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New starters, future partners

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Some 42 people gathered in Big Society Capital's board room earlier this month, all new starters to our social investment sector.

This is the third time people gathered for a social investment focused induction event. As well as new starters from Big Society Capital, were people from Resonance, Venturesome, Big Issue Invest, Unity Trust Bank, Access, ClearlySo, Commonweal, Social Investment Business, Social Finance and many others, including UK and International Foundations. Many of our staff were involved in presenting.

What were we trying to do? We wanted to start off new starters in our sector in a different place. Our starting point was the social issues first. What are the problems in education, health and social care, housing, financial inclusion, that we as social investors exist to help charities and social enterprises solve? From that, we look at the tools we have: social impact bonds, charity bonds, social enterprise investment funds, social banks, community shares, crowdfunding. Finally, we come to ourselves; who are the social investors and sources of finance?

All this we put in a historical context. It is a lesson of history that we fail to learn from history. Beginning with the 1542 founding of the Sir Thomas White Charity, which made loans to would-be apprentices too poor to buy their own tools, we have a long history behind us of lending to charities. Cooperative savings banks, building societies from the previous two centuries and in just the last 35 years alone 1 million people have joined credit unions in this country and new social banks have been set up. And all this before most of the social investment organisations represented in the room, and certainly before Big Society Capital came into existence. Indeed, our existence is precisely because of all this activity, to wholesale funds and support the development of social investment further.

Your brand is about what people say behind your back when you leave the room.

We looked at what social investment is, what strategy and policy supports it has today and what our portfolio looks like. We explored the impact areas. We looked at social impact measurement, explored accountancy, touched on the law, supported by specialist such as Hanna Kubie from Stone King and Neil Trup from Neil Howard. Nick Temple from Social Enterprise UK and Seb Elsworth from Access Foundation gave us sector perspectives; Mark Howland from Charity Bank shared their recent rebranding experience. "Your brand is about what people say behind your back when you leave the room" was one quote that will stick with me.

We also bought in people who are working directly with beneficiaries. Arvinda Gohil from Emmaus and Matt Stephenson Dodds from Street League told us in no uncertain terms what social investment looked like from their perspective. Start from our needs, not your needs. You are too expensive. Don't tell us what to do - help us do what we need to do.

We finished with failure. What happens when things go wrong and why? We looked at CAF Venturesome's breakdown of what happened in investments they worked on that did not work out. Danyal Sattar had a discussion with one of his former investees about a project they worked on together which did not exactly go to plan. Jeremy Rogers set out his experience of investments that failed and why.

We tried, over three days, to download everything we knew between us. But more importantly we wanted to create a different perspective on social investment. We wanted to show where there are disjunctions between the needs of the people we are here to serve, and our own practices. And to connect the people together who will be working across social investment over the coming years. Our hope is that this will improve communications and transparency. That we will put our beneficiaries first. But most importantly that we will all be better equipped to find the balance between the needs of the beneficiaries and the social and financial interest of investors. Only then will we unlock the flow of capital to the social purposes to which we are all committed.  

The presentations from the induction course can be found here.

By Danyal Sattar, Investment Manager, Access Foundation & Jeremy Rogers, Chief Investment Officer, Big Society Capital