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As we wrap up and evaluate the Connect Fund, we share some of the learning and resources in the second in this blog mini-series.  

What was the Challenging Power with Participation Fund aiming to achieve? 

This strand of funding aimed to support projects that address specific problems in the social investment sector by challenging power and decision-making. The Fund was looking for projects that: 

  • Addressed power imbalances with principles of design justice, prioritising equity, diversity and inclusion 
  • Were driven by partnerships designed to impact the wider sector rather than individual organisations 
  • Built and disseminated knowledge in the sector and piloted ideas that had the potential to crowd in further financing  

The Fund supported two projects that aimed to increase Participatory Investing. 

Participatory Investing is the process of shifting the power of investment decisions to a broader spectrum of citizens. This strand supported projects that piloted community involvement in investment committees – promoting social investors, foundations and local authorities to invest democratically in their local areas. 

Participatory Investing  

Barking and Dagenham Giving and The Curiosity Society’s project Democratic Money 

Barking and Dagenham Giving worked with The Curiosity Society (TCS) to give ordinary people more control over how money is generated, distributed, and used. The grant allowed BD Giving to extend the work of their Community Steering Group, a group of residents that has led the design of their Investment Policy, by onboarding new members and creating an alumni community. Curiosity Society supported partners in different geographical areas to learn from this model and start to build their own versions of democratic money.  

A wealth of resources emerged from this project: Learn More about UK’s 1st Community-led Investment Fund on Barking & Dagenham Giving’s website, as well as its Participation Framework and Visit Curiosity Societies Democratic Money Landing Page  

Watch Kneading Memories, Rising Futures: a local film about our participatory investment story and I’m an Investor Now to meet the members of the Community Steering Group. 

Who was involved?: an audio story about Barking & Dagenham Giving’s journey 

Chapter 1: Setting up a Community-led Investment Fund  

Chapter 2: How was the money spent? 

Chapter 3: What’s the difference the money has made? 

Shift Foundation & Trust for London’s Impact Custodian Investment Committee 

This pilot focused on the structure of social investment committees, which predominately favours ‘learned experience’ rather than ‘lived experience’. It developed ‘Vested’ as one of the first participatory social investment projects in the UK explicitly focused on bringing people with lived experience of the social issue together – in this case – youth unemployment in London. The goal for this pilot was to test if people with little to no experience of investment, but personal experience of an issue, can make a meaningful investment decision. Or whether – as can be the prevailing view – social investment is too complex to bring in non ‘expert’ voices. In short, Shift learned that not only is it possible (all of the investments put forward by the panel were ratified by the Trust for London Board) but the approach also opens up opportunities for collaboration and impact beyond traditional investment processes and decision-making structures. Alongside this work, Shift assembled a social investor Consortium of 5-7 organisations interested in changing how they make decisions. 

Read the learning report on participatory social investment alongside open-sourced resources for funders interested in exploring participatory funding approaches. Shift has also published a blog about why community participation is important with recommendations for the sector to take forward.  

Finance By Design 

The Fund supported three projects using co-design and participation in the design process to solve problems in the market. 

Our approach was to ask what if financial programmes were designed not only for, but by and with the people they are supporting? This strand supported projects to design financial products that better meet the needs of charities and social enterprises, by including them in the decision-making process. 

Capacity’s Project Local Authorities Socially Investing 

Public services are facing their most severe challenges in decades with increasing budget pressures and high levels of demand right across the public service landscape. To meet these mounting pressures, there is an appetite across Liverpool City Region to do things differently. Capacity is an intermediary with the goal to make public services ‘people services’, to take things back to their original purpose – to make people’s lives better – and often that requires thinking and doing things differently. With the support of the Connect Fund, Capacity have been exploring the opportunities and challenges around social investment partnerships with local authorities, and what can be done to increase these to better meet the region’s public service challenges.  

Capacity shared its report exploring the role of local authorities and social investment in making public services people services ‘Fuelling Change in The Liverpool City Region’. 

To read how it can be done, don’t miss the Blueprint & Case example How Local Authority social investment can unlock new approaches to some of the region’s biggest challenges. 

Social Finance’s Project ‘Social Investment: A Catalyst for Transformation in Health and Social Care’ 

Stakeholders at major health charities, hospital-based charities, NHS partners, and foundations agree that whilst inroads have been made into normalising social investment, it remains a mystery to the sector. Following the NHS Confederation’s statement that ‘every Integrated Care System should have a portfolio of social investment’ this project sought to get under the bonnet of ‘but how?’ and provide practical tools to make this a reality. Building on Social Finances’ work on the Care and Wellbeing Fund, the aim of this project is to increase awareness, understanding and ultimately the use of social investment by the VCSE sector. This Social Finance project brought together Heads of Integrated Care Boards and NHS charities to discuss experiences and opportunities for social investment. It has launched a landing page to collate the work and act as an ongoing information hub. 

Repowering London’s project to challenge power with community energy 

Repowering London is a community energy development organisation focusing on supporting  Londoners to participate in and benefit from the transition to a low carbon society. It currently supports and facilitates eight energy co-operatives seeking to transform the energy sector through an emphasis on community co-operation and ownership, affordable green energy, and a redistribution of profits to benefit local communities. Repowering London conducted research on their community share offer to broaden, deepen and strengthen membership from under-represented communities. ‘Challenging power with community energy’ recruited and trained two Community Researchers in participatory research methods to enhance their practice of co-design as an organisation and launching, ‘A Participatory Toolkit for Building More Inclusive Community Energy Co-operatives’. 

Although the research has primarily focused on increasing diversity in London-based community energy co-operatives, the approaches and tools are useful for the wider co-operative sector in the UK. This project ties in very closely with a project from Ubele Initiatives who are working with the Community Shares nit which is looking at the demographics of people leading community share initiatives.