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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].

A new project has been launched to develop a set of principles for trustees to use when making decisions about their charity investments. The Charity Investment Governance Principles project was launched in November 2023, explores best practice in decision-making around charity investments, and will draw on the experiences of charities across England and Wales.

The principles will reflect the outcomes of the high-profile Butler-Sloss case of 2022 and will complement the Charity Commission’s recently updated CC14 guidance and the Charity Governance Code. The principles are expected to be published in summer 2024.

Led by a steering group of charity sector experts and umbrella bodies, the project aims to work with charities to develop a set of principles for trustees and leaders to use when making decisions when investing charity funds.

Charity trustees and leaders, and those organisations with an interest in investment governance, are invited to register their interest to engage with the project by completing this short form.

Charity Finance Group (CFG) will host the project and it will be led by Gail Cunningham. In addition to CFG, the project’s steering group also includes representatives from the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF); National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO); Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA); and the Secretariat of the Charities Responsible Investment Network (CRIN).

Joining the group as expert advisers are Luke Fletcher, partner at Bates Wells, Elizabeth Jones, partner at Farrer & Co and Kristina Kopic, Head of Charity and Voluntary Sector at the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW). The Social Justice Collective and The Social Investment Consultancy (TSIC) will provide support on equality, diversity and inclusion across the project. Representatives from the Charity Commission for England and Wales (CCEW) will join as independent observers.

The project has attracted funding from six grantmaking organisations – Friends Provident Foundation; City Bridge Foundation; Access –The Foundation for Social Investment; Mark Leonard, Aurora and JJ Trusts; and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, including Barrow Cadbury Trust.

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.

Outcomes

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 http://morgansimon.com/real-impact. 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; https://www.alliancemagazine.org/feature/diversity-social-investment-field/

[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.

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Barrow Cadbury Trust have respectively made a £200,000 and £100,000 six year, interest free loan, to Refuaid for its Equal Access Loan Programme. Refuaid is an organisation supporting access to language tuition, education, finance, and meaningful employment. The Equal Access Loan Programme provides interest-free loans to people with UK refugee status who are unable to pay for the cost of completing the licensing or training needed to work in their professional field in the UK. The £300,000 investment made by the two Foundations was co-designed with RefuAid to enable greater impact: for the first 4 years of the investment term, loan repayments can be redrawn and recycled to be re-lent to new borrowers. The maximum Equal Access Loan amount is £10,000.

Loans may be used for:

• Short-term (2 years or less) training
• Exam fees with a professional governing association
• Travel expenses to and from an exam
• Qualification assessments
• Professional association fees
• Books and course materials
• Living allowance during study time
• Other related expenses

In addition to their £200,000 investment, Esmée Fairbairn have also provided a grant of £55,000 to RefuAid to enable the hiring of a Placement Lead to launch RefuAid’s new recruitment arm. The recruitment arm will mean that RefuAid can secure work placements and build partnerships with a range of employment partners to match their clients with and improve their outcomes. In parallel, this recruitment activity will generate earned income for the organisation which will ultimately increase RefuAid’s sustainability and long term impact.

Ben Smith, Head of Social Investment at Esmée Fairbairn Foundation said of the deal “we are incredibly proud to be working with RefuAid. The opportunities the organisation is affording people through the Equal Access Loan Programme is life transforming and RefuAid is a great example of an investment which aligns with our new strategy and for which a tools in the box approach (social investment and grant) is valuable. Anna and Tamsyn are inspirational individuals who are doing outstanding work. We are pleased to have invested alongside Barrow Cadbury Trust, and this investment is, in turn, built on the learning created by Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Comic Relief’s investment in 2018.”

Kumar Ghosh, Social Investment Manager at Barrow Cadbury Trust commented “we are delighted to be supporting Refuaid’s Equal Access Loan Programme, alongside Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, enabling refugees to use their skills to succeed in the UK. This investment ties in with one of the key strands of the Trust’s work – migration.“

Anna Jones, Co-Founder of RefuAid added “we’re thrilled to have received the £300,000 loan from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Barrow Cadbury Trust to support the Equal Access Loan programme. The loan will support people who’ve been forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution back into the careers they know and love with many of the individual loans being made to doctors who, as a result, are able to work within the NHS.”

The Young Foundation has launched a report setting out why and how the UK social investment sector should engage with traditional ‘service users’ to improve decisions which affect their lives.

The report – Nothing About Us, Without Us: Lived Experience Insight & Social Investment’ – includes evidence collected from over 40 charities, social enterprises and investors to explore the potential role of ‘lived experience insights’ across the social investment sector whilst acknowledging the challenging role social investors face as intermediary organisations.

The report argues that the growing shift towards bringing people and communities closer to the source of decision-making and power means that ‘user engagement’ is no longer a ‘nice to have’. The report further states that it isn’t a question of whether to bring the voices, experiences and skills of users into social investment – but how it can be done respectfully, well and to great effect.

The report offers social investors a series of practical examples, tools and principles to directly engage people with real experience into their design, decision-making, management and evaluation processes to help investors achieve greater impact.

Richinda Taylor, CEO at EVA Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, describes how she used social investment to support a project for women aged 45+

There is a scene in the popular comedy series ‘Father Ted’ where the hapless  Father Dougal is on an aeroplane staring for some time at a big red button above which a sign reads ‘Do Not Press’.  Father Dougal is sweating like toast on a worktop but not even the complete absence of knowledge of what might happen next prevents him from pressing that button.   Getting involved in social investment was a bit like that …

A random conversation with one of our older service users one wintry afternoon in early 2014 gave me an idea which,  by the time I had driven the 55 mile journey home later that day,  had implanted itself firmly in my mind as ‘A Thoroughly Brilliant Idea’.  Julie (not her real name) was in her 50s,  and had fled a 15 year abusive relationship literally with only the clothes she wore.  She left shortly after the emotional,  financial and psychological abuse she had endured turned into serious physical violence.  Julie went to her local refuge,  but her husband found out where she was so for her own safety,  and that of the other residents,  Julie was referred out of her area,  to EVA.  We don’t like turning anyone away at EVA so we gave Julie a bed space in one of our two existing properties that are geared towards accommodating women aged up to 24.  It soon became apparent that the mix of ages could be problematic for a number of reasons.  Most importantly,  the older women were becoming the ‘mums’,  which was great for the youngsters but meant that the older women were more focussed on the younger women’s welfare rather than their own recovery.  We needed to create a Safe House space for older women,  with a Specialist Support Worker dedicated to empowering and enabling women towards independence.  This needed funding for staff,  funding for the cost of a refurb to a new property, the deposit on a house purchase  and installation of security equipment,  and a loan to purchase a suitably located house.  Simple,  right?

This is how  the ‘45+ Project’ was born …

By the time I arrived at work the following morning,  I had convinced myself it was going to happen,  I just needed several hundred thousand quid…. So,  applications were made to two potential funders and after several phone calls,  visits and emails,  an application was made to Charity Bank to invest in EVA’s purchase of the UK’s first Safe House for women aged over 45.  It was important for EVA that our Investment Manager understood our M.O.  We wanted someone who ‘got’ why we wanted to do it and how it fitted in with our current practice and future plans,  as well as the social value of the project.

I won’t lie to you … there is a LOT of paperwork.  And you think you’ve got it right.  But you haven’t.  It goes back and forth,  back and forth. Understandably,  due diligence processes are wise and necessary.  You need evidence of good governance,  robust financial management systems,  flawless accounting history and a credible Board of Trustees … oh,  did I mention them yet?  Get your Board on board!  And take professional advice. My top tips?

  • Know your subject/theme (there will be lots of questions)
  • Research the need (the market, target group,  current offer locally)
  • Be realistic about your ability to service the loan (can you afford it?!!)

Oh ….  and be prepared to work more hours than usual (I don’t know any CEO who DOESN’T already do this,  but add a few more hours on anyway).  There is no doubt that pulling together all these elements is almost a full-time job in itself,  and there were times when I found myself looking at my Finance Manager and saying,  as I wiped a tear from my eye and some of that toast-sweat from my own brow ‘’please just remind me why we’re doing this?’’

Fast forward around seven months …  all three stakeholders were asking if the OTHER two stakeholders had made a decision.  I found myself saying ‘’will ONE of you PLEASE say ‘yes’!’’  And they did,  one by one,  until they all dove-tailed nicely in the late Summer of 2014.  Forms were signed,  timescales agreed,  funds were drawn down,  and we proudly took possession of the keys to our soon-to-be-fabulously-renovated Safe House.  Building work began (more anxiety and toast-sweat) and we finally opened on Monday 1 June 2015.

By Friday of that same week,  we were full.

We have remained at almost 100% capacity ever since.  The project attracted much local and national media attention and highlighted the issues surrounding the often hidden victims of domestic abuse as it is usually portrayed as only a young women’s matter.  It isn’t.  EVA is proud to have won three runner-up and two winning awards in 2016 for the ’45+ Project’ including Charity Bank’s ‘Greatest Impact’ Award.

Two years later and,  like the impending second-time Mum,  I forgot all about the anxiety,  pain and anguish of childbirth the first time round and decided to do it all over again,  having convinced myself the end result is worth it.  After all,  it can’t have been THAT BAD … can it?

We are now on the home stretch of purchasing a fourth Safe House property,  due to open in early 2018,  but my Finance Manager has threatened to leave if I ever suggest buying another house…

Oh … the big red button?  Father Dougal dumped the plane’s fuel supply and they were forced to rely on a novelty sticky-tape dispenser to save them.  EVA’s fuel tank,  thankfully,  remains undamaged.

Richinda Taylor, CEO,  EVA Women’s Aid, [email protected], www.evawomensaid.org.uk, Facebook:  Eva’s House, Twitter:  @evawomensaid1

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Angela Clements blogs about how ethical credit alternatives such as Fair for You will benefit not just those on low incomes, but everyone

I have lived and worked in Birmingham all my adult life, the last 10 years almost exclusively providing affordable credit as an alternative to high cost credit, firstly running a credit union and then Fair for You.

It’s a generalisation but on the whole our customers are women, in lower income households, with some caring obligation and in part-time work.  ‘Managing mums’ is a term that has been coined in recent months. I would say these women are sassy, switched on, entrepreneurial, hard working, and not really managing very well at all. Or at least they are until something goes wrong when they need access to fair, affordable and well- designed credit.

I have sat in rooms over the last 10 years, hearing my customers talk about the need for financial education, budgeting and debt advice.  I felt strongly throughout those years that they need better alternatives to the credit options that are currently available.

In 2014, a group of us spent hours listening to mums of younger children in Northfield, Birmingham tell us very frankly and openly about their experience with high cost credit. I went in there thinking I knew what Fair for You would look like, and I came out knowing what it had to look like.

Some amazing people and organisations have backed our work over the last three years, but we never lost sight of what we were told, and we delivered what those people needed.

High cost credit isn’t just expensive – all versions of high cost credit have that in common. But the other common trait is that it is designed for the benefit of the lender, and to take maximum extraction from the customers’ financial household.

The term the ‘poverty premium’ is used to describe  the additional costs  low income households – in other words those who have less consumer power – have when purchasing essential goods and services. Whilst the amount of that premium fluctuates in various situations, it is always consistent that the lion’s share is made up of high cost credit i.e. the additional cost of using credit when faced with emergencies.  And the same households need credit when hit by emergencies, as they have less insulation and resilience to what to other people would be relatively minor emergencies.  There seems little point in measures to address poverty in the UK, without removing the poverty premium.

On 22 March we release the third social impact report relating to the work of Fair for You, a national challenger to high cost credit that directly responds to all of the needs we identified in our research. Now I don’t just have the voices of the mums who came to all of the sessions we ran, I have thousands of voices of customers whose financial situation has been changed because they have access to an alternative.  They prove every day, that they don’t need education and advice, they need better alternatives.

Fair for You is on line, available seven days a week, customer focused and a modern solution that uses multi-media communications including social media. Put simply, credit delivered with dignity and respect, designed to meet the lives of mums – and anyone else – who juggles, struggles and are not really managing at all.

And our customers love it – we are so proud to be rated among the highest financial services in the UK according to Trustpilot.

Please check us out and if you can support our work and our drive to change the way we lend to lower income households, then we would love to talk to you.

Angela Clements is the CEO  of Fair for You

Read Centre for Responsible Credit’s Social Impact Report

www.fairforyou.org.uk

www.fairforyou.co.uk

 

 

Barrow Cadbury Trust’s Head of Programmes, Debbie Pippard, blogs about the Trust’s plans for the new Infrastructure Investment Fund

The Barrow Cadbury Trust is very pleased to be partnering with the Access Foundation for the delivery of the new Infrastructure Investment Fund.  With a fund of £1.8m over three years, the  investments and grants we make will strengthen existing infrastructure, bring new entrants into the sector and extend support to organisations that have not previously been able to access social finance.

The new fund is entirely focused on supporting infrastructure (by infrastructure we mean social investment intermediaries and support organisations, plus the shared processes, tools, networks and partnerships that enable best practice).  Our vision is, over the period of the fund, to facilitate the development of a strong, sustainable, collaborative community of support providers. We will be doing this in three ways:

  • Making investments in existing infrastructure support agencies, for example to enable them to increase capacity, skill and effectiveness, grow their business or reach new markets, all in ways that increases their strength, resilience and sustainability.
  • Extending the reach of the sector, by supporting new entrants (for example CVSs and other local support agencies) and exploring how support can be extended to geographic and sectoral “cold spots”. This element of the work is likely to take the form, initially, of small feasibility studies to explore provision of social investment support, or perhaps delivering a social investment funding programme.
  • Thirdly, we will be looking to strengthen the sector by funding research, development and innovation. We expect to grant-fund or invest in a diverse portfolio which could include the development of new tools, standardised systems of data collection, awareness raising and communications, sharing best practice as well as projects to fill other gaps that become clear over the course of the programme.

Of course the availability of advice and support may not be the only factor preventing access to social finance, so there is scope to explore barriers and develop new solutions: blended finance, developing fresh thinking, developing shared tools and collective learning will go a long way towards accelerating change.

Access chose us to deliver this fund because of our expertise in sector infrastructure, our experience in social investment and our approach, which is to work in partnership with those we fund towards a common goal. Our model of working is to focus on a small number of policy areas, where we have deep knowledge, and try to influence decision-makers and practitioners by building an evidence base, advocating for change and ensuring that people affected by social injustices are heard by those in positions of power.  Those guiding principles will be used in developing and delivering the programme.

We expect to launch the new programme in the summer with a call for expressions of interest for a first round of investments.  The next few years will be an exciting time for all of us.