As 2021 begins, so does a new Lockdown. Our CEO Nick Temple shares 7 of our key reflections since the start of the pandemic.
The start of the year has provided a tiny bit of headspace to think about what we've learned at Social Investment Business in the last 9 months and more, to reflect on what we and our partners and customers achieved last year (for more, see our Impact Report), and also to share what we think is important going into lockdown 3.0 and the new year.
So, with much ongoing uncertainty, what are our key reflections?
1) RACE - May and June last year seem a lifetime away, but the killing of George Floyd and subsequent events rightly prompted many to re-assess what they were doing: and whether they were doing enough. SIB was no different: last summer, we promoted organisations we support that tackle racism and inequality, and we detailed our own current activity and future commitments and reported back on progress on this in October during Black History Month. But this was always about more than a couple of blog posts and an internal focus: it is also about understanding how design and delivery and decision-making affects the flow of money. We learned much from working with partners on schemes like CCLORS (where 69% of grants went to BAME-led and 86% to BAME-supporting organisations; working with Power to Change, Locality and the Ubele Initiative), but have much more to learn and enact. Central to this will be interrogating the data from across funds and programmes to directly inform our work; coupled with board and executive commitment, we will progress more in 2021.
2) REALITY - the flow of information and the general 'noise' has felt pretty overwhelming at times, and avoiding the worst hyperbole and excesses of social media (or the grinding dourness of the news) very necessary. But keeping in touch with reality, informed by customer insight and by aggregate data alike, has helped us to stay informed, responsive, and grounded. We will be doing more of that, and working to provide it to others, in the year ahead - more economic data analysis as well as drawing on our refreshed community panel. Cutting through the noise to good information for swift, best-possible decision-making remains critical.
3) RELATIONSHIPS - as an organisation (and as individuals), we have leaned on existing partnerships built upon them and established new ones at pace too: at times, in ways that have amazed and inspired me. It's required transparency, trust and honesty - when things have landed from nowhere with no notice, or when things haven't gone as planned and required rapid adaptation - or when we've occasionally fallen below our high standards when overstretched. Those demands, coupled with the pace of change, and often exacerbated by remote working, make investing in relationships something to make time for in 2021, however you go about it.
4) RESILIENCE - I wrote about organisational resilience shortly after I started at SIB in 2018, but 'resilience' has felt like the word I've heard the most in the past 9 months - for good reason, as the need for it, organisationally and individually, has been brought into sharp effect by the pandemic. Two things stand out to me - firstly, the priority for all of us has to be the health and wellbeing of our teams, because this isn't a marathon or a sprint anymore, it's an endurance race with an unknown finish line; secondly, we have to continue to adapt how we support organisations effectively in a stop-start recovery and an associated recession: and to adapt our understanding of what resilience means now.
5) RESPONSIVENESS - Most of the time, I think we have managed to live this - we've helped our partners establish new funds in record time, disbursed money with rapidity, and established new processes internally that help us do so. We also moved fast to give repayment holidays to investees, and to provide information to our customers - a vital service now that the environment changes continually and unpredictably. The Resilience and Recovery Loan Fund is a case in point: set up within weeks (with much help from the likes of Big Society Capital and Weil and our partners), RRLF has evolved and adapted consistently: with grants from Access alongside, revised eligibility requirements, a weekly investment committee, new partners and introducers to broaden reach, and a deadline that keeps extending with every extension announced by the Chancellor - now set to be end March 2021. Keeping responsiveness as a thread through our work in 2021 will be vital.
6) RISK - raise your hand at the back if you had global pandemic on your risk register...no, us neither; what the pandemic has done (or should have done) is change our broader views of risk. For those in more secure positions or those with money to invest or give, our view of risk has to adjust to the new scenario: we saw in many cases this happen, albeit in short-term, emergency responses. But how is that adjustment continued in the medium-term? How do we think post-pandemic about how we should invest, where we target, what aspirations we have? How do we assess for risk in new, tailored ways for those supporting many different organisations across varied geographies and sectors? These are mindset shifts that need to translate into organisational decisions.
7) RUNNING - this one refers both generally to what we all feel like we've been doing: running to stand still, running to keep up, running to respond to the latest news: and in my case, very little actual running or exercise. But more fundamentally, the pandemic does make us think afresh about how we run things. I mentioned the need to recalibrate our approach to risk above, but I feel similarly about approaches to strategy (5-year business plan, anyone?), recruitment, tech systems and more. In a sense, all the fundamentals of how organisations work have been questioned - and that is why the leadership challenge, whether a small or large organisation, is so significant in the year ahead. One thing we can and should do is find ways to run together: share tips, give practical help, offer resources and referrals and generous handfuls of mutual support.
With a now-unknown finish line to this endurance race, it’s clear that COVID-19 has significantly changed the ways we live and work in the medium term. So we have to change as well – to be an even more responsive finance intermediary, to continue building stronger partnerships, to better influence and shape the social investment landscape to be more effective, and to foster and maintain the health and wellbeing of our people and systems: four essential pillars which will help us to create fairer communities in 2021 and beyond.