They come in peace: UK Social Investment Trade Mission

Two weeks ago, 17 busy English people trundled onto a plane to fly across the ocean for four days of back-to-back meetings with their American peers on the unlikely subject of impact investing.  Sponsored by AchieveGood, the Boston Consulting Group, the UK Cabinet Office, Case, Chinwag, Deloitte, Global Impact Investing Network, and Virgin Atlantic, an impressive delegation of British firms comprising just about the entire social investment marketplace met with BCG, the Case Foundation, McKinsey, and the Global Impact Investing Network in New York City and Washington, DC.  It was an invigorating conversation that points to an emerging consensus on fundamental principles that should continue at the international symposium to be held at the Saïd Business School of Oxford University on November 30th.

More so than the US, the UK government has embarked upon an integrated strategy aimed at (1) increasing the supply of finance for social investment; (2) increasing the number of credible social investment opportunities; (3) creating more and better Social Impact Bonds; and (4) removing barriers to social investment.

Of course, the Brits got the ball rolling with the 2010 launch of the world’s first SIB at Her Majesty’s Prison Peterborough by Social Finance, Ltd., and spawning Social Finance US in 2011, to be followed soon by other offspring. Although the initiative began under the former Labour government, it has been taken up and expanded by Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government, most notably with the launch of Big Society Capital, the world’s first social investment wholesale company.  Like the US Social Innovation Fund, BSC’s primary strategy is supporting social finance intermediaries, but unlike the SIF, BSC has a balance sheet of about $1 billion.

The trade mission made clear how committed the UK is to developing an ecosystem for social investing.  The delegation included representatives from government, social funds, intermediaries, specialist advisories, business groups, service providers, and foundations, and they’re all committed to making London a global hub for impact investing.  At some point soon, there will be a shared UK/US note of next steps emerging from the workshops, which I’ll be sure to pass along.  In the meantime, download the trade mission brochure here.

Before cataloging the UK delegation, I’ll just note that the US side certainly held its own, with participation from Arabella Advisors, Ashoka, Calvert Foundation, the Center for American Progress, City Year, the Corporation for National and Community Service, Deloitte, Enterprise Community, 5 Stone Green Capital, GIIN, Guidestar, Imprint Capital, JP Morgan, McKinsey, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Social Innovation, Omidyar Network, Pacific Community Ventures, the Small Business Administration, Social Finance US, the State Department, Third Sector Capital Partners, Tides Foundation, United Way America, the US Social Investment Forum, and Venture Philanthropy Partners.

Lest anyone get too carried away, representatives of both governments made a point of noting that these were informal discussions for purposes of mutual education, rather than an official meeting of countries or agencies.

What’s striking to me is the concerted effort the Brits are making to the formation of a cohesive ecosystem for impact investing on a global scale.  As Big Society Capital wrote in its “Vision, mission and activities” paper, “the social investment market will only function effectively if it has an infrastructure which encourages investment readiness; facilitates access to comparative data, pricing and information through investment and market data platforms; provides transparency on measurement of social impact; assists industry participants to network and share learning; and provides for liquidity through secondary markets.”

Guest post by Steve Goldberg, Consultant at Social Finance US

This post is part of a longer bulletin “SibTrib” which can be found here.

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