By Natasha Jolob, Guest Blogger
Councils for Voluntary Services (CVSs) are well placed to provide intermediary services (finance, expertise, market access and social impact support) to local voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations. They are the trusted go to organisation for VCSE support, and they know the local context, what the needs are, what is currently being supplied in terms of VCSE services, and the gaps.
Yet many CVSs have not taken up the funding opportunities available to support VCSE groups to develop their enterprises, get investment ready and access social investment. The Contract Readiness Fund, Big Potential, the Impact Management programme and the Good Finance website – all have approved providers that are largely national consultancy firms.
It is in this context that Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council (WVCS) secured Barrow Cadbury Connect funding. The project is implementing its first quarter plans and it is progressing well. There are a number of emerging issues that are coming to light that need to inform learning about what works in the social investment infrastructure market:
- Local context is important in terms of how and what social investment infrastructure support services are delivered
The Connect Fund Social Enterprise Wolverhampton project has fairly ambitious targets and has therefore been carefully designed by WVSC to ensure that VCSE groups attend the programme of events and take up the support on offer. A programme of work has been designed that involves a phased approach to delivery, with targeted messages targeting specific themes or sectors – to ensure that groups invest their time and take up the support on offer.
For example, the first Social Enterprise and Investment Workshop was held in October and the target audience was small social enterprises and social entrepreneurs. WVCS knows this market exceptionally well – the target audience was made up of the very same groups that WVCS previously, intensively supported to get them into a position where they are now trading. A significant amount of time has therefore been spent reviewing potential groups, identifying those with some potential, and encouraging them to invest their time into development work that will support their growth. This approach worked – ten small social enterprises attended the workshop and are currently receiving WVSC one to one social enterprise support.
The project plan is to deliver a total of eight social enterprise and investment workshops over one year – and each workshop will be targeted at different market segments, and packaged with different types of support to meet the varying needs of groups.
- Small social enterprises in Wolverhampton are addressing need and delivering impact but they are vulnerable and they do not fit neatly into funder/ social investor boxes
Whilst these small enterprises groups have good potential they do not currently fit neatly into social investor ‘boxes’. Business needs include governance and legal advice, basic business skills, impact measurement, market insight, and cheap office space – this support will take time and will be resource intensive. But they are worth it – these groups have entrepreneurial spirit, they are trading, they provide local jobs for local people, and they volunteer their time, working hard to help people in their communities. A small investment with high risk start-up capital matched with intensive business support would make a big difference to these small social enterprises in Wolverhampton.
The Connect Fund project funding has, so far, resourced WVSC so that it can ‘incubate’ these small, emerging groups – this will take time, and we may not see these groups in the pipeline for some time, but when they are ready for investment, it will be a good return on investment. Could there be a role for the CVS to manage a micro-fund during these early stages and until they are ready for expansion?
Guest blogger: Natasha Jolob
Natasha Jolob is a consultant for Kai-zen Change for Good, a business improvement social enterprise based in the East Midlands (www.kai-zenglobal.com). She has been working with Wolverhampton Voluntary Sector Council for the last six years on various projects and is currently providing technical support on the Connect Fund project. Natasha previously worked for the Social Investment Business as Business Development and Partnerships Adviser and has worked extensively with and for local infrastructure support organisations across the UK.
For more information on SEW please contact Sharon Nanan-Sen, Social Enterprise and Investment Adviser by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01902 773761.