OK, cards on the table; I’m more than ambivalent about social finance, particularly about the way it is being hailed in some quarters as the answer to all our problems. My usual reaction to the launch of yet another SF initiative is to get steamed up about the assumptions made, implicitly and explicitly, about who can and should add a loan to their funding mix.
Not every organisation can successfully generate a profit, end of. Many of those who can are run by people who are active, committed and effective but who have never been part of the finance world and feel understandably nervous about the whole thing – the process, the jargon, the risk. Many face daily struggles with their own financial exclusion, and so have personal issues around loan finance and dealing with financial institutions.
So I turned up for the Learning Event on 8th October feeling ready for a scrap. I’ve been working on Voscur’s Connect Fund project for a while now with my colleagues and was happy that our approach would address access issues, start where people are and generally treat participating organisations with the respect they deserve. Our project will be offering a programme of learning, technical input and peer support to the next generation of Bristol community anchor organisations that want to explore including social finance in their funding mix. We aren’t looking to support those who already “get it”, but those who are currently excluded, for whatever reason, from the Social Finance market.
What I wasn’t expecting was the fact that everybody else in the room that I chatted to had the same reservations and was concerned to address the same issues. A clue to the Connect Fund “difference” perhaps was the makeup of the participants – far fewer suits than usual! As I overheard in the lunch queue – “This is easily the most diverse Social Finance event I’ve ever been to”.
Along with our delivery partner Bristol and Bath Regional Capital and other local Connect Fund grantees I’m now very much looking forward to seeing what sort of difference all our projects, working together across our region and nationally, can make by sharing not just our resources and research, but our commitment to real diversity and inclusion.