As Big Society Capital launches its stakeholder survey, our new CEO shares his reflections on meeting some of the people who are using social investment to drive social change.
At Praxis, CEO Sally talked me through the challenges of homelessness and absolute destitution faced by people who are in limbo awaiting decisions on their legal status in the UK. With Ashley from Commonweal Housing, they had developed a model which housed and supported parents with children who can get financial help from local authorities, creating just enough head room to provide a free place for single adults. Project worker Safia told me of some residents’ stories – the elderly woman who knelt down and thanked God for a bed when shown her room, the child who said how wonderful it was to have a bed. It was all made possible by social investment to buy the houses.
In Sheffield at the Working Capital conference, I met leaders of charities and social enterprises hunting for the kind of investment that would work for them – often small amounts, intensely focused on interest rates as revenue funding contracts and feels so vulnerable, working with the likes of Key Fund and Charity Bank.
With Chris from Catch22 taking a brave move into creating the Public Services Lab, providing support for individuals and local groups to take on more activity including local authority commissioned work, making their communities thrive, building confidence and capability, working in relationships not just transactions. This new scheme coming in as the winner of the Business Impact Challenge with Interserve.
Rick from Homeless Link, faced with a growing street homelessness challenge, working on innovations like the Together and St Basils initiatives to engage homeless people as builders to repair dilapidated homes which they can then live in, or the Housing First ideas which help people move direct from street to flats - a well-researched and successful model that may end up funded through a Social Impact Bond.
These are the people who are making social investment work, making it useful, and focusing it on some of the toughest issues facing our society. They are committed to finding solutions for the most vulnerable, often in very difficult funding positions.
It’s the job of the team here at Big Society Capital, and the 30 plus social investment intermediaries we work with, to make their job a little easier, to make their success more likely.
Four weeks in to the CEO job, I have a lot more to learn. I’ve already seen how it can work, thanks to the people and organisations I’ve already met. I’ve also heard many of the challenges, from the uncertainty of future revenue and the cost of loans to the complexity of many investment models and how difficult it can be to find the right investor. I’m getting a few ideas about where efforts could be focused. But it is still very early days, and new observations may prove more important.
What I can say is that we are open for business. Our team members are asking the question “can we make this work with you” much more often than just working the numbers and saying yes/no. The recent market size report showed over 3000 charities and social enterprises having taking social investment, which means that someone like you, near you, has the experience to share. And we are on the road – albeit a winding road – to the point where social investment could be a useful, understood and accessible tool in your toolbox as a charity or social enterprise leader, alongside fundraising and trading. One more tool, and maybe the one that will make your ambitions for a better society come true.
Thanks to Sally, Ashley, Safia, Chris, Rick and the Working Capital crew for their time and insights.
Big Society Capital would like to hear from across the charity, social enterprise, intermediaries and investment sectors to get a sense of how we are doing – and how we could do better. This confidential survey is a unique opportunity to influence our future direction and approach. The survey will take 30 mins to complete.
Have your say before 20 April: http://bit.ly/BigSocietyCap_Survey