Global Steering Group poaches UK's impact investing boss Prior as new CEO

The CEO of Big Society Capital, Cliff Prior, is to move on from the UK’s impact investment giant after four years at the helm.

Prior will be taking up an international remit to lead the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG).

He joined Big Society Capital (BSC) in 2016 as its second CEO, taking the reins from Nick O’Donohoe, who now heads up CDC, the UK's huge development finance institution. Previously Prior was CEO at UnLtd, the UK foundation for social entrepreneurs, and Rethink, a charity for people affected by severe mental illness.

BSC has now committed a total of £600m into funds investing in social enterprises and charities and helped bring in more than double that amount from other investors to a total of almost £2bn, with £1.2bn already deployed.

During Prior’s leadership, BSC has also helped to grow the Access Foundation, set up in 2015 to provide blended finance for smaller charities and social enterprises in the UK. As a result, more than 1,200 organisations have benefitted from investment from BSC. 

The wider social investment market has also grown considerably during Prior’s leadership, with more fund managers offering investment and the total size of the UK market growing to more than £3.5bn in 2019.

However, the organisation's progress has not been without criticism, either before Prior’s leadership or since, including recent warnings that Big Society Capital will fail to live up to its mission of transforming social investment.

Sir Harvey McGrath, BSC’s chair, said Prior was leaving Big Society Capital “in an excellent position to continue supporting this development of the wider social investment market”.

Sir Harvey added: “Cliff’s vision has always been that social impact investment could unlock the potential of social enterprises and charities to transform the lives of people in the UK. Cliff has played a leading role in building a movement in social impact investing and in creating the broader impact eco-system.”

Prior said: “It has been a truly great privilege to work with such a fabulous, purposeful and inspirational team. I am very proud of the work they have done creating innovative solutions to get finance to help address deep social problems such as homelessness, housing for vulnerable adults and complex issues like the poverty premium and regenerating places and communities.”

He said a new CEO could now help build “new connections with more impact investors and development partners”.

On his new role at the GSG, which he will take up in May, Prior said: “I am joining the GSG at a time when the impact movement is gathering great momentum. GSG was born at the G8 meeting presided by the UK eight years ago and is now working with 32 countries to bring impact investment to entrepreneurs, business, philanthropy and government and put us on the way to impact economies. It will be a huge responsibility to take forward the outstanding success of my brilliant predecessor Amit Bhatia.”

BSC said its board would “immediately begin a search for a new chief executive”.

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