Transparently accessible: opening up social investment

ed-andertonEd Anderton is Strategy and Policy Manager for Access: he arrived here from #techforgood funder Nominet Trust, having enjoyed a varied career, including performing arts education, community development, education consultancy, conflict resolution (mediation and training), and a stint in Whitehall (BIS).

 

For many readers of NCVO’s blog I imagine that ‘social investment’ feels opaque, hard to understand and, well, inaccessible.

Working for The Access Foundation, a new foundation created to support charities and social enterprises in taking on social investment, this is a key challenge. One that we believe can be met in part through promoting transparency.

There is a growing consensus within the social investment community that there’s a need for greater openness.  This means open data, certainly, but this will be of limited value unless it flows from a grounded belief that we are better, stronger and more social when we collectively commit to sharing, and learning from what we share.

This impact investment market simply will not grow if we don’t embrace transparency as a core responsibility.
– 
Jonathan Jenkins, Social Investment Business

Transparency is a hallmark of a desirable industry culture and not an end in itself.
– 
Karl Richter, EngagedX

Responses to Big Society Capital’s Transparency Conversation.

An emerging culture

It is significant then that Access has been created with a commitment to be open and transparent in all of our work. The fact that this was such a clear priority as we were being formed is evidence for me that a ‘desirable industry culture’ is emerging and finding its feet. The same culture which prompted Big Society Capital to initiate the Transparency Conversation.

Having previously worked with 360 Giving, encouraging UK grantmakers to publish open data and, crucially, develop ways to use that data to make grants more effectively, I am an advocate, by instinct and experience.

I also have a sense of the challenges involved: getting ‘data out the door’ requires us to engage with a whole range of other issues, from risk-averse leadership to lack of short-term incentives and creaky, intransigent IT systems.

Meeting expectations

As suggested, the profound shift is not towards publishing more and more open data. It is towards an increasing expectation of openness, in thought and deed, for anyone operating in the social sector.

What that has looked like in our work so far (all four and a bit months of it), is blogging regularly and developing systems and processes allowing us and our partners to ground our work in evidence, and share what we are learning as we go.

Whilst running the consultation for our capacity building programme, it has been encouraging to see how responsive people are to this broadly transparent approach.

We’ve had more than 30 responses, in which everything has been shared openly. A simple commitment to giving fortnightly updates has also met with heartening approval.

An invitation

All that remains for me to do in this post is to offer an invitation. If you work for or with a social organisation, which has never thought about taking on repayable finance or has taken a look and found it an unapproachable or daunting prospect – please let us know more.

Access has £60M to spend, over the next ten years, on capacity building grants for charities and social enterprises considering social investment, and we want to learn from your experience as we decide how to begin. Take a look at this short questionnaire and send us your thoughts.

 

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