Having previously managed a European Social Fund project, I’ve developed a very close eye for detail, dealt with a lot of data and have experienced a payment by results contract. Despite this, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for my next step into the world of social investment.
In 2012, I became Project Manager for Energise, an innovative three year programme working with vulnerable 14-15 year olds across the Thames Valley, developed by the charity Adviza. The programme enables the young people to progress in their lives, particularly in terms of education and work. Involving one-to-one support, group work, residential activities and mentoring, the Energise programme is designed to build resilience, confidence and aspiration to reduce the chances of young people becoming unemployed.
Energise is one of a number of Social Impact Bonds commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions through its Innovation Fund. We work in partnership with social investors, a relationship managed by Social Finance, to deliver pre-agreed outcomes. If these are met, the DWP will return capital to the social investors in the partnership.
It has been important to keep the Adviza mission at the heart of Energise, which is to put young people at the centre of everything we do. This was particularly challenging when we had to build a delivery model for the programme and plan in incredible detail, down to the number of minutes young people will be supported for. This was unlike anything I had done before and I am sure no one at Adviza had ever planned down to this level of detail either.
Data lies at the core of a social impact bond. We are monitored against engagement and outcomes performance, and so we rely on weekly and monthly reports detailing the level of activity and input from the programme. At the beginning of the project, the weekly reports, the monthly dashboard and the monthly board packs were overwhelming. At times I would find myself frustrated at the amount of my time that was being focused on the management information, as it was so different to how I had worked before. However, now in the third year of the project, I look forward to the various reports that get produced. This level of detail is now being discussed in other areas of Adviza and I am sure will become common practice to help inform and improve the way we deliver our service.
The social investors have encouraged flexibility within the project, and it has been really useful to know our project could adapt to reflect the needs of the young people we are working with. We have also been able to add further resources to our delivery model to help achieve better outcomes for the young people. For example, mid-way through the second year of Energise, the Investors asked us to present our ideas on how we could claim a higher number of employment outcomes. This resulted in us being able to have a full time, dedicated Job Coach to work with young people to support them into, and sustain, work.
We are now in the final months of the programme and have exceeded our initial target of supporting 1,750 young people, delivering across 44 schools in the Thames Valley. Energise has been a huge success and delivered outcomes sufficient to return investor capital earlier than expected. This has been achieved by a fantastic delivery team, who themselves have developed and learnt new skills along the journey.
As we near a very successful completion of Energise, our focus has been to sustain the project and find funding to allow us to keep delivering Energise to vulnerable young people across Berkshire. We are two thirds of the way there, as we aim to roll out a three year project to 400 young people, with a few tweaks to the current delivery model.