskforce
2 October 2019 at 8:22 am
There’s an unashamed practical bias driving the expert panel behind the government’s Social Impact Investing Taskforce, says the panel chair.
Rather than theorising, Michael Traill AM said the expert panel hoped to spark action to accelerate the market and make it easier to harness private capital.
He said the panel was approaching the role with a strong practical lens, to create actionable recommendations that the government could put into practice.
While it is up to government to decide what to do with the recommendations, Traill said he saw an opportunity for the government to play a positive, enabling role in accelerating a market that’s already achieving results.
“I think our collective hope on the taskforce is that we can work with government to put things in place that help drive significant scale and growth of a market that we all feel is really at the front end of strong growth potential,” Traill said.
The Social Impact Investing Taskforce was announced as part of the 2019-20 budget with the Morrison government putting $5 million towards its establishment.
It is made up of an expert panel, headed by Traill with Amanda Miller as deputy chair, and supported by a team within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Last month Dr Catherine Brown, Danny Gilbert AM and Sally McCutchan were also appointed to join the panel.
Traill said he was excited to lead a high quality taskforce, with experience across the spectrum of impact investing, to help make a national strategy a reality.
“I think there’s a high degree of passion for the opportunity,” he said.
Speaking to Pro Bono News, Traill and Brown agreed there was a strong sense among the panel they had a chance to make a transformative impact, given the work that has been done before, the fact that the market is starting to develop and that the current government is “proactive and enthusiastic”.
“It could be the most useful thing I do in my whole career.”
“I actually said to one of my sons when I heard about this, that it could be the most useful thing I do in my whole career,” Brown said.
Traill, a former Macquarie Group executive who left the corporate world to become the founding CEO of Social Ventures Australia and now chairs Goodstart Early Learning, said he was excited to contribute to something that could transform the market and galvanize new sources of capital to address pressing social issues.
“What a privileged opportunity to be part of something that can help take the market to the next steps of evolution and growth,” he said.
The pair believe the timing “feels propitious”, coming off the back of the 2017 Treasury consultation process, as well as the range of social benefit bonds, the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership, the Social Enterprise Development Fund and work happening around the states.
They said their role was to “guide, inspire and challenge” the taskforce to create a national strategy, looking at the role government can play in the market – as an enabler, funder, participant and regulator – and recommending policy changes to make it easier to harness private capital.
But the pair said they had a completely open mind in terms of what their recommendations might be, and stressed they were at the front end of the process.
The first steps involve convening roundtables with people from different areas of the market before moving to incorporate the themes from those conversations into practical guidance.
“The opportunity is to really have an open look at what’s in place, what’s been working, but particularly draw from the experiences of where there have been challenges and what hasn’t worked,” Traill said.
He said the conversations at the taskforce were very anchored in what difference things will make on the ground.
Brown said everyone they had spoken to so far was hands on and had practical examples of things that were working, things that were not working and where there were big opportunities.
“And that’s what we want to see and hear,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of deep thinking about social impact investment. There’s a lot of existing reports and resources to distil, but this is the practical end of that work.”
Traill and Brown both agreed positioning the taskforce within Prime Minister and Cabinet gave it access to support and resources from across government departments and was an indication of the government’s strong support.
“There’s been a lot of deep thinking about social impact investment…but this is the practical end of that work.”
Brown, a lawyer with experience in the not-for-profit and philanthropic sectors who joined the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation as CEO in 2011, said one of the biggest opportunities with the work was that it was very cross-sectoral.
“It’s not necessarily all about funding from government,” she said.
“It’s also about what role can the commercial sector play, what role can philanthropy play and what role can social enterprises themselves – whether they’re for profit or not for profit – play, as we grow the whole social impact investment area.”
In particular, the taskforce will focus on three forms of social impact investing: social impact bonds, social enterprises, categorised as small to mid-size enterprises, and larger scale impact investment opportunities, which Traill said were still at a very nascent stage.
Within this scope, the taskforce will also look at the challenges associated with outcome measurements, as well as debt and equity.
Brown said having the three lenses was really important.
“I think Michael’s had a really clever way of approaching this,” she said.
“To look at the different aspects and then ask those other questions: Where are the barriers? Where can the Commonwealth make a big impact or is there something more philanthropy should do, is there something more that business should do?”
They confirmed questions around Benefit Company status being introduced into Australian law, could also fall within the scope of the taskforce.
They pointed to the Treasury’s consultation, which was explicit in asking questions about corps laws or structures that limited social enterprise.
Traill said the way the terms of reference had been framed allowed the taskforce to do a stocktake of what’s happened in Australia but to also draw from experience overseas, such as the 2001 UK taskforce led by Sir Ron Cohen.
He said the advantage of looking at other countries was that you could adapt and apply precedents to the Australian context.
“The luxury of what we’ve got the opportunity to do, with a short time frame, is to get on our bikes and see what good practice offshore has looked like and what’s worked and what hasn’t,” he said.
Traill said impact investing was an important contributor to finding a more diverse system of funding and resourcing for the social purpose sector.
He said, explicit in the terms of reference, the taskforce aimed to be as clear about what good outcomes looked like, both with regard to financial incentives and social purpose incentives.
“I think at a community level that’s in everybody’s interest to try and be thoughtful and creative and practical about how we can do that better,” he said.
He said he believed the opportunity for larger scale impact investing was in the multi billions of dollars.
“And it’s not just about the dollars. If we’re thoughtful, particularly around the granular measurement of outcomes and being clear about where you can combine business disciplines for social purpose outcomes, you can liberate really significant pools of funding in a partnership with government. And I think that’s incredibly exciting,” he said.
Brown said while they didn’t assume there was a business solution for every social problem, the work of the taskforce was an opportunity to see what further impact investment can do.
“We want to see where it’s possible, how we can do things better, and if there are new ways of working that will actually help people get back into employment or find a home for example.”
The expert panel is expected to provide an initial report to government on the development of the strategy by the end of 2019, and a final strategy by mid-2020.
The taskforce can be contacted at: SocialImpactInvestingTaskforce@pmc.gov.au