Refining our thinking on social investment | Big Society Capital

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Refining our thinking on social investment

As part of the GET INFORMED - Social investment for Boards campaign, Rebecca Garrod-Waters, Chief Executive of the Ufi Charitable Trust shares how and why the organisation decided to explore making social investments. 

The Ufi Trust is young in terms of grant giving but we have bold ambitions. We are focused on vocational skills – that is, skills for the workforce. Our aspiration is more skills for more people, more of the time – and we believe the way to achieve this is through the use of digital technology in delivering skills for the workplace and the workforce.

We see ourselves as a catalyst to achieve long-term change in the adult vocational education sector, and the only way we can do this is to fund a range of organisations to deliver projects which can impact on the full spectrum of vocational education, from learning at college through to learning in the workplace and learning at home and on the go.

As we started to shape our grant funding calls and the way we worked with grantees, it became clear that we needed to add something to our ‘toolkit’. This was one of the reasons we started to explore the potential of social investment. We are still early on in our journey, and we continue to refine our thinking on social investment. We do not see social investment replacing our grant funding models, but rather offering an alternative funding tool that allows us greater scope in how we are able to work.

In order to achieve long-term change, we know that there are a range of levers we need to pull. Some of these can be achieved through grant funding and some can be achieved via influence and partnership, but it became clear to us that we needed to develop a form of financial support that allowed us to broaden the range of organisations we could work with.

When we look at what success looks like for the work we fund, one of the measures we identified was the growth of VocTech as a market sector – making investment in technology to deliver vocational skills an attractive investment proposition and an attractive and viable option as a stream of business activity. We also realised that success for our projects could represent success for products in the market, and we wanted to explore how we could make any such success benefit others, via a return to the core fund.

One of the principles of our grant funding is our ‘grant enrichment’ model, whereby by our grantees gain benefits over and above the financial funding they receive. This includes a project manager with expertise specifically selected to support that particular project, as well as a range of support to ensure the best chance of success for that project. We are keen to develop this model to provide support for VocTech Amplify (our social investment funding stream).We are clear that financial return is secondary to mission-related impact, so we approach all our projects with a view to giving them the best chance of success.

We have aspirations to grow our social investment activity, but in line with our other grant activity. We explored whether stepping into the market with an Investment Fund was an appropriate course of action, but concluded that the level of management required would detract from the core aims of the Trust as we are a very small, virtual, organisation. We currently run an annual VocTech Seed Fund, which we see as having the potential to be a de-risked pipeline for investments, and we currently operate VocTech Amplify on an invitation-only basis. Invitation to apply can result from a range of sources, but we see the prime route being the follow on from a grant funded project.

We made our first ‘deal’ in 2016, and are slowly building our portfolio of social investments. We see this as something that will continue to grow, and we are looking forward to developing the VocTech Amplify model over the next 18 months!

Find out more about the Ufi Charitable Trust. 

Last updated | 
29 June 2017