Jo Wedderspoon_2

Joanne Wedderspoon

Development Manager

Charities Aid Foundation


9 August 2019

In late 2018 and early 2019 we interviewed 15 of the investees who had benefited from our Social Enterprise Assist Fund (SE-Assist Fund) since 2012. The findings from the interviews were published in our recent report Supporting small social enterprises and charities.

As our SE-Assist Fund Wales is currently open for applications, until 27 August, we thought it would be a good time to look at some of the learnings from the report and share them here.  

The SE-Assist Fund is a placed-based fund that offers interest free loans from £10,000 to £30,000 to help small social enterprises and entrepreneurial charities become more sustainable and grow.   It also offers expert mentoring to support with growth plans.  The fund is managed by CAF Venturesome with support from Legal & General and local partners.

Since our first social investment round in 2012, SE-Assist has supported a diverse range of social enterprises and entrepreneurial charities to grow – these include:

  • HISBE, an ethical supermarket in Brighton
  • ELITE SEA, a trading charity supporting disabled and disadvantaged people into work in Wales
  • Brighton’s community pub, The Bevy
  • GT Scholars, an in-school and after-school leadership programme for young people in Croydon.

Elite 780

Elite Paper Solutions.   A social enterprise providing paper recycling, disposal, shredding and scanning services to organisations in Wales.

The highlight learnings are:

  • Interest-free finance was hugely valuable to the organisations we supported. SE-Assist became a ‘lender of last resort’ and played a crucial role in addressing an important gap in the social enterprise sector.

    “The bank would not support us.  Our community engagement strategy was immature.  We had no funding.  SE-Assist was the lender of last resort”

  • Our loans empowered these social enterprises by serving as an initial ‘validation’ of the investees’ business models.

     “The investment meant that there was a group of people that believed in your idea.  That is the most powerful validation.”

  • Several investees praised our thorough application process. Furthermore, several investees found their regular interactions with the team at CAF Venturesome to be very positive and supportive.

    "Going through the application process was one of the  most thorough things we had to do, yet on the very positive side of that process the reality is the loan."

  • Pitching to the local investment committees was seen as challenging, but incredibly helpful and several organisations fed back that this proved crucial to the longevity and resilience of their enterprises.

However, another key learning, coming out of this impact review, was that the way SE-Assist matched mentors to an investee organisation did not always work and very often was hit and miss. Several investees fed back that they were being matched with mentors that either lacked the expertise or time. Others mentioned that when their mentor dropped out they did not receive a replacement.

Having a strong local partner is an important factor for success including for the overall viability of the fund management. Some regions have been much more successful than others in terms of more loans offered per investment round and in terms of having a strong and well-connected local partner, such as the Wales Co-Operative Centre in Wales.

CAF Venturesome is keen to build on these learnings with a view to refining and improving the processes for the SE-Assist Fund for future funding rounds.


The full report can be downloaded here.


With thanks to our partners Legal & General, Wales Co-Operative Centre, the Welsh Government, Institute of Directors, Coast to Capital, The Goodall Foundation, The Pebble Trust, Brighton & Hove City Council, Business in the Community, The Platform and the London Borough of Croydon.

Apply for the SE-Assist Fund in Wales before 27 August 2019.

And if you want to know more about a social investment from our Development Fund, or want to use your philanthropic capital to support our fund, talk to our team on 03000 123 300 or email us at and we’ll be happy to help.