The regional government of Noord-Brabant is one of our most recent members in the Euclid Network family. The province of Noord-Brabant is known in and outside the borders of the region for the role they play in stimulating entrepreneurship with solutions for societal challenges. Amongst their activities was setting up the Brabant Outcomes Fund (BOF). It was launched December 2018, as a learning by doing process to find out in practice how public and private financiers can cooperate better and play a role in the scaling of enterprises with societal impact. The province of Noord-Brabant is the first Dutch government body with an outcomes fund. The point of departure being a societal issue whereby not only financial success or savings are valued, but also the societal impact and sustainable results. The BOF’s methods are based on the social impact bonds (SIBs) funding model: public-private results-based financing.
We sat down with Astrid Kaag, Advisor and Policy Officer for the Noord-Brabant Province to find out more about the BOF, the mission of the province to stimulate meaningful entrepreneurship and the motivation for joining the Euclid Network.
Heading towards a socio-economic transformation
Astrid: In Brabant as a regional government we tend to look at economies just as profit-oriented enterprises, thinking that’s what makes a strong region. What I try to do is show there’s another perspective on entrepreneurship that can also add value to societal questions.
There are two reasons why I believe in social entrepreneurship. First, we as a government we have to learn how we can listen more to society. We have to understand how to play a role that really matters for society and I must say that social entrepreneurs or purpose-driven entrepreneurs really show how us how to connect to the challenges of our people: they are a mirror for us, showcasing what type of approach is best in answering the societal needs. Secondly, we as a government always think that there’s a public sector and a private sector and everybody has to behave and work in a siloed approach. But I think as a social entrepreneur you can connect the two. You can have a private business that also brings societal value, showing how to act in an integrated way.
BOF is the first Dutch Outcomes Fund. Do you plan to set an example for other regions in NL and aboard?
It’s true, we are the first Outcomes Fund in the Netherlands, but what I find more important to highlight is that if you look at the other Outcomes Funds all over the world, and Social Impact Bonds that are in the Netherlands and outside, this type of public-private financing represents a mutual responsibility between the two parties to help enterprises. There are a couple of things that we do differently from entities of this type that already exist. We looked at the lessons learned by previous Social Impact Funds and Bonds and we saw that they focused mainly on financial savings. For instance, if an enterprise has a cheaper solution than the government can provide, then the government will adopt it. I think we have to make a next step and we have to look at the value for the people, as they do not want to just receive support but rather feel connected, have a purpose. That’s what we try to show through the BOF: there are other solutions with more value where we can create a healthier, happier, more connected society. But we have to find out in practice how we can validate the real and total impact these solutions create in the lives of people.
What is the next step for BOF?
At this moment we’re bringing together all the lessons learned and reflections from round one. Our entrepreneurs are now working, having two years to achieve the Outcomes. We’re now in full execution phase with them; the round is not finished but we are looking forward to finding topics and partners for a second round. We invited representatives from different policy domains like the circular economy, green energy and spatial design together with municipalities, investors, civil society organisations and entrepreneurs to see if we can build together a second round. Also, we’re involved in sharing good practices and experiences internationally with for example Germany, Italy, USA, all parties interested in bridging the gap between societal needs and sustainable providers.
From all these activities you’ve mentioned, when did joining the Euclid Network become of relevance for you?
The Euclid Network initiative is not new to me. Already a couple of years ago I noticed your work on social media and thought of expanding our focus towards a broader approach on the economical and societal challenges we have to tackle. The international component is important in the work that you’re doing and so it is in my work. I immediately understood the value of learning across borders: If you talk to people from other regions, it helps you understand better your own region. And if we want to create change in our economic and social systems, working across borders is key, otherwise change will never happen on a large scale.
I believe that together with EN we can expand our pool of contacts, foster mutual learning within a Network whose values and direction match to what I envision for the BOF and beyond.
How did the social enterprise landscape evolve in the Netherlands over the past years?
More Dutch governments understand the value of entrepreneurship with a focus on societal impact. They’re looking into reshaping their role, they see the value of it but sometimes they don’t know how to interact with it actually. And I think this is something we as governments have to try out in practice together with other stakeholders from both the public and private sector. As a regional government it is sometimes easier to create the possibilities to try out new things. Therefore, I think that in these cases we can be the frontrunner that takes actions first and take the risk to fail as well and learn from it. In this way we can also help others to find the way to new approaches such as through our BOF, but also for example with a platform for entrepreneurs to build capacity and network or a Social Procurement framework creating good competition and increasing demand in this area.
There is one thing that I want to add to this: If we talk about social entrepreneurs, we have to be aware that we understand this term in an equal way. Not everyone is aware of how broad its meaning can be, from circular carpentry to intercultural catering, from the combating of food wastage to the development of new jobs in health care. These entrepreneurs have innovative solutions that deserve to scale. That is why I think we have to focus more on stimulating the cooperation between social entrepreneurs and the more traditional industry as they need each other to create a different economy structure by sharing each other’s skills, network, solutions and new ways of thinking on creating impact and a green, open and inclusive future. In the end, it is not about how we name them but what are they bringing positive to our world: their actions and solutions can speak louder and that’s what we have to focus on.
Learn more about our member at https://www.brabant.nl