Serious social investing: what to invest in and how to choose

Social investors have almost endless choices in deciding which initiatives to support. What to do and how to do it best are not always obvious – and must be considered in the context of what you hope to achieve…

When it comes to serious – and systemic – social investment, there is much to consider.

If you respond to need alone for example, you will be overwhelmed. Alternately, if you only respond to models that demonstrate proof-of-concept, you will never innovate or explore new opportunities. And if you adopt a hands-off approach, you might never build partnerships.

In countering the above, the opposite approach can also be taken – where you dictate what needs to be funded and potentially miss out on a vital part of any development framework; engagement and buy-in.

Given all of this, deciding on what the end-state of an intervention looks like, and how to get there, must be a deliberate process of informed decisions backed by sound developmental approaches.

At a high level these must include:

  • Monitoring and evaluation. This must become a non-negotiable in any intervention, ensuring we have a means to determine progress and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
  • Sharing data and information. If we don’t share lessons, we deny access to information that could benefit other funders.
  • Sound governance and ethical frameworks. Much has been said during the past year about corruption, fraud and unethical behavior, and the social investment sector has not been immune to this. Decisions or practices based on unethical and corrupt motives need the highest sanction. Risk management and other frameworks need to be seen as essential – and in service of those we serve. In this way they serve the spirit of giving.

Above all, we need to carefully consider the strategic intent behind our investment. At the end of the day social investment is not about giving. It is about backing initiatives with a deliberate vision and clearly defined outcomes, involving financial resources and an investment in partnerships that focus on transforming lives.

If we’re able to make better, sustainable, more systemic decisions, the communities we ultimately serve will be better, sustainably and more systemically supported, ensuring that tangible, measurable impact is created.