Category Archives: 3D Investing

Are the goalposts starting to shift on corporate tax?

At the end of August, we learned that the EU ordered Apple to pay a record EU13 billion in back taxes, as it determined that deals with the Irish Government allowing the US company to avoid taxes were illegal. This follows on from EU decisions in October to charge both Starbucks and Fiat EU30 million each, which it claimed was payable to the Governments of the Netherlands and Luxembourg, respectively, utilising similar arguments.  Both Apple (unsurprisingly) and the Irish Government were expected to challenge the decision, but it raised the stakes in an ongoing battle over fair taxation.

Interestingly I have not found that anyone is claiming that any of these firms engaged in criminal activity.  It seems to be accepted that all three operated within the law, but the law has been judged to have been unfair, or unfairly applied.  I am certainly no expert on such technical issues, but this struck me as an interesting development—especially given the amounts involved and the high profile nature of these companies.  The EU was stepping in and exercising its authority over national governments to strike deals.  One wonders about the January 2016 deal struck between Google and the UK’s HMRC, wherein Google agreed to a settlement of £130m for past tax liabilities.

In any event, a related news item caught my attention yesterday.  On the front page of yesterday’s Fund Management section of the Financial Times it was reported that Legal & General Investment Management, the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (representing 71 public pension funds), Royal London Asset Management and Sarasin Partners signed a letter to Eric Schmidt, (the Chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company) which raised concerns about the company’s tax arrangements.  What was interesting was that the letter did not challenge the legality of such arrangements or ask if avoidance (which is legal, as opposed to evasion, which is not) was being practised, but if the Chair had “…properly considered the implications for brand value and your license to operate in society”.

This seemed eye-opening to me.  A group of investors was questioning the wisdom of arrangements which, though perfectly legal, might put the company’s “license to operate” at risk.  With a market capitalisation of well over $500 billion, these investors see a great deal at stake in any challenge to this license, and have calculated (without too much sweat, I imagine) that what is at risk greatly exceeds the few billions of taxes that might need to be paid.

Companies involved may see this as an unfair “shifting of the goal posts”, and in one sense it very much is.  What has shifted is the willingness of society to allow large and successful companies to avoid paying the taxes societies deem to be fair.  Where national governments have been reluctant to act, often beholden to powerful international firms, supranational organisations (like the EU) or groups of shareholders are beginning to take action.  They are doing so implicitly at the behest of outraged citizens, perhaps even in part to avoid circumstances where these same citizens wind up taking direct action to vent their rage, for example, by possibly boycotting of the products of companies whose tax policies are deemed overly aggressive.  This would constitute an effective termination of such a firm’s “license to operate”, but one that would be enforced by the power of the marketplace and not via governmental regulation, as is normally the case.

Up until this point we have argued that the increasingly important third dimension to investing (impact, instead of just financial return and risk), which underpinned the development of impact investing, was predominantly a reflection of externalities, where hidden costs or benefits to society bubble up to the surface.   Where companies use completely legal means to avoid paying taxes but free-ride on the economy available to all has not been something we considered as part of this equation previously, and it certainly did not seem on the agenda of investors, whom it was felt implicitly encouraged minimising taxes paid.  It now seems we should, and will.  Times are most definitely changing………

Incentivising Impact: Should Impact Investors practice what they preach?

I had the privilege of attending the first ever HCT Group (a high impact enterprise involved in transport) investor day recently. This was the first time the company met with a group of investors, at a time when it was NOT seeking capital, to explain itself and discuss progress against both financial and impact targets.  We expect to have more of these events for our clients in the future, and see it as a useful practice borrowed from the mainstream.

An award was meant to be given to the best question from the audience, but when it turned out to have been asked by Dai Powell, the CEO, the award was given to someone else instead. What was Dai’s question? “Do any of the investors who have backed Impact Investment Funds (IIFs) vary their returns based upon the social impact achieved by the fund managers?”

This sounds a very simple straightforward question but there is actually quite a lot behind it. First of all, readers should know that HCT recently closed a £10 million financing with a range of impact and mainstream investors. ClearlySo advised on this offering, which had several interesting features. The one which is most relevant to this article is that is the interest rate paid by HCT to investors would be reduced if HCT matched or exceeded certain impact targets. This is understandable, as IIFs exist to increase the social impact achieved, as well is to earn a satisfactory financial rate of return. We are aware of a few other notable transactions which also have this feature but it is by and large an exception rather than the rule in impact investment. If we wish to increase the social impact achieved by entrepreneurs then surely it is sensible for the fund managers to put in place incentives to grow that social impact. This is obvious, straightforward and requires no further explanation.

But if we follow the logic then it makes sense for the IIF fund managers also to be similarly incentivised. As by definition they exist to encourage social impact, this would seem obvious. I myself have been at dozens of meetings where entrepreneurs are lectured to by IIF fund managers about the urgent need to measure, demonstrate and increase social impact achieved.  Therefore it is extremely interesting and bizarre to note that none of them face similar pressure.

Not a single case comes to mind of an IIF whose returns to investors are adjusted for the impact achieved.  I cannot think of any funds which Big Society Capital (BSC) has backed which have such a “ratchet”, nor is BSC itself held to account in this way. In the interest of transparency and equanimity I should also confess that we as a leading intermediary face no such ratchet, and we too lecture entrepreneurs on the importance of generating, measuring and increasing the social impact achieved. In fairness to BSC, I should add that our agreements with them require us to report to them about impact.

I think that all of us in impact investing agree that economic incentives are a useful mechanism to adjust organisational behaviour. We recognise this as a matter of principle, we speak out in public on the importance of this issue and we work with entrepreneurs to try to put such incentives in place. For the sector to get to the next level it might be interesting to reward the providers of capital in this fashion as well.

The aim was to create 100 Justgivings

Recently I interviewed a candidate for a new role at ClearlySo. During the course of the interview she asked me why it was I came to found ClearlySo, or what was the thinking behind it. She seemed to find the story instructive. It goes a long way to explaining my own personal motivations and the ClearlySo approach, and I thought it would be relevant to share.

After leaving the City, I felt it was important to do something “socially impactful”. I probably spoke in terms of “putting something back” or simply doing something that perhaps my children would be proud of. Roles at UBS, Paribas and Lehman certainly didn’t register on this yardstick. After a few years in conventional VC, I took an early chance, together with some colleagues, to raise impact investment fund in partnership with The Big Issue. This was back in 2000/2001. Our efforts were not successful so I began to hunt around for other ways to make a difference.

In the 1990s I had been quite active in the Liberal Democrat party and even stood as a candidate in the 1997 general election. Fortunately I lost, and realised that party politics was not the best way for me to generate meaningful social impact. Many of my good friends urged me to stop being silly and carry on in the City.  If I felt excessively guilty I should give some/all of my money away. I briefly tried a part-time role at a leading investment bank and realised that was not the way forward for me.

In the mid-2000s I had the opportunity to simultaneously chair a large national charity and a small early stage start-up business. What I found was that the charity, which had only recently considered and then rejected a merger with another organisation, was not wholly to my liking. Although the organisation raises lots of money and had considerable visibility, it was not as focused as I would have liked it to be on the cost-effectiveness of its impact generated. Furthermore, I found myself unable to improve this and other situations despite being Chair. In the end, I resigned.

The early stage start-up business that I had the pleasure and privilege to engage with was Justgiving. With a mere £5-£6 million of angel capital it was able to build the world’s leading online charitable fundraising business and now dominates the sector.  From the start, the two leaders, Zarine Kharas and Anne-Marie Huby, were absolutely focused on making the business successful by controlling costs together with a razor like focus on customer satisfaction. Their theory was that if they could build a successful, well-run business it would generate far more social impact. This is something that is too often neglected in the impact investment and enterprise sector. Unless a business is able to be sustainable, it isn’t really a business. To achieve massive social impact it has to be really great – and Justgiving has facilitated about $3.5bn of flows into the charitable sector. The Body Shop is another excellent example of such a business.  Or to put it another way, social impact and financial success are positively correlated; this is a central tenet of ClearlySo’s worldview.

So in summary, I thought of how I could make a difference and realise that politics, charity and investment banking were not the path for me – Justgiving had shown me the path. ClearlySo was founded with one simple objective – to create 100 Justgivings.

First published in Third Sector in October 2015.

What is social investment?

This year, I have met many organisations who have taken the liberty to convince me, at length, on their version of what is “social”.  Baxi Partnership has a longstanding commitment to employee ownership, with deep experience in securing the social and financial benefits related thereto.  The John Lewis Partnership is the best example of such a firm.  The Anthroposophical movement and its central tenets lie at the core of Triodos Bank, and inform their activity.  The Coop is committed to the concept of cooperative or customer ownership, and an offshoot it helped to form, Unity Trust Bank, has similar core principles, but with an historical tie to the union movement.

In the UK, a lead is now being taken by Big Society Capital (BSC) which, as a recipient of £400 million in unclaimed assets, has had to define what it can invest in—which partly requires defining what a social purpose business is.  This definition is important, as it guides how BSC may invest its millions.  Yet some BSC professionals have expressed the view that they wish their remit was broader and included certain precluded areas.  But the Act of Parliament which created it is clear, and some deeply social areas are not permissible.

The point is that there are many views on this, and though some have important practical consequences, I find it very difficult to advocate one view over another—they all seem right to me.

It is in this spirit that I am bemused by the recent debate about social finance and investment, kicked off by Robbie Davison’s thorough piece (“Does Social Finance Understand Social Need?”).  It has been followed up by responses from thoughtful commentators such as Nick Temple and David Floyd, and by comments posted on our recent ClearlySo blog post entitled, “Social Finance: The Case for Helping the Least Needy”, by Robbie Davison, Isobel Spencer and Paul Halfpenny.

Lurking here is the presumption than any one of us can “know” what precisely the point of social finance and investment is. I think it would take more than a trace of arrogance to imagine that any of us is in a position to dictate a definition to the sector. Any attempt to do so will falter, as the meaning of “social” (finance, enterprise or investment) is highly subjective.  Devising a common definition will be challenging.

However, I believe there is also a practical risk for anyone to try to proscribe and thereby limit what is included. From our perspective at ClearlySo, the biggest problem for social investment is not the precision of how we define the term, or its deviation from some ideal, but rather the small size of the market. Put simply, we need more investment in social everything.

Thus, we endeavour to bring in more investment from individuals or organisations with capital however they choose to define “social” (within the bounds of decency and legality, of course) and match them with appropriate investments.  By defining the sector broadly, we help to create the largest possible market. I do not believe this will undermine the ethos of the market.  On the contrary, I believe that once investors enter the “social investment tent” they will be attracted by other forms of social investment and more open to diversifying their impact investment portfolios.  By assisting them onto the first rung of the ladder (even if it is highly secure, asset-backed finance for a well-established social enterprise) we make it more likely they ascend.  Low-risk investments are the natural first step in a nascent market.  I am confident that, in time, they will move up the ladder and not destroy the market.

First Published in Third Sector in March 2013.

The senseless and destructive aversion to investing in successful social enterprises

In a recent piece written for Social Edge, I commented on our destructive obsession with new and cool social enterprises.  Preferring these to the more established, but perhaps less exciting, existing businesses, makes no sense.  New ideas are like new love—marvellous as a fantasy, but requiring the test of time to assess durability.  Yet the social investment sector has a new/cool bias, which we have encountered regularly.

Perhaps an even greater threat to the eventual success of the sector is the hesitancy to back social enterprises which have achieved scale and profitability.  In a recent case, we at ClearlySo were asked to raise capital for a successful social enterprise.  It (let’s call it XYZ) is a sector leader and has the capacity to access conventional finance.  It’s commitment to growing the sector and other factors have led it to prefer to raise funding in the social investment space.  Yet some investors, especially foundations, seem reluctant because XYZ “could raise conventional finance”.  Their implied preference, therefore, is to conserve capital for those who lack this conventional market access.

On the surface this seems reasonable.  By concentrating social investment on those firms which cannot access conventional markets, foundations ensure a flow to new firms which are not conventionally backable.  Their scarce capital available for social investment is thus allocated to those firms which have no other choice.

But what are the implications of this?  It means that foundations will, by definition, back the less successful ventures and will likely suffer worse investment performance as a result (furthering the over-investment in the new and cool referred to above).  I contend that this will also put them off committing greater resources to social investment as their Trustees will have relatively depressing track records to assess when considering whether or not to enlarge their commitments.  It is no wonder, therefore, that with the notable but single exception of Panahpur, there is no UK foundation wholly committed to social investment.

What social investment does take place at UK foundations is done, for the most part, with specifically dedicated smaller pools run away from their main funds.  Esmee Fairbairn and Lankelly Chase have been leaders in this regard.  But the mainstream endowment funds of charitable foundations are still almost exclusively invested in conventional financial instruments.  Thus they are unlikely to invest in XYZ, because it is a new type of company, even though it might offer the same returns as conventional financial assets AND helps fulfil the charitable objects of the foundation.

Where should successful social enterprises like XYZ go for funding?  There is interest amongst conventional investors, but what are the long term consequences of forcing successful social enterprises out of the social investment market in this way?  Do we not run the risk that their objectives migrate in a non-social direction as they are jettisoned out of the social investment sector?

Would we not be better off to keep them in the sector and use these higher quality investment opportunities to attract larger pools of conventional capital?  In this way we could bring more money into the social investment sector, which puts a priority on social impact.  Surely this is preferable to casting out those we wish to establish as benchmarks, or credentials for our emergent sector.

First Published in Third Sector in June 2016.

False Economy: A Depressing Triple Entendre

Defenders of unfettered free market capitalism, as it has been practiced for the past three decades, are diminishing in number.  The model has been proven to be utterly unsustainable–a false economy.

A growing number of observers believe something new is emerging–a more social economy, where social, ethical, environmental and financial objectives are balanced.  This is no longer just the belief of ardent zealots, but the mainstream sees this as a viable concept for economic organisation.

Governments across the political spectrum are embracing social enterprise, and, encouragingly, the corporate sector is as well. We at ClearlySo work with over 100 corporations and dozens of governmental counter-parties with an expressed interest in helping the social enterprise and investment sector to flourish. Their intentions are noble and the folks involved tend to be sincere–but in our judgement the good work is frequently offset by two categories of flawed approaches.

One is to bury the sector in grants.  Free stuff is great but it creates a false economy, giving the impression of a sector heading towards or already achieving sustainability (because of all the buzz and activity).  In this way we begin to kid ourselves–were the grants to cease the sector would simply evaporate, with few exceptions.

The other approach is to seek to ‘work with’ the sector on a commercial basis.  This approach would appear to have intellectual merit as corporations and government agents buy services from the sector and arguably are bringing it into the normal market economy.  However, the sector’s immaturity and the absence of normal market disciplines caused by grant-dependency, often causes social enterprises desperate for work to offer products and services at low prices, often below cost.

This situation is helpful for cash-strapped governments and profit-oriented mainstream firms.  They take advantage of competition in the sector to force prices to an unsustainable level.  “Socent XYZ will do it for free”, those social enterprises trying to become sustainable are told, or “this is the most we can pay…..due to budgets, etc.”

All this is also a false economy, especially for governments who subsidise a sector through one set of actions and then under-pay for services with another.  Far better to pay a fair price, which they certainly do with large private sector firms selling to the public sector.  Corporations looking for (and are getting!!) bargains from the social enterprise sector would appear to be indirect beneficiaries of governmental grants to the sector, as well as the below market wages of their dedicated staff and the free work of their volunteers.

  • Can this possibly be right?
  • Do many of you out there in the social enterprise world experience such behaviour?
  • Is there a justification for corporations and governments to pay a premium to social entrepreneurs for the products and services they offer, or does this continue to falsify the social economy?

First published in The Social Edge in March 2012

3D Investing: The shape of things to come in institutional investment

Recently, we at ClearlySo had the privilege to conduct and publish research on behalf of The City of London Corporation, City Bridge Trust and the Big Lottery Fund on “Investor Perspectives on Social Enterprise Financing”.   (The link to the full report is accessible from our homepage).  Written by Katie Hill, this 178 page report provides a comprehensive insight into City thinking on social enterprise investment.  Katie interviewed about 60 professionals as part of the work and concluded:

  • There is no silver bullet, but a number of small developments, when taken together, will improve the level of social investment.
  • There is no “City” as such; the term describes a broad array of financial institutions, pension fund managers, private equity investors, etc. Each have different needs, objectives and approaches and need to be separately understood rather than amalgamated.
  • The opportunity provided by the Big Society Bank (BSB) and the restructuring of the state is a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to accelerate social investment and must be seized.

The launch took place in a beautiful venue, The Livery Hall, which added further gravitas to the proceedings which were headlined by the Lord Mayor.  Perhaps, when presented with such awe-inspiring surroundings, one can become prone to grand statements, but I felt as if the meeting could herald the start of a new era of institutional investing and was sufficiently moved to call it the start of “3D Investing”.  In my presentation (available here) I noted that, whereas investing had been a two dimensional exercise since approximately 1980, as investors sought to maximise risk adjusted rates of return, we are now entering a world in which a third dimension has entered the calculation: that of social impact.

Before discarding this notion as fanciful and accusing me of being carried away by the moment, I should point out that there are many examples of such trade-offs being undertaken.  How else could the Ethical Property Company, a firm which makes it very plain it will never try to maximise financial return, have been able to raise roughly £20 million over the last decade?  Although most of its investors were individuals, some were from the City and were present in the Livery Hall at the launch.

This is also not the first time a new dimension has been added to the investment equation.  When I entered the financial world in 1980, as an analyst with PaineWebber, investing was one dimensional.  Portfolio managers spoke of “average total return” over the life of an asset or portfolio.  The tumultuous 1970s meant that investors became more aware of their preferences for lower volatility.  Hence the birth of beta and “2D Investing”.

In response to the socially tumultuous period we are now in, is it so surprising that investors are becoming increasingly aware of their preference for positive social impact (as well as their aversion to negative impacts)?  Thus dawns the era of 3D Investing—anyone have a suitable Greek (or other) letter?

Will social investment become an asset class

This question, as to whether or not Social Investment (SI) will become an asset class, has come up at several recent meetings I attended.  Many of us in the sector are endeavouring to accelerate the development of the sector and each of us individually are considering how to tinker with old models, found new mechanisms and use various combinations of advocacy and cajolery to make something happen.  There has been some progress and the sector is growing, but far slower than we might otherwise desire.

Understandably several of my colleagues believe that if we create SI as a separate asset class it growth will increase.  This thinking seems flawed to me—I do not believe that SI will be a separate asset class, nor do I believe we should desire it to be.  This view stems from a view regarding what SI actually is, and what it is not.

I see SI as being comprised of all investments which are made for reasons beyond their risk-adjusted rate of financial return; where these extra-financial returns have a social, ethical or environmental component (let’s call them all “social” for the purpose of this article).  Presently this includes microfinance investments, Cleantech VC investments, Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) funds and a variety of thematic funds—such as those into water-related businesses.  At present which asset classes do these sit in?  Microfinance is now a growing part of the fixed income area, Cleantech VC would be part of the VC allocation in the alternative investment asset class, while the last two would be part of the very large equity asset class.  In fact, Robeco and Booz Allen believe that such Responsible or Social investments will account for 15-20% of the worldwide equity assets—reaching an enormous figure of $27 trillion in 2015.

Four different types of SI—three different asset classes.  What would happen if all these were to be combined into a single SI asset class?  I suspect that drawing these investment areas away from the mainstream would be to the detriment of their growth.  Within asset managers the “asset class” of SI would require many different disciplines and expertises to be duplicated within one asset class—this would hardly be optimal.  Also, any new asset class would start small, certainly below 5%, as do most new asset classes within investment organisations—until it had proven itself.  This would be well below the sorts of figures expected in the Robeco/Booz study.  SI’s growth in fixed income, apart from microfinance, has been more recent, but it would also be limited if it were spun out into its own category.  As a general rule we need to avoid being shunted off into a backwater.

Social Investment is instead becoming a key feature of the investment mainstream.  As with risk in the 1970s and 1980s, investor’s understanding of risk, and appreciation of its consequences, grew to the point where all portfolios took it into account.  Social returns are now being increasingly understood by market participants and, in particular, their end-investors (pensioners or mutual fund shareholders).  Thus they are being considered as part of a growing number of all investment decisions.

SI is not an asset class.  Let’s not make it into one and instead make SI part of a growing percentage of a very large total investment “pie”.

First Published in Third Sector in October 2009.

What is wrong with the Investment Industry?

A recent post which appeared on both Social Edge and ClearlySo infuriated my friends and colleagues from the Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) sector.  I suggested that they might actually be responsible for stifling the growth of impact investment.  By vacuuming up most ethically-motivated investment and building portfolios of the same old big-cap listed stocks, they hardly assist the impact investment cause—despite their name, how “social” are they?  Dutch bank Robeco and Booz Allen estimated this pool will be EU5 trillion by 2015 worldwide, as the responsible investment sector continues to grow at twice the rate of the industry, illustrating investor preferences for more than just financial return.  Why is there a shortage of products which provide genuine social impact as well as financial returns?

Charities and foundations have billions in their coffers; endowments which fund their good works.  In the USA they are obliged to spend at least 5% per annum of these annually on their mission, of which “mission-related investment” is included.  Elsewhere there are no such restrictions and, with limited exceptions, the money is invested in all the conventional financial assets, in pursuit of return-maximisation (a crash or two notwithstanding).  This is absurd; name another sector where at most 5% of assets go to the organisations’ chief objective.  If this were the corporate sector, heads would have rolled long ago.

Pension funds are similarly “conservative”, or traditional.  Even those with sympathetic constituencies put themselves into a similar “straitjacket”.  They argue their fiduciary responsibilities give them no choice.  This is hogwash.  Many of the bolder and more genuinely responsive and responsible organisations (such as TIAA-CREF in the USA or the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation in the UK and others) find they can undertake steps to address this absurdity by allocating assets to impact investment—it is time for others to follow.

Not only is the conservatism of today’s trustees probably contrary to their beneficiaries’ desires (who would, in many cases, trade off some financial return for social impact, if the question were properly put) but really rankle staff, who also have social motivations.

Shall we require investment firms to survey staff regarding these tradeoffs, the same way mandatory surveys check risk tolerances?

Should Government mandate a minimum impact investment threshold, well above the current 5% level?

Should consumer-protection agencies require that investment products marketed as “ethical” or “responsible” or “social” meet certain minimum standards, in the same way we require say chocolate manufacturers use a certain amount of cocoa?

First published in The Social Edge in September 2009.

My Philanthropic/Social Investment Journey

I began writing this piece by reading previous “journeys”, and became intimidated by the list: Dame Vivien Duffield, Sir Trevor Chinn and Tony Blair!  This is a credit to the persuasive powers of the Philanthropy UK team, but made me very hesitant to use my “moment in the limelight” in what may seem a challenge to the philanthropic model, but I was asked to give an honest account of my journey, so I shall.

It begins innocently enough.  Like Sir Trevor Chinn, my introduction to charity has Jewish roots.  I learned the importance of charitable giving (tzedaka) in Jewish religious school.  This background and Maimonides’ philosophy around giving were explained elegantly by Sir Trevor, so I shall not elaborate.

Despite such hopeful beginnings I drifted to Wall Street.  I felt guilty about it of course, so I supported charities financially.  In time, this proved insufficient and I became a trustee of the House Foundation for the Arts, which backed the performance artist Meredith Monk.  This not only assuaged my guilt but gave me an introduction into the rewards (and frustrations) of charities.

Moving to London with my family in 1987, I was still spending most of my time working, but donated to a range of charities.  In 1997, I ended my career in global finance as the chasm between what I did every day and the things I told my four children were important was just too wide.  I thus began a frustrating journey to figure out what I was actually meant to do in life.  The journey continues, but I now have some ideas.

My path encompassed politics (with the Lib Dems) and the charity world (as Chair of Shelter).  Neither “offered the answer”—with both I encountered bureaucracy, mission drift and a frequent disconnect between stated intentions and actions.  I doubt these large organisations are unique.

I began to learn about social business, where entrepreneurs turn their talents to doing “good”.  Working with these odd characters, I found a refreshing attitude, integrity and an ability to innovate and move swiftly, as only small organisations can.  Along the way I became Chairman of, a marvellous social business, which has grown explosively.  It is “social” because through it 6.5 million people have donated over £370 million to UK charities since 2003!

Along the way I became involved in many other social businesses and enterprises, including Belu Water, the carbon neutral bottled water company, the interestingly-named Ethical Property Company, which rents commercial office space to social change organisations, The HCT Group, which is involved in community transport and the Green Thing, of which I am proud to be Chairman.  This firm ( uses the tools of marketing, media and the internet to creatively engage people to help solve climate change.  These enterprises offered me a route to “doing good” that seemed less wasteful and could be especially effective.

Partly this is because social businesses may raise capital—an option not generally available to charities.  Increasingly investors are taking “extra-financial” returns into account, which social enterprises offer in abundance.  This pool of capital is small but growing, and is related to the socially responsible investment (SRI) fund movement. Inspired by these trends, my company (Catalyst; began to fund-raise for social enterprises.  More recently, we have launched a £30 million venture capital fund (with £5 million of initial backing from Barclays) to invest in UK-based profitable, growth-oriented social businesses.  Our aim is to create commercially-viable social businesses which can tap into the enormous pool of mainstream capital.

We felt even more was needed, especially for the thousands of social enterprises not ready for external capital.  In that spirit we spun out , a website which provides information about 150 social enterprises (hundreds more coming!), enables direct investment in these and provides a “gateway” for the neophyte “social investor”.

In addition to these activities, I have mounted a crusade to “talk the sector into existence”.  This has involved lecturing, writing articles (such as this one), holding an annual conference and keeping a blog (the Social Business Blog).  All of this feels a bit like three jobs, but essential when one is trying to forge a career out of a mixed bag of activities in a new area.  This career is not for the fainthearted, but it is stimulating, rewarding and fun.

This is all not to say that politics and charity do not have their place, I merely expect that over the next twenty years, social entrepreneurship will play an essential role in providing solving social, ethical and environmental goods that neither Government nor the charitable sector will be able to afford.