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Our continuing commitment to access to finance for all

Alastair Davis, SIS CEO, shares his thoughts on our continuing commitment to access to finance for all.

Social Investment Scotland (SIS) was established over 20 years ago now as a Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) and remains part of a UK wide network of Responsible Finance providers providing repayable finance beyond the appetite or ability of mainstream financial institutions.

As part of the process of updating the action plan that sits alongside SIS’s 10 year ‘Building an Impact Economy’ strategy, I’ve been reflecting on our origins as a CDFI and ensuring equitable access to finance. In the USA, where the movement started in the 1960s, CDFIs were established as a direct response to racial discrimination on the part of banks. Activists uncovered that whole communities had been ‘red-lined’ and excluded from credit – communities that were largely made up of African American citizens. A network of CDFIs worked on the ground in these communities to ensure local residents received their fair share of finance, with legislation established to ensure that banks were mandated to provide capital to these CDFIs.

Although racial discrimination was not a factor in the establishment of SIS by the then Scottish Executive, there are learnings even 20 years on from those red-lined communities of the Midwest. Over the last two years or so, just like many other social investors and funders, SIS have been working hard to listen, learn and implement changes to ensure that all underrepresented groups can access SIS investment and programmes.

In November, we published our first Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) statement, which set out a range of actions we had taken to improve our DEI practice. This has included rebalancing diversity amongst our governance and leadership teams, introducing the BeApplied platform as part of best practice for recruitment and ensuring gender diverse decision making on all investment committees.

As our new strategic action plan evolves, we are eager to build on these foundations and evolve our practice. I am particularly keen to learn from an action learning pilot we worked on with the Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (Scotland) in 2021 to explore the barriers faced by People of Colour in accessing social investment. Similarly, as we look to raise more social investment from individual investors, we are keen to bring more diversity to our investor base – in recognition of the fact that social investment, by its very nature, should be of interest to a more diverse group. Throughout all of this, we are committed to following the best practice set out by the UK Diversity Forum for social investors and other more local initiatives at an earlier stage in Scotland.

As a gay man, nothing is more important to me than ensuring that everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality or ability has access to SIS investment and programmes; and that every one of my colleagues can come to work as their true self and be accepted for who they are. We’re not perfect – but we are trying – and our effort to be transparent around our achievements and challenges is part of that process.