Critical Mass: Social Investment Conference
Critical Mass is the conference for anyone interested in social value, investment and innovation, whether you’re a corporate, social enterprise, charity or public sector organisation. This year’s event was put together by Good Deals 2015 + Social Value International (formerly The SROI Network and SIAA) and Impact Hub Islington had the pleasure of attending both days thanks to Matter&Co.
This year’s theme, Critical Mass, refers to the tipping point at which the public, private and civil society sectors are poised for a major breakthrough in recognising ways we can achieve greater social value. We could be at a major tipping point. But like any entity that reaches critical mass, some crucial sparks of energy and innovation are needed to catalyse sustained – and sustainable – progress.
The programme was fully of heavy hitters – kicking off with social enterprise greats John Elkington (Co-founder of Volans) & Anthony Bugg-Levine (CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund, Chair of GIIN and former MD of Rockefeller Foundation), and over the next two days, followed by a succession of public, private, and third sector leaders from around the world – my favourites including Kieran Boyle, our Head of Social Investment in the UK Cabinet Office; Tom Adams, Director of Impact Acumen; Anthony Ross, Director & Partner at Bridge Ventures and Nick Temple from SEUK. The conference did try to have a mix of female speakers and balance from global perspectives, but its fair to say that the social investment landscape is still dominated by men (for now).
The prompts for the plenary and workshop sessions were what really drew me in to attend – it felt like they were curated with a sense of humour and depth that you don’t always get in. Titles like… “Does the Social Value Act have any value in the age of austerity” and “If SIBs (Social Impact Bonds) are the marmite, then where’s the jam?” got a good laugh, but they also get to the crux of some complicated issues in a smart way. For example, the discussion on the Social Value Act dove headfirst into how local Councils and providers are coping with the mounting pressures of austerity, and the often complex need to weigh up social responsibility in procurement decisions.
By far one of the best panels was the closing plenary on “Critical Mass for Government” looking at what governments in different parts of the world are doing to promote social value and social enterprise, and asking how policymakers can provide the right support at the right level – in terms of influence, legislation, policy and investment – for social entrepreneurs and social investors to make things happen on a meaningful scale. Representatives from Japan, India, Ghana and the UK debated what role the civic sector could play – with one of the best insights coming from Kieran Boyle, Head of Social Investment at the Cabinet Office. Boyle pointed out that when we take the frame of critical mass, government is mass but only in some cases it is critical. The UK government can play the role of enabler or participant; enabling through impact measurement, culture, innovation; or a participant through crowding capital into market (Big Society Capital), consumer awareness (Buy Social Campaign), or as a consumer (Social Value Act). Where it should move next is an interesting step, as some of these policies are playing themselves out.
Overall it was a fantastic two days at Critical Mass and we’re glad we took part. Conferences like this are always a good opportunity to learn more in depth about a subject, in particular getting to hear first hand from key players what the key challenges and opportunities are in the social enterprise sector. Next time we’d like to see more social enterprises there to shake it up, so join us at the next Critical Mass!
Head of Partnerships