Last week I spent five days “nesting” with the ClearlySo team in their London office. ClearlySo is a social business which helps social entrepreneurs raise capital and introduces investors to exciting investment opportunities. It was a chance for me to immerse myself in the world of social investment in London, and to see how we might draw on some of the lessons learnt to help develop our venture philanthropy work in Wales.
In some ways, the social investment work I saw going on at ClearlySo chimes perfectly with our experience in Wales. We have a small group of engaged investors who would respond really well to models such Clearly Social Angels, and of course we have lots of innovators who are working to create real, sustainable social change with their businesses. There is an emerging narrative of venture philanthropy in Wales, which we at the Community Foundation are leading on.
As in the rest of the UK, the social investment market has matured and gained interest over the last few years. It is an offer we could make to our existing clients who are generous in their philanthropy – extend your giving to include loan investments, for example. It’s been great to explore definitions of giving that are much wider than traditional grant-making.
The social investment arena in Wales is somewhat different, however. The business ecology is not the same as that of London; we don’t have as many big businesses, but we have a base of smaller, local and family businesses. And the social business world has been growing steadily, thanks to the tradition of community activism and investments from European funding programmes and Welsh government. The Community Foundation in Wales has played an important role, too, having invested over £750,000 in the last three years in Welsh social enterprises on behalf of a range of clients including Santander and the Fair Share Trust. These investors have helped address Wales’ priority needs around employability, tackling poverty, and sustainability, and they have stimulated the growth of the social enterprise and social business sector.
There is a need in Wales to support the investment-readiness of social businesses. Pioneering programmes such as the Wales Council for Voluntary Action’s Communities Investment Fund, and Finance Wales funded Micro Business Loan Fund (which includes a loan fund for social businesses on whose panel I sit), are addressing this. I was particularly interested to learn about the England-only Investment Contract Readiness Fund (ICRF) while I was at ClearlySo, and can see how a programme like this could complement existing programmes and enhance investment-readiness further. Although we don’t yet have the same demand for investment that ClearlySo is seeing, I am sure that we will. We certainly have the businesses, the social entrepreneurs, and the people who want to use their capital to create positive social value.
The time is right for social investment in Wales – social investment that builds on all the successes of both our philanthropic and business communities.