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Before Mark Thain, Global Head of Social Innovation, joined Barclays’ Citizenship team in 2009, he had extensive experience in project finance. He was responsible for strategy, finance and impact evaluation across Barclays’ global portfolio of community partnerships.

Building on this in-depth insight and knowledge he saw an opportunity to bring together commercial and business opportunities to support societal challenges, ultimately developing and launching the Barclays Social Innovation Facility.

What is social innovation and how is it being applied to the finance industry?

Social innovation within business, quite simply, offers a fresh way of looking at, and addressing, social issues. It is recognising that the business world has a key role to play in tackling societal challenges, that goes beyond the traditional approaches to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which, for many years have leaned heavily on charitable donations and grant making. While philanthropy remains an important and impactful element of CSR, the greatest opportunity any corporation has to make a difference in the world is always going to be through its core business. By developing banking products and services that themselves deliver social impact we have the potential to develop long term, sustainable and scalable solutions to some of the very real social and environmental challenges facing our world.

By developing banking products and services that themselves deliver social impact we have the potential to develop long term, sustainable and scalable solutions to some of the very real social and environmental challenges facing our world.
Mark Thain, Global Head of Social Innovation

What’s the value and indeed the business case for social innovation both for Barclays and society?

For it to be successful it needs to be a win-win for both. From a commercial perspective, social innovation opens up a wealth of emerging business opportunities in some of the world’s fastest growing markets and sectors. For example, with the rapid growth of the impact investing sector there’s a growing focus from our clients on investment opportunities that combine social impact and financial returns. The impact investing market is predicted to grow to $500bn by 2020 and represents a significant opportunity for the new products that can meet the unique needs of that client base.

What is Barclays doing in the space?

I’m proud to say Barclays has pioneered the way forward. It was one of the first corporates to establish an in-house, dedicated Social Innovation Facility (SIF) supporting the design and development of new propositions that drive social impact.

Since it was set up in 2012, we’ve had some great early success and have now supported more than 45 projects right across our business. These include everything from a Women in Leadership Index and Exchange Traded Note designed to provide investors with exposure to US companies with gender-diverse executive leadership, through to a banking proposition that serves the unique needs of the armed forces and an innovation finance facility to support high-growth UK SMEs.

Are social innovation strategies being widely adopted across the business world?

The role of business in driving social innovation is still very nascent as a concept. It’s starting to get increasing recognition as we deepen our understanding of the close links between business and society, but as a management strategy it represents a significant shift in thinking and won’t happen overnight.

Some sectors are moving faster than others, and in highly regulated and established industries such as the world of finance there are many challenges to delivering innovation at speed, but there are certainly encouraging developments with a lot of cross-sector collaboration. Our recent work with GSK is a great example of what can be achieved when you bring together partners across different industries.

What’s your proudest achievement?

Setting up and launching the Barclays’ Social Innovation Facility, and making our first internal investment was a significant moment, but I’m proudest of the wave of energy and passion we have unleashed in our colleagues at Barclays through the SIF. I’m a big believer in the potential of intrapreneurship – empowering colleagues to innovate from within the organisation and develop as leaders by taking responsibility to deliver new propositions that are personally meaningful.

Barclays was a cornerstone partner in helping to launch and scale the Intrapreneur Lab. Through the nine Labs to date we’ve been able to help create a global community of passionate intrapreneurs who all start out with the nugget of an idea and many are now seeing that come to market. These individuals are the future leaders of global corporations and will be the driving forces in changing the way the business world thinks.

Finally, what next for social innovation and what does the future look like?

The next step will be seeing social impact become increasingly integrated into business models from the outset, with the growth of more firms that recognise the opportunity to simultaneously create economic and social value. The next generation of leaders will be crucial in driving this forward, and I’m delighted we’ve been able to help nurture some of them through our work at Barclays.

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