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Business Impact Challenge: catalysing corporate social investment

Big Society Capital Limited is a social investment institution that provides finance to organisations supporting frontline social sector entities. In December last year, we launched the Business Impact Challenge, the first competition of its kind, designed to catalyse corporate social investment.

Why did we seek to catalyse corporate social investment via a competition?

The reasons are twofold:

  • To provide a clearly staged process around which corporates and their social sector partners could focus their work.
  • To set out a clear list of criteria that, if met, would unlock £5 million to £15 million of match funding from Big Society Capital.

Both elements are a direct response to feedback we received from interested corporates. We heard that a staged process would help ensure the right time and resources could be put behind an entrepreneurial idea, lifting it off the drawing board and into the c-suite. We also heard that a clear list of key criteria would help guide ideas through what can be unfamiliar territory. Many recognised that social investing can, when done best, provide a positive social outcome and an innovative route to business development and growth over the long term. The Challenge would therefore be a way to prevent competing priorities detracting from these innovative ideas.

To ensure our Business Impact Challenge best met these needs, we harnessed the expertise of Nesta's Centre for Challenge Prizes and Business in the Community in the Challenge’s design.

From the December 2014 launch to the 1st May 2015 application deadline, the Challenge catalysed engagement with large and small corporates, many of whom we would not otherwise have met. Webinars and an entrepreneurs' workshop day extended this reach and by the time of the 1 May application deadline, we were delighted that the Challenge had engaged interest from close to half of the FTSE100.

Following the application deadline, our expert panel of seven judges comprising Lord Davis, Harvey McGrath, Nick O’Donohoe, Matthew Bishop, Karen Lynch, Ian Davis and Baroness Lane Fox of Soho, met and determined a shortlist of five applications.

The shortlist represents a wide mix of corporate sectors, social partners and solutions to social and business challenges

  • ASDA – working with local social enterprises, supporting them to bring products and services to market
  • Interserve – in partnership with the charity Catch22 to create an independent vehicle that enables community organisations, charities and social enterprises to deliver public services at scale
  • Land Securities – working with the learning disability charity Mencap to launch the first ‘social’ Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) that enables charities and social enterprises to finance existing properties
  • Taylor Wimpey – working with the charity Crisis to explore viable housing solutions for single homeless people
  • Wates – a fund that invests in and scales up the most successful social enterprises in its national supply chain for the construction industry

The second stage of the Challenge is now underway, with the shortlist working up their proposals ahead of the final judging panel meeting in the autumn. We look forward to announcing the outcome later this year.

For more information on the Challenge, please visit the website

Read Sarah Gordon’s FT article for more information on the shortlist. 

Read more on the wider work of Big Society Capital and social investing.


Miranda Schnitger

Miranda Schnitger is an On Purpose Associate. She is currently working at Big Society Capital on a range of projects, including the Business Impact Challenge.