Where now? And what next?

14 August 2017

Social investment is helping many organisations across the country improve people’s lives but there is still room for improvement. As we enter a new phase of our development Interim CEO Caroline Forster asks what role we should play. 

We know social investment can work. We’ve seen how the right type of money can help finance dance schools and community assets as well as organisations supporting young people with autism or resettling refugees.

However, social investment isn’t pleasing everyone. For some, it isn’t living up to some of the early hype. For others, there are contradictory messages about its success.

We want to ensure that social investment can meet the needs of as many charities and social enterprises as possible. So where is it working? And where are the gaps we can fill? Let’s start with what’s already happening.

Big Society Capital, the social investment wholesaler tasked in 2012 with building the social investment market, aims “to improve the lives of people in the UK by connecting investment to charities and social enterprises that are creating social change.”

They have recently announced three key themes where they believe social investment can have the biggest impact; providing homes for those in need, supporting communities to solve problems and early action to prevent problems.

However, Big Society Capital know they can’t do everything. In most cases they focus on larger investments which is partly why they supported the launch of Access – the Foundation for Social Investment.

Access want to “change the way social investment is delivered, so that it can reach the parts of the charity and social enterprise sector who have yet to benefit” and have two key strands of work; Capacity Building and the Growth Fund.

The Capacity Building work has funded new grant programmes such as the Reach Fund (which we manage), the Impact Management Programme (which we partly deliver) and the Connect Fund.

Meanwhile, the Growth Fund is helping social investors provide loans of less than £150,000 to charities and social enterprises. This has already helped existing investors such as Big Issue Invest, Resonance and Key Fund launch new funds as well as allow organisations such as GMCVO, Homeless Link and First Ark to launch new programmes.

That is pretty comprehensive coverage. Organisations looking for investment – large or small – have a wide range of options to choose from.

As this choice has expanded we’ve had to ask ourselves where we can best focus our time, effort and resource. After consultation with our board, stakeholders and the organisations we support we think we can deliver the most value by supporting the development of new funds and programmes in previously untested areas.

In many ways, this is what we’ve always done. Funds we manage such as Futurebuilders, Communitybuilders and the Social Enterprise Investment Fund all tested the appetite for a mix of grant and loan – blended finance as it's called now.

More recently we delivered programmes such as Big Potential and the Investment and Contract Readiness Fund. These programmes helped pave the way for Access and their Capacity Building programmes today.

So what should we be looking at now?  

We want to test new approaches to social investment in order to make it work for those organisations currently underserved by what is on offer. We are in a privileged position in that we have our own capital to invest. We can test new approaches, invest in new funds and develop new products with the ambition of scaling up successful approaches.

To do this we’re already working in partnership with others to gather research and evidence to ensure that any new projects will meet actual need. I extend a big thank you to everyone who has contributed to our ongoing investment readiness research or responded to our Living Well survey. Without your input it is much harder for us to identify where the gaps are that we can fill.

We will continue to partner with other organisations to combine our skills, energy - and money – to deliver the support that we think is most needed. Making this work will be one of the major challenges for the new CEO of Social Investment Business when they’re appointed later this year.

After over 15 years of operating in this area we’re well aware that we can’t do everything. We need to focus on key areas where we think we can have an impact.

We’re up for the challenge and if you are too please get in touch. 

Photo credit: Claire Plumridge/picfair.com

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Caroline Forster

Interim Chief Executive

Caroline became Interim Chief Executive in April 2017. She has worked in social investment, funding and grant making for over 25 years with a particular focus on community enterprise and asset development.

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The Social Investment Business is the trading name for the Social Investment Business Foundation, Registered Company No. 05777484 (England), Registered Charity No 1117185 (England & Wales), The Social Investment Business Limited, Registered in England No. 06490609, VAT No. 927456693 and Futurebuilders-England Limited, Registered in England No. 05066676. Registered Office: CAN Mezzanine, Borough, 7-14 Great Dover Street, London, SE1 4YR

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