We launched Big Society Capital’s new strategy a year ago. It included a commitment to focus on using social investment to support early action to prevent problems. In that year, what have we done to make progress in this area?
Our number one priority has been finding partners to work with. We are clear that social investment can contribute to making early action and preventative approaches more widespread. Investment can provide risk capital for innovation, enable prevention to be run alongside existing services and pay for the resources needed to shift to new ways of working. But we are also clear that social investment is only one tool for making a change and needs to be used alongside other inputs – grants, changing commissioning practice, research and so on. So we have been looking for others to work with, who can bring different tools needed to tackle tricky problems.
We are also clear that “early action” is a very broad approach, and only becomes meaningful when applied to specific social challenges. In looking for partners we’ve been concentrating on more specific areas where we feel we have something to contribute. Focusing on specific issues and starting from what is needed to accelerate impact on them is central to our new approach.
Our work to find partners has started to bear fruit. For example, we held two round-tables on ageing, bringing together researchers, funders, innovators and others. We believe there is a real opportunity for social investment to contribute to new approaches that improve the experience of ageing for all. We’re working with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity on child obesity. We will be publishing material on both of these areas in the next few weeks. And we brought together a group of charitable foundations with some front-line delivery organisations to discuss emerging new approaches for providing accommodation for care leavers.
These are not the only issues we are interested in: we’ve also been looking at potential opportunities for early action around NEETs, pupils excluded from mainstream schools, mental health, domestic abuse and others. We’re always open to suggestions from potential partners who would like to involve us in these or other areas.
While we have been pursuing new possibilities, our existing funds have been making investments in early action approaches. For example Bridges Fund Management and Big Issue Invest have been investing in social impact bonds, showing how such contracts can help prevent people becoming entrenched rough sleepers or children entering residential care. Bethnal Green Ventures, Nesta and others have been supporting entrepreneurs developing new ways of tackling entrenched social problems. We use feedback and learning from existing investments to improve what we’ll do in the future.
Taking more early action to prevent problems has been an objective of social policy for a long time. We know that change will not be rapid, and that social investment can only contribute as part of a wider approach. We know that many people and organisations would love to do more to promote early action, but are constrained by time, resources and other priorities. We remain confident that we are right to focus on this area and that we can work with others to address some of those barriers.