Capacity Building for Social Impact in Portugal’s Social Sector Organisations (Disponível só vem inglês)

Joana Cruz Ferreira

The need for capacity building in social organisations to increase their impact readiness was the key subject for Impetus Private Equity Foundation’s 2014 report to the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce called “Building the Capacity for Impact”. This report is the starting point for my work with the Social Investment Laboratory, which aims to understand the current state of impact readiness of social sector organisations in Portugal and will provide a set of recommendations for designing a capacity building framework adapted to Portugal’s needs.

Social sector organisations by definition aim to achieve a social impact in their work and, in Portugal, include a wide range of organisations from co-operatives, mutual, charities and social enterprises to for-profits with a double bottom line or social mission. Social impact is generally considered to be the effect of an activity that produces a positive and significant change in the life of the social organisation’s beneficiaries. For social organisations to deliver significant social impact, they need to do target both breath, i.e. reaching a significant number of people, and depth, i.e. effecting a significant improvement in the quality of life of people who have significant needs.

Impact readiness can then be considered to be the state of a high-performing social sector organisation when it is capable of reliably producing social outcome. Growing a social organisation’s impact requires skills, practices and techniques that focus on reliably and sustainably delivering meaningful social outcomes. This can be supported in a number of ways, from off-the-shelf technical support to bespoke organisational development programmes, and can come from a range of entities including government, foundations, venture philanthropists, consultants, incubators and start-up hubs. Partnerships with established big companies has also proved fruitful in delivering this capacity building for impact readiness.

The Impetus Private Equity Foundation report emphasises the need to build organisational capacities as it believes this is key to reliably producing social returns, but notes this area has largely been neglected in the development of social finance markets globally to date. My research will review the work of organisations who lead the way globally in their focus on helping organisations improve their social impact in order to understand what has been most successful in capacity building to date. My findings on best practice will then help inform the Social Innovation Laboratory’s work in designing a framework for building the capacity to deliver social impact in Portuguese organisations also.

As noted by Dawn Austwick (CEO of the Big Lottery Fund), on the recent launch of Access: The Foundation for Social Investment and its £45m Growth Fund, the often ignored benefit of supporting this type of capacity building in entrepreneurial social organisations means that “the starting and finishing point is social return rather than financial return or cost reduction, but where surprisingly good financial returns can end up being made nonetheless!”

Fiona O’Driscoll

Fiona is working on a masters’ thesis with the Lab on capacity-building to improve the impact readiness of social sector organisations in Portugal.

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