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One year on: What we’ve learned since launching our ‘Building an Impact Economy’ strategy

The recent release of our Impact Report 2020/2021 is the first review following the publication of our ‘Building an Impact Economy’ strategy last year. As we explored SIS’s and our customers’ social and environmental impact in this year’s report, we couldn’t help but reflect on what we’ve learned since launching the strategy in February 2020. An impact economy is when social entrepreneurs, businesses, consumers, investors, and government are aligned and focused on delivering impactful actions and meaningful outcomes.

With 1.9 million people having benefitted from SIS customers’ activities last year alone, and with almost £39 million in active investments, what have we learnt since shifting our approach towards an impact economy?

Innovative investment processes

Firstly, we can’t ignore the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which have weaved all SIS activity since March 2020. The distressing impact on society and the economy meant the need for support at a community level was in more demand than ever before.

At the outbreak of the pandemic, we managed three COVID-19 response funds. The urgent need for this support resulted in us developing a streamlined process for smaller loans and driving efficiencies across our investment processes for the longer term.

Quality online experiences

The pandemic also meant that all services provided by SIS were moved online. Despite being initially eager to move back to in-person interactions, we have found that an online experience can offer similar experiences as well as some additional benefits (such as increased accessibility and reduced environmental impact from travel). In fact, we were pleased to hear that since all SIS services moved online, the top five words used to describe SIS remain the same positive responses received pre-pandemic.

This change will influence how our services are delivered in the future, as we explore offering hybrid events in the longer term. We will focus on providing valuable content in accessible formats to increase the diversity of speakers and delegates engaging with us.

Agile support

In the early stages of the pandemic, it was impossible to prepare for what was to come. Therefore, SIS’s approach to developing support had to be highly flexible and proactive, with a focus on listening to the needs of the sector.

In response to the fast-changing environment, we adopted an agile approach to developing highly impactful online content, at speed, that delivered critical insight and advice around the current scenario. We adapted our support programmes to focus on building resilience and creating social impact during the pandemic.

For instance, our weekly Ambitions sessions, which moved online as soon as we entered lockdown, were invaluable for the third sector leaders taking part in terms of support and knowledge sharing in the face of adversity.

Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, we will continue to consider how we can provide highly tailored and relevant content – considering social and economic factors, sectors, geographies and more – to offer the most valuable experiences for those we engage with.

Effective collaboration

A key pillar of our strategy focuses on funding and growing mission-driven enterprises to better support communities. Evidently, SIS customers working in communities have faced continuous change and financial, operational, and emotional challenges over the 12 months of the Impact Report.

The constantly evolving scenario saw the launch of emergency interventions, by SIS and others, to provide support and funds to keep the ‘lights on’. We were able to help more vulnerable people by financing customers’ plans to provide COVID-19 response services with tailored financial support. This was made possible by working in partnership with the recipient enterprises, other funders, and wider support organisations.

In addition, collaboration with enterprises funded through the Community Investment Enterprise Facility (CIEF) meant we could offer support to those highly affected by the economic impact of the pandemic through affordable credit solutions.

These experiences have heightened our appreciation for working in partnership with key stakeholders to not only drive efficiencies that can be felt by the end beneficiary but to maximise social and environmental impact. As a result, we will continue to collaboratively develop future funds and initiatives.

In conclusion, since launching our ‘Building an Impact Economy’ strategy, we have experienced new ways of working that we will consider threading through our approach as we move forward. We will continue to develop our investment processes to unlock efficiencies and better experiences for our customers. We will explore how to deliver highly valuable content in the most engaging and accessible ways, as well as continue to collaborate with stakeholders to deliver relevant, flexible, and impactful support to social enterprises across the country.

To learn more, check out our Impact Report 2020/2021 here.