It’s gone by seemingly in a blink of an eye, but Access - the Foundation for Social Investment was launched 3 years ago. We then saw Access as a younger sister organisation, learning from the experience of our early days, with a mandate and tools (ie. grant!) to do things that are needed that we could never do.
What’s happened so far?
Access’s two aims at the outset spoke to the two biggest themes we heard in our work with charities and social enterprises – first, the need for smaller simpler finance than was then available, and second the need for support for charities & social enterprises to be in a stronger position to get social investment.
Through the Access Growth Fund (a blend of BSC’s loan money & Big Lottery Fund grant) – there are now 11 loan funds offering small loans (less than £150k) in England, with more to come. We expect around 1,000 organisations to receive small loan investment over the life of the Growth Fund – a big shift when in 2016 we estimated that over 3,600 organisations had accessed social investment of any size.
Some of these funds are run by existing social investors like Big Issue Invest, Keyfund and Resonance but it’s also been exciting to see new players running funds– community foundations, membership organisations and housing associations. The hypothesis is that organisations who are of the sector & with deeper relationships will be better able to overcome some of the “softer” barriers around social investment – empathy, difference of cultures, practical understanding of the impact & income streams. Will this result in more social investment reaching genuinely underserved parts of the sector? It’s too early to tell, but the signs are positive, seeing the great charities and social enterprise who have received investment so far, many of whom would not have done before.
Increasingly we see positive signs of the connections between our broader awareness raising work and Access’s Connect Fund work to build infrastructure for the sector. We’ve been pleased to see partners such as VONNE who hosted our first Let’s Talk Good Finance event in the North East in 2016, proactively taking on a greater leadership role on social investment locally, and now able to access support from the Connect Fund to do so.
The other key touchpoint we’ve had has been our collaboration on Good Finance, together with our sector partners including SEUK, Locality & NCVO. We’ve been proud to develop this in a way that is user led and genuinely collaborative - this speaks to themes which echoes across Access’s other strands of work (for example on Impact Management), and we hope, increasingly our own.
Access launched their new strategy recently, with three strands around enterprise development, blended finance & learning programme.
On blended finance, we’ll be working together on a new initiative to see how this can made available to specific places. We know that place based work is complex, and are aware that the wholesale loan capital we bring is a limited tool – so there’s a really valuable opportunity to collaborate with Access to bring blended finance & capacity building support to benefit communities in specific places.
The clear shift of Access’s capacity building work to focus on “enterprise development” is really welcome. It has already reframed the “why” of capacity building support, and helpfully affirms loud and clear what has been apparent for a long time. Looking for social investment is never the starting point, organisations need to be focused on understanding how to grow, diversify and sustain income, and investment may then follow.
What have we learned from Access?
Working with and listening to our sister organisation has been good for us. The need to work in partnership was in their DNA of having 3 founding organisations, and as a result we’ve also had to find ways of working that were new for us, for example on the Growth Fund, where our Investment team colleagues support rather than lead on fund proposals, and where the decision making shared by Access and funders.
Other aspects of Access’s work have indirectly encouraged us to consider how we could do more of the same, albeit with our wider role – for example peer learning amongst intermediaries running funds, and their openness around sharing updates on their work and external transparency of their performance dashboards.
Finally, Access’s articulation of building learning, capacity and networks that can sustain a legacy beyond a programme’s life resonates strongly. They have taken a bold lead in setting out a vision of how data and learning around social investment could be shared and accessed in the right places to greatest benefit for charities and enterprises. We’re keen to contribute and build this more consistently into our thinking –taking our insights & learnings to think who could this benefit, where is it best be used by others in the “system”?
Above all, we want our combined efforts & funds to make a greater difference to how social investment is used by charities and social enterprises to improve people’s lives – through improving both the tools and the journey.
If you’re a charity or social enterprise considering using social investment, please see Good Finance.
If you’re interested in how partnering with Access on their enterprise development programme – see here