How a crisis can become an opportunity


Madeleine Clarke


The spread of the COVID-19 virus across Europe and globally effects everyone regardless of age, gender, race or wealth. However, our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens are most at risk and likely to be worst effected post-crisis due to significant strains on our economies, resources and services. Now, more than ever, we need to identify ways of bringing together public and private resources (philanthropy and/or social investment) in a range of collaborations to help re-focus public spending in a more effective, evidence-based direction in the interest of European citizens.

The European Social Catalyst Fund (ESCF) is poised to meet this challenge by finding the best evidence-based innovations across the European Union and stimulate and support creative ways to scale up these innovations to produce good outcomes, cost-effectively. The ESCF was developed in a context in which the pressures on public budgets makes it difficult for public agencies to ring-fence funds for innovation alongside operational expenditure commitments. These difficulties can be exacerbated by concerns regarding potential political and industrial relations implications of re-directing funds away from existing practices to adopt new and innovative approaches. Clearly these challenges are significantly heightened during a global crisis such as we are currently experiencing. However, we’ve faced substantial economic challenges in the recent past, as seen during the global economic crisis in 2008, and we’ve learned that there are also opportunities to stimulate reform and innovation.

There is potential for private finance – both philanthropy and social investment – to act as a catalyst to re-configure large public budgets in a direction that produces better social service outcomes. Such outcomes need to be achieved in cost-effective ways in a context where Government investment in social services is limited, and increasingly stretched (now more than ever), in order to meet the growing needs of populations characterized by an aging demographic where there are more people in need of supports and services. We’ve seen such efforts succeed in Ireland, rooted in the recession that took hold in 2008. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the usual barriers to reconfiguring public resources to adopt more effective, citizen-centred, community-based innovations may be more easily overcome. This means that philanthropy and social finance can have also a better leveraging capacity as a catalyst for reform. Now is the time to start planning.

However, there is little if any support for the development of good planning when it comes to the scaling of social innovations. This is in marked contrast with requirements in construction projects and many private financial investment decisions. The ESCF will address this problem by providing support for robust and detailed planning that can be critically appraised and will support more strategic targeting of funds for scaling worthwhile social service innovations. Smart thinking is needed on how to scale impact that is not limited to finding resources to make organisations grow. A broader repertoire of approaches to scaling is required if we are to reduce, or eliminate, some of the major social challenges facing Europe.

In the wider context of this current crisis, the ESCF has extended the deadline for applications to the 11th September 2020. This will also allow more time for recognising and reflecting on what are appropriate and creative responses to the emerging changes in all our lives going forward, especially in the social economy.

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Madeleine Clarke is Founder and Executive Director of Genio

Tagged in: Covid-19

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