We welcome the independent Quadrennial Review into Big Society Capital carried out on behalf of The Big Society Trust. An independent external perspective is valuable.
Key achievements and successes
All interviewees agree, and the data demonstrates, that Big Society Capital has made substantial progress towards its ambitious and challenging objectives as a result of its activities as a social investment wholesaler, as a market-builder and through initiatives such as supporting the establishment of Access – the Foundation for Social Investment (Access) and Good Finance:
- Expanding the social investment market and the number of participants.
- Increasing the amount of capital invested in social investment and scaling social investment opportunities.
- Making progress towards self-sustainability with a forecast portfolio IRR in low single digits.
- Changing the narrative and improving understanding of social investment.
- Achieving considerable social impact through the charities and social enterprises that have received funding.
- Initial feedback has been positive about its role during COVID19.
The overwhelming majority of interviewees believe that social investment in the UK would not have grown to the same extent without the catalytic impact of Big Society Capital's focus, its funding resources and its highly-skilled people. A common comment from investors and investees (even among those who were more sceptical) is that “it is a privilege to work with members of the team at Big Society Capital”.
Strategic issues for further consideration
It is inevitable in reviews of this type that greater space is accorded to issues (the term used in our terms of reference – see appendix) than to documenting success, because such matters typically require more specificity and explanation. The Panel’s suggestions for further consideration should be seen against the background of the challenges Big Society Capital has faced and its overall substantial success. The issues identified herein all emerged with a high degree of consensus in interviews internally with Big Society Capital leaders and externally with investors and investees as well as other stakeholders. Given Big Society Capital's overall success and consensus as to the issues, it is the Panel’s view that Big Society Capital is in a strong position to take stock and consider how it might build on successes and address issues. This report considers the following strategic issues:
- System change
Building a robust social investment market – what more needs to be done to realise this ambition over the coming years? The social investment market is still maturing and there are ongoing tensions between elements of Big Society Capital's mandate to sustain its capital base and to invest in building the market
Where does Big Society Capital need to improve aspects of its relationships with investors and investees? Big Society Capital is challenged by operating at every level – as wholesaler, as developer of potential co-investors and intermediaries, and as originator with charities and social enterprises.
- Strategy and innovation
What does maintaining success look like for Big Society Capital? Big Society Capital should continue its strategy to invest in innovative social investments and consider broadening its social impact focus areas.
- Influencing Government
How can Big Society Capital have greater voice in the ‘levelling-up’ agenda? Big Society Capital has potential to play a bigger role, influencing Government across the UK for potential policy benefits from increased social investment.
How can Big Society Capital build on its powerful internal culture to be more open to learning? Big Society Capital has an enviable talent pool but organisationally it comes across to many investors and investees as insufficiently attuned to stakeholders.
- Operating cost-effectively
Is Big Society Capital cost effective in delivering its objectives - balancing investment in market development vs self-sustainability? Big Society Capital's cost base compares favourably to mainstream fund managers but there is a disparity when compared to some of those it funds.
How can Big Society Capital improve decision-making and challenge? Big Society Capital operates to appropriate governance standards but could be more transparent in decision-making and challenge to its strategic thinking.