We are now seeing more — and more varied — social investment initiatives than at any time since the first community development finance lenders were established in the late-1990s.
And we are also beginning to see investment ideas for the social sector that go right across the spectrum. The model no longer needs to be restricted to bricks-and-mortar social lenders, or to large complex Social Impact Bond models that are inaccessible to all but the largest organisations. There is now more stuff in the middle of the market and at the edges.
A piece by Nick Temple in Third Sector Online mentions several initiatives that are new to me, but the one that really caught my eye was Buzzbnk, the new crowdfunding website for matching social enterprises and social causes with investors, supporters and fans who want to fund them — a Kickstarter for the social sector, if you like.
Can it work? God knows, but given how low demand for conventional social lending is amongst social enterprises, it seems worth a try.
Overall, however, is this rapid proliferation of small schemes in the marketplace for social finance is necessarily a good thing?
My fear is that this burgeoning marketplace will swiftly become as unintelligible to the potential user as the business support environment has become. There are some brilliant ideas and methods of delivery out there in both financing and other forms of business support, but increasingly shoehorned into short, time-limited projects (because there’s no money for anything else) or glitzy PR-driven competitions.
When finance and business support are so hard to find, it is profoundly frustrating to see good things happening in such a disjointed way, many over before many users have even spotted them (and probably pleasing few except their corporate sponsors who enjoyed the PR and the black tie dinner). It flies in the face of commonsense. Must everything be a talent show before anyone is willing to pay attention?