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Business Impact Challenge Launches

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Today we’re launching the Business Impact Challenge - an opportunity for corporates to develop high-impact social purpose investment ideas and receive matching funding of up to £15 million and support from Big Society Capital.

Companies are increasingly interested in using social investment to create value in their businesses. So Big Society Capital has brought together a panel of business leaders to evaluate ideas from all types of businesses, and put a significant amount of investment capital on the table to make it happen.

The Challenge is an important opportunity for both businesses and charities and social enterprises.

An opportunity for businesses

The most innovative companies understand how social outcomes drive their business growth. As Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter says:

“Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the centre.”

Opportunities not risk management: Businesses investing in social outcomes is about generating growth and impact for business and society – it is not about mitigating risk. For instance, corporate venturing funds with a social mission, like the Centrica Ignite Fund in the UK, aim to invest in innovative energy production models like community energy. By taking a stake in early-stage ventures and helping them scale up, Centrica is able to invest in what could become tomorrow’s energy market.

Innovation not philanthropy: Placing social impact as the core purpose to a business investment can unlock a new type of business innovation. When Danone committed to setting up a social purpose yoghurt plant that would deliver low-cost yet nutritious products to malnourished children in Bangladesh, it developed new recipes that didn’t require refrigeration and low-cost manufacturing - techniques that they later deployed throughout the rest of the world. Setting the business unit up with an explicit social mission unlocked a new type of energy from its teams, who worked tirelessly to come up with new high-impact ideas.

Talent development not rejection: Building an internal framework to identify and invest in social business opportunities allows companies to attract and retain socially motivated ‘intrapreneurs’ with compelling business ideas. In this way, social investing allows companies to engage with tomorrow’s corporate leaders who see business as a core part of solving society’s challenges. For instance, 44% of global Millennials believe that innovative solutions to social problems are most likely to come from businesses (compared to 22% who put their faith in governments, and 6% in NGOs). The Barclays Social Innovation Facility, launched in 2012 with a £25 million commitment, was designed to accelerate the development of commercial solutions from employees that directly address social issues – retaining talent and delivering impact.

An opportunity for charities and social enterprises

The Business Impact Challenge is an opportunity to generate impact at scale. Private companies dominate global production, allocate resources, and have the potential to drive significant social innovation. The Challenge will be successful if it harnesses the human resources, competencies and reach of the most influential companies in the world. More than attracting further capital to social investment, the winner of the Challenge will need to bring in the soft skills of a company to drive commercial and social impact.

Social enterprises and charities can use the Business Impact Challenge as a catalyst to strengthen existing partnerships with corporates or as a reason to initiate a conversation with a new corporate partner. For instance, social purpose joint ventures between business and third sector organisations are also eligible to submit ideas to the Challenge panel.

Challenge as ‘open innovation’

We are open to the most impactful and innovative ideas in any industry. The Challenge creates a mandate for business leaders, intrapreueurs, social investors and social organisations to work together for greater impact. This reflects a wider shift towards Open Innovation – a more participatory, decentralised approach to generating solutions to social issues.

We don’t know where the answer to society’s biggest challenges will come from. By putting social impact as a key criteria for winning the Business Impact Challenge, we’re inviting collaborative solutions to achieve these outcomes.

The breadth of Big Society Capital’s mission to deliver social impact across a range of outcome areas makes us uniquely positioned to host the Business Impact Challenge. Companies in any industry can focus on addressing the most relevant social issue to them, provided it has a clear strategic alignment to their business.

The Challenge is a call to action to those across the social sector and corporate landscape to co-create solutions to some of our biggest social issues. It is an opportunity for business leaders to invest in social outcomes that impact their bottom line and access new markets, products, services and technologies that align with their strategic priorities. It provides a framework and process for budding intrapreneurs to bring their ideas for creating social change to life. For charities and social enterprises, it provides an opportunity to leverage the capital and talent of some of the world’s biggest businesses to deliver scale and ultimately greater impact.

We look forward to supporting the best corporate-led ideas that have significant strategic, financial and social impact. 

You can find out more at

Last updated | 
15 December 2014


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