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CEO Matthew Adam tells us how the IEP helped supercharge We Are Digital’s approach to partnerships and growth, helping the organisation evolve from a training provider to a “managing agent” model, bringing different delivery partners under one roof to make a greater impact.

Can you tell us a bit about your Inclusive Economy Partnership project. What are you doing and what do you want to change?

We are looking to scale ideas that work in financial inclusion, that is: lighter touch financial wellbeing / inclusion / capability work, rather than regulated debt advice. Research shows that engagement is good at the debt advice crisis end, but less good (and more unknown) at the lighter touch end. How do you engage people with money before there is a big issue? Nothing has been proven, yet, in the UK, that moves the dial on this. Also, money projects in the sector haven’t moved on much in a decade – most still focus on budgeting, saving and switching utilities. All very worthwhile activities, but they don’t necessarily engage people more and get them in the door.

Who are you looking to reach specifically, and why?

Social housing residents – young people, older people, families with children, people in work and out of work – anyone struggling with money, income, etc. The need is great in this sector.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to financial inclusion in our society today?

That the people with the biggest need have the least access to the innovative tools and services being developed in this arena. Most companies wouldn’t admit it, but they are really built for the middle classes. Sure, it’s useful for them to manage their money better, but it’s not as impactful or as important as helping those who really struggle.

[The IEP has] shown us to be as ambitious as possible. We’re a big believer that just because we are a social business looking at social impact, that doesn’t need to dampen our ambitions.

Matthew Adam, CEO, We Are Digital

Tell us a bit about one of the partnerships you formed during the IEP. Who are you working with and what does this relationship look like?

We’ve partnered with Money A+E, a social enterprise in London working with people on low income and another member of the IEP, around debt advice and financial capability. We need innovative delivery partners in our work in social housing, and they are looking for new ways to increase their impact. Due to winning a large financial inclusion tender with housing association London & Quadrant (L&Q) Housing – for the Pound Advice project, offering financial advice and support for L&Q tenants – we are involving them in our delivery from 1st April 2019.

What impact has the IEP made on your work and goals?

It’s taught us to network effectively and build partnerships, as well as introducing us to many corporates such as Mastercard, Nationwide and Virgin Money, who we are still in discussion with over various projects.

It’s taught us that there are many excellent financial inclusion (FI) projects out there being explored, and some organisation (hopefully us!) needs to bring them all together under one roof if that is possible – this has never been done before in the UK, everything is very silo’d.

It’s shown us to be as ambitious as possible. We’re a big believer that just because we are a social business looking at social impact, that doesn’t need to dampen our ambitions – it should be equal if not greater than the Silicon Valley tech mentality! The world doesn’t need another AI chatbot, takeaway marketplace or lift-sharing app, it needs enterprises that scale that are solving the world’s biggest social and community problems.

The world doesn’t need another AI chatbot, takeaway marketplace or lift-sharing app, it needs enterprises that scale that are solving the world’s biggest social and community problems.

Matthew Adam, CEO, We Are Digital

What have you learned about how to build a successful partnership?

We’ve been very successful in winning large contracts and tenders, simply and foremostly by realising that you are only as good as your partnership. Not only does it knock out the friendly competition – it’s more interesting and valuable to the client who is funding you, so we say: the more the merrier! This supercharged after the IEP, culminating in us winning the £2.3m per year major money contract in London last month, with L&Q Housing for Pound Advice – beating well-renowned and respected national money charities – using exactly this approach. We are rapidly forming what we call a “managing agent” model, where we plug in various delivery partners under one roof, with ultra-local delivery, centrally managed, and innovating at the “top” level.

Where do you plan to take We Are Digital from here?

We are just closing a major £1.5m social impact investment into the business this month, and are on course for tripling revenue this year and growing to 30 people (we will swell to 60 temporarily for a large Home Office contract also). Our aim is to be the one-stop-shop for anyone wanting to outsource their community investment, doing good and doing well along the way.

Find out more about We Are Digital.

The Inclusive Economy Partnership (IEP) is a pioneering initiative changing the way that government, business and civil society work together to address some of society's toughest challenges. Between August 2017 and September 2018, Nesta worked with the Cabinet Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to run the Inclusive Economy Partnership Accelerator, supporting 18 IEP grant winners across three challenge areas (financial inclusion, mental health in the workplace, and the transition to work for young people) to scale their solutions through meaningful partnership with business, civil society and government.