January 2019 will bring my 50th birthday. It will also mark 25 years of working in and with social enterprises and charities in Sheffield. Exactly half of my life.

For the last four years I have worked at Key Fund, a social investor and a social enterprise. For me it is very much a continuation from the previous 21 years and when I sit down with our clients, I see it as peer to peer interaction, working together to find the right way forward.

I was genuinely surprised then, when a conversation between social investors and local infrastructure organisations in Newcastle, revealed a fundamental lack of trust in the motivation of those social investors. We were considered very much of the world of finance, not of charity and social enterprise.

Uncertainty about the relevance of debt Finance? Fine, that’s understandable. Unclear about process? Well perhaps we do use a bit too much jargon sometimes. But genuine suspicion about our intent? I hadn’t expected that.

Over the last year, The Connect Fund, managed by Barrow Cadbury Trust, has sought to strengthen the social investment market and ensure both relevance and connectivity to the broad voluntary sector landscape. The scope of work undertaken and the collaboration between investors, infrastructure and individual charities has been really encouraging and truly productive.

But unless knowledge, shared understanding and tools are underpinned by mutual trust, we are arguably no further forward. Luckily, there is time left to run in The Connect Fund, because I believe it is the best opportunity we have to build robust relationships. Closer working between grant makers, investors and charities/social enterprises has a number of benefits. Each can learn from and better understand the others. If the collaboration takes place in an open way with a commitment to applying and sharing lessons learned, the value could be enormous.

Working through existing trust networks is the way to go. Larger sector infrastructure organisations need to be confident in who investors are and what motivates them, local infrastructure needs to trust that the information they are being given by national and regional infrastructure is honest and independent and investors need to be happy that an accurate picture of them is being passed to the end user.

This can only happen through consistent interaction between all parties over time, which is why I believe work under The Connect Fund is a significant opportunity to make progress. We would love to be part of those discussions at Key Fund, so if you have a question to ask, please do.

Dave Thornett, Business Development Manager at Key Fund Investments 

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Published: December 17, 2018