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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.