Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Europe needs Capital!

So, maybe last week was communing with nature and wildlife. This week its Europe and the euclid AGM which this year is a 2 country affair; Denmark and Sweden!

Starting off in Copenhagen, in a rather cold and dilapidated warehouse which now hosts various social businesses : we sit around in our coats. But the interest of these euclid events is the chance to meet  with third sector experts from across Europe

It is clear that problems in accessing capital is a European wide problem.

 But there are also interesting initiatives to look at how to remedy the problem. In both Denmark and Sweden the Governments are developing social innovation strategies. We heard from Danish civil servants about how they want to spend 43m danish kroner on social businesses in a newly developed National Civil Society strategy. Yet when I asked if part would be loans they looked surprised. Yet I also met with Lars Johansen, CEO of the "Sociale Kapital Fond". and it does loans. Set up quite recently and backed by a charitable foundation it is beginning to make loans and is looking at developing bonds and equity investment. Very interested in the UK examples and experience. But I tell them the UK government appears to be turning its back on loans.  Despite evidence there is demand they wound up a brilliant loan-making programme in Futurebuilders.

Its clear that the EU Commission have woken up to social finance, " social business" and its potential. But its not at all clear they understand it and there is a danger that in discovering this new market they try and regulate and bureaucratise it. Like a kid with a new toy; they play with it and break it. However if we ensure proper input and involvement- as we are in an expert panel advising  Commissioner Barnier  We might get the EU behind an initiative to grow the social finance market?

But one warning, the EU official who was talking at the event said they wanted to develop one index to measure social impact. At one level this may be good; indeed there are at least 70 different measures of social impact so a more common guid would be good. But the EU has a habit of wanting bureaucratic conformity and in advocating or devising one model may stiffle different approaches and make loan funding more problematic. This will need watching. Just as we are opening up social finance we do not need Brussels regulation. Guidance yes . Advice yes. One size fits all no.

Then at 6pm we were all transported to Sweden. Over the new bridge that links Denmark and Sweden. To a reception at the University of Malmo. In a heated building. Though its a gale outside. And wet. And the hotel doesn't run to food or room service so I brave the elements to find an Irish bar and have a swedish steak!

Stephen Bubb

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