Guest Blog: The need for a Social Impact Coalition for Wales

June 2024 | Featured, Rural policy, Rural poverty

I’m Owen Derbyshire, and I’m the CEO of a charity here in Wales.

I’m still relatively new to the sector, and I’ll admit that – for many reasons – the past few years have been transformative for me.

It’s exposed me to the incredible volunteer base Wales benefits from, some exceptional socially-minded businesses, and countless other third-sector organisations doing brilliant work solving problems hand-in-hand with communities Wales-wide.

The work the Welsh third sector does to support our communities is both challenging and rewarding, offering immediate and tangible benefit to the people of Wales; that is why I love my job and the work we do.

Even so – and despite the encouraging results I see daily at a grassroots level – I can’t ignore the fact that there are larger, systemic issues we must address if we are to truly ‘level up’ our society.


The Challenges Facing Wales

Wales faces significant challenges – high levels of deprivation, consistent educational underachievement, long-term economic stagnation, and ever-widening health inequalities. Additionally, the pace of decarbonisation is insufficient to meet our own Net Zero targets.

  • Poverty – Wales has some of the highest levels of poverty in the UK. Approximately 24% of the Welsh population lives in relative income poverty, including 28% of children.
  • Education – Educational attainment in Wales continues to lag behind other UK regions, contributing to the cycle of poverty and limiting future economic opportunities for young people.
  • Health – Wales has significant disparities in life expectancy and health outcomes across different regions, partly due to variable rates of material deprivation. In 2022-23, 25% of households with children were reported to be in material deprivation.
  • Economy – Wales has lower average wages and higher unemployment rates compared to the rest of the UK. Economic growth has slowed, and forecasts indicate that economic stagnation may continue without significant intervention and investment.

These issues are both complex and interrelated, deeply rooted in our industrial past and exacerbated by current geopolitical tensions.

Although politicians in the Senedd or Westminster are often blamed, the difficult reality is that the public purse is lighter than ever, our public bodies are underfunded to deliver the scale and pace of transformational change required, and our lead delivery agencies lack the resources to address challenges adequately.

It is these problems – these gnarly, knotty problems – that require bold thinking and the active participation of every citizen, charity, and business with a will to make things better. The question is how.


The Need for a Social Impact Coalition

Many of Wales’ businesses, third-sector organisations and public bodies have long advocated for new models of delivering social value, which is something we should welcome.

The challenge, however, is that these sector-leading organisations often act entirely independently of each other, leading to a broad range of well-meaning ESG initiatives delivering sub-optimal impact.

How much better could we do if we properly pooled our resources, started working together under a common social value framework, and better coordinated our resources to maximise the impact of our collective activity?

That is why I, along with others, am advocating for the establishment of a Social Impact Coalition for Wales.

This proposed coalition would unite our leading businesses, charities, academic institutions, funders, and public bodies under one banner, all with a shared commitment to better coordinate our social value activity and – collectively – tackle Wales’ most significant social and environmental challenges.


Addressing the Challenges

I’ve spent the past few weeks meeting dozens of bright people and brilliant organisations working in this space, and it has become clear that there are several challenges that we’ll need to address if we’re to realise the full potential of this proposed approach –

Leadership: It isn’t entirely clear ‘what good good looks like’ when it comes to delivering social value in Wales. This leadership deficit limits the potential impact of our collective efforts and leads to the inefficient use of our limited resources.

  • Proposed Solution: The Social Impact Coalition will unite representatives from key sectors to ensure an inclusive, better-coordinated approach to tackling social and environmental challenges in Wales.

Lack of Capital: One of the primary challenges is the shortage of capital available for social initiatives in Wales. This funding gap hinders organisations’ ability to drive meaningful social change, particularly in areas requiring substantial investment such as decarbonisation, education, and health.  There’s also a perception outside of Wales that we’re just not set up for it, and that there’s a lack of investable projects of sufficient scale to interest major funders.

  • Proposed Solution: The Social Impact Coalition aims to attract £1 billion in social impact funding to Wales within 10 years, drawing contributions from private investors, foundations, and businesses. We’ll do so through – among other avenues – aligning social value clauses and better co-ordinating our ESG activity. Alongside this, we’ll co-develop nation-scale projects which can better attract global capital.

Cross-Sectoral Coordination: Tackling complex, interconnected social challenges requires well-coordinated efforts across all sectors. However, Wales currently struggles to do this well, leading to sub-optimal impact, inconsistent approaches to evaluation, and the inefficient use of capital.

  • Proposed Solution: The Social Impact Coalition will agree a common social value evaluation framework, and build high-impact cross-sectoral partnerships with the potential to affect nation-scale change.

Lack of Innovation in Social Finance: Generally speaking, there is a lack of innovation relating to the financing of social impact projects in Wales. Traditional funding mechanisms often fall short, and there is a lack of ambition when designing social value projects which means we tend to focus on solving specific localised issues rather than taking a holistic, systems-thinking, approach.

  • Proposed Solution: Through the Social Finance Forum, we will advocate for new models of social finance and provide a collaborative space for leaders from the public and private sectors to explore emerging financing solutions.


Why Wales?

Wales faces some big challenges, but we benefit from a rich history of social entrepreneurship and transformative community action.

It is the birthplace of both the co-operative movement and the National Health Service, and it is now home to one of Europe’s most established third sectors.

We also have the world’s first Well-being of Future Generations Act, which legally mandates long-term, sustainable thinking in decision-making across public bodies.

Put simply, we know what good social impact looks like, and – when we work together – our small scale enables us to achieve great things quickly.



Many of Wales’ leading businesses, funders, and public bodies are already doing good work in this space, and making a real and valuable difference within the communities they serve.

However I believe that – by working together – we could achieve even more. Working together, I believe that we could bring about real nation-scale change and establish a new model for delivering social value here for the benefit of Wales, its communities, and its future generations.


Next Steps

On June 21st 2024, I’ll be hosting a roundtable discussion with some of Wales’ leading businesses, funders, public bodies and charities to see how we take this work forward. If you would like to join or support our efforts in any way, please get in touch.

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