Social Investment Laboratory

The Social Investment Laboratory (LIS) is an initiative run by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and by the IES Social Business School in partnership with Social Finance UK. Its main goal is to become a landmark knowledge centre in the field of social investment. It aims to enhance knowledge of innovative mechanisms for funding the not-for-profit sector, to disseminate international best practices in this area and to study whether and how they can be applied in Portugal.

The main problems facing society are the starting point for all the LIS’s work: the causes and origins of these problems are extensively analysed in order to identify innovative solutions that help to resolve and prevent them. Financial mechanisms are used as a means to achieve an end: a social sector which has sustainable access to funding sources and makes a greater social impact.

Thus, the Social Investment Lab is divided into three areas:

    • Creating knowledge for the market, by producing research notes on specific areas of social investment and creating content for business schools, specifically through the SIB Research Programme, which undertakes viability studies in relation to social impact bonds at a national and international levelThe programme, which began in January 2015 and is now in its second year, is aimed at students who wish to develop knowledge in this area. Since its inception, the SIB Research Programme has worked with seven university students who have undertaken research projects in the following fields: youth employability, recidivism, the institutionalisation of children and young people, and active ageing. The participants have access to an intensive training plan that includes training in areas such as the financial modelling of social impact bonds, methodologies for analysing data in Access, the development of social business plans, negotiation, and an introduction to the legal framework of the not-for-profit sector. Taking place over 6 months, the SIB Research Programme also aims to transfer management, finance and social-innovation skills to the participants, facilitating their entry into the labour market.


    • Promoting market infrastructure, through the creation of the Portuguese Working Group for Social Investment and the provision of technical support to the Social Innovation Portugal Mission Structure.

      The Portuguese Working Group is made up of representatives from the public, private and social sectors and is charged by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation with reflecting on the subject of social investment in Portugal. The participating members include the Bank of Portugal, the CMVM, Lisbon Town Council, CASES – the António Sérgio Cooperative for the Social Economy, foundations, financial institutions and universities. Its first report was presented in June 2015 at the Social Innovation World Forum in Lisbon. This report contains five recommendations for developing the social investment ecosystem in Portugal:

      1. Strengthening the skills of bodies that form part of the social economy through training programmes;
      2. Introducing financial tools suited to the needs of bodies operating in the social economy;
      3. Promoting a results-oriented culture within the public social services;
      4. Creating a knowledge and resource centre for social investment;
      5. Developing an ecosystem of social investment intermediaries.


  • Dynamizing pilot projects, through the structuring of social innovation funding mechanisms such as the first social impact bond (SIB) in Portugal, which served to fund the Junior Code Academy. A social impact bond is a funding mechanism in which a contract is signed between social investors, public bodies and bodies operating in the social economy to achieve specific social results. Through an SIB, capital is mobilised that is invested in organisations, social entrepreneurs or initiatives proven to have social impact and provide a potential financial return. If the contracted results are achieved, investors are repaid their initial investment. In the specific case of the Junior Code Academy, a substantial part of the amount initially invested by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation will be reimbursed by Lisbon Town Council if the goal set for the project – to improve the cognitive skills and academic performance of 65 students from three primary schools in the Lisbon region through the teaching of computer programming (coding) – is achieved. The project therefore aims to fight against the high levels of educational failure and retention and to help develop new learning techniques. The performance of the students will be compared with a control group and measured through an evaluation method that has been scientifically validated by the Universidade Nova de Lisboa.
Updated on 07 March 2017