Big Society Capital's new Engagement Manager, Katie Fulford-Smith, shares her first impressions of the social impact investing world and her introduction to Good Finance at Good Finance Live in Newcastle.
From one alternative finance world to another
Social impact investing is a bewildering topic to many of us. We get the gist of what it is and the concept of investing for good sounds like a great idea, but what is it really all about?
Having spent the best part of last six years at alternative investment manager, Octopus Investments, I went back to school when I started with Big Society Capital (BSC). And what better way to start my first term than with a field trip to the very first Good Finance Live event in Newcastle.
The event's main aim was to provide a space for charities and social enterprises actively looking for repayable finance to meet and talk to a range of social investors. And for those still unsure about what social investment could offer their organisation, the day was also a chance to learn how they could use Good Finance to get up to speed.
Good Finance: a brief introduction
Never heard of Good Finance? Think match.com for social enterprises and charities seeking repayable finance. You complete some information about yourself (as an investee) and are presented with a range of potential suitors (investors) based on your characteristics and requirements. In a nutshell, Good Finance is a website designed to help make it easier for social enterprises and charities to access investment. The website provides helpful guides to make the complex simple and includes a diagnostic tool to help match investees with investors.
On the day of the event, we gave Good Finance the big screen (well technically the small screen) with its very own demo stand. Social entrepreneurs (investees) had the opportunity to try out the website with a member of the BSC team. As well as finding out whether social investment was right for them, Good Finance provides a list of suitable social investors. And, with 16 investors conveniently located in the Good Finance Live ‘marketplace’ a few steps away, if any were on their list, the social entrepreneur could connect in-person there and then.
So how does it work?
Having observed a few of my colleagues seamlessly navigate the diagnostic tool, I was impressed with how easy they made it look and fancied my chances. So, I jumped into the driving seat giving me the opportunity to test just how easy the site was to drive. My co-pilot was a willing and eager social entrepreneur who was looking for investment for the first time.
In the interest of transparency I confessed that I was ‘new to this’, so I’m not sure how hopeful my co-pilot was that we’d find a successful match. However, I’m pleased to say that the Good Finance diagnostic tool is novice-proof. A healthy list of potential investors presented itself and to end our journey I was delighted to walk our investee to the marketplace to meet their potential suitor to take things forward.
One made earlier
There is nothing more powerful that hearing from someone who has been there and done it before. As well as coming to meet with potential investors, guests also came to ‘hear from a peer’. As the name suggests, this is an opportunity to hear from other social entrepreneurs who have already taken on social investment to learn more about how and why they did it and what it has helped them to achieve.
This was my favourite part of the day as it reinforced the ‘why’ behind everything that we were doing. For me, it helped highlight what sets social impact investing apart from other forms of investing: the people. As one of the social entrepreneurs poignantly put it (whilst referring to traditional lenders), ‘they see statistics, I see people.’
Reassuringly, for this peer, taking on social investment had been a really positive experience. It helped drive a business-minded approach to the strategy of the organisation breeding sustainability which in turn has helped them deliver greater social impact.
My takeaways from Good Finance Live
- No question is a stupid question
- It’s not as complicated as it sounds
- There is always someone friendly to help
- Social investors don’t compete they collaborate
- Never lose sight of the social purpose
If you’d like to read more about Good Finance Live, see our recap of the day. It includes podcasts and presentations from the speakers meaning you can ‘hear from a peer’ too.