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Reflections on the year in Big Issue Invest

by Jonny Page, Investment Director at Big Issue Invest

It’s hard to start a reflection on 2021 without mentioning how tough this year has been for so many. And it has. But there’s enough negativity swirling around at the moment – I’d like to focus on the swift response, the social enterprises that have stepped up, the social enterprises that have continued solving society’s biggest and most entrenched problems.

And that’s where we come in. Our job at Big Issue Invest is to support organisations that make a difference make a bigger difference (deeper and/or wider). On that metric, this year has been a resounding success and gives me huge hope for the future.

Our £24m Social Enterprise Investment Fund II is very close to being fully committed, after a year of exciting new growth-focused investment into Homes for Good, Sustainable Ventures and a third to be announced early next year (watch this space!).

I mentioned social enterprises that have stepped up and those working on society’s biggest problems. There can’t be many better examples than Sustainable Ventures in the wake of COP26.

Sustainable Ventures is the largest Climate Tech ecosystem in Europe and hosts an ever-growing community of social and sustainable businesses in their workspaces. BII, through our Lending team, has supported them across multiple space acquisitions and refurbishments. SEIF II then invested £3.4m to enable Sustainable Ventures to take on two floors in County Hall. This quite stunning building directly opposite Parliament across the Thames, will now host the innovation and entrepreneurship to respond to the climate crisis that those politicians on the other side of the river are crying out for. There’s the response!

We back human potential. Four simple words that encapsulate why we exist. Four simple words that keep us focused on our 5-year target to support investees to reach over 10 million customers across the UK and promote the impact investing sector. Four simple words that headline a new strategy for us at BII but builds on what the organisation has been living and breathing for over a decade.

So, unsurprisingly, there’s a lot coming from BII in the new year to mark the first of the five-year plan. We can’t wait to get stuck in. New lending products, new funds, new early-stage venture programmes to cover a few. I’m particularly excited for a fund on its way that we’re designing and delivering in partnership with UnLtd. A fund focused on growing diverse-led ventures tackling inequality in the UK, through capital and business support. A fund where everything from the products we provide to the composition of the Investment Committee has been thoughtfully assessed to address systemic inequality and a significant capital gap. We want to design the model inclusive fund that will become the norm for impact funds in future.

With all this, I have still only scratched the surface of our year at BII. Our fantastic impact team released our 2020/2021 Impact Report, linked here, so do check it out. We are unapologetically impact focused at BII so it comes as no surprise that our impact report is the best place to find out what we have been up to. It has been a tough year, but we are so enthused by the incredible work our investees are doing in the face of their own challenges, to meet a growing need and make a real difference.

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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