The big [investment] issue – investing for social returns

Increasingly governments around the world are recognising the importance of enterprise for bringing about social change (the third sector). Venture capital funds are beginning to emerge to provide alternative methods for raising capital and securing investment.  One of the first of these was the Big Issue Invest, which is a specialised provider of finance to social enterprises or trading arms of charities that seeks to bring about social and environmental transformation (www.bigissueinvest.com). It is part of The Big Issue group of companies. The main financial instrument is their £10 million Loan Fund, which provides capital from £50,000 to £250,000 at competitive rates of interest, but it can also arrange large financing with other social finance institutions.  The Big Issue was founded by Gordon Roddick and John Bird in 1991 to help homeless people have the dignity of self-employment through selling the magazine at designated places (www.bigissue.com). The ventures accessing the fund are wide and varied – including:

Belu Water is the first carbon neutral, bottled water company in the UK. It uses compostable bottles made from corn and invests all surpluses in clean water projects. It supplies leading supermarkets, high-end restaurants and corporate boardrooms. The CEO, Reed Paget, won The Independent’s 2008 Social Entrepreneur of the Year award (www.belu.org).

Fifteen Foundation was founded by Jamie Oliver to provide training in the restaurant industry for disadvantaged young people. Fifteen has succeeded in giving young people a transition opportunity to a good career – latest figures show that 75% were still chefing or working in another part of the food industry. Fifteen’s philosophy is to help young people learn within the work environment, from experts in the field, surrounded by the produce, equipment and dishes that they will work with. Fifteen has restaurants in Amsterdam, Cornwall, London and Melbourne (www.fifteen.net).

But what is real return on investment (ROI) for our society?

Dr Nigel Lockett

Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management (CEIM)
www.bradford.ac.uk/ceim
www.nigellockett.com