Monday, May 13, 2013

Social Finance London: is in gathering mode

Guest Blogger: Lina Bowden, Social Finance Specialist

How does a community go about addressing its most pressing social issues and how does it achieve its goals of inclusivity, resiliency and vibrancy? The system we currently accept is one where governments and nonprofits have the primary responsibility for achieving these goals. Businesses and citizens contribute through philanthropic contributions and volunteerism but most traditional models do not expect much more from the business sector.

For a number of years now, social finance has been a growing concept that provides another way to tackle community needs with significant potential for impact. Charitable Foundations (like our own London Community Foundation) are allocating part of their investments to loan funds that make social investments in the community with a blend of financial and social or environmental returns. Individual and institutional investors have the same opportunity to explore ways of investing a small portion of their investment portfolios in local social investments. At the same time, community groups are devising new ways to utilize capital injections that are paid back to an investor, as alternatives to models that rely solely on grant dollars. Similarly, microloans to micro-entrepreneurs are being used to help individuals who face financial stability challenges.  Social enterprises are also on the rise as nonprofits and social entrepreneurs are finding innovative business models that address their mission.

Gathering Steam
In 2011, the United WayLondon & Middlesex partnered with Goodwill, Family Service Thames Valley & Libro Financial to pilot a microloan / matched savings program. Also in 2011, Pillar Nonprofit Network, in partnership with the Richard Ivey School ofBusiness and United Way London & Middlesex, launched the Social Enterprisefor Sustainable Communities initiative, which provides grants to start up social enterprises as well as supports and coaching. London CommunityFoundation established a Social Finance Committee and a Loan Fund that initially will focus on affordable housing investments. Community Futures Fund offers loans to start up businesses (including social enterprises) in Middlesex County.  Throughout 2012, models for raising social purpose capital, such as community bonds, were being explored by a number of community groups.  

Gathering at Grosvenor
London kicked off 2013 with a collective exploration of community-based social finance.  On Monday January 21st, 2013 thirty-two of London’s community’s leaders gathered at Grosvenor Lodge to talk about social finance within the context of our city of London.  Participants were from organizations that are already exploring or implementing social finance opportunities, including the City of London, Libro Financial, London Community Foundation, Sisters of St. Joseph, OceanRock Financial, Pillar Nonprofit Network, Richard Ivey School of Business, United Way of London and Middlesex, Community Futures Fund, Old East Village, Westany Holdings, WOTCH. We also had invited guests from the Centre for ImpactInvesting at the MaRS Centre in Toronto.

Four themes emerged from our discussion:
1)     The work around social finance could not be done by one organization alone in our community, but rather should have collective ownership and leadership.
2)     We need to engage more people in the discussion from the business sector and local players from the investment field.
3)     Education and awareness of this new field will be critical in generating a level of confidence and understanding of social finance approaches. This applies both the supply side (investors) and the demand side (community groups with ideas for using the capital for long term social impact).
4)     We need an intermediary or clearinghouse to connect the supply and demand locally, while linking to existing structures outside of our community, such as the Social Venture Exchange.

Gathering a Shared Leadership Group
Early in May 2013, London Community Foundation, United Way London & Middlesex, Pillar Nonprofit Network and the Sisters of St. Joseph enthusiastically agreed to collectively fund and support the continuation of the work started at the Grosvenor Gathering. A 12-month initiative, Social Finance London, has been launched to continue to bring people together to talk and learn about localized social finance opportunities. Throughout June, we will formulate plans to move this work forward here in London, while tapping into the incredible resources that already exist here in Canada, such as and the Centre for Impact Investing team. If you are interested in getting connected with Social Finance London contact me at

Federal Government steps into social finance through HRSDC Call for Concepts
At the close of 2012, HRSDC announced a Social Finance Call for Concepts.  Last week HRSDC released their report, sharing some of the examples of how investment capital from the private sector (foundations, pension plans and individuals) can be tied to the government’s social program dollars to create meaningful social impact.

In other countries, ideas such as social impact bonds (SIBs) have garnered much attention –both from skeptics who say governments must not relinquish their responsibility for investing in social programs –and from proponents who see the exponential benefits to communities when the private sector, nonprofit sector and governments work together.

I personally see many positive outcomes from our government’s interest in social finance. A social impact bond program is only one of the ways to garner cross-sector investment in social needs. There are many other opportunities for cross-sector investment in solutions to social problems and some of these are highlighted in the report from HRSDC. As Canada moves forward with possible new policies and partnerships that support social finance initiatives, there is a great potential to have magnified impact on our communities. 

The recent Globe and Mail article provides some further background.

Lina Bowden, MA, FCMA
Social Finance London
Twitter: @linabowden