We recently published our first Learning Report, written by Margaret Bolton and covering the period up to December 2016. As part of our commitment to both utilising and sharing our learning, this is the first of a number of reports which will evaluate and communicate our progress over the course of our programmes and funds. With two of our capacity building programmes having launched and our Growth Fund now well underway, the report documents their setup and early stages, explaining the rationale behind their design, what we have learned so far and what the next steps will be. Here we outline some of the report’s key messages.
The Growth Fund
Set up to help tackle the significant but previously unmet demand from charities and social enterprises for access to affordable, unsecured investment on a smaller (sub-£150k) scale, the Growth Fund seeks to achieve this by enabling social investors to offer such loans through the use of blended grant subsidy. This subsidy, in its various forms, is provided firstly to enable and mitigate risk for the social investors. Secondly to offset some of the additional operating costs incurred at this scale and thirdly to allow the social investors to further strengthen the social enterprises and charities that they support by passing a proportion of the grant directly to these organisations, alongside their loans.
To help maximise the Growth Fund’s reach to charities and social enterprises across different sectors and locations throughout England, the fund was designed to be accessible to a wide range of social investors. This includes those, such as umbrella bodies or federated charities, which have strong links to the sector but little or no previous lending experience. Throughout the initial and early stages of the fund, and in response to both commissioned research and direct feedback, we have monitored and adapted the application requirements and support mechanisms in place to ensure that it is widely accessible. This has included developing more detailed guidance for each stage of the application process, working with a back office loan administration support provider to help them develop a service for those with less experience in this area and working with our stakeholders to simplify processes as much as possible.
Perhaps most significantly we developed three strategic themes for our portfolio; Efficiency, New Approaches and Reach. This was to enable potential social investors to fully demonstrate what they can offer in one or more of these areas whilst removing the burden for them to initially fulfil them all. These themes have also allowed us to more efficiently monitor the spread of organisations and approaches within the fund and, therefore, to seek and prioritise more recent applications in order to fill gaps and ensure breadth in the portfolio. This has led to applications within the New Approaches and/ or Reach themes being particularly encouraged of late.
Our next steps from the report, many of which are now already underway, include encouraging innovation in the loan products available through the fund, creating a peer-support community of Growth Fund social investors and further developing our approaches to both risk monitoring and evaluation.
Although our Reach Fund and Impact Management Programme are now underway and the Social Infrastructures Investment Fund is starting to take form, at the time of writing the report it was too early to report any findings from these early-stage programmes. The Learning Report therefore focuses on their design and set-up, as informed by extensive consultation, research and evaluation of previous initiatives.
Following a consultation with the sector, the programmes were designed to support charities and social enterprises to become investment ready. Whereas many previous initiatives have been support provider led, we have built our main investment readiness programme around the social investors. In our Reach Fund, social investors support charities and social enterprises to develop an investment readiness plan based on a diagnostic exercise and then charities receive a grant to deliver that plan.
Our Social Infrastructure Investment Fund is designed specifically for intermediaries: to help meet their long term investment needs, to support peer-learning and collaboration and generally to help ensure that they have the support and resources they need to continue to support the social enterprises and charities that they work with.
We also aim to help alleviate the issue of impact management as a barrier to social investment through our Impact Management Programme. This programme will build on the ‘self-service’ tools and guidance which currently exist, as well as provide specific support in impact management to larger social enterprises and charities seeking investment or contracts on a greater scale.
Finally, we are working in collaboration with partners to develop GoodFinance.org.uk in response to consultation findings that improvement is needed in signposting to advice, information and support services across the sector.
Our “total impact” approach
Lastly, the report looks at our role as a ‘Market Champion’, specifically our work around a ‘total impact approach’ to investing which we are pioneering with our endowment. We outline the initial process we undertook to develop our ‘bull’s eye’ model for investment impact, risk and return, our strategy for turning this into a reality and our hope that this approach will be seen and considered by other foundations with strong missions and funds to invest.
For a full update on our funds, programmes and total impact approach you can read Margaret’s full Learning Report here. You can also read more about our learning, including our learning strategy, quarterly dashboards, Growth Fund initial observations report and research we have supported, on the Learning and Research page of our website.