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Harry Wright, social enterprise associate in the HL BaSE team, is currently on secondment to UnLtd, the UK's leading foundation of support to social entrepreneurs, working within their renowned Investment & Delivery team. In this article, Harry describes his experience at UnLtd. 

UnLtd, a long-term partner to HL BaSE, works with thousands of social enterprises in helping them to start up and scale their impact. Over the last decade, they have provided over £3m worth of social finance to social enterprises, reaching a remarkable 333,000 beneficiaries across their three key areas of focus, including (i) building access to employment, (ii) resilient communities and (iii) solutions for an ageing society. Through HL BaSE, we have worked closely with UnLtd for over a decade to provide an additional level of support to social enterprises that are looking for pro-bono legal advice .

My role at UnLtd is a portfolio manager working within UnLtd’s Investment Team which is responsible for facilitating two social finance funds; the Impact Fund (a blended loan and grant finance package of between £50,000 and £150,000 to social enterprises who are improving access to employment) and the Thrive Fund (which provides flexible finance of up to £50K (debt of equity).

As a portfolio manager my role is to provide vital post-investment support to the social enterprises across the funds, helping them to create lasting and far-reaching impact. This consisted of working intensively with over 20 social enterprises, holding regular calls/meetings with them to identify their core business needs, and working with them one-to-one to provide any support they required, including legal advice, digital marketing support, financial management and impact measurement.  I was also responsible for managing, maintaining, and reporting on the financial performance (including identifying risks and trends) of the funds to UnLtd’s investment committee and other key funders.

Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis

When I joined the team in early June, I soon became aware of the severe impact that COVID-19 was having on many social enterprises across the funds. In particular, social enterprises which relied heavily on corporate sales suffered significantly, as the majority of their trading income was depleted through the imposition of the strict lockdown measures (and office closures) by the government. Many other ventures, especially in the educational sector, had to respond quickly and pivot their entire business models online to service the increased demand from their beneficiaries. Through this difficult time, we worked very closely with the social enterprises by helping them access any vital support they required and assisting them with extra emergency grant funding to help cover their increasing operational/core costs. 

To deliver further essential financial support for social enterprises, UnLtd became a key partner (alongside Big Issue Invest, The Key Fund, Resonance and The School for Social Entrepreneurs)  to the Social Enterprise Support Fund (SESF Fund) (a £18.7m grant fund for social enterprises) which offered emergency grants of £10,000 and £300,000 to social enterprises most affected by COVID-19. UnLtd is responsible for awarding £6.3m of the total amount of the SESF Fund and to help facilitate the funding to social enterprises.  I worked as a grant assessor in reviewing/assessing the many applications that we received from social enterprises. 

The SESF Fund was a vital lifeline for many social enterprises that needed additional funding to meet the additional demands posed by COVID-19, help manage their liquidity over the next six months and become financially resilient. It was especially inspiring to see how the SESF Fund was dedicated to inclusion, with UnLtd committing 50% of the grants to Black, Asian, minority ethnic and/or disabled social enterprises. Moreover, each decision-making panel (made up of three people) at UnLtd had at least two people who are Black, Asian, and minority ethnic, disabled or LGBTQ+.  The research on COVID-19 has shown that the UK’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are disproportionally impacted by health inequalities, and that the social and economic effects are hitting them harder too. 

My time with UnLtd has been a great experience and has provided me with a valuable insight into the various complex challenges faced by social enterprises on a daily basis. Witnessing the robustness, determination, and innovative ways in which social enterprises responded to COVID-19, was inspiring to see and was a testament to the determination of the dedicated founders that I had the pleasure of working with. I look forward to further supporting social enterprises at HL BaSE and ensuring that access to vital legal advice is not a barrier to scale or sustainability.