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Social Investement - Half-full or half-empty?

'A Bridge to Social investment' black text

Friday 26 May 2017

I’m a kind of a ‘glass half-full’ type of girl. My instinct is to seek out opportunities, invent, innovate and be positive. The phrase I use most in life is ‘don’t worry, I’ll fashion something’; be that throwing together a fancy dress costume at the last minute for my 7 year old’s school performance or being asked to deliver a presentation to senior leaders at late notice. It’s not about grinning and bearing ‘it’ or making do; it’s about embracing ‘it’ – because quite frankly if we lose sight of optimism and possibility what do we have left?

Last week I attended A Bridge to Social Investment, an event which brought together the voluntary, community, social enterprise and public sector to talk all things social investment. It was a thought provoking day and left me thinking – the funding landscape is changing with traditional grant funding reducing, and that which does remain becoming increasingly more competitive. Whilst in the first instance, it may feel like a barrier to sustainability and progress, I see an opportunity (yes! An opportunity), for the civil society sector to develop and deliver services in a better way.

Peter Holbrook, Social Enterprise UK, spoke enthusiastically about his experience of setting up the social enterprise Sunlight Development Trust, which launched a whole community based approach to delivering services. His belief for the future is that more than ever there needs to and will be more engagement with civil society and government in delivering a shared society vision. We can see evidence of this through funders leading the way in enabling place based approaches and co-design, including Big Lottery Fund – people in the lead and Power to Change – strengthening community businesses. Last year Essex County Council launched its first Challenge Prize, Families Included, which sought to utilise the strength of our local communities to innovate ideas to tackle a social problem. By the civil society sector innovating community based schemes it will fundamentally support the key society challenges we face - such as our ageing population and sustaining independence.

The future undoubtedly will hold less grants BUT will realise more trade and investment. As a society of consumers we are becoming more and more socially aware – buying goods that also have a social impact – for example the biscuits that substituted my breakfast on the morning of the event were in fact made by a social enterprise with a portion of the money used to purchase them going towards developing schools and educate children in Africa.

Social investment is by no means the answer to all our funding needs, but it is another tool to do things differently, and for those who it is right for, it should be embraced. During her talk Melanie Mills, Big Society Capital highlighted an online support site Good Finance which is packed with information to help charities and social enterprises navigate the complexities of social investment.

So, what are the early considerations to understand if social investment is potentially right for your organisation? Melanie, suggested three simple questions –

What do you need investment for? Is there an income stream with a surplus? What social impact will you create?

So, yes current financial times are difficult, we cannot escape this – BUT with the variety of financial instruments available, is your glass half-full or half-empty?

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