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This blog has been cross-posted with the kind permission of the Diversity Forum 

The Diversity Forum is delighted to have secured additional funding from The Connect Fund for the co-creation of a data dashboard to reflect the diversity of the social investment sector. This project is being run in collaboration with our valued partners at For Business Sake, Clearview Research, Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, Big Society Capital, the Pathway Fund, Shift Design and Social Investment Business.

This project has been initiated in response to several requests seeking best practice for data collection around the diversity characteristics and a recognition of multiple intermediaries working on very similar goals. Our intention for the project is to improve the standards of data collection in the sector, setting expectations for best practice and facilitating a way to achieve this that is both accessible and inclusive by co-creating diversity data collection – in terms of content (what data is collected), process (how the data is collected), practice (how the data is used) and communication (how the data is visualised and shared).

We aim to do this by using a Design Thinking approach to centre individuals in social enterprises and social investment intermediaries, particularly those from marginalised backgrounds, to ensure a balance between accessibility and accountability and to ensure the data collected can be purposefully applied to improve goals around equity, diversity and inclusion. Our aims and intended outcomes for the project are as follows:

  • An accessible digital dashboard to portray the diversity of social intermediaries within the sector that can be updated on a regular basis

  • A baseline of good practice regarding appropriate questions for diversity characteristics for use within the sector

  • A user-led, co-created data collection method for the diversity of social investment intermediaries to regularly input diversity data that has the potential to be scaled for use with social enterprises

  • An evaluation report to indicate how this dashboard can feed into wider equity, diversity and inclusion work in the sector and practical recommendations for how our pilot can be scaled for wider use in future .

We are keen to engage with others working on diversity data collection to learn from your experiences and to integrate and collaborate our methods with as many others as possible across the sector. To get involved, ask questions or learn more about the project please reach out to us on [email protected].

This blog has been cross-posted from the Connect Fund website.  The author, Ruby Frankland, is the Connect Fund Manager at the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

It sounds obvious, but everything around us is the result of design. Even the way we work in the social investment sector is ‘designed’ through a series of conscious and unconscious choices made under a framework of values. The most dominant influence of these design choices is of course the existing financial system. In many ways, the social investment sector has been created in the shadow of traditional finance. But this is a problem as the social investment market is not there to mirror the traditional financial market. It has the much broader, more imaginative (and more difficult to measure) goal of social value.

The mechanisms of traditional finance are designed for purely capitalist businesses — where the single axis is to make profit. Since the VCSE sector is designed to solve social and environmental challenges, it is well-equipped with ‘multi-axis’ thinking to address systematic inequalities. As such, the value of social innovation, charities and enterprise to support communities is becoming well-established in emergent design practice. The design of the supporting financial infrastructure, however, frequently uses the same traditional tools and framing. This results in a reproduction of the values coded into that system. So where does that leave us? The processes and tools we use need to be redesigned to suit the goals we are trying to achieve.

At the Connect Fund we are really interested in digging deeper into methods of participatory or community-led investing that unpick the design of traditional finance and reimagine investment for the benefit of communities first. That is, ‘the practice of investing with meaningful input, decision-making power, and ownership from grassroots stakeholders’.

In the same tradition of participatory action research and co-design, participatory investment essentially means including end-users in design and delivery of investment decisions in a meaningful way. It is important to differentiate here from processes which employ user-centred design, where the client or end-user is the subject of observation as a source for improvements. In the participatory or co-creation process, the end-user is understood as an equal partner and is actively involved throughout the creation process.

At Connect Fund we are really excited to announce funding the first of our projects in the Challenging Power with Participation strand:

Democratic Money

Barking and Dagenham Giving (B&D Giving) will work with The Curiosity Society (TCS) to give ordinary people more control over how money is generated, distributed, and used. B&D Giving will extend the work of their Community Steering Group — CSG, a group of residents that has led the design of their Investment Policy, by onboarding new members and creating an alumni community. It will create a dashboard to monitor the impact of the investments and a digital learning platform to increase community engagement and expand participation. Their long-term partner, Curiosity Society will support partners in different geographical areas to learn from this model and build their own versions of democratic money. This will include testing in three new locations and delivering shareable tools for those seeking to engage in re-imagining financial decision-making.

Impact Custodian Investment Committee

This pilot project from Shift Design will focus on the structure of social investment committees, which predominately favours ‘learned experience’ rather than the ‘lived experience’. The project will mitigate the potential for decision-making bias to misjudge the potential risks and returns and will form an Impact Custodian Investment Committee of individuals with relevant lived experience acting as stewards on behalf of their community. Working with Trust for London to trial using improved assessment criteria and insights that better balance ‘lived experience’ and the ‘learned experience’ of the investment team and due diligence process. Alongside this work, it will assemble a social investor Consortium of 5–7 organisations interested in changing how they make decisions.

If you are interested in applying to the Connect Fund’s Challenging Power with Participation strand take a look at our guidelines.

As part of the Connect Fund evaluation, Niamh Goggin, our Evaluation and Learning Partner, looks back at five projects funded by the Fund and their journey towards strengthening Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the UK social investment sector. While EDI is receiving more attention recently, some organisations have been working to change policy and practice for years.

This mini-report provides a summary of the scale of the EDI issue before identifying common themes that characterised the successful EDI strategies of Voice for Change England, Black South West Network and GMCVO.   

From its inception in 2017, the Connect Fund had a strong focus on making the social investment market more open, diverse and accessible. The 2017 survey of diversity in the social investment field [1] found “A bleak picture for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME [2]) inclusion.” While there was 30% representation in operational roles, there was a significant dip in transitions to management roles, with just 9% representation. There was also a clear drop-off in women transitioning or recruited from operational roles (56%) to executive/leadership roles (28%). Awareness of this issue led the Connect Fund to provide grant funding, from its first phase of operation onwards, to bring in new voices to create a more diverse social investment market.

This blog focuses on five Connect Fund projects delivered by three organisations, which aimed to connect black and minority communities with social investment, to improve awareness of social investment and its possibilities and to change the design and delivery of social investment to suit the needs and requirements of those communities. The organisations and projects are:

Connecting with Black and Minority Ethnic Communities

Representation of female directors and BAME managers has fallen in the sector since 2017 [4]. Black and minority communities are not represented where decisions on funding and support are being made. The three organisations identified key requirements for inclusivity;

  1. Time; engaging with these communities over many years, to build relationships, understanding and knowledge. GMCVO has been supporting the GM BAME network and leaders’ group since 2013. Voice4Change England started their journey in 2015, with the Bridging the Gap report on the experience of 100 BAME charities and community groups. BSWN developed its focus on inclusive economic growth and development from 2016.
  2. Place; “The challenges facing Manchester are different from those in Rochdale.” In the South-West, conversations were held over time, about poverty and economic dislocation; criminal justice and mental health and understanding an economic system that doesn’t work for Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Voice4Change England identified and went to the “groups out there ready to take on social investment” in Bristol, Manchester, Hastings and London.
  3. Trust; The social investment sector needs to build trust with communities that see the sector as “less diverse, less inclusive, less equal .. (technocratic) more focused on tools and the technical element.” “It’s not just ethnicity, (it is) knowledge, social economics….(It) should be driven by the social issues…”

Researching, Learning, Engaging

All three organisations focused initially on research and learning, employing Black and Minority Ethnic researchers to analyse and report on the disconnect between those communities, VCSE organisations and the social investment sector. Voice4Change England researched and engaged to identify barriers for B&ME VSCEs to take up social investment. BSWN mapped the existing B&ME social enterprise sector across the South-West, providing data on size, locations, specialisms and identifying barriers to accessing social investment. GMCVO began with a project researching perception and experience. They developed the engagement process to deliver two-way learning – learning from and about the communities and sharing information and experience of social investment.

Fund and Product Design

All three organisations identified problems relating to fund, product design and the characteristics of the capital supplied to social investment intermediaries. “Taking investment banking and inserting it into the charity sector doesn’t work.” There isn’t a consistent offer available for charity and social enterprise organisations as and when they need it, with opening and closing “windows” and relatively short periods before the capital has to be returned. B&ME-led charities and social enterprises are likely to be smaller than their peers, with lower turnover, smaller average grant sizes and more fragile finances. Some of them will need access to smaller investments – “a £10k injection to improve your cashflow.” “The challenge is fitting the product to the need”. Sumerian’s venture philanthropy approach was commended for its focus on supporting the organisation towards making a profit and then sharing the return – similar in concept to Sharia finance.

Influencing and Changing the Sector

The GM BAME Social Enterprise Network started with 30 organisations and now has around 120 members. They partner with mainstream providers such as the School for Social Entrepreneurs. The network is still supported by GMCVO but is an independent entity, making its own decisions. They also look outside the social sector, for example engaging with Lloyds Bank on setting up banking services and support for social entrepreneurs.

GM Social Investment is GMCVO’s social investment service, with a mission to tackle inequality and exclusion. Twenty-six per cent of their investments are made to BAME-led organisations and the aim is to “reflect their community”. For the future, GMCVO’s ambition is for an “evergreen” fund, that doesn’t have to be returned to an investor after a defined term, so that there is a permanent circulation of funds in the local economy. They identify the importance of building inclusive leadership, empowering and supporting local communities to engage with social investment, so that financial experience is balanced by local knowledge and awareness.

At a local level, BSWN has identified the challenge for B&ME social entrepreneurs who need research and development funding to launch their social enterprise and is addressing the problem through the Local Access Programme. This will help to develop the social investment pipeline. At a sectoral level, BSWN is concentrating on supporting a culture shift in social investment, including among the intermediary organisations. Social investment product design needs to be driven by addressing the social need and strengthening the social entrepreneurs and their communities. Financial returns will be delivered by impactful, profitable organisations.


Greater Manchester (GMCVO) and Bristol (BSWN) are two of the six areas that were chosen as part of the Big Society Capital and Access – the Foundation for Social Investment’s flagship “Local Access Programme”. The programme aims to support the development of stronger, more resilient and sustainable social economies in disadvantaged places. The programme is financed by £10m of dormant accounts money and £15m of repayable social investment funded by Big Society Capital. Both organisations are confident that their Connect Fund projects were important contributors both to the motivation to apply and in providing evidence of what works in strengthening the social enterprise sector.

BSWN has developed a strategic inclusive partnership with Power to Change, supporting community businesses. It is also determined not to be seen in collaborations as the “inclusive” partner, but to drive inclusion in the organisations it works with.

V4CE has engaged with a range of stakeholders to raise awareness of the opportunity for a B&ME social investment fund. They are also learning from international experience, including from Morgan Simons They are modelling a proposal for a B&ME Blended Fund, providing an appropriate mix of grant and loan, with significant external support from a combination of private donors and large corporates.

The five projects delivered by three organisations have already contributed significantly to the development of a more diverse and inclusive social investment sector. Their research has shown that B&ME-led organisations, which tend to be smaller, less well-resourced and financially fragile, will need access to finance in a bespoke blend of grants and social investment. They are clear that social investment is only part of a package that should include technical assistance, networking and peer support. B&ME leaders want more than a seat at the table. They are progressing plans to develop their own pilot funds, which hopefully will serve as an example to similar new funds, as well as engaging to improve the design and delivery of existing funds. The social investment sector as a whole has much to learn from their experiences and developing expertise, as they contribute to improving equality, diversity and inclusion in a sector that needs to change.

The Connect Fund, managed by the Barrow Cadbury Trust in partnership with Access – the Foundation for Social Investment, aims to make social investment work better for a wider range of charities and social enterprises.

Niamh Goggin is Director at Small Change and Connect Fund’s Evaluation and Learning Partner.

[1] Diversity in the social investment field; S Bediako and G Rocyn Jones; Alliance Magazine Sept 2017;

[2] Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) is used when referring to research carried out using that term or to named networks. Black and Minority Community is used in all other cases.

[3] GM BAME is now the GM BASE network.

[4] Inclusive Impact: A Comprehensive View of Diversity in the Social Investment Sector; Inclusive Boards; Diversity Forum; Connect Fund; Dec 2018

This blog has been cross posted from the Connect Fund website.

A new fund hits the circuit

The Connect Fund was born this spring. The fourth young fund in the Access Foundation stable, it has slowly found its legs, teetered around the field, and poked its nose into the social investment market. The initial task was to map and consult with many social investment actors to design the new social investment infrastructure fund. We left no stone unturned.

By mid-June, the Connect Fund was ready for its first outing, and debuted to much fanfare. The fund’s stated purpose is to ‘build a better social investment market’ to ensure that small to medium sized charities and social enterprises – that make up the bulk of the social sector – access the right kind of repayable finance to advance their mission.

Dazzling debut with daring debate

A diverse crowd of over 95 people gathered at the Foundry in Vauxhall to hear about the Connect Fund. Its stated objectives are to fill gaps in the architecture of the current social investment market, and to better connect existing voluntary sector infrastructure organisations to social investment.

An engaging debate on the state of social investment took off at the starting gate. Steve Wyler, a trustee of Access, quoted Responsible Finance figures to make the argument that social investment isn’t working. Jeremy Rogers, Chief Investment Officer at Big Society Capital, pointed out that £306m of ‘risk capital’ non-bank investments were made in 2016, including unsecured lending, community shares, charity bonds, social impact bonds, equity and social property funds. David Floyd from Social Spider, followed up with a blog to make sense of it all.

Place your bets

Next up was the first round call for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for grant funding, which ran from June to early July. This funding window had a focus on collaborative initiatives to address current gaps in social investment market infrastructure. A primary purpose was to promote sharing of tools, data and resources to lower transaction costs; increase diversity and innovation; and facilitate learning and feedback to move social investment forward.

In response, the Connect Fund received 62 applications, for a total request amount of £3.25m and an average grant size of £49,849. Of these, approximately 40 are best suited to the aims of this first round EOI, for a total request amount of £2.4m and an average grant size of £60,927. The remaining 22 proposals are better suited to the second round EOI, with a focus on voluntary sector infrastructure and membership organisations, and will be shifted to this second stage.

Looking strong, but keep an eye out

Comparing the field, the fund generated a strong range of proposals. There was a positive turnout across nine separate themes. These include business development, capacity building, data sharing, diversity, market information, networks, shared resources, skill development and standards/templates. A number of collaborative approaches were put forward, and the message on partnership was clearly received.

A good selection of ideas is in the running. The need for diversity was well recognised. A number of proposals showed promise to build staff teams, expand diversity of demand-side recipients, encourage new entrants to the sector, and widen the leadership pipeline for social investment.

Ideas for reducing transaction costs, sharing resources and enhancing market information were put forward. Proposals to increase regional representation and eliminate geographic cold spots also turned up. Of the 62 proposals we received, 42% were from organisations outside of London.

A few gaps in the line-up remain. One task for the Connect Fund is to identify areas that are missing or might need further development. Initiatives to develop a shared diagnostic tool, common due diligence, and technical skill development for the sector have been discussed but did not make an appearance.

Key to form is to build learning groups for initiatives that share a common theme. Data sharing is a perfect example of how a ‘community of practice’ could achieve added value to ensure that projects are mutually beneficial and non-duplicative. Capacity building initiatives also have the potential to be greater than the sum of the parts. The Connect Fund will seek to host or promote learning partnerships to accelerate solutions to shared challenges and extend collaboration across organisations working on related topics.

The current task is to sift through the 40 first-round grant applications on the basis of 10 different criteria to finalise the shortlist. Applicants will be notified by mid-August if they will progress to the next round. Shortlisted proposals will be asked to submit full grant applications for final investment management committee decisions in mid-November.

One to watch

Voluntary sector infrastructure and membership bodies should keep an eye out for the second round EOI which will run from 2 October to 5 November 2017. This funding round is designed to foster enterprise-driven initiatives that can connect places or sectors to social investment. A key objective is to extend the reach of social investment by geography, sector, and on an equalities basis to diversify and widen access to new forms of finance. This will take the form of grants for feasibility studies to explore social investment capacity building, brokering, and advice or scoping of social investment programmes.

The Connect Fund will continue to engage with the social investment market to shift the narrative to focus on the funding realities that mission-driven social organisations face. Social investment is one tool for charities and social enterprises to consider as they explore a pathway to generating income and building more financial resilience. Please get in touch if your organisation has good ideas that the Connect Fund could help to support.

 Jessica Brown, the Connect Fund Manager, wrote this blog originally for the Access Fund website.








The Barrow Cadbury Trust, in partnership with Access – the Foundation for Social Investment – is launching a £1.8 million Connect Fund for social investment infrastructure in England.

The Connect Fund will provide grants and investments to build a better social investment market in England. Opening its first round of grant funding with expressions of interest today, Monday 5 June, the fund will support intermediaries and infrastructure organisations to make social investment work for a wider, more diverse range of charities and social enterprises.

Charities and social enterprises may require small amounts of affordable finance, particularly as they develop new ways to earn income. Despite having been set up for this purpose, many social investment intermediaries struggle to provide this type of finance.

The Connect Fund seeks to build a better social investment market by:

  • improving the connection of social investment to charities and social enterprises
  • better connecting social investment intermediaries through shared data and resources
  • connecting existing voluntary sector infrastructure organisations to the social investment market

Helen Cadbury, Chair of the Barrow Cadbury Trust said, “As a foundation, our Board and I have deep concerns that much of the social sector is poorly served by the current social investment offer. We look forward to seeing the Connect Fund supporting new solutions.”

The first phase of grants will look at filling the gaps in the infrastructure of the social investment market by supporting collaboration on data management, skill development, sector networks, or other resource solutions.

For example, social investment intermediaries may seek to partner on blended finance, investment readiness, due diligence, staff skills and diversity, communications or marketing.

As well as supporting the sector to advance shared initiatives, the fund will also gather data from social investment intermediaries to evidence the amount and type of investment required to build resilient and sustainable business models.

A second phase of funding will provide feasibility grants for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations to explore models of enterprise-driven solutions with the potential to connect places and sectors to social investment.

Better sharing of tools, data and resources can lower transaction costs, promote diversity and innovation, and facilitate learning and feedback to move social investment forward. This initiative can bring new voices to social investment to improve its connection to the broader needs of the social sector.

A launch event will take place on Wednesday 14 June. If anyone would like an invitation to attend, please contact the Connect Fund Manager, Jessica Brown.