In September, Good Finance partnered with the Diversity Forum and the Connect Fund to deliver the Addressing Imbalance Hackathon – a fast-paced day of brainstorming solutions to tackle the challenges under-represented leaders and communities face disproportionately around accessing social investment.

The Hackathon brought together 45 attendees; leaders of charities and social enterprises who have experienced marginalisation, funders and investors, advocates and supporters from across the UK with a range of experience and expertise to work collaboratively to find solutions.

People having an engaged discussion around a table

It’s always difficult to put pen to paper following an event. How do you capture the energy, conversations, connections and insights in 1000 words or less and do them justice? It’s almost impossible, but we’ll try in this post.

Why a Hackathon?

The concept of running a Hackathon has inspired our team for some time. We wanted to create a space for the co-design of solutions to some of the challenges that exist in the social investment space – crucially those that act as a barrier to under-served leaders and their communities.

At Addressing Imbalance Live – we recognised that the key takeaways fell under 3 themes:

1. Think BIG: How do we measure progress and understand what works and what doesn’t?

2. Make SPACE: How can we tackle barriers to social investment?

3. Fund EQUITABLY: How can we increase funding to diverse communities?

If we brought together people from across the sector – social enterprise and charity leaders, funders and investors, supporters and advocates – could we work collectively to come up with solutions? What would these look like and importantly, what would be needed to bring them forward so the event did not become tokenistic and a mere sentiment to progress.

The Hackathon was organised in partnership with the Diversity Forum. Their work to date in the form of the Manifesto has catalysed many of the conversations around equity and inclusion in the social investment space with investors signing up to a commitment to follow best practices and implement changes within their organisations.

The Connect Fund have been a key supporter of our work at Good Finance. Their funding has been critical to allowing us to provide bursary payments to frontline leaders who have faced marginalisation to support their participation in our programmes and events.

Addressing Imbalance began as a response to the numerous reports, evidence and experience of diverse leaders who experience disproportionate barriers to accessing social investment. Over the course of 3 years it has developed into partnerships, events and a community to share learnings, updates and provide a space for us to come together in the name of progress.

How did the day work, and what ideas were suggested?

Teams chose their challenge and got to work on unpicking the themes, topics and areas for discussion. Power imbalance, lack of transparency and accountability, lack of representation of people with lived experience in decision making positions (and at all levels) across social investment, failure to embed lived experience within the design and delivery process of funds were themes that arose consistently across teams.

Teams channelled energy, frustrations, systems fatigue, passion and commitment into developing 6 key ideas. I wanted to sum up some of the key themes and thinking behind some of the solutions:

Redress the power imbalance

The system of social investment is weighted towards those who hold the money, creating an unbalanced power dynamic between the investor and prospective investee. Teams wanted to see this model flipped on its head to give more power and autonomy to under-served leaders and their communities. Could a reverse process whereby investors pitch to fund community organisations work? This would put power into the hands of representatives of the communities themselves, allowing them to decide who funds them.

Make social investors and wholesalers accountable

Many investors have stated a commitment to funding more equitably – but who is holding them accountable? What are the implications if an organisation doesn’t actually live up to its commitments, and how will we know if that’s the case? More than one team pitched the idea of a charter – a set of rules laying out best practice that social investors commit to. An independent sector body would oversee regulation and those found not to be meeting the requirements would be subject to financial penalties, which in turn would be allocated to communities. Why re-invent the wheel suggested one group, who wanted to see funding directed to support the Diversity Forum to have more power and weight behind the Manifesto.

Representation and transparency in decision-making

To have a truly equitable system you must address representation at all levels. Crucially, the space where this has significant impact is in decision-making. Teams wanted to see much more involvement of people with lived experience – both in the co-design and co-development of funds, and in making the decisions as to where funding goes. The ‘Circle of Change Fund’ was an idea to raise a £10m fund over 10 years, putting people at the centre of its design, development, and deployment.

So now these ideas are on the table – what comes next?

We made a commitment at the Hackathon to use our platform, connections, and influence to bring forward ideas and ensure that people currently in decision-making positions were around the table at future discussions.

In the month since the event, we have shared learnings with senior leaders at Big Society Capital and the conversations continue about how this work can shape and influence ways of working and systems change.

At Good Finance, our role is to help charities and social enterprises navigate the social investment space; we’re working to develop an explainer of the social investment ecosystem to support a better understanding of what this looks like and how capital flows from wholesalers to funders to frontline organisations and their communities.

Our next step is to continue the conversation with the Diversity Forum, Connect Fund and others to connect, collaborate and ensure adequate resources and funding are in place to bring ideas forward. Attendees will have the opportunity to be part of this process to bring the ideas they developed to life.

This is more than an event, it’s a commitment to change and a promise to our users that we will work to make this happen.