Q&A: Daniela Barone Soares

The chief executive of venture philanthropy firm the Impetus Trust gives her view of the Big Society and why it is important for the private equity industry to buy into the idea.

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How do you define the Big Society?
The government cannot solve all the world’s social problems on its own. The Big Society is about everyone in society taking ownership of situations instead of relying on the government to do everything.

Working across sectors, where the public sector, private sector and communities work together is very powerful. It very difficult to co-ordinate but when you get it right it is very powerful and effective.

The concept of the Big Society has been criticised for being vague and fuzzy. How would you respond to that criticism?
Well, I think you could call the concept vague, but it is not meant to be a maths equation. There is no one-size-fits-all model for delivering the Big Society. It is about taking responsibility and finding new ways of working. I think everyone accepts that carrying on with a business as usual approach is not an option.

What role do you see private equity playing in the delivering of this concept?
When you read about the Big Society it is often about opening a new school or running your own post office. That is great, but not everyone is going to do that.

For me the Big Society is a good way to get people together and figure out how to use resources better. It is about using the money and skills from the private sector and combining this with the expertise from the voluntary sector and good policy from government.

This is where private equity can make a large contribution. The industry is full of knowledge on human resources, finance and negotiations, and it has a very disciplined way of improving the way organisations operate and increasing their scale.

This is so important. I don’t think innovation is a problem. What we can do better is identify which organisations and charities are having the biggest social impact and then help them to scale up and reach even more people. That is something that private equity does very well.  

Do you think that Impetus and organisations like it represent an established structure for delivering the aims of the Big Society?
I do think that we have a very good model. We pull together resources in the private sector and then figure out how these can be implemented with maximum effect in the voluntary sector. You want to make the most of the skills of the managing partner of a private equity firm that is volunteering time. You do not want a managing partner doing gardening.

Our model also uses the best due diligence from the private equity industry to identify the organisations that can make the biggest impact with the resources they are given.