Social Finance and the Masters of the Universe

When I started work in social finance in the UK, in 1999, I was lucky to join at the beginning of the wave.  New organisations were being set up and new approaches to tackling financial exclusion and supporting enterprise in deprived communities were being trialled. 

It was noticeable that many of the risk-taking organisations were being run by women and/or people with a background in community development.  There were some excellent men in the field as well, even some very admirable male bankers.   However, the Chair (me), Vice-Chair (Michele Giddens) and Chief Executive of the Community Development Finance Association (Bernie Morgan) were all women and none of us were bankers. 

I would like to say that this was because we were such exceptional leaders (as Michele and Bernie are), but in my opinion, it was largely because men were less willing to take on the risks and the responsibilities of fostering a new movement.

Ten years on, how things have changed.  Investment bankers, retired investment bankers, redundant investment bankers everywhere.  They have consciences; they want to give something back (not money, obviously -it would be naff even to raise the possibility); they know they can make a difference. 

Of course, we should welcome their skills and experience – they do have something useful to offer.  But wouldn’t it make sense if they learned something of the third sector first?  I would obviously hesitate to intervene to offer my words of wisdom on a major takeover deal.  Yet, the Reformed Investment Bankers Movement has no such doubts.  Their experience in ’financial engineering’ and in extracting mega-salaries for riding a bull market means that they are fitted to advise on penal reform, tackling poverty and deprivation, child-care, community-based green energy projects and even running village pubs.

The Third Sector in the UK is a very broad church.  However, I think that pretty well everyone involved could sign up to some basic principles of social justice.  It also helps if you have some understanding of life on benefits or on minimum wage. 

Could I suggest that our Investment Banker friends use some of their super-profits to spend a year as unskilled, unpaid community work assistants before they apply to the Big Society Finance Fund to support their new, innovative, highly leveraged, financially engineered social investment quasi-equity investment funds.

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