There is much work still to do but there are promising signs that social investment is being made more accessible, says Nick Temple at Social Enterprise UK
Much of my time of late has been taken up with planning for the Social Enterprise Exchange, last month's trade fair and conference in Glasgow. A key element of any event is the programme and, with our partners Social Enterprise Scotland and CEiS, we deliberated long and hard about what areas to cover, which structure to use and whom to invite.
One area that everyone agreed had to be included was social investment, because it remains not only a hot topic of debate but also a key area of practical interest for social enterprises on the ground. We know from our research that access to appropriate finance is the leading challenge for social enterprises across the UK.
And it does feel like we're entering a time of more action, rather than more debate. Big Society Capital has now been launched, seven years after the original Commission on Unclaimed Assets was established. For context, Westlife were number one with You Raise Me Up at the time; and, if you'll excuse the shoehorned reference, much of the sector hopes the influx of new capital will indeed help "raise them up to walk on stormy seas".
But BSC requires the intermediaries to be ready to take the capital and the enterprises themselves to be 'investment-ready' - a term that has now fully entered the lexicon of social enterprise jargon, and means, of course, different things to different people.
At Social Enterprise UK, our experience is that investment readiness comes after business readiness and finance readiness, which means getting the organisation's operations and financial management ship-shape, even before you look at investment. Alongside this internal work, many of our members are learning about the external social investment world, which can appear fragmented and feel difficult to access and navigate.
Even as more complex and advanced financial instruments are developed at one end of the social investment world, there is much still to be done to make it accessible for social enterprises on the ground. The session at Glasgow focused on these practical realities, risks and rewards of social investment, because it's not a panacea by any means.
So there is much work still to do, but there are also more promising signs in many different areas than just Big Society Capital: the new £10m investment and contract-readiness fund to be run by the Social Investment Business; the continuing growth of community shares (FC United recently raised £1.6m); the development of crowdfunding platforms (including an organisation successfully raising £112,000 on Buzzbnk); ClearlySo's new Social Business Angels Network; and the new investment coming into the Big Venture Challenge 25.
Best of all is that there is so much good partnership work in these initiatives; if we're going to use social investment effectively to achieve substantially more social impact, then real partnership work and the hard yards of delivery will be essential.
Nick Temple is director of business and enterprise at Social Enterprise UK