Nick Temple, our CEO, considers the power dynamic between investor and investee, how we've tried to tilt the balance in the investee's favour and the interesting insights from across the sector we've picked up along the way.
One of the things preoccupying us at the moment is the power dynamic between funder/investor and charity/social enterprise/business/investee. This is because we have been giving much thought to how we work with our customers, who are at the heart of what we are trying to achieve: helping them be more effective in order to help make (more of) a positive difference to the people and communities they work with.
This power (im)balance is both the case at a micro-individual 'deal' level between an investor and an investee, but also arguably at a macro level - compare those in attendance at the GIIN Forum in Paris or at a similar recent event in Delhi or at SOCAP to the people and organisations at Good Finance Live in the North East recently, or at the Locality Convention this week.
And of course, there are power imbalances and inequalities within organisations too (including ours) - who gets profile, who gets opportunity, who knows who, who looks like who, how recruitment (and development) works and so forth.
Here are five things we're doing at Social Investment Business and five things we’ve been reading/listening to of late to help inform these areas of work, with an overarching theme of power dynamics and imbalances:
Five things we're doing
1) Investing in a new customer strategy, building on our existing customer panel and feedback mechanisms to look at how we go further and faster, particularly in terms of decision-making, and informing design and delivery
2) Testing out new ways of working with the organisations we support - three examples here:
a) co-designing the 'product' with the charity or social enterprise involved (as being piloted on our East London Impact Fund)
b) Making applications easier (as on the Enterprise Development Programme feasibility grants) so that the burden of writing things up is with us, and the customer just has a phone call, not a bunch of bureaucracy to face
c) trying to re-balance the risk between investor / investee, as with our pilot Pioneer & Prosper fund using repayable grants tied to performance
3) Being accountable on diversity: we are on the Diversity Forum in Social Investment, and have signed up to the manifesto and accompanying actions. We are also actively investigating with others how we improve the accessibility of our work to communities that have historically tended not to benefit as much from social investment and philanthropy.
4) Project managing the Impact Investment Taskforce, chaired by Elizabeth Corley, seeking to retain and build the bridges between the in-depth experience of the social sector and the power and networks of mainstream finance as it explores impact. The taskforce has a particular focus on retail, arguably the key to really democratising the field.
5) Investing through the Access-backed Forward Enterprise Fund (with our partners Forward Trust) - not only into charities and social enterprises that support people coming out of offending or recovering from addiction; but also backing new enterprises led and populated by them.
Five things we’ve been reading/listening to
1) One of the speakers at SOCAP (kudos for literally inviting the challenge) was Anand Giridharadas who has written Winners Take All - The Elite Charade of Changing the World. You can get the gist of his argument from this article; sample quote:
"there is still another, darker way of judging what goes on when elites put themselves in the vanguard of social change: that it not only fails to make things better, but also serves to keep things as they are."
2) This article drawing on a critique of the Gates Foundation is interesting on the need for personal and institutional humility
3) This podcast interview with Victor Adebowale from the Kings Fund, which is obviously focused on health but also touches consistently on diversity, inequality and the power within systems
4) This post from Cassie Robinson, titled 'Putting users first is not the answer to everything' - it's a really interesting read challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of user-centred and human-centred design in all things.
5) This article about how 'more inclusive start-up ecosystems' could be created, called 'Don't go chasing unicorns'; though this is talking about 'mainstream' finance, there is much of interest to the social and impact investor and financier here
Much more to do and much more to come – all thoughts and responses welcome.