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BD Giving Notes #5 – Towards a participatory investment policy

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Time and time again, we see the people involved in our participatory grant making (PGM) process rise to the challenge, ask the right questions and make great decisions.

These past few months, we’ve been working hard with our Community Steering Group to decide how and where to invest BD Giving’s Community Endowment Fund. As most of us are new to the investment world, there was a lot of essential knowledge to gain. So with the help of the Curiosity Society, our consulting partner, we devised an ‘investment 101’ training spanning five months to learn about building an investment portfolio, sourcing deals, and balancing impacts, risks, liquidity and returns.

It’s been a really interesting process and a great one to be involved in. Personally, it’s helped me let loose a lot of myths as a non-finance specialist. Going through the concepts, simplifying the language, and systematising the process has been enlightening, and reassuringly easier to grasp than most of us had probably anticipated. A big takeaway was learning about risk management and letting go of the idea of certainty – which actually fits quite neatly with our participatory approach to grant-making anyway.

It has also been fantastic to see the dedication of the members of the Community Steering Group, their perseverance in a process that took some time to find its feet. From the highs of the October launch to the quite theoretical second and third workshops, which many described as being ‘overwhelming’, and even saw some participants question their continued involvement. And then there was a new high towards the end of the process culminating in an emotional workshop in March, where we all acknowledged the journey we had gone through (more information on the Story so far).

For me, this shift was beautifully symbolised by a change of language of CSG participants from ‘you’ to ‘we’. While earlier in the process participants tended to behave more like external advisors, a shift occurred halfway where people started to say ‘we’. From then on, it became clear that we were doing this together, and the CSG – a group of residents from Barking and Dagenham without any formal role on BD Giving’s board was going to play a decisive role in setting up the charity’s investment policy.

When we talk about shifting power in decision making (e.g. assessing project proposals, etc) the challenge we often hear is ‘how can you give such decision making power to people without experience?’ Yet time and time again, we see the people involved in our participatory grant making (PGM) process rise to the challenge, ask the right questions and make great decisions.

Involving citizens in grant making processes has grown a lot these past few years and we are regularly engaging with foundations that are trying to get into this. With our Community Endowment Fund, we are pushing further into the world of participatory funding, that is we are taking the lessons from our PGM work and applying them to make investment decisions.

BD Giving Notes is a weekly blog aimed at sharing some CEO Geraud de Ville de Goyet’s thoughts on running a social infrastructure charity. Each post focuses on a couple of things we have learnt or done in the previous week; what’s gone well and what didn’t.

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