Breaking Down Barriers: We’ve changed how we’re funding for impact

Andrew Hemming

Social Entrepreneur Support Lead (North)

7th July 2022



Image description: two Black people smile, sitting together at a table outdoors. There are pens and paper on the table and sunlit trees in the background.  

We're an optimistic bunch at UnLtd, constantly inspired by the creative solutions that social entrepreneurs come up with to tackle the problems they see in the world. As we've navigated through the pandemic, conversations sparked by the murder of George Floyd, and the visible and rising inequity in our society, we've reconnected with our responsibility to use our resources to intentionally drive as much impact as possible for the people and places that need it most.

For that reason, we've set an ambition in our new strategy, Breaking Down Barriers to focus our funding and resources on social entrepreneurs with the most potential for impact. These social entrepreneurs will build the sustainable, equitable and just society that we desperately need.

We began by reviewing our own data and evaluations of our historic award making and gathering together insight from social entrepreneurs, colleagues, and other supporters of social entrepreneurs. This led us to identify four elements that we think illustrate the most potential for impact and enable us to be specific about who and what we are looking for.

We are looking for social entrepreneurs who are working in the following way:

1. Meeting high levels of need

When we look back on our own data, we see that our awards often went where there was already community wealth or other support available. Looking forward, we recognise our duty to make sure our money works where there is real need.

For us, this means backing social entrepreneurs supporting those who are marginalised or who have been underfunded in the past, whether that's due to background, geography, or other socio-economic factors.

It means maintaining our focus on equity and continuing to ensure that 50% of our grants, investment and support go to social entrepreneurs who we have historically underfunded, including those who identify as being Black, Asian, from a minority ethnic background and/or Disabled. It means looking at data like the Index of Multiple Deprivation to ensure our resources are reaching places that are underserved.

And it means understanding and responding to national issues too – for example backing those who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, the climate crisis or the cost-of-living crisis.

We know that our networks aren't strong or diverse enough to reach these social entrepreneurs so we are working with trusted partners, many of them social entrepreneurs rooted in communities across the UK, who are challenging us where our approach is inaccessible, connecting us to people who are making change and could benefit from UnLtd's support. You can read more on how we're doing this here.

2. Systemic impact

We are committed to driving long-term social change. This means focussing our resources on social entrepreneurs tackling social issues at the root cause, and on those entrepreneurs who have a long-term commitment to addressing a social issue.

It's the social issue, rather than a specific solution or business model, that will be the driving force for many of these social entrepreneurs. We want to support entrepreneurs who understand and care where their solution fits in the wider context of where they are operating, and who can mobilise people and resources to drive change.

3. Effective interventions & business models

We know that lasting impact rarely happens unless founders have thought deeply about the long-term viability and sustainability of their work. We want to work with social entrepreneurs who have a business model built on financial resilience, sustainability and / or growth, to drive long-term sustainability and growth in impact.

This means we are backing interventions that have the potential for success. It means we will take risks on individuals and businesses where we see potential. We are comfortable that social entrepreneurs might not have all the answers or have the track record to point to yet. Our role is to support that idea and business to deliver all the impact it can.

We believe that people with lived experience of a social issue are best placed to address it. So we'll continue to look for social entrepreneurs who are using co-design approaches in the design of their product or service, have strong relationships with the people they serve, or are bringing insights from direct experience to inform their intervention.

4. Opportunity for value add

Our work over the past fifteen years has demonstrated that we are at our best when we work alongside social entrepreneurs over a long period, supporting and challenging them to achieve their potential.

This means we'll be working with those social entrepreneurs with direct lived experience of an issue and giving them the customisable support they need to help their ideas flourish. We aim to help them start well, and then grow sustainable social business' to deliver the most impact possible.

We think that these are the right criteria for us to be striving for if we are to help create the society we want to see.

We are supporting Social Entrepreneurs who meet some or all of these elements. We know many social entrepreneurs who started out meeting a high level of need, and over time broadened their scope to address big systems change. Not every social entrepreneur comes to us with a fully formed business model, and that's okay - that's also where we can add value.

If this sounds like you, please get in touch.

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