Damon Buffini says he wants to "give something back" to society
Damon Buffini, one of Britain's most powerful businessmen, has launched a bid to support hundreds of Britain's social enterprises.
The private equity boss has formed the Social Business Trust (SBT) with the aim of investing both cash and City expertise in the social sector.
Buffini, who grew up on a council estate in Leicester before being educated at Cambridge University and Harvard Business School, says he wants to "give something back".
With an estimated personal fortune in excess of £100m, Buffini stepped down last year as chairman of Permira, which he built into one of Europe's largest private equity firms.
His company was responsible for purchasing household names like the AA, Bird's Eye and Homebase but was at times accused by unions of 'asset stripping'.
In 2007, the firm was also at the centre of complaints about generous tax relief on loans to venture capitalists.
Blue chip help
Buffini, 48, now wants to highlight the good that private business can bring to the charitable and social sector.
"The thing that gets us up in the morning is the social mission," says Adele Blakebrough, with whom Buffini co-founded the Social Business Trust.
"Aspirationally, social enterprises need not only help in confidence building - also they lack some of the managerial layers that a normal business would have."
You've got a workforce who are motivated in a way that profit would never, ever, ever do
Lindsay Boswell, FareShare
Buffini says the Social Business Trust is already worth around £20m and will bring unprecedented support to hundreds of organisations.
It will see blue chip firms including accountants Ernst & Young, investment bank Credit Suisse and law firm Clifford Chance donating both money and staff to organisations across the UK.
Social enterprises, the best known of which is arguably the Big Issue, operate like regular companies but must put profits back into running the business.
This means they maintain their social mission but it can be harder for them to attract the investment other small or medium sized businesses enjoy.
Buffini wants to reshape the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the Trust will see staff and managers from leading private firms spending time in social enterprises, helping them to grow their business.
One social enterprise which has benefited from a similar scheme is FareShare.
The organisation takes unsold stock from supermarkets and food manufacturers and redistributes it at cut down prices to charities and homelessness groups.
In the early days of CSR most corporates thought that all it required was to send their people down to paint old ladies houses
Tim Curry, Social Business Trust
"This is quite a big operation and we've got quite large overheads," says FareShare chief executive Lindsay Boswell as he walks through his busy south London distribution depot.
He admits the firm is not making a profit.
"I would like to be making a small profit so we can actually open more depots and serve more cities.
"At the moment we're just breaking even."
FareShare has had management support from Tim Curry, a former partner at Ernst & Young, and now on the board of the Social Business Trust.
He helped the social enterprise with its market positioning and the pricing of its products, meaning it was able to grow more quickly.
It is one of the core aims of the Social Business Trust - helping social enterprises to 'scale'.
"In the early days of CSR most corporates thought that all it required was to send their people down to paint old ladies houses or clear gardens," says Tim Curry.
"But clearly if you've got highly skilled functional experts the best contribution that corporates can make is to apply those functional skills (to the) social enterprise."
Fareshare chief executive Lindsay Boswell thinks the combination of social mission with 'blue chip' management practice can prove hugely successful.
"I have never come across in any of the roles and jobs I've done the degree and level of drive and motivation that the people who work here have," he explains.
"If you get like-minded people together who feel passionately about food, who feel passionately about food waste, then you've got a work force that is to die for.
"You've got a workforce who are motivated in a way that profit would never, ever, ever do."
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