Sunday, 29 April 2007

Sir Ronald Cohen

• Another participant at the Forum was Sir Ronald Cohen. He was one of the media “stars” of business-led social entrepreneurship, and was profiled in the business sections of several British newspapers during the time of the Oxford conference. Cohen is described as having a major influence on the current government, and is considered a trusted member of Chancellor (and leader-in-waiting) Gordon Brown's most trusted inner circle.

The Times calls Cohen “the grandfather of venture capital in Europe”. He set up Apax Partners in 1972 and grew the firm into one of the world’s biggest and most successful buyout groups, making him a billionaire in the process. He retired from Apax on his 60th birthday in 2005 and immediately started to work on projects that would enable him to give some of his and the industry’s wealth back to the community.

Much of this work is centred around Bridges Community Ventures, which describes itself as “a private equity firm with a social mission”. Its strategy is to invest only in the poorest 25 per cent of the country. (The firm has made 13 investments, sold three companies and seen five go under).

Cohen told The Observer how his worldview had changed since Gordon Brown asked him to chair first the Social Investment Taskforce and, more recently, the Commission for Unclaimed Assets.
“I came to understand that you could really change people's lives if you could manage to connect the private sector way of doing things and the access to the capital markets with the social challenges that communities are facing everywhere ...
“ I am convinced there is a wave of social entrepreneurship forming now that feels the same as the wave of business entrepreneurship I felt when I started in 1972 ... We have in our hands the ability to turn social investment into an asset class, in the same way we have turned private equity into a mainstream asset class.” — Sir Ronald Cohen
• Cohen is also heading up a new initiative which will be Britain’s first “social bank”. It aims to do this by investing about £250 million of the estimated £400 million in dormant bank and building society accounts. Although the primary aim is to return the money to its owners, the bank will use any outstanding money to fund voluntary organisations and social enterprises “... to tackle social and financial exclusion”.
Bridges Community Ventures website
“Bridging the Great Divide" by Nick Mathiason on The Observer 18 March 2007
“Billionaire sets up ‘mission’ to help nation’s poorest” by Siobhan Kennedy in The Times 31 March 2007