Lesson Three – Tailoring for Success – Programme Design

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When Access was established we had a clear mission to support the sector but a great deal of discretion in how we designed our programmes to achieve these goals. Access was not created in a vacuum and we had much past experience to build upon. Over time we have also had the benefit of analysing what has worked well, and not so well, in our own programmes and continuing to refine our approach to programme design.

In this third podcast from our Five Lessons from Five Years series, we reflect on some of these key principles in programme design, and how when we best listen to the needs of charities and social enterprises we see benefits beyond those we have designed for.

Aligning incentives in order to empower charities and social enterprises in the support they are receiving is at the heart of our approach. This is well illustrated through the design of the Reach Fund back in 2016. The Reach Fund built on previous investment readiness programmes like the Investment and Contract Readiness Fund and Big Potential. It seeks to align the interests of the charity or social enterprise, their prospective investor, and the support provider and in so doing give agency to the charity to shape their own support journey.

When evaluated in 2019, charities and social enterprises who had received grants through the programme were asked, “The Reach Fund was designed to give you control in determining your own investment readiness plan so the money could be spent where it was most needed. To what extent did you experience this control throughout the process?” Out of a scale from 1-5, the respondents scored 4.3.

Based on feedback from our one year pilot, in 2020 we worked to redesign our flagship Enterprise Development Programme to offer a more flexible and bespoke approach based around the individual needs of the organisations being supported.

Those design principles can bring unintended benefits. By building a blended finance programme based on the sector’s needs, offering small scale unsecured loans to charities and social enterprises with partners at the National Lottery Community Fund and Big Society Capital via the Growth Fund, we enabled a systemic shift in how capital can flow to more deprived communities. When compared to SME lending and to the rest of the social investment market, Growth Fund investments are heavily skewed to organisations based in the most deprived communities in the country, where they not only provide essential services but create jobs and  economic opportunity where it is most needed. This isn’t what we were solving for, but highlights the unique role blended finance can play in rebalancing the economy.

To hear more about these lessons, and more, please listen to Podcast Three here.

In this podcast, Neil Berry, Director of Programmes at Access is joined by:

  • Deborah Smart, Director of Grants at Social Investment Business
  • Aimee Dorsett-Browne – Social Enterprise Development Manager at Equally Ours