Social Impact Investment Legends

I tend to consider what to write in this column only as deadlines approach. Quite a bit has been going on the sector, offering an array of potential topics for discussion. However, the recent death of my good friend and colleague, Stephen Lloyd, whom I have described as the social impact investment sector’s leading legal light, means that at this point in time my mind is frankly on him and people like him. I wrote a piece to honour Stephen on the ClearlySo blog so I will not repeat myself. However, he was so significant that it would do him a disservice to neglect him in this piece.

On writing about Stephen and his life I felt a depressing sense of déjà vu. I recalled having written also after the death of two very different but also significant individuals in the sector: Sarah Dodds and Anita Roddick. As founder of The Body Shop, Anita needs no introduction and her influence on the sector has been enormous. The Body Shop, together with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, were the first two “big hits” of businesses that generate significant social impact. Also, each fundamentally changed the way we thought about consumption.

Sarah Dodds, like many of the hundreds toiling away in the social investment space is less well known but equally loved and admired by those who knew her well. The Canadian born Dodds spent years here in the UK working in particular with early-stage ventures that had scalable potential. She spent much of her career here in the UK at UnLtd running their ventures arm and dedicated herself tirelessly to helping many early stage social entrepreneurs achieve scale.

I feel a sense of rage at the premature passing of these three great people, but I also thought it might be worthwhile to explore some of the characteristics common to them—I have come up with three I thought were worth sharing.

First, the most noticeable trait all three of these people shared was a deep abiding faith and conviction in what they were doing. All three believed, almost as a matter of faith, that the endeavours on which they were embarked had the potential to change the world for the better. Each chose their own path to achieve this although, like any who are cut down before their time, there was much more still to be done. But this sense of dogged determination is something I admired in all three.

Second, all three seemed incapable of doing anything else. It was as if they had received a custodial sentence and were legally required to commit to community service to the sector for society’s collective benefit. They all seemed to have no choice in the matter and I could not imagine them doing anything else.

A third characteristic was an inability to do things the way they were supposed to. They each drove people around them a bit crazy with their desire, commitment, drive and work rate. Although loved by many this did not mean that their colleagues always found them easy to work with. We should recognise and accept that when people are embarked on world-changing ventures, their single-minded focus, their inability to easily say no, or to be told “no”—all of these qualities which contribute to their success—can mean they can be frustrating at times.

I offer these observations above because I wish to remember my friends and because their passing away before their time raises existential questions I do not attempt to address in this piece.  But also, these three great individuals from the social impact investment space serve as role models for many actively engaged in the sector, and also for those considering social impact investment careers.  I think we could not ask for better models.

First published in Third Sector in August 2014.