Using social investment to secure a fairer future

Think For The Future

Tom Colborne, Esmée’s Social Investment Portfolio Manager, writes about our social investment plans to support a fairer future. This is part of a series of blogs on how our social investment strategy will contribute to Esmée’s mission.

Where does social investment fit with our aim of securing A Fairer Future? At Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, we want to achieve the same depth and integrity of social justice impact that we enable with our grant funding – just using a different type of money.

Our Investing in a Fairer Future strand of our social investment strategy focuses on three impact areas:

  • Children and Young People’s Rights
  • Gender, Migrant and Racial Justice
  • Using Art and Creativity to make Change

So, if your work contributes to one or more of the above areas and you’re looking for investment to help your organisation grow, purchase an asset, develop an income stream or increase resilience (or something else), then we’d love to hear from you. Last year, we shared an outline of what we wanted to focus our support on through our Investing in a Fairer Future strategy. And in this blog, we want to share more about our thinking with examples of our work so far.

Within the three impact areas, we see particular opportunities for impact-first, flexible, affordable and patient investment and we’re keen to be proactive. These tend to be where we know an existing market is not working and where enterprise innovation can overcome a faulty system.

We've identified four opportunities so far.

1. Children and young people

We know that the early years education and care model is not meeting the needs of families facing barriers or closing the disadvantage gap. Policy appears focussed on allowing middle-class parents back to work rather than reducing inequalities or providing the best possible outcomes for children.

There are social enterprise models that - by focusing on child outcomes, investing in staff and increasing accessibility - are creating a fairer future for disadvantaged children. We’re interested to learn how the right type of investment capital could help these scale and add to an evidence base with the potential to influence future policy and systems.

Something similar is true for older children and young people. We’re interested in models that provide better outcomes for looked-after children; supported housing for care leavers or young people in contact with the youth justice system; and earlier support for children at risk of exclusion, facing barriers or with additional needs. Since 2019 we’ve used loan capital to help Nottingham-based social enterprise Think For The Future to partner with schools to provide structured interventions that are proven to increase engagement with learning.

Venture also has an important role to play, and our recent equity investment in home learning environment app EasyPeasy will help them close the school-readiness gap for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

2. Housing

Innovations in the provision of high quality, safe and appropriate supported housing for women, refugees and children at times of crisis is an area in which social investment can have a significant impact as well as help build organisational sustainability for service delivery organisations. We’ve invested significantly in high-impact housing funds with partners such as Resonance, SASC and Commonweal Housing, and are building a direct investment approach that enables expert service delivery organisations such as Micro Rainbow to own and manage supported housing. This can also work for other types of property, such as supporting aligned enterprises or charities like The Advocacy Academy to own or adapt buildings used to deliver services.

In the short video below, Micro Rainbow's Founder & ‪‎CEO‬, Sebastian Rocca, talks about their vision, mission, and purpose.

3. Arts and creativity making change

We’ll continue to support arts, culture and heritage organisations through the Arts and Culture Impact Fund, and we’re interested in enterprise ownership of theatre productions with social outcomes. We’ll also back social enterprises helping to build a more diverse cultural workforce and supporting young people to influence change using youth-led culture and creativity. For example, we recently invested in Manchester-based social enterprise SharpFutures to help them support diverse talent into the creative digital industry.

4. More equitable access to social investment

At the core of our Investing in A Fairer Future strategy, is the understanding that, to date, the Social Investment marketplace has not only failed to address systemic barriers but may have reinforced them. Social Investment has not been equitably available to entrepreneurs outside of a narrow, privileged set and we’re determined to change that within our own portfolio and support the wider sector to do the same.

Social investors must consider how their existing processes and parameters contribute to inequity, how they ensure lived experience is viewed as an asset, not a risk, and how they provide access to the additional support required to create a level playing field. We’ve learned more about this, but there’s a long way still to go. Collaboration will be important, and we’ll continue to invest directly and partner with others such as The Sumerian Foundation with expertise and access.

We’ll continue with a bespoke, impact-first investment approach that puts social enterprise first while recycling returns. We’ll keep learning, listening and innovating. A Fairer Future is essential and possible, and what better thing could there be to invest in.

Learn more


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