When I first started out in social impact investing, it was hard to find anyone writing or talking about it (apart from my boss at Venturesome, John Kingston). But the tables have turned, and in the recent Alliance special feature, ‘Markets for good: removing the barriers’, we had not just one article but several from around the globe! It’s a joy to think that the field is now at a point that such an esteemed and diverse group of contributors can come together and debate the issues raised by Monitor Inclusive Markets’ report Beyond the Pioneer: Getting inclusive industries to scale. For me one big issue the report raises is the role of government vis-à-vis impact investing in addressing social problems.
Beyond the Pioneer is framed as an exploration of the barriers faced by social/impact enterprise (‘social ventures’ as we label them at Nesta) when attempting to scale up their operations. Many of the responses to the paper looked through the lens of social/impact investing and its role in overcoming those barriers.
In my opinion, the barriers to scale faced by social ventures as identified in the paper (at the level of the firm, value chain, public goods and government) are a helpful framework to consider what is needed to tackle any complex problem, ie it is a means of exploring a whole system of innovation around a need (as Vineet Rai points out in his contribution). It shouldn’t surprise us that solving persistent social problems effectively, at meaningful scale and with longevity, requires interventions beyond the level of a single firm. I agreed with Guillaume Taylor that the lessons from Monitor Inclusive Markets’ developing world experience have plenty of resonance with our experience making impact investments within the UK’s developed economy and government structures.
So I want to respond to the special feature on five particular points that speak to my experience investing in UK social ventures operating at the boundaries of private, social and public sectors in education, social care and local communities.