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Voices blog

Connect Fund Reflections: Running the Participatory ‘Gathering Ideas Fund’ 

As we wrap up and evaluate the Connect Fund in the coming months, we share some of the learning in this mini-series of blogs.  

Inspired by the work of our grant partners in the Challenging Power with Participation Funding strand we wanted to test out solving problems in the social investment sector with our own participatory model: ‘The Gathering Ideas Fund’. The Gathering is a two-day residential conference bringing together over 130 of the country’s most prominent social investors, infrastructure organisations, foundations and social enterprises. As the Connect Fund has a dual role of providing grants and helping to convene the sector, we saw the conference as a unique opportunity to host the fund, as too often sector conferences discuss the problems and not the solutions. We knew that we wanted the Gathering to have a grant budget behind it, then letting the participants take that control was the natural next step.  

The aim of the fund was to ensure that the challenges and ideas being discussed could be followed up to deliver real tangible outputs. The fund on offer consisted of 5 x £10k Grants to allow social investment funds or intermediary organisations to explore feasibility studies for ideas. 

What were we looking for? 

  • Ideas, research or pilots that strengthen the social investment market to be better suited to the charities and social enterprises 
  • Developed in partnership with another organisation 
  • Budget up to £10,000 

Wellbeing Protocol App  

We worked with an app called the Wellbeing Protocol for attendees to submit ideas and vote on their favourites. The ideas were shared on the app for all to view and voted on throughout the two-day conference. The voting allowed attendees to allocate points using quadratic system based on how much they liked each idea. This worked really well, ensuring a huge amount of engagement from participants, with 19 ideas submitted and a final five chosen collectively by over 100 people. 

The Winning Ideas

Equal Care Co-op Limited Care Shares Legal Framework 

Convene partners to design a transferable share offer capable of widening investor participation into both co-operatives and social enterprises. 

There are currently significant structural barriers to investment in co-operative societies, preventing growth and disincentivising founders to choose the co-operative structure. Equal Care Co-op have identified the problem as a barrier to their own growth and want to solve the market challenge for itself and other organisations. The goal of the project is to design a transferable share offer capable of widening investor participation into both co-operatives and social enterprises.  

New Philanthropy Capital Scaling patient and flexible capital 

Leveraging Trusts & Foundations to catalyse social investment.  

This project aims to address a capital gap within the social investment market by developing an investment structure that enables trusts, foundations, and/or other types of high-impact organisations to work together using the strength of their balance sheets to help lower the cost of capital through credit enhancements and loan guarantees, in order to raise additional long-term capital at scale.  

I For Change Ltd A Security Trustee suitable for Social Investors 

Explore the idea of a Security Trustee for the social investment market.   

As many social investment deals are secured loans where there is more than one investor, there is usually a need for a Security Trustee – a body charged with administrative tasks and realising the value of the security in a default scenario. Where a security trustee has been required, often one of the investors has volunteered to take on the role and accompanying responsibilities. However, experience to date with trusts and foundations, and social investment funds, is that people do not want to do it anymore: they volunteer to do it, experience a default, and say, “never again”. The alternative is a commercial security trustee paid to fulfil the role by the investors. Feedback from The Gathering participants is that they are not entities that ‘understand’ impact, and indeed may be associated with activities that generate negative impact (extractive mining was specifically mentioned). This project would like to explore the possibility of setting up a Security Trustee fit for the domestic social investment market, and disseminate the findings to the wider social impact investment sector. 

EIRIS Foundation Social Investment in Charity Pooled Funds 

Understanding the barriers and opportunities for Social Investment in Charity Pooled Funds. 

EIRIS will build on its existing research regarding responsible investment in charity pooled funds, exploring the current level of ‘social investment’ in charity pooled funds and scoping the barriers and issues that are preventing further social investment. Many charity investments have expressed a desire to hold social investments but various barriers are preventing the growth of the market.  EIRIS would like to research and document these levels and explore solutions to overcome barriers to growth. This significant pool of charity assets could potentially be part of a transformative shift towards more social investment and allow even smaller charities to access social investments. 

Business Under Development (BUD Leaders) Facilitating Black Brilliance – Demystifying Social Investment 

A workshop and materials to demystify social investment for Black and racialised entrepreneurs. 

The aim of the project is to dismantle the barriers faced by Black-led and racialised entrepreneurs to understanding and accessing Social Investment. This will be delivered by designing a follow-on process from capacity building such as a webinar/workshop/interactive web page/video series/downloadable documents. The goals of this project are for a better understanding of Social Investment for Black-led and racialised entrepreneurs, with more social investment opportunities taken up as a result.

Our reflections  

A live conference was the perfect playground for participation. By hosting the fund at a conference we already had our community defined and engaged (well, perhaps cajoled) into participating. As the goal of the fund was to benefit the sector, the attendees were perfectly placed to judge the ideas as they would be the ones affected by the projects. In our pilot we really saw the benefits of using the hive mind for grant making rather than relying on a small team to make decisions on behalf of others. 

Process is still important. The Barrow Cadbury Trust needs to uphold our legal and governance commitments to a high standard. We still needed to complete our financial and regulatory due diligence on the grants being awarded to the organisations but we looked at our own processes to ensure they were as streamlined as possible for the organisations participating. We also wanted to ensure that any reporting required is targeted, flexible to the project and not unnecessarily onerous.  

We would love to see more of this  

The final project reports will be available in June, so we look forward to sharing the findings and resources created from the fund. We look forward to seeing more examples of participation in social infrastructure work, with new technology like the Wellbeing Protocol there are so many more opportunities for decentralised decision-making in social investment and philanthropy – this is just the beginning.