Social finance is the provision of finance to voluntary and community organisations, as well as, social enterprises to create a positive social impact while also generating an economic return.
A focus in this area was a primary objective of the Trust in its original business plan with the Trust Board allocating £2 million towards this area of work.
We believe innovation, and change, in the funding and financing of the Northern Ireland community and voluntary sector are inevitable and desirable.
In Northern Ireland, the focus has traditionally been on grant aid to finance the sector’s activity with some uptake of secured loans mainly for capital projects.
Historically, the sector has a cautious approach to debt, and there has been limited development of alternatives to grant aid, as well as, a limited focus on the actions needed to develop the capacity of the sector to consider and use different forms of finance.
We have worked with Charity bank and other social finance providers to support research into the supply and demand for social finance products, the need for government and others to strategically support change through stimulating development and use of new products such as grant/loan hybrid models and unsecured lending, and too invest in developing organisations investment readiness.
As well as this we have carried out a successful Community Shares pilot in programme with Cooperative Alternatives which we expect to further flourish and develop once our direct funding ceases in March 2016.
We are also engaged in research projects into the social finance possibilities in the Environment and Arts Sectors in Northern Ireland – including potentially putting money into a small unsecured loans fund.