Future coders first benefactors of radical new employment idea

Summary

The new social Impact Bond in Flanders sees organisations pairing with social investors to provide training to unskilled youth

‘We jump in with both feet’

An initiative to help unemployed young people learn computing skills in order to find work has been launched in Antwerp. It is also the first project that changes how social interventions are organised by the government of Flanders.

The usual approach to social problems is for the government to propose solutions and then to fund them directly. This new arrangement – called a Social Impact Bond – delegates both sides of the equation.

Organisations with experience in a particular domain are encouraged to propose innovative solutions to complex social problems, while the funding is sought from social investors. These investors carry the financial risk, but are repaid by the government, with interest, if the project succeeds. It is hoped that the new format will be both more effective and less costly than conventional approaches.

In the Antwerp case, the problem is youth unemployment, in particular among young people who are not enrolled in higher education or following any kind of training. Often off the administration’s radar, they are particularly hard to reach.

The solution comes from BeCode, a non-profit organisation that trains young people in computer skills. “At BeCode the idea is not to learn one specific programming language, but to learn in a technical setting,” explained Karen Boers, the organisation’s chief executive. “We use an active learning method: there’s no theory, we jump in with both feet and learn on-the-job, in close co-operation with our partners from the business community.”

The programme BeCode has put together will be free to access, and no qualifications or previous experience are necessary.

Meanwhile the money will come from social investment fund Impact Capital, which already has experience with this kind of initiative. “I was involved with the first two Social Impact Bonds in Brussels, and I’m pleased to help make the first application in Flanders possible,” said director Piet Colruyt.

When 10% more participants in the programme find work compared with a similar group that have not had the training, the government will pay Impact Capital back its costs, plus interest. The saving in unemployment benefits means that the public purse should also come out ahead.