In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, a reported 1.3 million people had lost their jobs and there were 6.2 million fresh claims for jobseeker’s allowance between April 2008 and November 2009, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Bankers were held largely responsible for the crash, but economists were also being questioned due to their perceived failure to predict the crisis.
In response Andy Haldane of the Bank of England and Martin Brookes, then CEO at New Philanthropy Capital, set about exploring the feasibility of economists offering their time on a pro bono basis to charities, in the same manner as so often seen in the legal profession. This with the aim of embedding a culture of volunteering among economists, enabling them to use their skills to provide tangible benefits to worthy causes (and perhaps redeem the profession’s standing somewhat). This process eventually led to the creation of Pro Bono Economics.
Our first project was for employment charity St. Giles Trust which offers individuals facing severe disadvantage with the support they need to find jobs and homes. Its ‘Through the Gates’ project focused on reducing reoffending through accommodation, training and reintegration services. With reoffending costing the economy at least £11 billion per year, not only do these programmes have significant advantages for the beneficiaries they serve, but they also have the potential to result in considerable gains for wider society.
The volunteer team at Frontier Economics was able to analyse the data provided by St. Giles Trust to show incremental programme benefits of £10.4 million against costs of £1.05 million; that is, a cost-benefit ratio of at least 1:10. This as a result of reductions in reoffending occurring as a result of an individual’s participation in the St. Giles programme. These findings were significant. The report exhibited potential not only within St. Giles Trust’s activities themselves, but for economic analysis and techniques to be used to help charities demonstrate the importance of their work, at no financial cost.
Since 2009 we have engaged with around 450 charities on over 150 detailed studies, utilising the skills of over 300 professional economists. Currently, all the charities we work with can be categorised as supporting ‘wellbeing’, focusing on delivering improvements in education, employment, mental health and poverty.
Over the course of 2019 we will be highlighting the findings of some of our most fascinating reports produced up until now, our tenth year in existence. Moving forward we will also soon be offering training tools and resources for those charities who are early on in their impact management phase. We are also working on extending our reach, by collating learnings on impact through individual studies to consider the potential policy implications and help shape and influence wider debates around impact measurement and wellbeing.
Ten years since our launch our staff may have changed and our offices may be larger, but ultimately, the goals laid out in the introduction of that first report remain the same. We hope that we can benefit not just individual charities but also publish economic analyses that will help the sector develop best practice.
If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website or social media channels, subscribe to our newsletter and keep up to date with our work.
Isobel Hunter is Projects and Communications Co-ordinator at Pro Bono Economics