Investing with Impact

As a Foundation, we want to look at all the different ways we can achieve impact.

This means considering the implications of everything we do, from focusing our supply chain on organisations which better fit with our mission, to considering how we manage our investments.

In order to fund our Capacity Building programme, Access received an endowment of £60m from Cabinet Office. This posed an interesting question – how best do we invest this money over the life of the Capacity Building programme to ensure the maximum impact on society? While we are receiving most of the money up front, we are going to spend it over ten years, so we have to think about how we will manage it in the meantime.

This has been called a ‘Total Impact approach’ and starts with the question, “how do we achieve the greatest impact with each pound?” For me, it is exciting to think that not only will the £60m create impact when it is actually spent on grants, but also while it is invested, it has the potential to create great social impact – depending on the investments we choose!

Cabinet Office have been clear that they want us to take a Total Impact approach in the use of our endowment and, I suppose, we could be considered a “live experiment” in how a foundation might think about their investments. Cabinet Office have written a paper on this approach which makes for interesting reading.  

So where did we begin? We started by creating an Endowment working group, who will meet periodically to look at how best we can achieve impact, considering in parallel, our liquidity requirements and risk appetite. In other words, we have to make sure we have access to enough cash and decide how much we are willing to ‘bet’ on investments which might give us a bigger social and financial return, but equally might be of higher risk.

Both Seb and I are involved, together with James, Victoria and John from the Access Board. We are also very happy for both Martin Rich (from Social Finance) and Emilie Goodall (from Bridges Ventures) to provide input for our group, as they are extremely knowledgeable in this field. They are assisting the endowment group in their personal capacity.

We had our initial meeting about five weeks ago and since then have worked on a detailed cash flow model which will help us in planning how we draw down on the endowment, the types of investments we choose and the impact on financial returns of investments that also deliver a social impact. We are also thinking about the types of investments we might specifically exclude, as well as those investments which chime with our ethos as Access and our mission.

This is the first step in our journey and the group will meet again in a couple of weeks to discuss further. Watch this space for updates on the next part of the journey!