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Learning from Abroad

What can we learn from the UK’s social investment ecosystem?

Par Learning from Abroad

The UK’s social investment ecosystem is proof of the immense growth potential of community bonds in Canada. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ashley Wang from Social Finance UK and Annie Constable from Good Finance to learn more about the UK’s social investment marketplace. Below are three lessons that we can learn from our UK counterparts.

1. Working with leaders in the social investment ecosystem will help non-profits, charities, and co-operatives address knowledge and capacity gaps

In the UK, Big Society Capital is the leading financial institution dedicated to social investment in the UK. Big Society Capital and Access – the Foundation for Social Investment created an organization called Good Finance to address a large knowledge gap they had observed in the social investment ecosystem. Good Finance’s website is home to jargon-busting tools, case studies, and a directory to connect organizations with investors. 

Similarly, in Canada, Tapestry helps organizations to learn about the community bond model and determine whether it’s a good fit for their project. We provide organizations with the resources and tools to fill knowledge and capacity gaps. From understanding terminology, to launching your community bond campaign, we support you every step of the way in whatever capacity you need. Our goal is to ensure that the path to integrating community bonds into your organization is as seamless as possible. 

2. Community investment provides a flexible source of financing

Increasingly, organizations are seeking creative sources of financing that give them the operational flexibility to do what they need to do to achieve their goals. Grants, while providing free capital, can often impose strict requirements that limit project dimensions, and ultimately the impact a project can have. They can also be tedious, time consuming, and unsustainable. For many organizations, terms set by banks and traditional funders won’t be favorable, and often this financing will only provide a portion of the needed capital for a project. 

This is why many organizations in the UK have turned to social investment tools, such as charity bonds, as an alternative. Charity bonds can be seen as the UK equivalent of a community bond (read another blog on this ici). Social investment tools are a sustainable solution for organizations to raise the capital they need, and enable individuals to diversify their investment portfolio while creating impact in the community. The massive demand for flexible finance in the UK has brought many impactful investment opportunities to the market and this is sure to happen in Canada as well. 

3. The government has played a critical role in catalyzing the adoption of social investment tools

In the early 2000s, the UK had a build up of dormant account assets – the result of forgotten assets in long-lost bank accounts and insurance policies. In 2008, Parliament passed the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act which directed a large portion of these assets to social investment. Big Society Capital (BSC), was launched with £400 million of dormant account funds. The UK government also offers the Social Investment Tax Relief which is a 30% tax break for individuals who invest in social enterprises, charities, or community businesses.

As of June 2022, the Bank of Canada announced that it is sitting on nearly $1.1 billion in dormant account assets. Right now, this money sits idle with the Bank of Canada for 30-100 years depending on how much is in the account. After that, the money is considered forfeited and is transferred back to the government’s spending accounts. Imagine if Canada implemented a similar act to the UK and directed even 10% of this capital to social investment (that’s $110 million)! Evidently, government initiatives, politicians’ support, and advocacy from organizations can help catalyze the adoption of social investment tools. 

In recent years, the Government of Canada has signaled their support for the social impact market. The launch of the $755 million Fonds de financement social has been a major milestone. This capital is supporting social purpose organizations to become investment ready and bring investment products to the Canadian public. At Tapestry, we are supporting many organizations with funding provided through the Social Finance Fund Investment Readiness Program. To stay up to date on funding opportunities and application deadlines, visit the Community Foundations of Canada website ici

À propos de cette série de blogs

Hi, my name is Jasleen Bahia, and I was once an Intern at Tapestry Community Capital. I am now completing my degree in business with a focus on social finance, and I’m currently doing a semester abroad in Europe. While here, I am Tapestry’s Ambassador to the UK. This blog series documents my adventure abroad learning about the social finance ecosystem in the UK and connecting it to our growing community investment marketplace in Canada. I am eager to find out what we can learn, replicate and share!

 

Cover photo credit: Co-operative UK

Charity Bonds take off in the United Kingdom

Par Learning from Abroad

Charity bonds, the UK equivalent of community bonds, have taken off rapidly in recent years. From 2012-2020, the charity bond market grew by a remarkable 62x! The size of the market is now estimated to be around £337 million – an astronomical leap from the mere £5.4 million in 2012. More than 30 organizations have seized the opportunity to issue charity bonds and raise capital from their communities of supporters. 

In this article, we explore the immense growth of charity bonds in the UK and what this could mean for community bonds in Canada. 

Let’s start off by understanding the similarities and differences between charity bonds in the UK and community bonds in Canada. 

Similarities
  • Interest-bearing loans, with a fixed interest rate and a fixed term
  • Used to finance socially and/or environmentally impactful projects
  • Organization issuing the bond must have a source of revenue that will enable them to repay investors
  • More flexible than bank financing because terms are set by issuers and funds are raised from supporters 
  • Engage a variety of investors (individuals, foundations, trusts, etc.) 
  • Can be held in tax-advantaged accounts 
Differences

The table below highlights key differences between charity bonds and community bonds: 

Charity Bonds Obligations communautaires 
Issued by charities and social enterprises  Issued by non-profits, charities, and co-operatives 
Usually unsecured loans (no asset to back investment) Usually secured loans (asset to back investment)
Tradable on the London Stock Exchange  Not tradable 
Typically unrestricted funds  Typically restricted funds 

 

A market to trade charity bonds

In 2014, the first charity bond was publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange, and many have since followed suit. Being able to list on a public market has provided charities and social enterprises with access to a bigger market, allowing them to reach their investment target more efficiently.

Organizations do not issue their charity bonds directly on the stock exchange. Rather, they go through a “special purpose vehicle” called the Retail Charity Bonds Plc. (RCB). RCB is governed by an independent board of directors who reviews applications from charities and social enterprises. Upon approval, RCB issues the charity bonds on the London Stock Exchange, and then investors can buy and trade the bonds in the secondary market just like any other bond or stock. Fun fact: most organizations can raise their required financing within 1-2 weeks after they launch an offer! 

Community bonds are not yet tradable in Canada, however, as the market continues to grow rapidly, we are hopeful of such initiatives. Based on the UK experience, it’s clearly a win-win for investors and social purpose organizations.

Building confidence has been critical

In 2014, Big Society Capital launched the Charity Bond Support Fund, in collaboration with Rathbones. The purpose of the fund was to co-invest in campaigns alongside retail and institutional investors when campaigns were not fully subscribed. This had a dual purpose – to give confidence to issuers that they would reach their targeted investment goal, but also to give confidence to investors. The initial fund was £30 million, but has since grown to £163 million with a diverse array of investors engaged.

The emergence of sales platforms has helped the community investment market to grow

Many community investment platforms have been developed in the UK to a) encourage organizations to use social finance tools and b) encourage individuals to invest in social finance tools. For example, Ethex is a non-profit community investment platform that connects social purpose organizations with investors. In 2020, Ethex and Energise Africa raised a total of £100 million of people-powered finance to benefit over 200 community-oriented projects. 

Such sales platforms have brought charity bonds into the mainstream by making the investment process simple yet professional. It is now easier than ever to invest with impact in the UK.

By learning from partners, both near and far, we at Tapestry continue to foster community bonds as a mainstream form of financing and an avenue to invest in society.

À propos de cette série de blogs

Hi, my name is Jasleen Bahia, and I was once an Intern at Tapestry Community Capital. I am now completing my degree in business with a focus on social finance, and I’m currently doing a semester abroad in Europe. While here, I am Tapestry’s Ambassador to the UK. This blog series documents my adventure abroad learning about the social finance ecosystem in the UK and connecting it to our growing community investment marketplace in Canada. I am eager to find out what we can learn, replicate and share!

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