Equality Impact Investing blog: Social Investment – Is it Perpetuating or Challenging Inequality and Discrimination?

Owen Dowsett from the Dartington Hall Trust’s Centre for Social Justice Innovation published a March 2018 blog on the Equality Impact Investing (EII) Project.

This project aims to better understand and improve the extent to which the UK social investment sector is tackling discrimination and advancing equality and human rights.

EDF are contributing to the development of this important project.

Here’s the blog:

A ground-breaking new project – Equality Impact Investing – is calling for evidence from the equality and human rights and social investment sectors, on how current social investment is impacting on equality and equality organisations and what is needed to ensure this is positive.

The project is a partnership between Equality and Diversity Forum, Dartington Centre for Social Justice Innovation, Dartington School for Social Entrepreneurs and Social Investment Business, and has a long term goal to increase the equality impact of the social investment sector.

Social investment is investment that seeks to generate social impact as well as financial return and is a burgeoning movement, with the UK market value recently estimated at circa £2 billion.

It’s increasingly promoted as a key financing option for voluntary and community sector organisations, especially as more traditional social action funding streams such as grant funds or public sector contracts dwindle. A major “ecosystem” has sprung up to channel investment from the state, individual philanthropists, the private sector and traditional grant funders such as Esmee Fairbairn, Joseph Rowntree and Barrow Cadbury Trust which increasingly also have investment wings. Early signs are not only that social investment is here to stay but that it is set to grow as a means of supporting social change and impact.

Given that inequality is one of if not the challenge of our time, how is or could this new movement play a part in tackling inequality and advancing human rights? Moreover, with many equality and human rights organisations who are at the forefront of delivering equality impact facing major financing challenges, to what extent is or could SI benefit them? Currently we just don’t know enough to answer these questions.

Valuable work has been carried out on gender lens investing showing how investment can be harnessed in a range of ways to advance gender equality, but the extent to which social investors are embedding consideration of equality more broadly in their policies, practices, financing mechanisms, investment decisions, impact frameworks etc. is less known.  The evidence we do have is not encouraging, indicating the UK social investment sector has an equality “blind spot” with less than half of investors considering equality at all in any of their processes. Similarly, we have only limited evidence to assess whether equality-focused organisations face particular challenges in accessing and making use of social investment. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they do.

We believe there is untapped potential for social investment and investors to effect positive change through greater use of equality impact investing; a range of investment strategies that intentionally use investment to advance equality outcomes on the basis of the principles of non-discrimination, equality and human rights. Such strategies can include targeting investment or investment support to ventures that are led by diverse leaders or that can show good diversity practice, or to organisations such as those that make up EDF’s members who have a clear focus on tackling inequality or advancing human rights.

Ultimately, the EII project aims to generate more of this but we need to know where we are starting from and what policy and practical action is needed to move forward. Following this call for evidence we will also be surveying and talking with VCSE equality organisations as well as working with them and others on designing and piloting investment support tailored for equality impact organisations. Right now we are looking for any relevant pre-existing evidence or data in any form e.g. internal reports or previous research relevant to this work. The future of social investment is still being shaped – if we want it to deliver for equality, equality and human rights organisations need to engage in and influence what happens next.

Owen supports the development and delivery of projects and programmes at the newly established Centre for Social Justice Innovation (part of Dartington Hall Trust). Previous roles have included managing new research funding at the Economic and Social Research Council and designing new support services for substance misusers at Developing Health and Independence. 

To find out more on the project, contact Owen Dowsett (Owen.Dowsett@dartington.org)

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