Social Impact Investors Eye Public Education Market in Philadelphia

I would like to share a comment I made yesterday in response to this op-ed published in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook: “The city needs a transformation to improve education, not jut a new school board.” The piece was written by Paul Perry, a director with San Francisco-based Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies.

In the summer of 2016, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia published a white paper positioning the Philadelphia region as a “unique center for the impact economy.” That same year, an influential group of venture capitalists under the leadership of Ben Franklin Technology Partners launched ImpactPHL, an accelerator for social impact initiatives in the region. Below is a relationship map that shows the founding members. Click here for the interactive version.

In July 2017 a $15 million fund was created to support early-stage technology start ups with a social impact focus. The US Economic Development Administration’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship pitched in $250,000.

“The EDA Regional Innovation Strategies Seed Fund Support grant will support the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA to develop the Greater Philadelphia Impact Partners, a fund to spur growth of impact-focused ventures that  provide qualified opportunities for investment. True to Benjamin Franklin’s dictum of, “Doing well by doing good,” the Greater Philadelphia Impact Partners will create a scalable framework to promote growth of investment capital, venture creation, jobs and revenue, all focused on profitable businesses that address the modern societal challenges present in our region, and worldwide.  Greater Philadelphia Impact Partners is one element of a broader regional impact strategy being undertaken as part of a  collaboration among the region’s business, investment, higher education, government, philanthropic and economic development communities.” Source

The final sentence from the quote above is reinforced by this map of ImpactPHL’s steering committee members and advisors. There are many powerful interests pushing the development of technology-based impact investment “solutions” to “manage” Philadelphia’s deep poverty problem in a way that will maximize profit for private interests. Click here for an interactive link.

Deployment of “innovative” technological “solutions” is central to social impact investing, because profit is generated by combining predictive analytics with Big Data “impact” metrics. Services addressing social problems must increasingly be delivered through digital platforms that extract the data demanded for program evaluation and profit-taking.

Those receiving services, including public school students who spend their days slogging through benchmark tests and online modules and who are often tracked via classroom management apps, generate vast data-sets that can be used to profile them and inform future “impact” investments. “Success”=profit. Success is determined as meeting narrow, specific targets defined in terms of data points. The need to generate outcomes then shapes how services are delivered, more screen time and less face time. See the rise of ed-tech “solutions” forced on our public schools and on refugee populations.

We are seeing this dehumanizing shift in service delivery take place not only in public education, but also in healthcare, social services, and mental health treatment. Mr. Perry’s op-ed signals that Philadelphia is entering a new phase of the privatization battle, one that will be less about charters and vouchers and more about online learning and behavioral management systems and data-driven “wrap-around” services provided by non-profits working hand-in-hand with impact investors. These systems prioritize profit over children and will install data-driven interfaces that dehumanize students as well as the staff that will be forced to provide the “innovative” technology-based “services.” If you read Mr. Perry’s piece you can see their plan is to sell it under the guise that they actually care about the poor, when in reality Philadelphia’s poverty is just another investment opportunity.

My comment on the Notebook article:

It is important to note that Mr. Perry identifies himself as a “social impact strategist.” Social impact investing is a global financial scheme set up by the Rockefeller Foundation and GIIN under the leadership of former UPenn president Judith Rodin to mine profit from the misery of global poverty. More here.

Central to this method are outcomes-based government contracts that employ Pay for Success and Social Impact Bonds to extract profit from those enmeshed in oppressive social systems. Technology is key to this strategy, as “impact” data must be seamlessly collected for cheap, scalable deal evaluation. This, along with the rise of IoT monitoring, Big Data, behavioral science (economics-nudge) interventions, gamification, and blockchain digital ID (many of which are being researched at UPenn) will lead to the platform delivery of human services, including but not limited to public education, over the next decade. See also tele-health, tele-therapy, VR counseling, prescription video-gaming, etc.

GIIRS based in Berwyn (home of the Wharton venture capital crowd) has set up all the metrics for impact evaluation. Sure, fair trade textiles and shade grown coffee provide a veneer of respectability to this new form of “sustainable” corporate organization-B Corps or benefit corporations. However, below the surface will be automated smart contracts that are fed data by ed-tech digital platforms of the kind promoted by iNACOL, one of the many pro-tech, pro-impact venture capital entities for whom Mr. Perry works. CBE, which he pitches, is largely online education, something the telecommunications companies (Comcast) so desperately want. It’s “Facebook” Zuckerberg-funded playlist education delivered by algorithm. Kids and parents in districts across the country are organizing against platforms like Summit Basecamp now.

What Perry writes, if you have no background in social impact investing, may sound reasonable. I’m here to pull back the covers and tell you there is much more to this story. Impact investors are not about helping the poor. We are in an age of bio-politics where people (children!) are increasingly mined for data against their will. Data is the new oil. Schools are poised to be a primary site of extraction. Lives will be governed by computer code and algorithms.

Philadelphia, don’t let that happen. Hold your mayor accountable. Demand the city refuse to participate impact investment schemes not only related to education but also to social services the families of our city so desperately need. Needing help should not mean you have to be digitally profiled for someone’s profit. MBA impact venture capitalists should not get to benefit from the deep poverty so many Philadelphians experience.

The Economy League sees impact investing as our future economic engine. They are planning to build an economy that mines poverty for profit. Programs like The Germination Project are even training promising high school students at Wharton to run these programs. They are planning decades ahead. None of this is about fixing structural systems that cause poverty. No, these systems are meant to maintain poverty and use it to control the general populace and maintain racialized systems of power rooted in white supremacy.

Our schools are not charities. Education is for the people. We claim our schools. They will be sites of resistance.”

2 thoughts on “Social Impact Investors Eye Public Education Market in Philadelphia

  1. Laura H. Chapman says:

    Data is the new oil.
    —or the new GOLD. Your research is amazing. I had different origins for SIBs, but I will upgrade my notes with some of your links. Your charts/ graphs are pretty amazing too.

    • wrenchinthegears
      wrenchinthegears says:

      Laura, you might find this interesting. I have come to realize that Benefit Corporations are going to be inextricably linked to social impact investing. I found it really strange that the B Lab that was charged with setting up the GIIRS metrics was based in suburban Philadelphia rather than in Silicon Valley, Boston, NYC, etc.

      There is some interesting background on B Lab:

      And on Investors’ Circle:

      “As IC brought together thought leaders, new initiatives were conceived and incubated, including sector leaders B Lab, Slow Money, and the Patient Capital Collaborative. IC introduced hundreds of MBAs to impact investing through its MBA Venture Fellows program, and in 2009 members in Philadelphia launched IC’s flagship local network. Since its inception in the Midwest, IC first moved east to Boston and then west to San Francisco. In 2011, upon the governance merger with SJF Institute, its headquarters moved to Durham, NC.”

      See reference to 2009 above. That was the year Rockfeller/Rodin officially launched GIIN and IRIS:

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