We have harnessed the tools of capitalism to tackle inequality – but is it working?

The Social Change Agency has been working with the Young Foundation to help create a very different type of social accelerator programme; The People’s Accelerator. The first cohort began in Nov 2014, helping 6 social justice causes to scale.

Four months on from the beginning of the programme, we are now gearing up for our final event – The People’s Panel on March 30th.

The Peoples Accelerator set out as an experiment based on 3 questions;
(1) Could we use our business development tools to change the way in which social justice organisations raise the financial support they need in order to grow?
(2) Could we begin to challenge the way we had designed our venture development programmes so we could shape them to the needs of campaigners, movement builders and activists alongside those of a social entrepreneur?
(3) What classical and digital movement building techniques could be used to help scale social ventures that predominately have a community focus for their products?

It seemed fitting for an accelerator programme tackling inequality, to make the pitch panel as democratic as possible. So we opened the doors of our pitch panel to 400 potential social investors (that’s you). Further more, we built crowdfunding campaigns that sit alongside each organisation as they go through the programme.

Using crowdfunding as a vehicle for funding has changed the way we think about building resources for ventures to help them scale. Crowdfunding has opened up not just a democratised funding route, but has enabled our ventures to quickly build communities of support, volunteers, advocates and investors who are all bound together by shared values and commitment to the cause. With the right supporter strategy, these communities will be with the ventures for life.

The immediacy and openness of each organisational pitch has given real energy to our programme. In the past three weeks, we have raised over £35,000 and we are a quarter of the way to answering our first question. Even more rewarding each organisation has shaped their financial ask around their value proposition, so with no funder formula to comply with they have been able to shape their campaign target around what they need rather than what people want them to say.

In response to the programme learning we have developed 3 new venture support areas;
(1) Wish week – where organisations can share their challenges to industry professionals, enabling our pro-bono network to offer targeted insight rather than generic advice.
(2) Communications and media support – by their nature campaigners are in the public eye, but many lack professional training, by giving them 1:1 mentoring in this area we can maximise impact.
(3) Crowdfunding – The potential for this to act as seed funding and community building is huge. Although asking individuals for money is hard, with the right training you can ask the right questions without compromising yourself.

As we move away from our traditional accelerator model, we’ll share more insights and learning to stop the social investment world becoming too much like Silicon Valley. In the meantime, we looking forward to seeing you on the 30th of March. Book your ticket here.

By Esther Foreman, Director of the Social Change Agency and Stuart Thomason, Head of Ventures at the Young Foundation.