When it comes to capacity building, a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet.
Access — the Foundation for Social Investment was set up in response to the perception that social investment was not meeting the needs of small to medium sized charities and social enterprises. How can we build a market that better meets the financial realities of social organisations?
A key element of this discussion has been the purpose and role of capacity building. Capacity building is a long and winding road that social organisations tread to strengthen operations, enhance governance and improve financial resilience. There have been a number of big funding initiatives in the recent past to boost the contracting and social investment markets. Consultants and advisors have been brought in to build the ‘investment readiness’ of social organisations.
Some of capacity building worked well, and some of it didn’t. Lessons were learned. An ongoing debate rages about the cost, effectiveness and sustainability of capacity building initiatives. Capacity building for the social sector is an industry unto itself, which continues to fuel different points of view.
What’s in a name? Like many debates in social investment, the crux of the matter may rest in semantics. Do we need investment readiness? organisational development? technical assistance? or business support? When boiled down, many of these terms refer to the same process of bringing in external resource to bolster the (significant) existing talents, skills and competencies of individuals working in communities, charities and social enterprises.
When it first launched in 2015, Access carried out a consultation on how best to use its £60 million endowment (with a recent addition of £10 million from DCMS). A number of interesting new ideas emerged from this consultation. Perhaps the most simple, yet telling result, was the discussion of language. Highlighted by Ed Anderton in a June 2017 blog, the narrative has moved from ‘investment readiness’ — with its focus on social investment — to ‘capacity building’ — which flexibly allows for enterprise, revenue-generation and financial resilience without a pre-determined end point.
One of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches in Romeo and Juliet runs as follows:
’Tis but thy name that is mine enemy:
What’s [capacity building]? It is not hand nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but [capacity building], and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be [investment readiness].
I know, I know. Shakespeare would be turning over in his grave.