The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Innovation, Social Investment and the Church’s Mission

21st November 2013

Resurgo's Chief Executive Tom Jackson urges churches to tap into the social investment opportunity

The Church is a longstanding driver of social innovation. Just a brief glance through history reveals myriad examples of churches engaged in the service of their communities. From monasteries pioneering educational and health care services to modern-day food banks, the Christian community has embarked upon local social innovation at countless levels.

This is not to suggest the church has been the sole driver of social innovation, that it has achieved it independently, nor that it has always done it well. But it is to recognise that deep in the psychology of the church community there has been, over centuries, a recurring and evolving commitment to social wellbeing in local neighbourhoods and people. At their best churches, disbursed across social and geographic boundaries, have demonstrated an exceptional ability to reach into the ‘hyper-local’; re-imagining and adapting their support to the particular and personal circumstances of different people in diverse contexts. Working on the ground, often invisibly to the outside world, they have developed a wealth of intellectual capital about how real change plays out in real lives.

From this perspective, it should not surprise us that churches are continuing to create tremendous social innovation in challenged communities today. So what does this innovation look like? Church-based social initiatives are not usually the Vicar of Dibley experience many people imagine them to be.Alongside well established soup kitchens and vibrant Friday night youth clubs, churches continue to pioneer fresh and emerging models of effective social enterprise in response to the newer needs of our generation.

Take Spear, the six week employment initiative developed by Resurgo. Born out of St Paul’s church in Hammersmith, Spear started out with the aim of addressing the multi-generational unemployment crisis facing young people aged 16-24, equipping them with the attitude and skills to succeed in work or further education. Founded ten years ago, it now supports over 600 young people a year through seven centres. Each year since starting, three in four of its graduates have not only entered into work or further education, but they have remained there a year later. Spear has won awards and recognition far beyond the precincts of the church, including being adopted onto the prestigious Impetus Private Equity Foundation portfolio and working with well known national businesses such as Marks & Spencer.

Spear is just one story of how churches engage effectively with social challenges; not by standing on the sidelines and offering well-meaning advice, but by bringing creativity and industry to help people facing poverty and disadvantage. There are many other great examples around the UK of innovative engagement with issues such as debt, educational failure, family breakdown, addictions, crime, and healthcare, to name just a few.

All this presents important but grossly overlooked questions. Could society benefit more from the church’s hyper-local innovation? Might churches increase the scale of the vital work they are doing and increase their impact further afield? Should government work in better partnership with churches as part of its drive to build a social sector contribution to social wellbeing? Are we missing a major opportunity? If so, what can be done to remedy the situation?

Resurgo’s submission is that Social Investment presents the church and wider society with a massive opportunity. If churches are helped to build their capacity – learning how to codify and replicate the very best of what they discover works and improving the governance and impact measurement around their services, then they can start to engage with the government’s new Payment by Results contracts in order to make their work more sustainable and replicable. Social investment, provided through the church community amongst others, would quickly reduce long-term fundraising constraints as success payments are recycled over time. The amount of work required should not be underestimated. But, for an organisation with social transformation in its veins, the opportunities for mission are immense.

Can it be done? The launch of Big Society Capital and accompanying growth in other social sector organisations suggests it can. Perhaps it is time for the church to enlarge its vision once again and embrace this revolution, encouraged by active support from government and social intermediaries. For the prophets in the church, this looks like a great time for another wave of church-led social innovation.


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