#AccessEd 16 – Come gather ’round people

For two days in February, over 100 social investment practitioners will come together in the Devon countryside, at an event supported by Access and Big Society Capital.

Why are we doing this?

The Gathering” emerged from the brain of foundation stalwart and social investment pioneer Danyal Sattar, currently at Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The starting point was a vision of the emerging marketplace as a consistent and efficient force for social good, and the need for a greater sense of shared purpose and ambition amongst current practitioners. He proposed the idea of an extended meeting of the social investment community in the UK, away from the demands of the day to day, in an informal but structured setting. He drew together a group of assenting colleagues into an organising committee, and we’ve been working for the past few months on building that very event.

We set out to encourage attendees to define the agenda, by bringing the issues they want to work through, and what has come in spans the general (“Fixing Capitalism”) and specific (“How to train your lawyer”), the technical (“Proving our Impact – what’s possible?”) and the conceptual (“What is social investment?”). This will by its a nature be an ‘insider’ event: a chance for experienced practitioners to have an in-depth look at the mechanics and purpose of their work, share learnings from their own successes and failures, seek consensus where possible, build a supportive community, and make commitments to action together. 

To keep our minds focused outwards, we also asked the crowd to suggest shared challenges, which have resulted in specific goals we can work on together. For example, “Convince UK Pension Funds to Invest at least 5% of their Total Assets (£100 billion) in Social Investment” (plenty of background reading also available) – an ambitious long-term target, setting out a vision of a phenomenal quantum of impact we could all work towards, once the market has matured enough to absorb such demand. Setting goals in the distance is also more likely to engage cautious first movers in the institutional investment market.

On the more immediate front the Social Investment Business have set an interesting challenge – “How should we spend our money?” – while Guy’s&St.Thomas’ Charity are drawing on the wisdom of the gathered to develop ways of addressing health challenges in Lambeth.

The timing is auspicious for Access, providing a chance for our new partners, Barrow Cadbury Trust, to take part in these discussions as they establish the Social Investment Infrastructure Fund. The Fund’s aim is to strengthen and diversify the range of organisations providing investment advice and support to charities and social enterprises: those gathered will have a lot of useful collective experience for us and the team at BCT. 

In a few months we’ve gone from a notion to a happening, and have convinced colleagues to give up two days, contribute ideas and be part of the conversation: it’s an acknowledgement that it’s one that’s worth having. We’re hoping we’ve come up with an event that will allow reflective discussions, project/partnership prototyping and specific commitments to shared action. I look forward to reporting back on how we get on.