University of Northampton

One of the youngest universities in the UK, leading the way in delivering social impact through investment.

Waterside

Key stats

  • £21.25m

    Total investments the University of Northampton has under management

  • £1.25m

    Amount currently invested in social impact investments

  • £52m

    Estimated joint social value created across the University’s activities

Why social impact investing?

The University of Northampton has a commitment to ensure that social innovation and the delivery of positive social value, remains at its core - whether that relates to the student experience, staff development, procurement, community engagement or where it invests its financial assets.

In 2013, the University became the first UK university certified as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus (the leading designation for social innovation in higher education). In doing so, it committed to ensuring its strategic work and vision is guided by the creation of social impact in its local, national and global communities. This commitment and the growing challenges facing the world as defined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, has meant that the University is finding ways to deliver social value, outside of its traditional role as an educator.

Its senior leadership team identified social impact investment as an opportunity to achieve this goal, helping scale innovation, deliver positive social impact and achieve sustainable financial returns.

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Approach

The University takes a flexible approach to making social impact investments, utilising both debt and equity instruments and investing both directly in social purpose organisations, as well as in social impact funds managed by fund managers. These monies come from a variety of sources, but are mainly drawn from surplus operating cashflow and profits returned centrally to treasury.

  • In 2011, Northampton made its first social impact investment

    A direct £200,000 equity investment in Goodwill Solutions Community Interest Company (CIC), a local logistics enterprise that trains, employs and supports ex-offenders. At that time, Goodwill had a turnover of approximately £400,000 per annum. The University has supported Goodwill in a range of non-financial ways, including: staff taking Board positions; research supporting social impact management; business development; funding/investment applications and the delivery of some of its social programmes. The Community Interest Company has grown its turnover to £3 million per annum in 2019 and received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2020. Further, research conducted in partnership with Goodwill has shown that to date, the company has delivered nearly £15 million worth of social impact since the University’s initial investment; a return that is more valuable to the University than the financial growth achieved.

  • In 2014, Northampton started to invest in social impact funds

    Since 2014, the University has made a series of further investments in social impact funds. To start, it invested £150,000 in Big Issue Invest’s Corporate Social Venture Fund (BII CSV) which supports early-stage social ventures through the provision of small loans of around £50,0000, alongside mentoring support from key partners (including the University).

    In 2015, Northampton invested £100,000 in Impact Ventures UK (IVUK), a venture fund providing early-stage growth capital to social enterprises in the UK.

    Both investments have led to significant social impact, with research projecting that the total social impact of the BII CSV could be as high as £37 million.

Commitment to social impact

Uniquely, the University has also committed nearly £100,000 of pro-bono staff time to support the 40 social venture investees. This support included social impact research and business support/advice (delivered alongside Barclays, Experian and Locality).

Whilst both the BII CSV and IVUK investments are still relatively unproven from a financial perspective, the social impact that the University has been able to achieve through these investments has more than outweighed the risk.

This approach has allowed the University to grow the sustainability of its social impact investments, whilst ensuring that significant spend outside of the University is leveraged towards social value creation, helping ensure its investments are aligned with its strategic vision.

The University remains committed to its approach, securing its place as a global leader investing in and supporting social innovation.

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Get in touch

To learn more about how universities can engage with impact investment, please get in touch.