Defining social within impact

Evita Zanuso, Financial Sector and Investor Engagement Director at Big Society Capital, discusses the growth of impact investment. 

Like many others, I often use anniversaries as an opportunity to celebrate, reflect and recalibrate. I will soon be entering my fourth year at Big Society Capital so it seemed timely to think back to how my work has changed and developed during this period. One area I would like to focus on is the growth of impact investment.

My role within Big Society Capital is to engage with financial institutions and investors who might become or already are social investors. When I joined, it was unusual that any of the asset owners or investment advisers that I met had heard of social investment or investing with a dual purpose; to deliver measurable social outcomes and get a financial return.

It’s heartening to see that in less than 5 years, the idea of investing for impact is no longer alien. In fact, some of the largest investment firms in both listed and private markets have either launched impact funds or are planning to. More intentional capital is looking to invest in enterprises that also care about impact. Much of this is positive progress, with mainstream investment firms raising the profile of impact investing amongst a greater number of investors who have never heard of impact and attracting investors beyond those who are “innovators” and “early adopters”.  There is of course scepticism, many expressed by early impact investors concerned about the re-labelling of Environmental Social Governance (ESG), ethical or sustainable funds as impact funds or even more seriously, the claim that some funds are “impact-washing” to attract new investors.

Personally, I think the growth of ESG is a positive development for impact investing because investors who are used to purely profit maximising from their investments are unlikely to allocate capital into impact without the journey of thinking about using ESG to mitigate risk, how their investments affect different stakeholders, to whether they want to play a role in investing to tackle a particular problem.

How does all this affect our work? In particular, the investments we have made into intermediaries who then invest in social enterprises and charities that tackle social issues in the UK. As someone whose day to day job is to engage with investors and explain what social investment is, I think it is hugely important for us, and our intermediaries to define what makes social investment unique within the impact investment universe because of course, social investing is a subset of impact investment.

A small group of us have embarked on a project to re-vision and re-position social investment and we believe what might differentiate social from impact is:

  • Intention to deliver high or deep impact, not only scalable investments
  • Willingness to consider really tough and entrenched social issues
  • A long-term commitment to impact
  • Willingness to invest where there is persistent market failure or to a desire to break market failure if possible
  • “Investing for impact” rather than “investing with impact”

One of the most hotly debated topics in any impact investing conference is always around financial returns. Can you get risk-adjusted returns and impact? Do you have to trade off financial return or something else (duration/liquidity) for impact? These are important and extremely valid questions for any investors but what you don’t often hear is what kind of impact is investors hoping to achieve? What problem might they want to solve? Who do they want their investment to impact? As impact investors, surely the type of impact is as pertinent as the financial returns we are trying to achieve. Positioning social within impact might help us focus more on the impact side of the equation.  


Article originally posted on the Big Society Capital website.

Supporting local businesses to improve lives

Big Society Capital is launching a programme of initiatives around community investment to support local businesses to improve lives and the communities where they operate.

Rebecca McCartney, investment associate at Big Society Capital, writes:

"As we move into our new strategic focus areas, we have been exploring the role that small businesses can play in supporting communities to improve lives. And these small businesses can be vital in disadvantaged communities across the UK, employing local people and supporting the local economy. We believe that this can help address inequality in the UK by building more prosperous communities, and improve the life chances of individuals through employment and business ownership opportunities.

Yet many small businesses in disadvantaged communities are held back from realising their potential in their communities sustaining and growing their businesses. This is partly because they can struggle to access mainstream finance, even if they are creditworthy.

But there are alternative lenders that are partly meeting this need, ones that are socially motivated and deeply rooted in the communities that they serve.  The leading example are Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs)[1]. Responsible Finance, the membership body for CDFIs, reported in its Annual Industry Report that in 2016-17, CDFI lent £67 million to 5,072 small businesses, creating 4,270 new businesses, and creating or saving 8,053 jobs. We want to celebrate this achievement but we also believe that the CDFI sector has even greater potential to meet the need from underserved small businesses. This potential has played out in the US CDFI sector over the past 20 plus years showing what is possible in the UK.

Together with partners, we believe there is an opportunity to support the CDFI sector in the UK to reach a ‘tipping point’ where socially motivated lenders in disadvantaged areas can leverage in significant capital to better meet the needs of small businesses, and strive to become a more sustainable and growing sector. We will do this by providing socially motivated capital, building knowledge and convening stakeholders.

Providing socially motivated capital

Big Society Capital is a social investor so we believe our primary role is through the use of our capital. To that end, we are establishing a national £30 million Community Investment Enterprise Facility, managed by Social Investment Scotland (SIS). As well providing capital to CDFIs to meet the demand they are seeing from underserved small businesses, the intention is for this to be a proof of concept facility. It will build a better understanding of the financial and social impact performance of CDFI lending, and test new models of funding for CDFIs that could attract other socially motivated investors and be replicated.

CDFI lending is largely funded from publically backed programmes, such as the British Business Bank’s Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund which is reaching communities across the North of England. But as we move closer to Brexit and European funding falls away with no sight of other publically funded programmes, there is an opportunity for the CDFI sector to consider more sustainable sources of capital. This will enable them to smooth their lending activities and meet the demand they are seeing from clients in-between and alongside programmes of funding.

The Community Investment Enterprise Facility will act as a match facility, providing some initial unmatched capital to the CDFIs to meet the immediate demand they’re currently unable to fulfil, and providing further capital at a later stage to match co-investment the CDFIs secure. We believe that at least a further £30 million could be leveraged into the sector alongside the facility, with the CDFIs and investors benefiting from the use of available initiatives such as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee and Community Investment Tax Relief.

To support CDFIs to secure co-investment now and in the future, Big Society Capital and Social Investment Scotland are introducing Aeris Insights to the UK which is a CDFI rating that is already widely used in the US to provide an independent assessment of a CDFI’s financial and social impact position. If successful in the UK, Aeris offers the opportunity to increase sophistication and standardisation in the CDFI sector to better attract investment.

The facility will invest in up to five CDFIs across the UK to lend to underserved small businesses that have a positive impact in the communities where they operate. It is anticipated the first round of investment will be into partners who helped develop the facility, with the intention to expand the reach over time either through this facility or by future initiatives.

Building knowledge

Alongside the provision of capital, we believe for community investment to develop further in the UK and best practices to emerge, there needs to be a robust and meaningful evidence base. For example, what the key characteristics of CDFI lending are compared to mainstream lenders, and the best way to demonstrate the causal link between CDFI lending and social impact in disadvantaged communities. This will support CDFI lending practices, better investment decisions into CDFIs and policy making to support the sector. Therefore, we are committed to supporting learning and in particular promoting increased transparency of data and lending performance.

To help us achieve these aims, we’ve commissioned the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University to undertake an evaluation over the life of the facility with a focus on financial, social and economic performance, and any shifts in the CDFI sector. The evaluation will focus on regular data outputs, case studies and reports. These will be posted in an online Knowledge Centre alongside other relevant research and reports.

Convening stakeholders

We recognise we are not alone in wanting to support the CDFI sector reach the ‘tipping point’ described above. In response, Citi and ourselves are convening the Community Investment Steering Group to bring together these interested parties, representing the CDFI sector, small business, banks, investors, foundations and thought leaders. The group will set a clear, collective vision for capitalising CDFIs to meet the needs of underserved small businesses across the UK, and the ways to achieve this vision to drive more social and economic impact in disadvantaged communities.

The Community Investment Steering Group will formally launch in Spring 2018 for one year, with a report outlining the group’s conclusions after it has come to a close. More information about its members can be found here.

We believe this programme of activities will support a shift in the CDFI sector, alongside our partner’s existing and developing initiatives, to ultimately support more social and economic impact for local communities. Keep track of these activities at which will be periodically updated."

This article was originally posted on the Big Society Capital website. 

Get SITR with Big Society Capital

Big Society Capital is pleased to announce the return of its GET SITR campaign, offering a free package of support to help charities and social enterprises learn more about Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR).

SITR is the government's tax relief for social investment which encourages individuals to invest into charities and social enterprises and help them access new sources of repayable finance. Individuals receive a 30% tax break when investing into an eligible organisation.

In 2016, the GET SITR campaign was able to reach over 280 organisations and Big Society Captial is keen to support even more.

The new GET SITR campaign will offer:

  • Resources providing information on the new rules and regulations on SITR to download and customise
  • Free “SITR Made Simple” workshops for social enterprises, charities, investors and professional advisors across the UK – with the opportunity to ask questions of our peer speakers and SITR experts
  • Free 1:1 SITR surgeries with our leading SITR tax expert, Neil Pearson, Partner at Mills & Reeve
  • Free webinars sharing experience of raising SITR from peers
  • New case studies sharing the stories of those who have ‘GOT IT’ and helpful advice for charities and social enterprises considering raising investment with SITR

Organisations can benefit from all of these resources by signing up here -

It will be kicking off with the first webinar on 21st February with leading tax expert, Neil Pearson. Neil will discuss how organisations can apply for Advanced Assurance with HMRC, what to consider during the process and will offer expert advice on making a successful application. Register here for “All you need to know on Advanced Assurance.”

What is the biggest lesson you've learned by taking on social investment?

Taking on social investment can be challenging but rewarding - Big Society Capital hears from the peers on their biggest lessons from their social investment journeys.

For more information on social investment and the North East Social Investment Fund contact our fund managers, Northstar Ventures, on 0191 229 2770.



Case Study: Smiles North East Nursery

After realising that there was a shortfall of childcare places in the Billingham area, the Billingham Environmental Link Project decided to establish a day nursery to provide high quality care and education to children aged from 6 weeks to 11 years old.

BELP, led by managing director Jenny Franklin, is run by the local community for the local community. The organisation provides a wide range of support services including over 60s clubs, back-to-work support and community gardening projects.

NESIC’s fundamental aim is to provide an innovative, regional, strategic solution to develop the market for social investment in the North East and to reduce disadvantage, deprivation and social need in the North East communities.

With a £110,000 investment from the North East Social Investment Fund, delivered via its fund manager Northstar Ventures, Smiles North East nursery, will provide 65 childcare places, create new jobs for local people and generate revenue which will be re-invested in BELP’s community projects.

Andrew Mitchell, Chair of the North East Social Investment Company, said: “At NESIC we are passionate about effecting real social change in the North East, whether this is by helping social enterprises, charities or community projects.

“The investment that we have provided to BELP has enabled it to deliver a much-needed resource to help local residents, and ultimately provide more support to the community by using the additional income from the nursery to fund its other much needed projects.”

In addition to day care provisions, Smiles will also run an after-school club, a holiday club during school breaks and a pre-school breakfast club. The aim is to encourage parents in the local area to engage more with BELP’s core activities while their children are at the nursery or school clubs.

The investment has been used to refurbish the property into a modern pre-school facility. The rooms have been designed specifically for different age groups to stimulate development and maximise educational opportunities.

Jenny Franklin, managing director at BELP and Smiles North East Limited, said: “Smiles will complement the activities of BELP by encouraging parents to take advantage of BELP’s programmes whilst their children benefit from the safe haven provided by the nursery.

“We needed flexible funding with on-going support to refurbish the building and set up the business. The North East Social Investment Fund has not only provided this, but they have enabled us to challenge ourselves and develop the skills we needed to be sustainable.

“Thanks to the funding, plus support from Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, Tees Valley Community Foundation and our local community, the nursery is thriving, and we have high hopes for its future.  I would encourage any organisation wanting to pursue funding opportunities to have a conversation with Northstar Ventures to see how this sort of finance could help.”

The North East Social Investment Fund has a pot of £10m to support charities and social enterprises across the North East of England, where they might not be able to secure finance from traditional lenders. The fund is managed by NorthStar Ventures and backed by local and national organizations such The Community Foundation, Big Society Capital, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Northstar Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Northern Rock Foundation were founding funders of North East Social Investment Fund and their investment has now been taken over by the Community Foundation.

How Social Investment Can Benefit Charities and Communities

WHEN it comes to funding, charities and trustees need to re-think the way they access finance to stimulate growth in the North East, as LUCY ARMSTRONG, a non-executive director of the North East Social Investment Company (NESIC) explains.

With fewer grants available, changes in commissioning and greater competition for public sector contracts, charities are having to explore new ways in which to generate funds and achieve their objectives.

To a private sector company needing to achieve its business plan goals, the solution would be clear; raise capital – and borrowing would be high on the list.

In fact, borrowing money is not in itself an innovative way to raise funds – it's always been available to charities – but historically they have steered away from it, relying instead on peripatetic grants and donations.

The funding climate, in the wake of the Brexit vote, remains uncertain, however, pressure on public sector budgets could offer real opportunities for charities and social enterprises in the North East to provide an engine for growth in the region.

The Third Sector can provide innovative ways of delivering crucial services to society. It generates economic benefits, creates employment and makes profit, but it also delivers social impact and outcomes.

And, while delivering social impact, charities and social enterprises are also established on a sound entrepreneurial foundation, where staff are rewarded and profits are generated to plough back into the business.

This marriage of economic and social benefits is already being hailed as an exciting solution to some of the challenges being faced by the contraction of funding from local authorities.

Key to this is social investment, which is simply a repayable loan given to a charity or social enterprise, formed to benefit the community in some way.

Of course, social investment isn’t appropriate for every organisation but, as a business model, there is no doubt that it works.

Trustees need to think like business people. They need to ask themselves if borrowing money will enable their organisation to do its job better, safeguard its future and enable it to meet its aims and objectives.

And, if the answer is yes, then they absolutely should think about borrowing.

The North East Social Investment Company was set up to provide an innovative, regional, strategic solution to developing the market for social investment. It was originally established with funds from Northern Rock Foundation, Big Society Capital, Esmee Fairbairn and the Joseph Rowntree Trust. The Community Foundation have now taken over the role of Northern Rock Foundation

We appointed Northstar Ventures to manage the first fund, the North East Social Investment Fund, which invests in voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises in the region and can help organisations achieve their goals. They have already made a number of really exciting innovative investments.


What a Difference a Decade Makes

What a Difference a Decade Makes

They say that from every cloud has a silver lining and the demise of the Northern Rock Foundation provided an opportunity to innovate and to test new ways of supporting the sector in the North East alongside grant.