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On 15 April 2014 - 11:03am

On the 11th floor of an art deco office block in downtown San Francisco, people are starting to gather. The ‘antique’ elevators are causing a few problems getting the 300 or so investors up from the street level to the Greenstart office where Demo Day is about to begin… As the pumping music fades away a video starts playing of a pair of feet walking their way through startup life. Mitch Lowe takes to the stage as the audience applaud and starts to build up the event – he can’t help but enthuse about the ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’, ‘really cool’ startups we’re about to see.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens at an impact accelerator, it’s stuff like that. There’s plenty more similar examples in Good Incubation: The craft of supporting early stage social venturesNesta‘s newly published report on ‘the rise ...more

On 30 March 2014 - 4:08pm

This month’s budget saw the announcement that the UK social investment industry’s favourite policy innovation, Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR), will be set an 30% when it comes into force on April 6th.

SITR is particularly notable because as well as providing relief to investors buying shares in (some) social organisations that are able to offer them,  it also provides relief on (unsecured) loans – meaning that organisations without share capital (including charities and CICs limited-by-guarantee) can benefit.

Welcoming the news, Big Society ...more

On 26 March 2014 - 3:12pm

“… far too many public service systems ‘assess rather than understand; transact rather than build relationships; refer on rather than take responsibility; prescribe packages of activity rather than take the time to understand what improves a life’. The result is that the problems people face are not resolved, that public services generate ever more ‘failure demand’, that resources are diverted to unproductive ends, and that costs are driven ever upwards.

This is the claim from Locality chief executive, Steve Wyler, in the forward’s to his organisation’s report ‘Saving money by doing the right thing: why ‘local by default’ must replace diseconomies of scale‘.

The report, published earlier this month, was written by and produced in partnership with Professor John Sneddon of ...more

On 14 March 2014 - 12:30am

… A quick check of the biscuit aisle in your local supermarket will reveal that there’s a phenomenal range of biscuits containing or covered in chocolate but no biscuits containing or covered in parsnips. Perhaps the nation’s shoppers are waiting for a visionary entrepreneur to create ‘spicy parsnip crunch… ” – my latest blog for The Young Foundation.


On 28 February 2014 - 6:56pm

In April 2012, the prime minister launched ‘a £600m fund to support grassroots social projects’. At least, that was how The Guardian described social investment wholesale finance institution, Big Society Capital (BSC), the organisation set up to spend ‘unclaimed assets’ on developing the UK social investment market. Earlier this month, I dropped into BSC’s Fleet Street offices to ask chief executive, Nick O’Donohoe how he thinks it’s going?

There’s been signs of a shift in thinking in recent months, whereas in 2011, as the organisation prepared for launch, O’Donohoe told Third Sector that “We’re not interested in grants or soft ...more

On 14 February 2014 - 4:41pm

… if you can tackle youth unemployment with a disruptive combination of skateboarding and environmental action, you can do anything, right? The only limit is your comfort zone!” – my latest blog post for The Young Foundation on social entrepreneurs trying to solve all the problems in the world at the same time.


On 7 February 2014 - 1:47am

There’s no shortage of ongoing discussion in the social enterprise world, and within wider civil society, about how we generate (or ‘deliver’) a positive social impact and how we demonstrate what we’ve done.

What we’re less likely to talk about – though, in theory, methodologies such as Social Return on Investment (SROI) do allow for it – is the positive social impact that we chose not deliver (the good things we haven’t done) or the negative social impact that occurred as by-product of our positive impact (the bad things that happened because we did the good things we did).

The problem is that while it’s comforting to think that our fellow social entrepreneurs and other people trying to deliver positive social change are all – however different their approaches may be – ultimately working towards the same common goal of making the world a better place, it’s not true.

It’s not entirely untrue: unless you’re really cynical, there’s no reason to believe that ...more

On 27 January 2014 - 8:17pm

Earlier this month, The Guardian‘s Voluntary Sector and Social Enterprise networks published ‘The Voluntary Sector is dead. Long live the voluntary sector‘, an article by Tim Smedley looking at some of the different ways that voluntary sector organisations responded to the (growing) financial challenges they faced in 2013.

While the article started with the line: “Throughout 2013, the fate of the voluntary sector hung by a very thin thread” the key argument is not that ‘the voluntary sector’ (define according to taste) is literally facing an existential threat but that, as argued towards the end: “The voluntary sector as we know it may have reached its breaking point in 2013, with a fragmented sector now following different paths.

In order to explore those different paths ...more

On 17 January 2014 - 11:50am

We all like a bit of variation in our lives, so it seems likely that many readers will by now have become bored with the repeated excuses from social investors that they are unable to invest in social enterprises because these organizations are too small and require investments which are not big enough to justify transaction costs.

Fortunately, it’s a brand new year, and some of the major intermediaries are now brightening our lives with a new, improved excuse for their irrelevance: that the amounts of money social enterprises require are TOO BIG for social investors to be able meet their needs.

The latest iteration of intermediaries innovative ‘have your cake and leave it to go mouldy in a cupboard’ approach has recently seen them offer no help whatsoever to existing social enterprises seeking to enter emerging market for outsourced probation services created by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)’s ...more

On 7 January 2014 - 9:12pm

Large established organisations generally struggle to innovate successfully as the bulk of their energy and efforts are spent keeping their large operational processes running efficiently. On the other hand social innovators and start ups while good at invention, are weaker at organisational development and management, and struggle to access the right markets, advice, networks and investment that they need to scale, sometimes creating a vicious cycle of launch and fail.

That’s the premise for ‘When Bees meet Trees – How large social sector organisations can help to scale social innovation‘ – a report published in November last year by social entrepreneur, Owen Jarvis and charity insider, Ruth Marvel as part of the Clore Social Fellows programme.

As well as outlining some of the key reasons (explained in the above quote) why social innovators ...more