Social investment: A time to talk and listen

Big Issue Invest's own Natalia Fernandez shares her thoughts from The Gathering in Leicester and Liverpool's Responsible Finance

Last week I had the opportunity to meet, listen and participate in conversation with other investors, investees and parties interested in social investment. 

The week started with The Gathering in Leicester and ended with Responsible Finance in Liverpool, both brought together investors to discuss how they work, how they want to develop, what they believe is important to them, and the changes they see ahead. Grant funding providers listening to the impact their investment makes; commissioners sharing innovative working methodsdiscussions about impact investment; how fintech might change the way we work; philanthropic versus commercial funds; how investors can sustain themselvesin short, endless learning! 

Social investment is relatively new to me compared to many of the ‘old hands’ attending the eventsBut there was something for everyone at bothI was inspired by discussions around how we create a better offering for VCSEs and charities, the benefits of collaboration, and appreciated the time dedicated to thinking about how we treat each other inside and outside our organisations. 

My highlights in relation to these topics included listening to what investees really think about applying for investmenthow we can make this process a better one for them, and why we should continue to review our practices. 

And diversity in social investment; are we reaching everyone? If not, why not? What about diversity within the social investment sector, are we singing from the same hymn sheet? 

Finding support

There was also the opportunity to hear from champions who are finding innovative ways to support the services once provided by local authorities, NHS or other public agencies, many of which are now available via VCSEs and charities.   

Leicester is considered a cold spot, generally not applying for social investment, why? In my experience of having lived and worked there it is both entrepreneurial and innovative. We know that many businesses are social and have outcomes that meet local needs. If you are a VCSE and reading this, how can we help you? Remember this is investment, not a grant. 

I look forward to hearing what we have learned and plans to disseminate these lessons

Responsible Finance did what it ‘said on the tin’ and looked at some of the new ways of banking that we are about to see and hear about. They highlighted the importance of lending the right products and resilience in business. They also brought lessons learned from our CDFi colleagues in the USA – a very different model and one we can learn from 

The Gathering was an opportunity to work with a dynamic team of people to steer the content of the two days. It was important to attract key people to the event along with those who are passionate about social investment and who will impact decisions going forward. Now I look forward to hearing what we have learned and plans to disseminate these lessons. 

My own learnings leave me with a few thoughts and questions; i) Fintech, how this technology will impact social investment and how it can be affordable for all concerned ii) sharing good practice with investees/investments which will be beneficial for us all, how can we do this most effectivelyFinally iii) social investment sustaining itself and remaining resilient, how can we ensure there is a good range of SIFIs providing social investment as we go forward? So I’ll keep listening, and learning as we at Big Issue Invest seek to play our part in addressing these challenges.

Natalia Fernandez is the regional investment manager at Big Issue Invest.