It’s been almost 9 months since I joined Big Society Capital.
What has met my expectations? The team has been thoughtful, social investment fund managers committed, and charities and social enterprises passionate and enterprising.
What has been unexpected? The environment around us. We are living in a time of profound change, with the Brexit referendum and subsequent political upheaval turning the position and role of social investment on its head. Traditional champions in Number 10 and Number 11 have gone, and there is a new wave of political leaders. The social sector is still unclear about how the new Government will treat it, and apart from some minor changes such as the SITR tax break, the autumn statement wasn’t a boon for charities. But pressures on people who are disadvantaged or on low incomes are growing. With living standards to get worse for the poorest 30% of society over the next decade, there is more need than ever for the great work of the social sector.
In this time, we think it’s right for us to consider how BSC should best play its role in future. So we’ve recently started work on a fundamental review of our strategy. The previous BSC strategy developed in 2014 set the course for the early days of our work; it helped us establish the institution and make some strong positive early steps. This strategy finishes next year, and we’ve now got a chance to reflect on what has and hasn’t worked, what’s changed, and where the energy is likely to come from in the future - all to help us chart a course for the next few years about where we can make the most impact. The review is planned in three stages, taking us through until well into the first half of next year: first a review of where social investment has reached, then some high level choices as to where we should focus, and finally how we operationalise that into practice.
Whilst we’re not yet sure where it will all lead, we intend that the new strategy will provide clarity on where we should focus as BSC moves out of pioneer stage into growth of impact. We believe that to be effective, the process should embody two key principles:
- Starts with what social investment needs: We know social investment existed well before BSC, and that much good work is going on without us. This strategy review process is deliberately looking outwards first to understand what the social investment world looks like now, and its challenges and opportunities, before deciding where BSC should play a role.
- To live our values: We understand that social investment is an important concept to many stakeholders, particularly social organisations, so we will be inclusive and deliberately seek out views from our valued stakeholders.
Today we are sharing the first part of our strategy review: our current perspective of what we’ve learned so far about social investment: opportunities, challenges, progress, gaps, and the ‘critical questions.’ This represents our best efforts to take stock of social investment with a critical eye on what may be working, and could work better. It’s no holds barred: there is some challenging data in the pack, perhaps right, maybe wrong, but too important not to face up to and have a realistic debate. We have also tried to synthesise our analysis down to the ‘critical questions’ that social investment is facing, in an admittedly crude attempt to generate discussion about priorities. We of course acknowledge that this can’t possibly cover everything, so grateful for all feedback.
We’re keen to hear your views about answers to these questions, and whether they are the right questions in the first place and what’s missing. We welcome comments widely across anyone with interest in social investment – for details, see here.
This is intended as part of a continuing conversation about where BSC can make the most impact. We hope that it enables us to see opportunity in this era of profound change to deliver a bigger impact at a time when it’s needed more than ever.