Generous Leadership – lessons from the frontline of social investment

In our new ‘Meet the Impact Manager’ guest blog series, we hear how some fund managers in our portfolio have been adapting to COVID-19. First up, Daniel Brewer, CEO of Resonance, shares his thoughts two months into lockdown.


Written by

Daniel Brewer, Chief Executive Officer, Resonance

Two months into lockdown.

I can’t remember who first introduced me to the term ‘Generous Leadership’ and it probably is sufficiently vague to mean whatever you want. To me it is when someone sets out to get something done but deliberately leaves the back door open so others can join in. It is more than just being the first mover and showing others the way. It’s inviting them to join in, help steer, even relying on the fact that they will, knowing that the journey may take new directions. When Leadership is about being first, it is just showing off. Generous Leadership creates space for others to be celebrated. Done well, it is truly inspiring.

Resonance is one of the UK’s leading social impact fund managers, managing a few hundred million pounds of other people’s money, passionate about mobilising useful capital into the hands of social enterprises. Since 2002, we’ve worked with social enterprises to understand their capital needs and build investment products that fit. We’re natural collaborators. But this month and prompted by the urgency of these strange times, a small group of social investment firms submitted a collaborative bid, in record time, to channel some of the Government’s emergency cash promised last month to the social enterprise sector. These are organisations serving on the front line today, re-inventing themselves for tomorrow and walking the line of commercial survival whilst staying committed to the social impact they care so much about.

Resonance was late to the party, one of those allowed to come in the back door, as it were. Maybe it will be a success, maybe it won’t be. What you can’t take away is the new level of trust and respect that we have for each other, forged in the attempt to be more valuable together than we ever could have been on our own. A big shout out to Mark Norbury at Unltd for his Generous Leadership.

Whilst we wait for the decisions of others, we’ve been doing all we can to strengthen the cohort of 50+ social enterprises we have in our portfolio. As ever there’s a three-point plan:

  1. Preserve cash. Alongside most of our peers, at the time of writing, we’ve seen about half of our investees take us up on the blanket, pre-approval of capital and interest deferral. The numerous government schemes have also proved meaningful and worth making the most of. The furlough scheme, whilst a good initiative, is a bit too binary for me, but hopefully in August, we will see people able to return part-time as is available in some other European countries. At Resonance, whilst we wait for investor decisions that have been further delayed, we decided to ask everyone to agree to work a temporary 4.5-day week. We hope that the extra-long weekend every other week will offer some recharging in these stressful and uncertain times, as well as stretching our own resources a little bit further.

  2. Help someone else. As my opening example illustrates, these are times to draw on your existing networks and explore what is possible together. We’re a sector that is naturally inclined to ‘Asset Based’ approaches – think ability not disability! Suddenly we’re seeing more and more examples of people using a genuine sharing economy; and I don’t mean the version of the sharing economy that Silicon Valley has put recent claim to, which too often is a gloss for a form of feudal extortion (sorry that’s another whole blog). We’re hopefully on the brink of a project that could help create a network of sharing goods and services which at the moment are not particularly easy to price. Historically, when economies stall, bartering flourishes. Perhaps in the digital age it can be simpler and more useful than ever before?

  3. Pivot and accelerate. There has been much talk of ‘pivoting’ business models and we’ve all witnessed some jaw-dropping examples of what is possible, whether it is a café turned emergency meal distributor for those shielding or a brewery manufacturing hand sanitiser for care homes. Often the best ideas come out of adversity. Many of us have had to embrace the technology faster than we would have liked. The digital age was upon us already, COVID-19 has in many cases just accelerated its adoption. Those of us who have been practising the adoption of new technologies with our teams will hopefully have built up some critical skills. And those teams are already looking around for what more we can do rather than simply trying to temporarily survive less face to face contact using Zoom and Amazon. Some things will go back to how they were, but other things will have found a new normal. New business models, partnerships, standards, behaviours will have been forged that will last beyond this current emergency; perhaps some technologies and practices were going to happen anyway, COVID-19 has simply removed the excuse of inertia – we’ve always done it this way, it’s just how it is. Well, not anymore.

Interesting for me is that one of the keys to executing all of these strategies well is the strength of the relationships in your network. Over the last 18 years one of Resonance’s core values has been that of building trusting and transparent relationships. It has stood us in good stead especially in the last eight years since Big Society Capital began using dormant assets released from the banking sector to leverage in substantial investment for impact. Certainly, part of my confidence in navigating today’s uncertain climate, as during our rapid growth fuelled, in part, by these dormant assets, comes from the fact that both inside and outside Resonance, I have strong relationships with some amazing people.

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