What Obama Should Learn From UK Government’s £10m Fund for Social Innovators…

Minister of Civil Society Nick Hurd announced a delightful news to award UK government’s £10m(15.5 milliion) Social Incubator Fund. The social incubator fund aims to encourage investment into early-stage social ventures.The grant allocation decision is made by the advisory board, whose members include Big Lottery Fund, Big Society Capital and the Social Investment Business.

“We want to help social entrepreneurs to create innovative solutions to difficult social problems,” said Nick Hurd. The first lucky recipients of this award went to Wayra UnLtd and Bethnall Green Venture. There will be two subsequent rounds launching in 2013 and 2014. Here are the brief summary of these ventures.


Wayra UnLtd 

Wayra UnLtd is a result of a collaboration of Telefonica’s startup accelerator Wayra UK and social enterprise network UnLtd. Wayra UnLtd aims to address significant social issues through the use of digital technology combined with entrepreneurial talent.


Bethnal Green Ventures

Benthal Green Ventures is also an accelerator programme for technology startups working on things that matter. Thanks to the funding, BGV will partner with charity Nesta and social investor Nominet Trust to support up to 72 early-stage social and environmental start-ups over the next 4 years.

Every day, new social organizations open their doors, but few close down or merge. The next major stage for social entrepreneurship should be to improve collaboration. And it needs to be accomplished through communication between different sectors. To engage with social innovators more successfully, government should systematically survey society  for social entrepreneurs who have demonstrated results and growth potential and assist them in taking their ideas and organizations to scale.Growing social sector is a strenuous affair. The government should shift from a model of running programs and purchasing services from low-cost providers to a model of investing in and providing different forms of assistance to high-performing institutions led by entrepreneurs.

This award signifies UK’s effort to be a changemaker by engaging with social innovators more successfully. Instead of creating a structure and enforcing it onto social organizations, it change the way it deploy their resources by harnessing the potential of social entrepreneurs and citizen organizations to achieve policy goals. Not only the government, but the whole UK community has been fostering the growth in social sector. According to startups.co.uk, there are around 55,000 social enterprises across the UK. These companies have a combined turnover of  £27bn per year, account for 5% of all businesses and contribute £8.4bn every year to the UK economy – that’s nearly 1% of annual GDP.

In comparison, despite Obama’s initial demonstration of interest in social innovation, not much progress has been made ever since he signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in April 22, 2009. At the time, this act established the social innovative fund (SIF) with a grants of $1-5 million for the competition identifying the most promising non-profit organizations committed to fostering social innovation. However, it only scratched the surface of social sector.

In fact, US’s political approach to bring efficient changes to the world comes from their former colonizers–the Brits. The UK has been supporting social sectors with governmental support as well as legal support and financial support. To list some of the significant movements, there are 2004 community interest company, 2010 social impact bond, and 2012 social value bill. US government should, again, take this courageous move of UK government to develop a system that can better accomodate the social innovators.

Philanthropy is potentially society’s most innovative form of capital, but it is not always deployed effectively. In order for philanthropy to dramatically increase the impact of the citizen sector in the coming decades , we need policy makers, business investors and philanthropists to assume more risk and make long-term focus. It is about time President Barack Obama to take some action to bring some real “change”


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