Updated: Mar 12, 2019
The story of Sir Ronald Cohen’s rise from refugee to riches to becoming the leader of a financial revolution poised to change the way we help society’s neediest people is one that’s often told. But, as one writer dryly noted, not many revolutionaries have hundreds of millions in the bank.
“It's part of the reason I want to help people now. I can empathize with their need to be successful,” Cohen says of arriving in England at age 11, his family penniless and having fled religious persecution in Egypt. “It creates a need in you to succeed, and generates a greater motivation to succeed economically and financially.”
At age 26, Cohen founded one of the UK’s most successful venture capital firms. At mid-life and the height of success, he turned his attention to impact investment. Ten years ago, he was the driving force behind the world’s first Social Impact Bond – a program to reduce recidivism in newly released repeat offenders from Peterborough prison.
In this video clip, Cohen explains the Peterborough project:
Cohen has the ear of politicians and investors around the world. As leader of the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce the organization has grown to include thirty plus countries. For those who oppose the idea of private investors profiting from social programs, Cohen’s flaw is his refusal or inability to see the other side.
In this video clip, Larry Brown, president of Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), recalls debating Cohen on a United Nations panel:
One of the co-designers and investors in the Peterborough SIB with Cohen was Caroline Mason, Executive Director of the UK’s Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. “Sir Ronald hasn't got to where he's got today by seeing barriers or worrying about too many of the nuances,” says Mason, who believes SIBs have failed to live up to their promise.