social impact bonds

  • The Invisible Heart

The Social Worker: Brigitte Witkowski




Thirty years into her career as a social worker, Brigitte Witkowski began hearing about something so new and different that it caught her full attention.


News from the UK was that private investors had started funding social programs traditionally paid for by government through a financial instrument called a Social Impact Bond (SIB). Key to the SIB model was that the social program had to demonstrate measurable results for there to be a return paid to the investor.


“We said, ‘Wow, another way of trying to demonstrate to the world what a social good can look like and how does it return to the greater good of society. If you make this investment, how is all of society better off?” says Witkowksi, executive director of the largest non-profit provider of supportive housing in Ontario for mental health survivors. 


Mainstay Housing decided to get ahead of the curve. They hired an analyst to study three of their programs and develop metrics to measure success, not easy to define when working with clients dealing with an array of complex needs. Most of Mainstay’s clients have been homeless for several years and struggle with multiple health and addiction problems.


In this video clip, Brigitte explains one of her concerns about Social Impact Bonds:



In 2015, when the Ontario government announced its social impact bond pilot program, Brigitte threw her hat in the ring. Mainstay asked for $5 million over seven years to help 100 people who have been homeless for at least five years. They made the shortlist and the process of designing their SIB began.

In this video, Brigitte describes the challenges of designing a SIB program when there’s a gap between investor expectations and a social agency’s definition of success:



When speaking about the tenant members she serves, Brigitte is passionate: “I'm just in awe of them. Like I don't know what it would be like to live a life of incredible hardship, loneliness and invisibility, cause that's what it means to be homeless, to be invisible. And to take the risk and dare to move in because their whole experience has been failure. When you take the risk and you begin to have a place to call your own, from a human perspective, knowing what the world has done to you at its worst - to take that risk and all a sudden dare to dream, that to me is a profound thing.”




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