Could partnering with business be the future of innovative social policy?


Many countries have faced some of the same social challenges for decades. So the UK government is trying a new approach: bringing together citizens, civil society organisations and businesses to invent and deliver ground-up solutions. 

This collaborative approach may seem obvious — but it’s a surprisingly rare way of working. And the innovation is paying off: the successes of the Inclusive Economy Partnership initiative suggest that partnerships can provide practical insights and inventions that government alone may struggle to find.

The Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) is a UK cross-government initiative, set up in September 2017 and jointly funded and run by the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

It brings relevant government departments, civil society and businesses together to find, invent and deliver on-the-ground solutions to age-old problems.

We have targeted, engaged and worked with charities or social enterprises with a frontline understanding of key social issues, businesses with an interest in fixing the problems and relevant government departments, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury.

We targeted 14 CEOs from across business and civil society to become our first Inclusive Economy Partnership “Champions”, based on criteria of employee and customer base, national reach and responsible business agenda. We secured their support by meeting with them personally and engaging them in the purpose and goals of the program.

Together they make up the Board, which sets the ambition of the Partnership and agrees the work that will deliver those ambitions — and then our Champions decide how their own organisations’ resources can support that work.

We created a program that is led by people, not process

In doing this, we created a program that is led by people, not process. Whilst the internal government team convenes the Inclusive Economy Partnership, we do not lead it. This open approach allows us to draw upon the collective knowledge of our partners and the wider ecosystem in which the program operates.

We collectively chose three significant social challenges with our business and civil society partners: financial inclusion, mental health at work and transition to work for young people. We set up working groups across these three challenge areas, and these groups collaborated and shared expertise and ideas to come up with ambitious and innovative approaches to tackling the problems.

Throughout this process, we remained open to the input and recommendations of stakeholders to direct the course of action and continuously adapted to deliver the best outcome for all parties.

We ran a six-month accelerator program with innovation foundation Nesta, to find effective social innovators and help them scale their proven solutions. A crucial part of the process was brokering partnerships between the innovators and our corporate partners. For example:

  • Toolshed, an organisation which supports young people by giving them training in construction industry skills, secured an £80,500 (US$106,000) social loan through UnLtd and a £25,000 ($33,000) grant from Barclays. This support has allowed Toolshed to treble the size of their operation to serve hundreds of new participants and expand into another city.
  • Money A+E, which provides money advice and education to Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic beneficiaries and hard to reach populations in London, estimate they will reach another 15,000 people through partnerships with Grant Thornton, the Money Advice Service, Fair Finance, Whatsapp and others.
  • MyKindaFuture uses its Connectr digital platform to support disadvantaged young people get into work and beyond. MyKindaFuture worked with Marks & Spencers to support the transition of 3,000 young people from work experience into full-time employment.
  • We also launched new collaborative projects to run in parallel with the accelerator to have a wider impact across the challenge areas.

    Through collaboration, innovation and a shared determination to make the UK a better place to live and thrive, the Inclusive Economy Partnership team has exceeded all initial targets in just one year.

Social innovators have attracted over £632,000 in additional funding

We have engaged over 120 organisations, set up four new projects and supported 18 social innovators. Early findings have shown that the social innovators have attracted over £632,000 ($832,000) in additional funding and 100 partnerships have been confirmed.

The value of these partnerships to the social innovators over the next year is estimated at around £2 million ($2.63m).

Our four new collaborative projects emerged naturally to meet the needs of each challenge and make the most of our partners’ resources. For example, we established a pilot program in the West Midlands supporting young people to transition from education into meaningful work. This project is a coalition of many different business and civil society partners, such as O2, Accenture, Movement to Work, UnLtd, the West Midlands Combined Authority and the Department for Work and Pensions.

In addition, one of our Champions, Nationwide, proactively launched a £3m ($3.95m) “Open Banking for Good” competition to develop new digital services to help people manage their money more effectively.

In just a year, the Inclusive Economy Partnership has made great progress towards building a movement to help all communities and everyone within them feel like they belong to and can participate in the UK economy.

— Alice Oakley

This blog post was originally published on Apolitical. View the article here