Can Failure Be a Success?: Dissecting the Rikers Social Impact Bond Experiment

Wednesday, May 18, 2016 -
3:00pm to 5:00pm EDT
Philanthropy New York, 1500 Broadway, 7th Floor, NYC
Members of PNY & Partner Orgs: 
Add to Calendar

At their core, social impact bonds are about learning from and scaling what works, and discontinuing what doesn’t. With the recent discontinuation of the social impact bond experiment supporting the Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) program at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, now is the time to deeply consider the countless variables of this “pay for success” experiment, the potential of the funding model and the questions that remain to be answered.


Funded with a $7.2 million investment by Goldman Sachs (backed by a $6 million investment guarantee by Bloomberg Philanthropies), the MRT program was an Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience serving over 4,000 16- to 18-year-olds detained at Rikers.

Join us for a conversation with those who were instrumental in formulating and evaluating this Rikers social impact bond experiment. While the conversation will focus on Rikers, it will also connect that experiment with what's happening with social impact bonds projects around the world, including philanthropy's role in setting them up for success.

  • Did the intervention at the heart of the Rikers experiment get overwhelmed by other factors occurring at Rikers in the period of the experiment?
  • Does this experiment say anything about the amount of evidence an intervention should have supporting it before the social impact bond mechanism is appropriate? 
  • Is there anything to be learned from this experiment about identifying the right metrics to track to determine success of an intervention?
  • If the government is not on the hook for the costs of this experiment, is that enough of a social benefit to consider this a success?
  • For potential investors in social impact bonds, would they have to pay off with the same rate of success as other types of investments to make them worthwhile, or do different sorts of metrics apply for investors interested in this vehicle?
  • How does this experiment relate the outcomes and learning of the other 45 social impact bond projects occurring around the world?
  • If the social impact bond model works as its advocates say, philanthropy funds ideas and new models, social impact bonds finance testing and scaling up, and government funds large-scale programs that have been proven to work and save system resources. Does this experiment say anything about that assertion, either philosophically or practically?


Designed for:

All interested funders.


2:45 - 3:00 PM Check-in

3:00 - 5:00 PM Program

Registration is required by May 17th

Members:  To register yourself and/or a colleague at your organization, please log in and click the Register Now link above.

Non-Member Funders:  Create an account or log in above and click the Register Now link.

Please email with any questions.