There is something that transfixes me about the City of Oxford.
The buildings. The history. The energy.
Each time I come here I imagine myself meandering the streets 400 years ago.
I am daydreaming about the conversations, the connections, the context.
What were people concerned about?
What were their motivations?
What were the big questions they were asking at that time?
I snap out of my film-set imagination.
As I walk down the street, I run through the presentation I will be giving today Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise.
The topic of today – hosted in conjunction with Tomorrow’s Company – is “What is the Future of Business?” I’ve been specifically asked to share my learnings on “How do Social Businesses Attract Investment?”
This is a topic close to my heart and one that I feel is essential in scaling organisations that are creating a positive impact for people and planet.
Here’s what I shared today – most of what has been based on my practical experience working with the Finance Innovation Lab.
There are three trends that we are seeing within our work.
And for those who are not familiar with our work, I’ll explain ‘what’ we do and ‘why’.
The Finance Innovation Lab is an incubator for systems change in finance. We are an organisation that was co-initiated by WWF-UK and ICAEW (The Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales).
We work with the likes of The Cabinet Office, Hub Westminster and Deborah Meaden.
Together, with others, we enable the growth of new types leadership, new organisations and new markets.
We do this through designing and hosting incubator programmes, building communities of influence, amplifying the work through events and communications and cultivating collective intelligence and knowledge about finance and systems change.
The ultimate impact of everything we do will be a system that works for people and planet.
We are seeing some great signs of success already with the growing movement of Alternative Finance – including players such as Peer to Peer lenders and Crowdfunders. We’ll be sharing more about these developments at our Assembly on November 22. Check out more information at www.thefinancelab.org.
So, HOW are successful businesses attracting investment?
Well firstly, I am seeing investors paying attention conscious leadership.
Investors are very well aware we are living in a new context. They are very intuitive folk. This context requires a new conscious leadership.
We are moving from a paradigm that ‘serves self’ to one that ‘serves the whole’.
Leaders today need to be equipped with the skills that are required – such as understanding complexity, being able to embrace uncertainty, and having the emotional intelligence to engage with today’s world of interrelatedness.
A 2012 PWC study showed that only 30% of CEOs believe that their leadership teams have the type of skills that are needed to lead in today’s context.
So who are these conscious leaders in our community? Take Bruce Davis for example – founder of Abundance Generation. Through his leadership, this model is democratising finance and energy systems. For as little at £100 you can invest directly into solar energy in the UK.
Bruce for me is a great example of a conscious leader. He practices storytelling and mindfulness and is not afraid of talking about subjects such as love in business.
It is leaders like this who are attracting investors.
The second thing that is working in “how” businesses attract investment is cultivating a strong organisational cultures.
A few months ago at the launch of Conscious Capitalism UK, John Mackey, Founder of WholeFoods was explaining that in his view “culture is much more important than strategy’.
Culture is where innovation comes from. Culture is where growth comes from. Culture is how assets are developed.
And, importantly, the most powerful cultures are those that are established on instrinsic values such as responsibility, authenticity and service.
Take one of my favorite flourishing companies as an example – Triodos Bank. They work hard at developing a culture that ‘Creates Positive Change in the World’.
I recently judged the Social Enterprise Category of the National Business Awards- which will be announced next week. There was one thing that ALL three finalists had in common – they all worked hard at cultivating cultures that inspired and empowered staff, customers and partners.
And in doing this they excelled at created exceptional value that attracted investors.
ENABLING NEW MARKETS THROUGH COLLABORATION
The third approach that is working for businesses in unlocking investment is collaborating with others to enable the wider conditions for change – like creating new markets.
One of the biggest barriers to investment for social businesses is that markets don’t exist yet.
They need to be created.
Those companies that will be ahead of the game in creating opportunity will be those who collaborate to shape policy frameworks and increase citizen demand. And in turn, work together to build investor confidence.
Think of what happened in the 1980’s – the fledgling IT sector organised itself – and as a result this gave rise to the explosion of Venture Capital investment.
I am very excited about organised movements such as the B-Corporation. This is a community of about 1000 businesses emerging from the US and South America. The movement’s aims are to increase demand and investor confidence in social businesses that are creating a positive impact in the world.
And in the Finance Innovation Lab, we have been able to help to organise the Peer 2 Peer Finance Market. We assisted them in aligning around a common agenda for policy needs and helped them engage with policy makers. This has, in part, inspired new regulation that will come into effect in 2014 which calls for sound regulation of the Peer 2 Peer banking market. And this collaboration has helped to instil investor confidence and should unlock a groundswell of investment into this new sector.
So, in summary, I believe there is an abundance of investment that is available and the key to unlocking is it 'HOW' we attract this investment.
I believe this will come about for those companies who are:
practicing conscious leadership
cultivating strong organisational cultures and, most importantly,
collaborating to create the market conditions for new markets to flourish
Does this resonate with those who walked these streets of Oxford 400 years ago?
I am not sure.
However I do have a sense that we might be asking similar questions of how to help make the world a better place for future generations to come.