The Social Stock Exchange isn't perfect, but who cares?

Even if the vehicle is not a commercial success, a sufficient number of people see it as a galvanising point and a catalyst for the sector, says Rodney Schwartz

Rodney Schwartz, chief executive,
Rodney Schwartz, chief executive,

Until recently, I have continued to express my doubts about the proposed Social Stock Exchange.

This involved reservations about the size of the necessary investment to get it off the ground - an additional £2m on top of the £700k or so being spent to study the concept - and the degree of prescriptiveness regarding the ethical or social criteria of the companies that might list.

These reservations have not evaporated with time. In fact, one could add doubts about the number of firms that would list on the exchange and concerns about available liquidity, as well as a range of other issues.

I have been invited to endless debates on the subject, along with Pradeep Jethi and Mark Campanale, the co-founders of the SSE. We have regurgitated and reacted to arguments that we have heard countless times, but - just as brain-numbing tedium was imminent for the three of us - a debate took place at the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation in which I felt the intellectual logjam and public mood had shifted.

This was partly due to the clever adjustments to the core model made by Mark and Pradeep, which make it more practical and less ideological. More fundamentally, I could tell from the audience that thinking had changed.

Although few solutions to the core problems had emerged, the room, which was full of both social investment die-hards and conventional financial market practitioners, ceased to care. Despite the problems, they seemed to say that this must happen. This broke a streak of sessions where the naysayers were in the majority.

In essence, I now believe that even if the vehicle is not a commercial success, a sufficient number of people see it as a galvanising point - a catalyst for the sector. I suspect that with government subsidies and grants from both private individuals and charitable foundations, the SSE will get a start in life. It remains uncertain whether it will garner sufficient liquidity to be relevant or become an important source of new capital.

Of course, I would be delighted if the SSE were successful. Such a feat would be a remarkable personal achievement for Pradeep and Mark, two practitioners I respect and whose objectives I share.

ClearlySo, the business I run, would also benefit, as we would expect to be a feeder of successful social businesses into the exchange.

I continue to doubt that it will be economically viable - but until recently I doubted whether it would even get off the ground. Stranger things have happened.

Rodney Schwartz is chief executive of social venture capital website

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