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Nesta Impact Investments: Supporting social mobility

Last week the Department for Education (DfE) published its plans to help improve social mobility.

I’m hugely excited by what has been set out by Justine Greening and the department in this headline report because of the vision and intention behind it and the specific actions that the department wants to support. My enthusiasm is based largely on the fact that at Nesta Impact Investments we share similar goals and beliefs about potential solutions to the challenge of social mobility. In fact we have been actively supporting innovative businesses that are creating products and services that deal with some of the specific challenges that are identified by the department for a number of years.

Motivation

At Nesta we are optimistic about the potential for social and technological changes to be a power for good in the world. We have been working hard to understand the practical implications of the changing world of work, technology and society so that we can help identify ways to harness innovation to make sure that society continues to flourish.

The goal expressed by DfE is “to build a fairer society...that will guarantee a better future for the next generation”. In an environment where wealth inequality has increased significantly over the last 50 years and where the potential for technology to add to the pressures of unemployment is a concern for many, this intent has the potential to be a significant, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely goal at a macro and micro level. It is reassuring to see that the department has set very specific targets, both for interventions and for outcomes in key development areas that will enable progress to be tracked.

Methodology

Nesta has long been an advocate of evidence-based policy and action. Our management of the Alliance for Useful Evidence, development of the Nesta Standards of Evidence, and strategy of building impact evaluation into the heart of our investment work reflect the importance to us of using our scarce resources in the most effective way possible. We have a very specific role in the education evidence agenda as a delivery partner of the UCL Educate project working to develop and embed best practice in evidence-based education technology companies, a sector that has huge potential to improve the quality, consistency and affordability of education and an area where Nesta is one of the leading investors in Europe.

DfE has set out a rigorous evidence aspiration in its report and has committed to engage with relevant ‘what works’ centres including the Education Endowment Foundation, a critical and highly valuable contributor to understanding the effectiveness of education interventions.

Specific goals

DfE has identified four areas for priority action:

  1. improving early years literacy
  2. closing the attainment gap
  3. high quality post-16 education
  4. helping everyone achieve their full potential in careers.

We believe that technology tools have a key role to play in helping meet these objectives and have actively invested to support businesses in all of these areas.

We believe that businesses we have invested in, for example, Sumdog, using artificial intelligence to help improve literacy and numeracy for young children through its games platform; Third Space Learning, which uses AI technology to help struggling primary school children close the attainment gap in maths; Cogbooks, using artificial intelligence to create highly effective personalised learning journeys in higher and further education; and GetMyFirstJob, which has helped 25,000 young people find apprentice positions, are exemplars of the way we can use technology as a positive force to address these very issues.

We believe in the importance of technology as an enabling tool in transforming education to meet the needs of a 21st century society and we will continue to be an active investor in innovative education technology products and services to ensure that this happens. I am delighted that the DfE has put social mobility at the heart of its strategy and am looking forward to seeing government, technologists, education businesses, school leaders, parents and children working together to try to make this fantastic goal of building a future-ready and fair society a reality.

Author

Nathan Elstub

Nathan Elstub

Nathan Elstub

Chief Investment Officer

Nathan joined Nesta in 2015 as Chief Investment Officer with overall responsibility for the organisation's investment activities.

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