Social innovation in finance is on the hype. Doing well by doing good is becoming the new mantra of investors, with terms like impact investing or social impact assessment becoming more and more popular even in the traditional finance sectors. In this blog post we present 8 remarkable examples of social innovation in finance from around the globe. Read on to make sure you don’t miss the boat.



Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank

In (the almost improbable) case you still haven’t heard this name: Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and economist that has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in microfinance in 2006. He has encouraged people to perceive the world not through the lens of profit, but of social impact. He believes that fostering entrepreneurship is the solution to poverty. On that reasoning he moved to the creation of Grameen Bank, which is a microcredit institution committed to providing small amounts of working capital to the poor for self-employment. Additionally, ‘in Grameen Bank credit is a cost-effective weapon to fight poverty and it serves as a catalyst in the over all development of socio-economic conditions of the poor who have been kept outside the banking orbit on the ground that they are poor and hence not bankable.’Yunus also argued that if financial resources can be made available to the poor people on terms and conditions that are appropriate and logical, ‘these millions of small people with their millions of small pursuits can add up to create the biggest development wonder.’ Interested in learning more on his vision and work? │Find additional information here here 


Social Impact Bonds UK

Governments have always struggled in addressing the several arising social issues. Recently, some countries have moved to the creation of social impact bonds. According to the UK’s government, ‘Social impact bonds (SIBs) are a commissioning tool that can enable organisations to deliver outcomes contracts and make funding for services conditional on achieving results. Social Investors pay for the project at the start, and then receive payments based on the results achieved by the project. There now exist over 30 SIBs across the UK, supporting tens of thousands of beneficiaries in areas like youth unemployment, mental health and homelessness’. UK was the pioneer in the creation of SIB In 2010. Interested in the initiative? │Find extra information here │


Piloting Impact Bonds in Canada

Canadian government is also foreseeing the importance of social innovation in finance. Following the example of UK, Canada created its first SIB in May 2014. Canada’s example is unique. It examined the existing SIBs and proceeded to design and develop an Ontario SIB. The current SIB in Ontario is focusing on single mothers and children in care. According to Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, ‘our government is committed to finding and nurturing innovative financing tools, including piloting Social Impact Bonds, to improve social service delivery and secure new sources of investment across the province. I’m pleased that we are already making significant progress towards implementing a Social Impact Bond, and we look forward to piloting one or more so that we can garner the highest potential for success by bettering our society and increasing our competitiveness.’ Clearly, UK’S social innovation initiative in finance created a whole social impact ‘tornado’. Interested in learning more about the subject? │Find extra information here │


Smart Power for Rural Development

Rockefeller Foundation states that ‘more than one billion people across the globe are locked out of the modern economy because they lack sufficient access to electricity to power their homes, communities, and businesses. If we provide access to reliable electricity, we can power social and economic development and transform lives.’ For that reason, it launched a $75 million initiative in 2015 to ‘address the “last-mile” energy gap by bringing together energy service companies (ESCOs), technology experts, local businesses, national and local governments, as well as the private sector to build viable partnerships around decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions.’ The specific social innovations in financing electricity had created tremendous social impact for the lives of millions. │You can find the Smart Power for Rural Development Brochure here and additional information on the initiatives here & here │


100 Resilient Cities

Rockefeller Foundation pioneered in 2013 with 100 Resilient Cities that aimed to help more cities build resilience to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are emerging in this era. ‘Cities in the 100RC network are provided with the resources necessary to develop a roadmap to resilience along four main pathways: Financial and logistical guidance for establishing an innovative new position in city government, a Chief Resilience Officer, who will lead the city’s resilience efforts / Expert support for development of a robust Resilience Strategy / Access to solutions, service providers, and partners from the private, public and NGO sectors who can help them develop and implement their Resilience Strategies / Membership of a global network of member cities who can learn from and help each other.’ Interested in where the program stands? Well ‘currently, more than 30 holistic Resilience Strategies have been created, which have outlined over 1,800 concrete actions and initiatives. This has resulted in more than 150 collaborations between partners and cities to address city challenges, including $230 million of pledged support from platform partners and more than $655 million leveraged from national, philanthropic, and private sources to implement resilience projects’. A greatly motivating social innovation in finance tackling modern urban issues. │Find additional information here │


European Structural Funds

Throughout the years, the European Commission has developed a great number of policies, initiatives and programs that helped social innovators, citizens and organizations tackle the emerging social issues. One such initiative was the creation of Structural Funds. According to the European Commission ‘the Structural Funds comprise the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund. In addition, there is a Cohesion Fund which supports large projects in the environment and transport sector in 14 countries with gross national income below 90% of the EU average. The two Structural Funds are available throughout the EU territory. In convergence regions, the EU co-finances up to 85% of the total eligible cost; in competitiveness regions up to 50%. Both of the Structural Funds have a delivery system based on the principle of ‘shared management’ through the programming cycle which lasts for seven years. At the start of the cycle, the European Commission agrees the multi-annual investment programmes with the Member States. These programmes focus the resources on agreed objectives. Application for projects, project selection and monitoring are carried out at national or regional level for each programme by a managing authority.’ An extraordinary social innovation program that have financed hundreds of projects. │Find extra information here │


European Social Fund (ESF)

As part of the Structural Funds, European Social Fund aims to contribute to social innovation in finance. Specifically, ‘The European Social Fund (ESF) is one of the EU’s Structural Funds, set up to reduce differences in prosperity and living standards across EU Member States and regions, and promoting economic and social cohesion. Member States play a key role in the management of the funds. The particular aim of ESF spending is to support the creation of more and better jobs in the EU, which it does by co-funding national, regional and local projects that improve the levels of employment, the quality of jobs, and the inclusiveness of the labour market in the Member States and their regions. Over the period 2007-2013, some €75 billion is being distributed to the EU Member States and regions, which equates to approximately 10% of the EU’s total budget.’ A great social innovation funding that has lead to improved economic prosperity throughout European state members. For the 2014-2020 period, the ESF focuses on four of the cohesion policy’s thematic objectives: ‘promoting employment and supporting labour mobility, promoting social inclusion and combating poverty, investing in education, skills and lifelong learning, enhancing institutional capacity and an efficient public administration.│Find additional information here & here │


European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

ERDF aims to address regional development, economic change, enhanced competitiveness and territorial co-operation across Europe. In this case, the funds are managed by Member States and not the European Commission. There are funding priorities such as modernising economic structures, creating sustainable jobs and economic growth, research and innovation, environmental protection and risk prevention. ‘The Fund has innovated regarding the type of investments, the way that money is invested – particularly by involving the EIF and the private sector – and by developing new approaches to governance, particularly for cities. The ERDF has worked in a joined-up integrated approach to regenerate disadvantaged urban areas of cities and find new uses for redundant buildings and spaces. This has included support for cultural and creative quarters, outreach work to engage specific groups such as migrants and the Roma and working on triple helix. Most work in cities involves multiple agencies operating at different levels. The challenge for the ERDF has been to seek out more virtuous systems of financing which mobilise and reward city actors for their participation. Financing the four ‘J’s has succeeded in delivering technical assistance for very large projects (JASPERS), developed new forms of SME investment funds with the EIF (JEREMIE), Urban Development Funds and the EIB (JESSICA), and most recently has built capacity for microfinance and coordinated with the new EU Progress Microfinance facility (JASMINE).’ A noteworthy example of financing social innovations with humanitarian purpose. │Find extra information here & here │


What do you think about the above-mentioned social innovation initiatives in finance? Do you feel something is missing? At the Social Innovation Academy, we strive to give visibility to practices that could bring essential social impact worldwide. Developed by Limitless together with 4 other partners, the Social Innovation Academy  will be the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation. Why Social Innovation Academy? Social Innovation has been increasingly perceived as the answer to the rising number of European societal challenges. While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is the key to better future, it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high quality training on what social innovation offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice. Social Innovation Academy will aim to change this situation in Europe and beyond. If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to become a member of our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedInTwitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here!


The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


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