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Mapping social enterprise

Research on social investment from Cambridge Judge Business School wins best paper award at Oxford conference.

Mapping social enterprise

A research paper on social investment co-authored by Belinda Bell, Programme Director at Social Incubator East and Fellow of Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School, and Helen Haugh, Senior Lecturer in Community Enterprise at Cambridge Judge Business School, was named best paper at the Social and Sustainable Finance and Impact Investing (SSFII) Conference.

Belinda Bell

Belinda Bell

The paper – entitled “Exploring institutional field emergence: Insights from social investment” – looks into the emergence of investment in social innovation as a “discrete field of activity” in the UK – with its own boundaries, actors and practices. In England alone, the amount of money handled by social investment intermediaries is forecast to rise from £165 million in 2010 to more than £1 billion in 2016.

“Understanding the process by which new institutional fields are created is of central importance to institutional scholars,” said the winning paper, which was presented at the SSFII Conference, held 23-24 April at Said Business School in Oxford.

The paper isolates the key processes relating to innovation and imitation which worked together to shape this new field of activity, and introduces the concept of “ethical institutional entrepreneurship” – which it defines as the process of creating a new field guided by social mission – to describe how this new field of activity was created.

Helen Haugh

Dr Helen Haugh

The paper traces the emergence of social investment through textual material, principally a series of five reports on the subject issued between 2000 and 2014. The first four reports followed the convening in 2000 of the Social Investment Task Force – a partnership between the UK Social Investment Forum, the New Economics Foundation and the Development Trusts Association, with the UK Treasury as observer. The fifth report in 2014 was from the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce. These five texts were complemented by other sources published by the UK Department of Trade and Industry and the Community Development Finance Association.

The paper recognises the importance played by the active role of government in stimulating the creation of the new field of social investment. It also underlines how this new field needed to draw lessons from commercial finance while also offering something “new and innovative” to investors and ventures seeking investment.

“To distinguish the new field the texts specify how social investment differs from commercial, public and non-profit sources of funds,” the paper says. “To create a collective identity for the field the texts specify the types of organisations whose values and practices are aligned to the new field and outline activities to further consolidate the collective identity of the field.”


With Social Incubator East, Bell organises the Social Venture Weekends delivered by the Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School; the next such Weekend will be held at the School on 8-10 May. Haugh is Director of the MPhil in Innovation, Strategy & Organisation Programme at Cambridge Judge and Research Director at the Centre for Social Innovation.