Exclusive: Minister for Civil Society sets investment agenda

Social investment will be "at the heart" of the government's plan to strengthen civil society in the UK and achieve social justice. Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson writes exclusively for Pioneers Post.

In the two months since my re-appointment as Minister for Civil Society, I’ve continued to see first hand evidence of a bigger, stronger, society in action. 

I recently spoke at the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, a social enterprise in south London, where I took the opportunity to set out our vision for civil society over the next five years. 

Speaking to a diverse audience of charities, social investors and social entrepreneurs, I shared my belief that social investment is an essential part of that vision and should be at the heart of our plans for social justice. 

Social investment is repayable finance which helps civil society organisations increase their reach and impact. It’s about helping people who want to use their money to transform lives to connect to organisations who are driven by more than just a profit. And while social investment isn’t appropriate for all organisations, it is having a profound impact on thousands of social ventures across the world.

I am proud to say that the UK has one of the world’s most developed social investment markets. 

In the last parliament, we worked hard to develop an ecosystem of support for social ventures and social investors alike. For social ventures – be they charities, community groups or social enterprises – we set up a £30 million Investment Readiness Programme, and supported numerous industry initiatives like Inspiring Impact and the Buy Social Directory. For social investors, we created the world’s first social investment tax relief and, of course, the world’s first social investment wholesaler in Big Society Capital. In little over three years, Big Society Capital has committed £180m in investments, getting over £100 million out to social ventures across the UK.

We placed social investment on the G8 agenda, are legislating for a new power of social investment for charitable trustees, and have even started to attract overseas social investors to set up in the UK.

But it wasn’t always like this. 

Just over a decade ago, the Futurebuilders Fund made its first investment. Futurebuilders was a pioneering social investment fund capitalised by government that invested £145m in 369 organisations. 

While it was not without its challenges, this new approach to how the public, private and social sectors work together continues to build the foundations of the social investment market. The funds returned to Cabinet Office from Futurebuilders enabled the creation of Access, a new social investment foundation dedicated to helping more civil society organisations access social investment. 

But new approaches are only as good as the lessons we learn from them. The Futurebuilders fund is now managed by Social Investment Business on behalf of the Cabinet Office and I would like to thank Social Investment Business, under the Chairmanship of Sir Stephen Bubb and the leadership of Jonathan Jenkins, for publishing a new report looking back at the history of Futurebuilders. The report, by Boston Consulting Group, includes important lessons for the many organisations who are working in social investment today, including for government.

The great British designer, James Dyson, once set out a “magic formula” for innovation: “Creativity + Iterative Development = Innovation”. If that is right, then bold steps like Futurebuilders, and the sector’s continuing efforts to help social investment reach more communities, can properly be described as innovations. 

And they stand as important examples of how government innovation – meaning being creative, learning from the past and working in partnerships – is central to building one nation, helping those who have the least and building a truly compassionate society.


To read more about the Futurebuilders fund, click here.

Photo credit: David Fleming