Rethinking social investment

On 24 May 2017, the Rathbone Greenbank Investments team in Liverpool hosted a one-day conference at Rathbone Hall entitled “Rethinking Social Investment”. 

The conference was essentially a policy-into-practice debate led by Liverpool University’s Heseltine Institute for Public Policy & Practice and Seebohm Hill Ltd, a Liverpool-based social investment consultancy. Delegates were welcomed by Dr Alan Southern, Co-Director of the Heseltine Institute, Nick Roe-Ely, Investment Director at Rathbone Greenbank and Helen Heap, Chief Executive of Seebohm Hill.

The Heseltine Institute is an interdisciplinary research centre focusing on social sustainability and inclusivity across four core themes: health and wellbeing; urban governance; civic participation and digital technology; and social economy and innovation. The institute connects leaders in social sciences with international practitioners and policymakers to examine the critical questions facing societies globally. Domestic engagement with political, commercial, voluntary and cultural partners aims at developing the kind of thought leadership required to address challenging social divisions and inequalities closer to home.

Seebohm Hill works to bring together the financial resources, skills and capabilities within local business communities to enable social enterprises to operate successfully and sustainably. A key element to this is the provision of accessible capital offered on terms suitable to the operating conditions faced by social organisations, in turn enabling investors to earn reasonable social and financial returns. The consultancy believes that the ongoing development of the UK’s social investment market presents an opportunity to transform a financial system traditionally focused on maximising returns into one that also provides adequate capital for innovations that will create future growth and deliver improved social outcomes.

The proposition for delegates was that charities, social enterprises and community organisations with innovative solutions to challenging domestic social issues need accessible capital in order to develop and achieve sustainability. While all parties acknowledged recent initiatives to develop the social investment market and increase the supply of capital to the social economy, the amounts involved are tiny as uptake by social organisations is currently very low. All speakers agreed that for social organisations to seriously play their part in tackling domestic inequalities, financiers must do more to provide them with the necessary funding. The event was designed to explore this and related issues by looking at examples of long-term capital investment in social organisations in the Liverpool City Region. In bringing together a diverse range of academic and professional interested parties, the aim of the day was to move the debate on from the investment readiness and support needs of social organisations to consider what can be done to design funding solutions which will help secure the long-term sustainability of initiatives operating within the social economy, particularly with regard to the Liverpool City Region.

It was this question of funding for innovative solutions that launched the debate at Rathbone Hall. Highlighting examples of social investment in action in and around the Liverpool City Region, five case studies were presented outlining what worked well, what hadn’t worked as expected and why, and where there was scope for improvement. First to speak was Phil Knibb, Chief Executive of the Alt Valley Community Trust, followed by Erika Rushton, a creative economist currently working with The Beautiful Ideas Company CIC across north-west England; Islington Mill in Salford, and the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust. Robbie Davison, founder of Can Cook CIC, spoke of his company’s dedication to improving food choices through cookery and training and discussed his experience of running an incubator kitchen. Kieran Gordon, Chief Executive of Career Connect Ltd, explained how the charity provided careers advice and support to individuals making successful transitions in education and employment. Finally, Tomás Carruthers, Chief Executive of the Social Stock Exchange, discussed their efforts to bring impact investing into the mainstream.

After lunch there was a video interview with Nancy Neamtan, co-founder and CEO of the groundbreaking Chantier de l’économie sociale, a non-partisan, autonomous organisation that promotes and develops Québec’s social economy and which is an international leader in social justice and community-oriented economic development.

The debate concluded with an extended panel discussion and audience Q&A. The panel comprised: Matt Smith, Chief Executive of the Key Fund; Andrew Levitt, Head of Social Impact Bonds at Bridges Fund Management, the world’s first fund dedicated to investing in social impact bonds; Tony Cahill, Executive Director of Business & Service Development at First Ark Group, which has been directing investment towards delivering social impact for over ten years; Lorraine Dodd, Trustee of Career Connect Ltd; Tom Harrison, Head of Homelessness Developments at Local Solutions; and Charlotte Bailey, Executive Director at Sefton Borough Council.

The event closed with a networking session which gave the Rathbone Greenbank team the opportunity to engage more closely with speakers and delegates, who expressed the desire to return to Rathbone Hall next year to continue the debate.