Social investment: questions that deserve answers

Geetha Rabindrakumar, head of social sector engagement at BSC, tells an investment story about social impact.

We recently held our first Big Society Capital ‘Town Hall’ meeting, so that anyone interested in our work could find out more and ask questions about what we’ve been up to. 

There were some really thoughtful questions raised, highlighting many of the key issues that people in social investment and the wider social sector are seeking to address. Here are just some of them:

·      How can social investment deliver additionality of impact in social services during austerity?
·      What can be done to encourage government to commission for outcomes?
·      How can individual investors engage with social investment?
·      What makes a good intermediary for providing investment to smaller organisations?
 
That evening, I was at a very different meeting, the first AGM of wHoo Cares CIC in a local hall on the Hoo Peninsula in Medway, Kent. wHoo Cares was set up last year through the support and investment from a specialist intermediary Developing & Empowering Resources in Communities (DERiC). DERiC is putting in place new approaches to engaging local people so that vulnerable individuals with care needs can be better supported to live in their homes and communities.

It struck me that wHoo Care’s work provides a very tangible example of possible answers to many of the big questions that had been discussed that day. It should be pointed out however, that DERiC and wHoo Cares are just one example of the way social investment is working on the ground. 

What can be done to encourage government to commission for outcomes?

BSC committed to invest £1m in DERiC three years ago because we were excited by their model of building partnerships between local commissioners and communities, developing “community capital” to drive better outcomes and ultimately, better use of public sector resources.

DERiC has worked with Medway Council and local people to set up wHoo Cares, and the loan from DERiC has funded its set up and initial working capital needs.

Medway Council is one of DERiC’s local authority partners – the Hoo peninsula was one of the areas that the council felt would benefit from this approach.

wHoo Cares’s income will come primarily from the council, mainly based on evidence around improved outcomes of individuals, which is delivering prevention and demand reduction for social care and health services. Any surpluses will be retained to benefit the community.

Building a partnership where commissioners, local people and investors have 'mutual incentives' to make the model work has started to unlock the strengths within the community which should contribute to stronger impact.

How can social investment deliver additionality of impact in social services during austerity?

wHoo Cares has started to recruit and train volunteer Community Supporters from the villages in the peninsula who can then support individuals referred to wHoo Cares from the local authority, health service, and by friends and family.

Community Supporters are matched to individuals needing support and are doing everything from help with practical tasks, to supporting people to attend hospital appointments, to providing them access to social activities based on their aspirations.

the work of so many organisations in civil society is a reminder that there are people in communities everywhere who do care

What makes a good intermediary for providing investment to smaller organisations?

DERiC weren’t a traditional social investor, but we valued their unique expertise and understanding of what it would take to support local communities to set up a social enterprise, build networks of volunteers and be able to take on loan finance. We recognised that the processes and skills for “being an intermediary that lends” could be acquired.
 
They are also starting with the issues that the local community wanted to tackle, and have built up their approach in different areas at the pace that is needed based on local needs and in order to engage local stakeholders. Peer support is also important – DERiC brings together the local project leads from different parts of the country working to develop this approach, and in Medway there are two CICs that are developing in parallel, closely sharing experiences along the way.

How can individual investors engage with social investment?

wHoo Cares CIC is owned by the local community – nearly 50 local people have now paid their £1 as shareholders and members, and their Board is drawn mainly from their members. Some of those local people could also become community supporters, or benefit from the services themselves – reinforcing the community-led approach to this model. It’s also possible that future developments of this model could bring in greater investment from individuals into the local CIC.
 
Being at their first AGM celebration, I’m amazed at what has been achieved – seen in the pride and interest from local people, the collaboration with senior council officers and support from Cabinet Member for Adult Services that has championed the model. The Board (made up of people from the local community) and three fantastic staff are focused on everything from starting to get systems in place for gathering outcomes evidence to ensuring that individuals continue to be supported over Christmas and finding ways to support disabled people who want to be volunteers.
 
The Chair talks about how they are 'reinventing community & society' in Hoo, and it feels as if they are really achieving this. At a time when there is apprehension about what big political events are telling us about society today, this work and the work of so many organisations in civil society is a reminder that there are people in communities everywhere who do care.
 
By Geetha Rabindrakumar, head of social sector engagement at Big Society Capital and Non Executive Director of DERiC CIC

 

Photo credit: Mark Pettitt