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Innovation and the Impact Economy

SIS’s strategy to 2030 is centred around our vision of Building an Impact Economy. We believe innovation is key to enabling this progress towards a more sustainable and equitable. Below, our Chief Executive Alastair Davis reflects on why Innovation is a key focus for SIS moving forward.

Innovation Alastair Davis

SIS has always been known as an innovative organisation. From the point it was established in 2001, it represented an innovative way of financing social enterprises and charities, and since then, we have continued to use innovative approaches in pursuit of our mission – to connect capital with communities, to make a real, measurable and sustainable impact upon people’s lives.

Most recently, rapid innovation has been a feature of our response to the impact and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been impressed by the way in which our team have responded to this crisis. Within hours support programmes had been moved online and new propositions developed – in direct response to the challenges being faced by front line social enterprises. New investment funds (such as the Third Sector Resilience Fund loan product) were made available in just a few days. Learning from this, we’re determined to continue this approach into the ‘new normal’.

A great example of innovation, in more normal times, has been our Retail Academy programme – an innovative approach that builds retail markets for social enterprises that make products. Something quite straightforward – the 5p single-use carrier bag levy charged in Asda stores – has led to the development of a flagship programme that encourages innovative social enterprises to scale up their operations, and most importantly their impact. The SIS Retail Academy programme is moving online for 2020, which actually means having access to content and expertise that we wouldn’t have had at a physical event.

Innovation featured strongly across the consultation and engagement process as we formed our new strategy, ‘Building an Impact Economy’, so much so that it has its own strategic segment. This doesn’t mean that innovation becomes something separate – quite the opposite in fact – but it will ensure that we can properly focus on building innovative approaches in pursuit of our mission.

Why is this important? The social and environmental challenges we already faced as a country, beyond COVID-19, demand us all to consider how we respond. At SIS, we believe that social enterprises, supported by investment, have an important role to play in meeting these challenges. That said, it’s unrealistic to expect that they can be an answer to everything. That’s why, at SIS, we will research, identify and explore particular opportunities where we know there may be the potential to make a difference.

Initially, our action plan focusses on two areas alongside our COVID-19 response:

  • Housing and homelessness – where the innovative application of social investment might contribute towards ending homelessness, and accelerate the rehoming of individuals that have been placed in temporary accommodation during the pandemic;
  • The climate emergency – where, using investment and support, social enterprises with environmental objectives might contribute towards making an impact on this global emergency.

We don’t expect that in all instances social investment will be a solution. Yet, where it might be, we will use our innovative approach to develop, co-create and raise investment for funds that could be deployed in these particular areas. And we don’t expect to do this on our own. We want to work with experts, intermediary bodies and most importantly social enterprises themselves to explore where we might make an impact.

Want to help us? I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch here and learn more about our strategy, Building an Impact Economy here.