Q&A with Cliff Prior
Cliff Prior, CEO of Big Society Capital, recently joined the Building Change Trust to attend a celebration of a landmark 500k investment by the Building Better Futures Fund. Big Society Capital are the body responsible for investing over £300M from dormant bank accounts in England in support of good causes there.
Mr. Prior said:
“Since the UK Government decided in 2010 to release dormant bank account funds we’ve invested in over 40 social investment intermediaries which have reached 600 charities and social enterprises. The funds have made a substantial impact, from tackling poverty, unemployment and homelessness, to supporting people who live with disabilities.”
Whilst Mr Prior was in Belfast we took the opportunity to get to ask him a few more questions:
What attracted you to work for Big Society Capital?
I've worked for over 40 years in the social sector: at the front line, as a CEO, as a social entrepreneur, and non-exec. So I know from experience how much impact charities and social enterprises can create - and have seen too often how they are held back by lack of investment to do more. BSC is building the capacity for charities and social enterprises, building the market for social investment, bringing that vital investment finance so that more people can have better lives, and more communities can build better futures.
What are your ambitions for Big Society Capital?
I'll be happy when charities and social enterprises feel comfortable that they understand whether social investment would help them to do more, and if they think it would, that they can find accessible finance on reasonable terms. Of course there is a huge amount of work behind that - bringing in the co-investors, developing the right tools, making the journey to the right investor easy to navigate. For us, that means focusing on social issues where social investment can make the biggest difference: homes for people in need, supporting communities to improve lives, and early action to prevent hard. And it means continuing to build the right kind of social investment market.
What drives you?
It's good to do work which leaves people's lives better. It's truly amazing when you can help people and communities do that for themselves. Leaving people more confident and more capable to tackle the problem they face now, and the challenges they may face in the future. That's what drove me when I worked in crisis intervention, in social housing, homelessness, mental health, community development, every field I've worked in. That's what drives me.
Describe a peak moment/ proudest moment in you career so far?
There have been many, I'm a lucky guy! Really the peak moments for me are with people, when someone does something that takes your breath away. I remember a young guy who lived with schizophrenia, telling me how everything had gone right for him - family, GP, specialist consultant, housing, training, job - not that he was somehow cured, but that he was living his life with the condition, rather than schizophrenia taking over his life. That was the kernel of the recovery model for people with severe mental illness. More recently, at South Bristol Sports Centre which had used social investment, meeting the youth council who had engaged their young peer group to get playing sports to reduce the obesity problem in their estate. The youth council members had such confidence and capability, built by helping others: truly outstanding.
Who would be your invite (died or alive) for a fantasy dinner party?
Nelson Mandela, just to ask him how after all that was done to him, after decades of brutal imprisonment, he could put anger and rage aside to rebuild a nation.
Who would you go to for advice? Who is your mentor?
I ask for advice a lot, always have, and learn from how people work and develop. It's great to ask people for feedback, and to hear about people's lives and struggles. Feedback can be painful but is a gift of great value. Pretty much everyone's life tells you something useful. I have two more formal co-mentor relationships right now, and find that more equal approach allows greater trust and openness.