The outlines of a new movement


David Cameron’s speech at the Social Impact Investment Forum on June 6 was more than just another Prime Ministerial address. “I am frequently asked to speak at conferences,” Cameron told the gathering of social entrepreneurs, investors, business executives and policymakers, “but this is a conference I actually asked to speak at. In fact I asked to set the whole thing up.”

The Prime Minister’s speech – and the very fact that the forum was held – represents a significant landmark for the social investment market, as part of an emerging transition from the peripheries to the mainstream. Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, and his team at the Cabinet Office, must take a lot of the credit for seizing the moment and placing social investment on the centre stage.
From a few scant references to the concept of social investment in official documents – the Charity Commission’s guidance on investment by charities, for example – social investment is now quite clearly becoming an integral part of UK government policy. And through championing the idea in its 2013 G8 Presidency, the government is hoping other countries will follow its lead.
We have come a long way in a short space of time. Just over a year ago, Stephen Lloyd began to argue that that London could become a global hub for philanthropy and social finance to complement its reputation as a financial centre. “For years the London Stock Exchange has made London the home for private finance,” David Cameron said last Thursday, “today London can cement its place as the home for social finance too.”
In his speech, the Prime Minister announced the launch of the world’s first Social Stock Exchange, based in London, which has the potential to change the way capital markets operate and what we expect of listed businesses. 
He went on to announce a consultation on Social Investment Tax Relief, one of the proposals in Ten Reforms to Grow the Social Investment Market, published 12 months ago.
All in all, it was massively encouraging to see the UK government seizing the moment to make social impact investment a theme of its Presidency of the G8 
But social investment in the UK is now much more than merely a government policy. Yes, social investment has appeared, fleetingly at least, towards the top of the government’s agenda. But the G8 forum marks, in my opinion, a watershed moment. Something subtle has happened. We have crossed a threshold of some kind. 
Social investment now involves such as an eclectic and diverse group of people, from social entrepreneurs trying to change society to reform-minded City financiers, that it is getting to the point where it will be difficult to shut it down.   Such is the volume and variety of activity and the range of products coming onto the market that social investment, in part due to the supportive political context, is developing an independent life of its own.
There remains a lot to be done from a policy perspective, including at least five of the legal and regulatory reforms originally set out in Ten Reforms to Grow the Social Investment Market. 
However, listening to the Prime Minister’s speech and reflecting on the scope of the latest Cabinet Office progress report, my sense is that social investment is no longer simply another government programme. What we are seeing, I believe, is the outlines of a new movement, with a distinctive take on money and society, which is bigger than government and party politics. Who knows where it might take us.