Sir Ronald Cohen is Chair of the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce and charged with igniting the international Social Impact Bond (SIB) revolution.  SIBs are an investment product designed to raise private capital to pay for social services. A venture capitalist turned impact investor, Sir Ronald believes finance is poised to become  a powerful democratizing force in the 21st Century.

With Social Impact Bonds governments repay investors only if the programs improve social outcomes, for example, lower unemployment or prison recidivism. Return on investment is tied to the success of a program. The film follows Sir Ronald as he travels the globe pitching to politicians and investors against the backdrop of a growing SIB market.

In Canada, the Ontario government is designing its first SIB. Through the eyes of Mainstay Housing’s Executive Director, Brigitte Witkowski, we follow the design of a SIB aimed at housing the chronically homeless. As Mainstay works with financial advisors and program evaluators; social workers grapple with the consequences of monetizing services for some of society's most vulnerable people.

At Melody Elementary School in Chicago, we follow the city’s first pre-Kindergarten SIB funded by Goldman Sachs and local venture capitalists. 2,600 preschool students are part of a program designed to reduce the city’s special education costs. If the children test well, investors will make a profit. In year two of the Chicago SIB, a similar early childhood education SIB in Utah comes under suspicion for claiming a 99.9% success rate.

The Invisible Heart reveals the challenges associated with introducing a profit incentive to the delivery of social services. How important will profit potential be in designing a program? Who will decide the payment trigger and rate of return? How will we know whether the programs we fund are truly improving lives?

At the heart of this film is one central question: What impact will market forces have on social services and the people they help?



Over the past 15 years I have shared the stories of incarcerated youth, abused women and foster children; and while each story began with a glimmer of hope invariably I ended up bearing witness to a system that routinely fails people. Four years ago I began this documentary with the expectation of a different ending.


The Invisible Heart tracks the development of a financial product that introduces a profit incentive to the delivery of social services. By attributing a financial value to positive social outcomes, Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) promise to solve society's most complex problems.

In The Invisible Heart we are truly on a revolutionary journey, but as in all revolutions there is a danger that things will go awry.


SIB proponents believe an outcome-based, profit-driven approach to social services will promote the development of innovative programs by shifting risk onto private investors; ensure only effective programs continue to be funded; and ultimately attract billions of dollars to prevent social problems. 


As a filmmaker who has spent many years looking at these difficult social issues, I am encouraged by the SIB model’s focus on prevention, and its ability to highlight not just the social but also the financial value of early intervention. I am also excited by the idea that SIBs could increase public involvement in solving social problems by allowing citizens a way to invest directly in effective, local programs. But my optimism is tempered by the dangers of introducing a profit incentive driven by “success” outcomes.


The Invisible Heart explores all sides of this issue, documenting the experiences of those directly involved in two SIBs; one for Toronto’s chronically homeless and the other for Chicago pre-kindergarten students. Over three years I filmed with children and the homeless, teachers and support workers, investors and politicians.  In the course of filming, I saw how the pressure to succeed and return profits to investors influences program decisions. I saw how the need to tie outcomes directly to an intervention encourages a narrow-focused approach to complex problems, rather than a holistic view.  I also saw how tempting it is for governments to make program targets more easily attainable in order to attract investor funding.


With insider access, journalistic rigour and dramatic storytelling, The Invisible Heart examines these moral and ethical dilemmas against the backdrop of a global revolution. At the time of writing there are 108 SIBs worldwide in 24 countries and 70+ more in development.


Editorially The Invisible Heart is a continuation of an imperative public dialogue about equality and justice.  Stylistically it is a character-driven, observational film; adapted to the very different worlds occupied by our main characters.  To provide context to this unfolding social revolution, I included long-form interviews with knowledgeable observers of the emerging SIB market. They offer the most up-to-date, critical analysis of this controversial financial product.


From the moment I started thinking about this project I believed that for the film to succeed it was critical that I present you, the viewer, with the very real, human impact of introducing a profit motive to the delivery of social services.  I hope that what I and the filmmaking team have created makes you want to improve how we as a society help the most vulnerable among us.


Nadine Pequeneza




From the halls of power to society’s struggling underclass, The Invisible Heart follows an unusual cast of characters forging previously

unthinkable alliances: social workers and Wall Street bankers, the homeless and venture capitalists, conservative and liberal politicians.

TORONTO - a SIB to solve homelessness

“People are afraid that government is going to walk away from

its responsibility for social services. I don't believe that.”

BRIGITTE WITKOWSKI is executive director of the largest non-profit provider of supportive housing in Ontario for mental health survivors.  Mainstay was shortlisted for the Ontario government’s social impact bond pilot program to house the chronically homeless.  Their program Homelessness to Homes is an innovative residential program for individuals who have been homeless for five years or more and are recovering from mental illness and addiction.  Mainstay needs $5 million over seven years to help 100 people leave the streets.

“One of the major challenges working with people on the street is first it's hard to get

connected with them, and then it's very hard to disconnect from them.” 

MATH RADFAR has been a support worker at Mainstay Housing for seven years. A former Iranian refugee who fled political persecution, he feels comfortable working with Toronto's homeless population. Math works with 10 individuals at a time, helping them over a 3-year period to adjust to permanent tenancy after many years or decades surviving on the street. Most of his clients are facing mental health and addiction challenges.  For many clients, Math is the only  constant support in their lives, which is key to their success.

“When I was homeless and living on the street, I used to live under a bridge.

So I'm not used to buying groceries, I'm not used to eating properly.”

JOHN CARTY has lived on the streets of Toronto for 15 years, one-third of his life.  When he enters Mainstay's pilot program he is coping with untreated schizophrenia and multiple drug addictions. Math will be his support worker over the next three years as John transitions from street-life to having his own home . John’s needs are complex and compounded by years of trauma living on the street. He is part of a population identified by experienced support workers as the hardest to house.

CHICAGO - a SIB to fund education

“I'm attracted to it [SIBS], because it might provide a solution to what seems

like a very difficult problem - and that is funding.” 

J.B. PRITZKER is an American venture capitalist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and private business owner based in Chicago. Pritzker invested in the world's first preschool SIBs in Utah and Chicago and supports the the Harvard SIB Lab in its efforts to promote the growth of the SIB market. Heir to the Hyatt fortune, the Pritzker Family Foundation is a long-time supporter of early childhood programs for disadvantaged children. He is currently campaigning to be Illinois' next governor in the most expensive gubernatorial race in US history.

"We got an incredible number of calls from clients.

Literally globally saying, "This is really interesting, how can we invest?"

ANDREA PHILLIPS  is a Vice President in the Urban Investment Group of Goldman Sachs. She leads the GS Social Impact Fund with a focus on social impact bonds. Goldman Sachs is the lead investor in four social impact bonds including programs for early childhood education in Utah and Chicago and prison recidivism in New York and Massachusetts.  Andrea led Goldman's investment in the Rikers Island prison social impact bond in 2013, the first SIB deal in the US market. 

“The money coming from private entities does not bother me,

because I feel that it's giving our students a chance at education.” 

MICHELLE STEWIN is head teacher at Melody's Child-Parent-Center on Chicago’s west side. Stewin’s students are part of a program to reduce the city’s special education costs. Goldman Sachs, the Pritzker Family Foundation and Northern Trust have invested $17 million. For Stewin, the money is a chance to keep the CPC program alive in one of Chicago’s poorest neighbourhoods where poverty, unemployment and homelessness have stacked the cards against her students.

REGINALD lives in Chicago's West Garfield Park with his mother and three siblings. At age four Reginald is coping with the loss of his older brother, Jaylin, who was shot outside their apartment. Ninety-two percent of Reginald’s schoolmates come from low-income homes. Four percent of the children enrolled at Melody are homeless. For these students poverty, hunger, and exposure to violence are everyday challenges that can stand in the way of learning.

"I'm truly grateful for the school. They put their all into their students.

They want their students to have the best."

LATONYA ROUNSAVILLE is a single, working mother whose family has lived in West Garfield for three generations. She's raising her children in one of Chicago's roughest neighbourhoods.  When her 21-year-old son Jaylin is shot outside their home, LaTonya must cope with an incredible loss and its impact on her children. For her youngest child Reginald, Jaylin's death is especially painful. He was both an older brother and father-figure to Reggie.


“It's all about harnessing entrepreneurship and innovation

and capital to improve people's lives.” 

SIR RONALD COHEN is the creator of social impact bonds. As chair of the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce, he’s been charged with igniting impact investing around the globe. The Egyptian born, British investment banker is credited with creating the global venture capital market. A venture capitalist turned impact investor, Sir Ronald believes impact investing will be a democratizing force not unlike the tech revolution.  By enticing investors with the lure of a double bottom line, he aims to bridge the gap between rich and poor.

"Public servants are trained to think in terms of a multiple objective function.

Bankers are trained to think of a single objective function, which is profit."

MILDRED WARNER is a Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University where her work focuses on local government service delivery, economic development and planning across generations. Dr. Warner is author of over a hundred publications including articles in top journals such as Journal of the American Planning Association, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and the Public Administration Review. She has written two articles on Social Impact Bonds in the US market.

“It's the Wall Streetification of public services." 

DAVID MACDONALD is a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a non-partisan research institute based on Ottawa. He has written and spoken extensively about social impact bonds in Canada. Since 2008, Macdonald has coordinated the Alternative Federal Budget at CCPA, which takes a fresh look at the Canda's national budget from a progressive perspective . He  is a regular media commentator on national policy issues.    

“We have to think very carefully about what is a philanthropic gift

and what is a democratic right.” 

CAROLINE MASON helped design and invested in the world's first social impact bond aimed at reducing prison recidivism in Peterborough, UK. As executive director at the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, she has invested in a total of seven SIBs since 2010, but is disappointed in the lack of government funding to expand successful SIB programs. Ultimately, she feels the SIB model has not delivered on its central promise - better outcomes for people in need of assistance.

"The notion that everything society does can be done so that

we can make money from it - I think that's a very strange notion."

LARRY BROWN is the president of one of Canada's largest unions, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). Brown spent three decades honing his skills in government, public administration, labour relations, teaching and legal issues before being elected President of NUPGE in 2016. He has written and spoken extensively about public finances, debt and deficit issues and public sector restructuring over the last decade.



What the advocates are saying: 

Improve effectiveness and efficiency of social programs. SIBs improve the effectiveness of social programs by establishing reliable metrics for measuring performance, increasing creativity, and financial flexibility.


Strengthen relationship between public and private sectors. SIBs establish and facilitate a substantive relationship between the public and private sectors in order to confront crucial social issues.


Fund politically unattractive initiatives. Politicians can use SIB funding to implement social programs for issues that are politically risky. Government agencies only repay successful SIB loans with expected savings from their respective budgets.


Enable service providers to scale-up. SIBs allow service providers to obtain large amounts of capital up-front. As a result, service providers can rapidly scale up practices that have proven successful.

What the critics are saying: 


SIBs require cost savings and quantitative metrics. However, any social problems do not lend themselves to quantitative analysis or do not present a potential for cost savings. Issues that are difficult to measure are likely to be ignored by SIB programming.


Extensive administrative costs. SIBs’ highly intricate structure complicates the stakeholders’ ability to navigate the process. This complexity incurs higher administrative costs and creates a greater potential for confusion.


Ignore systemic issues. The growing attention for SIBs may distract from more meaningful social policy reforms. Politicians may use SIBs to superficially advocate for an issue without delving deeper into long-term and systematic solutions.

Click on the links below for more information:



Despite the challenges surrounding SIBs, they are the fastest growing social innovation in modern history. In Chicago and Ontario, and through the international efforts of Sir Cohen, The Invisible Heart documents one of the most important shifts of the 21st Century.

What are Social Impact Bonds?


Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are an investment product designed to raise private capital to pay for social services. Governments repay investors only if the programs improve social outcomes, for example, lowering unemployment or prison recidivism. Return on investment is tied to the success of a program.

Where do SIBs exist?


The market is international, without borders - and growing steadily. There are 108 SIBs worldwide in 24 countries and 70+ in development.  


The G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce, now the Global Steering Group (GSG) for Impact Investment has grown to include 30 countries.

The first US SIB launches to reduce youth recidivism in New York. Canada launches its first SIB to lower adult unemployment.

The world’s first SIB launches in Peterborough, UK to reduce prison recidivism.

Europe's first SIBs launch in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium

and Portugal. All four focus on employment and/or education.

SIB Timeline


Australia launches its first 2 SIBs to benefit families and children in New South Wales.


The first Development Impact Bond is implemented in Rajasthan, India to improve school attendance.


US education policy now includes specific provisions for the use of SIBs in programs for at-risk students.  

The number of SIB deals grows steadily to total 54 worldwide by the end of 2015.

The Pritzker Family Foundation invests in early childhood education in Salt Lake County and Chicago.

Australian insurance company QBE commits $100 million investment dollars to SIBs.

Sorensen Impact Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation are early investors in the US SIB market.


$200m+ raised for SIBs and 90,000+ lives touched, according to Social Finance UK.

Goldman Sachs invests in the first Environmental Impact Bond, to improve D.C.’s water quality.

Musician Bono partners with investors Jeff Skoll and Bill McGlashan to create a $2 billion fund for social impact investment.


The US SIB market has raised $178 million making it the largest in the world.


Japan launches 3 SIBs focused on improving health outcomes for dementia, diabetes and kidney disease.

Canada will launch its first health care SIB to reduce heart disease.

108 SIBs currently exist worldwide in 24 countries and 70+ are in development.


© 2017 by HitPlay Productions 

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