Developing our social investment strategy to support our mission

Woodland Trust

Jonny Page, Esmée’s Head of Social and Impact Investment, outlines our plans for social investment and the opportunities it offers to support our mission.

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has invested for impact for many years, starting with an investment into Charity Bank in 1997. This impact-first investing approach was later formalised through a £45m allocation in the endowment, becoming one of the UK’s first social investment funds. Set up to recycle returns back into impact, Esmée has invested a total of £63m to date. That is £1.40 spent for every £1 allocated – into fantastic social enterprises, charities, impact funds, impact ventures, nature-based projects, and social outcomes contracts across the UK. It’s a truly remarkable track record, which I unashamedly shout from the rooftops because it is testament to my past and present colleagues.

In 2020, Esmée launched a new strategy focusing on three main aims: to improve our natural world, secure a fairer future, and strengthen the bonds in communities in the UK. We’ve been able to use what we’ve learned as an impact-first social investor to make some exciting investments.

Over the last year, we’ve developed a social investment strategy to clarify our focus, identify opportunities, and lay out a roadmap that enables us to shape investment to support our mission.

How we’ll shape social investment to contribute towards our aims

To support our mission, we have split the social investment strategy into three, one for each of our strategic aims.

Social Investment strategy
Investing in Our Natural World

Impact-first investment into high-integrity nature solutions

We’ll invest across three thematic areas: Species and Habitats, Food, and Freshwater.

Example: our Land Purchase Facility enables conservation organisations including Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust, and RSPB to purchase over 2,300 hectares of high social and/or environmental value land, via 38 investments to date.

Investing in a Fairer Future

Impact-first investment to tackle systemic injustice and inequity

We’ll invest across three thematic areas: Children and Young People, Justice, and Art & Creativity.

Example: RefuAid’s Equal Access Loan Scheme helps people who have claimed asylum in the UK to return to their previous career and rebuild their lives by offering an interest-free loan that covers the cost of requalification.

Partner in Place

Impact-first, place-based investments led by community through partnership.

We’ll invest across three thematic areas: Community Enterprise, Green Economy and Regeneration, focusing on specific places in the UK.

Example: Broadband for the Rural North is a community-led organisation that works with rural communities to bring its fast broadband service to their area.

Very much in keeping with our impact-first approach to social investment, this strategy defines a natural evolution, which builds on Esmée’s experience, alongside sector learning and stakeholder input, to feed into our overarching social investment approach.

What we hope to achieve

We hope our social investment strategy enables us to do five things:

  1. Work deeply and proactively within each impact aim;
  2. Sharpen our focus on where we can and should take financial risk (perceived or otherwise) that others cannot, working on catalytic high-impact investment solutions;
  3. Embed partnerships in our work;
  4. Set a strategy around our testing, learning, sharing and influencing – continuing to demonstrate a powerful, impactful way of investing; and
  5. Adapt and extend the strategy to impact and sustainable investing, providing a platform for investing across our spectrum of capital.

We particularly hope this strategy responds to areas where we need to do better – reflecting on systemic challenges highlighted by reports such as the Adebowale Commission on Social Investment around inclusion and equity, and our role in designing a more distributive, regenerative economy, highlighted by brilliant organisations like Good Ancestor Movement and Green Finance Institute. Throughout our work, we will centre community leadership; the enterprises; nature; partnership; inclusion; and high-integrity, impact-first approaches.

Paving the way for shifting more of our capital towards our mission

We also hope it paves the way for us to shift more of our capital to support our mission through our impact investment allocation. Launched in 2021, we make impact investments to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside the achievement of financial returns in lockstep. Working across the spectrum of capital to shift capital with different mandates into impact is important, and hopefully shows the way for others to follow – recognising that we critically need impact higher up on the agenda throughout the financial system.

In upcoming blogs, you’ll hear more from the team about each of the focus areas and the work that is already underway. Tom will take us through Investing in a Fairer Future, Gillian through Partner in Place, and Sarah through Investing in Our Natural World. So, watch this space!

We are always open to feedback and would love to pick this up with you if any part of our social investment strategy resonates. You can reach me at

Learn more


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