Purpose, Growth, Impact: Mission locks insights from practice

We have been testing the value of mission locks for social ventures looking to rapidly expand. Here we share some of the insights from working with our Big Venture Challenge social entrepreneurs.

Our accelerator programme Big Venture Challenge (BVC) is coming to an end. Over the last few months we’ve published two research papers based on our work on BVC:

The latter presents the results of four years of testing how companies limited by share (CLS) social ventures could benefit from a mission lock.

In 2013, with funding from the Big Lottery Fund, we launched the BVC programme to support 120 ambitious social ventures to become growth and investment ready. We hoped we could help them to maximise and scale their impact.

We found that social ventures can use bespoke mission locks to prevent social mission drift and reduce the risk of private benefit outweighing public benefit. On top of this we discovered that social ventures using a CLS structure can attract equity investment and in some instances create greater impact as a result of investment.

What is a mission lock?

A mission lock is a mechanism to ensure the intended social purpose of a venture remains its primary objective in the long term. UnLtd’s approach to social mission locks developed through BVC has two elements:

  • A social purpose statement written into governing documents
  • An operational commitment clause that ensures a proportion of the venture’s operations are used to further the social purpose.

It can also involve further entrenching the lock to ensure that the first two commitments are secured.

Social mission locks can help social ventures to prevent mission drift (where a social venture’s focus on impact is lost) and even help reassure investors that a social venture really is driven by social impact.

Case study: Humanutopia

Launched in 2004 by former teachers Carlo Missirian and Graham Moore, Humanutopia run life-changing courses for young people in schools. The courses are proven to improve confidence, happiness, hope and employability.

In 2014 they received support as part of UnLtd’s BVC programme to insert a social mission lock into their Articles of Association. With help from BVC’s legal partners, they specifi ed a social purpose in their objects clause, inserted an operational commitment to reinvest a percentage of profi ts into delivering social impact and used a ‘golden share’ to ensure that the social mission will be Humanutopia’s primary focus in the long-term.

“A ground breaking ‘golden share’ scenario helped shape our mission lock and road to social investment.”

(Carlo Missirian, 2016)

They went on to raise £175,000 from investors, including match funding from UnLtd. Extra investment helped them to scale and by 2017 they had supported 240,000 students and 25,000 staff across the UK.

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Author Info


Ben SmithInvestment Lead

I studied International Business and Model Languages and was fortunate enough to spend several years working in management and strategy consultancy, spending time in France, Italy and India. After my time in the private sector, I started my own social venture, helping young people develop business skills. I was lucky enough to be named in Shell LiveWIRE’s top 48 entrepreneurs and have been attracted to social entrepreneurship ever since. I recently completely a Master in Education which focused on supporting and developing sustainable and investable entrepreneurial activity within HE. Formerly sat on the Board of Birmingham Town Hall and Symphony Hall and currently serve on the Investment Committee for RBS’s Social and Community Capital debt fund.

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