Is social investment perpetuating or challenging inequality and discrimination?

25 April 2018

Following the recent call for evidence on equality and diversity in the sector, Owen Dowsett from The Centre for Social Justice Innovation, Dartington Hall Trust, looks at the questions surrounding social investment, social justice and how improvements can be made.

A ground-breaking new project - Equality Impact Investing (EII) - is calling for evidence from the social investment and equality and human rights sectors on how social investors are impacting on equality and diversity. Led by Dartington’s Centre for Social Justice Innovation, in partnership with Social Investment Business and the Equality and Diversity Forum, the project’s long-term goal is to increase the equality impact of the social investment sector.

Given that inequality is one of the main challenges of our time, what role is social investment playing - and what role could it play - in building a fairer society and advancing human rights?

With Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations at the forefront of delivering equality impact facing major financing obstacles, what support or skills do investors need to provide to help them succeed?

We don’t know the answers to these questions. Yet.

Valuable work has been carried out on gender lens investing showing how investment can be harnessed to advance gender equality, but the extent to which social investors are focusing on  equality more broadly in their policies, practices, investment decisions and impact frameworks has yet to be determined.  

The evidence we do have is not encouraging. It indicates that the UK social investment sector has an equality ‘blind spot’ with less than half of investors considering equality at all in any of their processes.[1] Similarly, we have only limited evidence to assess whether equality-focused organisations face challenges in accessing and making use of social investment. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they do, and that these challenges are in addition to issues faced by other small or medium-sized VCSEs.

We believe there is untapped potential for social investors to affect positive change through greater use of equality impact investing; a range of investment strategies that intentionally use investment to advance equality outcomes based on the principles of non-discrimination, equality and human rights. Such strategies can include targeting investment or providing support to ventures that are led by diverse leaders, can show good diversity practice, or have a clear focus on tackling inequality or advancing human rights.

Ultimately, the EII project aims to shine a light on this ‘blind spot’ but we need to know where to start and what policy and practical action is needed. Following this call for evidence we will be working with social investors, VCSE organisations and others to design and pilot investment support tailored for equality impact organisations. Right now, we’re looking for any relevant pre-existing evidence or data in any form to help us achieve this, for example, internal reports or previous research in this area.

The future of social investment is still being shaped. Now is the time to make sure it delivers for equality and human rights.  

Read the full call for evidence or contact Owen Dowsett ( for more information.


[1] Young Foundation (2016). ‘The Sky’s the Limit: Increasing social investment impact with a gender lens’. 

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