Opinion

Our Growth Impact Fund is bringing social justice through opportunity

Speaking at a conference in Manchester, Big Issue founder Lord John Bird finds that our Growth Impact Fund is steering us in the right direction

Jack from Neuropool, Lord Bird founder of the Big Issue, Ruth from DWRM. Image Credit - Sophie Okonkwo.

Jack from Neuropool, Lord Bird founder of the Big Issue, Ruth from DWRM. Image: Sophie Okonkwo.

I first went to Manchester when I was 18, driving a drunk who had picked me up in his car and then collapsed. It was a good thing I had picked up the rudiments of driving stolen cars so that I could help the drunk and me get to town. It was a phenomenal place to arrive at in 1964. Now, 59 years later, I am here to help grow Big Issue Invest’s Growth Impact Fund, in partnership with social investor UnLtd

I do my usual loud, over-the-top talk and then have to leave and go to sit in a cafe and write this. Write about the incredible transformation of Big Issue as it develops ways of investing in helping people get out of poverty. I always tell people about the PECC methodology, and have done so at my talk: Prevention, Emergency, Coping and Cure. Now about 10 years old, it describes everything that governments and social investor charities do. By asking people whether they are preventing the problem in the first place; helping in the emergency, helping people to cope or curing the problem. 

Eighty per cent of social investment in the world, via governments and charities and businesses, is spent on emergency and coping. So you can see the Cinderella area of social investment and government support is not really into prevention and cure. I invented PECC because I wanted to show that unless we invest in social prevention and social cures we are largely treading water. We are not turning the tap off. 

The Growth Impact Fund (GIF) comes north to help invest in social businesses that will promote the dismantling of poverty in people’s lives. Doing What Really Matters (DWRM) is one of the first groups to get some of GIF’s funding. It works to educate people who are still in prison, helping to prevent prisoners from reoffending because they get skills that will help them on the outside. It’s a brilliant initiative and I am so glad that Big Issue is involved in this innovative prevention programme. 

Neuropool is another company that has come north with us to demonstrate that the Growth Impact Fund can help support projects that need to move away from often operating on a shoestring budget. Neuropool works with neurodiverse people who have conditions such as ADHD to get them into work. 

Both of these companies have received our help and underline The Big Issue’s idea of growing into every sector of society that could do with investment to bring about social change. 

To think we started 32 years ago to work on the emergency of homelessness – and now, by building an investment business, we have grown into the areas of prevention and (hopefully) cure, so that we can back up our emergency work on the streets of the UK.  

So where do we get the money from to invest in others trying to bring social justice through opportunity? It does not come from street sales of The Big Issue magazine. It comes from investment businesses, individuals, some governments funds, banks and so on: they give us the money because we know where the money needs to go. 

PECC is our aim. We want to PECC-ify the world so that we don’t just meet the needs of emergency and coping, so that we can work towards creating a holistic response to social crisis – hopefully by investing to prevent crises from ever happening. 

The room in Manchester was full of innovation. I spoke to a young man who tries to get AI working to help people through educational barriers in life. I spoke to another young man who works with children who have challenging backgrounds, helping them across the bridge into a fuller life. 

The Northern Powerhouse needs a vast increase in social businesses that will enable people to get into work and out of need. Eighty percent of people living with ADHD are out of work. What an enormous misuse of people who, if given the right support, would be able to get their lives together and earn their own living. 

I spoke with Joe Donohue who is helping get people off the streets with the mayor of Manchester, Andy
Burnham
, whose homeless strategy has seen a significant reduction in street homelessness. 

All the answers are out there somewhere and we need to bring them together. We need to invest in getting people out of need. Allowing us more time and opportunity to help those who need our support and can’t help themselves. The sick and the old who need a more stringent support regime which at the moment is often not there. 

I left the conference with a deep sense that we are going in the right direction with Big Issue Invest. And to think it started off with us realising that there were problems and solutions out there, but also money available to fund the solutions. All you needed to do was bring problem, solution and money together. 

We called it social brokering: and that’s what we have been doing ever since.  

John Bird is the founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

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