Meet Jessica Davies, Associate Director in the Impact Incubator
What do you do at Social Finance?
I’m an Associate Director in the Impact Incubator, where we support charitable foundations to design and develop solutions that will have an impact on social problems. In practice, this means I’m involved in thinking about strategy and team wellbeing, building relationships and managing clients and partners, and developing and delivering our projects.
We usually start by working with our foundation partners to decide which social issue to focus on, then we take time to really understand the causes, asking why the system is stuck and what the opportunities are to make change. After that, things can go in lots of different directions: we will find an approach or an opportunity and work together with partners to build a project, partnership, organisation – whatever is needed – to move things forward. We’re often the ‘glue’ that brings different organisations together around a shared vision for change, and we stick around for the long term to try to move towards it.
Sounds complicated! Can you talk us through a project?
Four foundations approached us as they wanted help to improve quality of life for older people. After we researched various sectors, we decided to focus on transport. It is often forgotten about as it’s not a very ‘sexy’ subject, but it’s really important for people’s physical and mental health, independence and social life.
The next phase was trying to understand the difficulties that older people face in that area and what the challenges are in the system. We had a lot of different conversations, held roundtables, did desk research and built relationships with key actors like the Community Transport Association to deepen our understanding. That’s when we came across Motability, the national disability charity, which is focused on ensuring equitable access to transport for disabled people. We found there was a lot of crossover.
We worked with them to understand the challenges faced by disabled people in accessing transport and helped them to decide on two focus areas, suggesting a number of potential projects and opportunities. They are now making several of these a reality – from scholarships for people with disabilities to study transport design, to setting up a new £20m Evidence Centre for inclusive transport. We also worked with them to broker a partnership with Hampshire County Council and the Community Transport Association to work together to develop the sector’s leading ‘MiDAS’ training into the ‘gold standard’ inclusive driver and passenger assistant training. Often, it’s our job to join the dots and connect people who may not otherwise have been aware of each other’s work.
What’s the best part of your job?
My background is in teaching and strategy consulting, and I always knew I wanted to do something with a social impact focus. Social Finance appealed to me because they work across lots of different sectors and different issue areas. I’m fascinated by thinking about how we solve social issues, so I find my job genuinely interesting.
In my team, we’re asking fundamental questions, looking at the issues surrounding them and then actually addressing those problems.
I used to work in consulting but found it frustrating that you never knew if the companies would put your ideas into practice. At Social Finance, we look at how to make things happen, and then support organisations to make it reality.
What advice would you give to someone applying for your role?
When you start a new job, you often need to learn the ropes before you settle in. But at Social Finance, there are often no ropes! On the majority of projects, everyone in the room is trying to work out what the most important issues are. But that entrepreneurial sense is brilliant, everyone putting their heads together to figure something out. You can question anything and everything; there are no wrong answers. We have a licence to ask, ‘what’s the world we want to see and how do we get there?’ It’s a bit scary but also quite exciting.
I’d tell them ‘expect to have their expectations challenged’, which is part of the beauty of working for Social Finance.