As we reach this milestone in our first concerted push of engaging more corporates in social investment, it feels like the right time to reflect on the past 12 months – reminding ourselves of the Challenge’s purpose, assessing whether it was successful, and drawing out the key lessons we’ve learnt along the way.
In December 2014 we launched the Business Impact Challenge, a competition that aimed to raise the awareness of social investment amongst corporates by offering the opportunity to secure matched investment and support for the best idea.
Has it been successful? In a word – Yes. The level of interest and engagement from corporates since the Challenge’s launch was very positive. Over 30 companies took part in an Intrapreneurs Lab day in April, 12 companies applied, five were shortlisted and while we have our one winner, another two were awarded High Commendations with the potential to secure matched investment from Big Society Capital in the coming months.
Here’s the top five lessons we’ve learnt that we’ll take into consideration for any future planning.
1. Educating all partners on social investment is essential
The first essential step in generating any interest and engagement in social investment is educating corporates and their potential charity and social enterprise partners about what social investment is and what it involves. That knowledge needs to extend into different layers within corporates so everyone involved understands the benefits (beyond financial) of engagement.
2. Competition generates momentum
Having a ‘prize’ to work towards helped catalyse a number of early pipeline conversations between corporates and charities into genuine partnerships, providing them with a concrete incentive and timeframe to work towards. However, deadlines can also be mixed blessings. While we received some positive feedback from companies saying having a firm deadline helped sharpen the focus and secured much needed buy in, others complained that it was just too tight and a number of potentially great ideas didn’t end up applying - perhaps with the tight turn arounds playing a deciding factor.
3. Buy in at multiple levels is essential
While initial interest for social investment often comes from within a company’s CSR team, to make a transformative difference it must be owned and endorsed by multiple layers within corporates – from the senior executives through to the managers. Without senior buy-in, the idea stands little chance of being embedded either within the company or securing the relevant resources and attention it needs to progress. And without the buy in of the managers responsible for implementation, there is a risk it will get side-lined and ignored for their day to day KPIs.
4. There are no short cuts – developing a viable business plan takes time
While buy-in is essential, the next crucial step is developing a viable business case that stack ups and ultimately leads to a sustainable business generating social as well as financial returns in the future. Regardless of who is developing a new business model – corporates, charities, social businesses – the same things need to be thought through, analysed and tested. This stage cannot be rushed and takes a big commitment from all involved if they are serious about launching something sustainable and impactful.
5. It must make business sense
Creating shared value is key to successful social investment partnerships for corporates and charities and social enterprises. The ideas most likely get off the ground are when a corporate recognises the strategic benefits of its social investment activities and can see a clear line of sight to opening new markets and/or developing or securing new revenue streams while also delivering social impact.
So what next? While we continue to work with the winner and runners up of this year’s Business Impact Challenge to ensure their plans are investment ready in the coming months, we have turned our attention towards building on the momentum already generated to provide the right opportunities for more corporates to engage with social investment in a meaningful way. With such a positive initial engagement from a large number of FTSE 250 companies, we believe the Business Impact Challenge can continue to play an important role in growing the market. Watch this space for 2016 activity.