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Investing private funds for public good: An update from Toby Eccles

Toby Eccles shares a bold idea -- seeking private funds to tackle social problems through public services -- at TEDGlobal. Since he gave this talk, his organization has started working on several new projects. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Toby Eccles shares a bold idea — seeking private funds to tackle social problems through public services — at TEDGlobal. Since he gave this talk, his organization has started several new projects. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Toby Eccles, whose talk about Social Impact Bonds was published yesterday, has been busy since he gave his talk at TEDGlobal in June. Eccles, founder of the nonprofit Social Finance, now spends about half his time on Development Impact Bonds, a spinoff of his original idea. Where SIBs seek private funders to invest in social causes, with payments made with public funds only if outcomes are successful, DIB payments are made by international development agencies. Host governments are still involved in the execution of projects — they’re just not responsible for paying investors.

Over the phone, Eccles told me about three early-stage projects that Social Finance is working on.

Social Finance is in discussions with the Department for International Development (DFID) to invest in a DIB to combat sleeping sickness in Uganda. Sleeping sickness, or African trypanosomiasis, is a parasitic disease that affects about 30,000 people a year worldwide. By injecting 4 million cows, this DIB aims to reduce the parasitic load. They hope to see the number of incidences in humans drop in turn.

Meanwhile in Worcester, England, Social Finance is working on a project to reduce isolation and loneliness for the elderly. The idea: Could focusing on the socialization of the elderly reduce their health problems?

Finally, says Eccles, his company is working on a project that supports families in need holistically. Traditionally, families are approached by many different government agencies for different needs (one agency for education, another for mental health, yet another for employment and for housing). Instead, Social Finance proposes a SIB that provides a pool of money for families based on their individual needs, then assesses their success based on the relevant improvements.

Meanwhile, the Peterborough Prison bond, a contract between the UK Ministry of Justice and Peterborough Prison in Cambridgeshire to lower rates of crime in 3,000 short-term prisoners, is still going strong. Early results, released this summer, showed a 23 percent reduction in re-offenses compared to the national baseline.