Reflecting on 20 years in the sector – Part 2


Andrew Croft

Following on from the first part of this post that looked at the rise of the social entrepreneur and gaining recognition, in this second part we gain insight from Andrew Croft, Chief Executive here at CAN on how as an organisation we have adapted to support positive sector growth and change.


Identifying the gaps

Since being founded in 1998 (20 years ago) CAN has and continues to have a focus on addressing the 3 key challenge areas within the sector: premises, skills and finance.

By identifying the gaps within these 3 key areas and finding ways of addressing them, our aim is to continue to support a social economy to thrive and grow.

Here are some of the ways we have addressed these gaps since we were founded:



Finance and funding continue to be the biggest challenges in the social sector due to the lack of risk capital. In fact, it is crucial that social entrepreneurs and organisations find ways to access funding to create sustainable revenue streams and a platform for growth. This being possible will help the sector continuing to flourish.

Since being founded CAN have worked to create ways for funding to be accessed, here are just a few:


  • UnLtd – a foundation that was co-founded by CAN exclusively for social entrepreneurs to support them through a 3-stage process; trying ideas, growing the idea and accelerating them to scale. The fund raised £100m endowment to make this possible.


  • Breakthrough Programme – this was a milestone approach of ‘venture philanthropy’ where investment was about creating a social rather than financial return. This programme focused on supporting social enterprise organisations to get to a position where sustainable income streams were created that then allowed them to thrive and continue to grow. The fund spent £3m. The success of the model led to the creation of the Social Business Trust.


  • Early Intervention Fund (EIF) – after running a local authority grant / loan blended capital fund CAN sought support from private sector organisations and have been able to co-found the EIF which delivers to the demand seen in the market. It provides organisations with an early intervention focus access to loans of between £5,000 and £50,000 on 4% unsecured, a big move from those that ordinarily have a minimum of £250k. You can read more about Change Please who recently received an award from the fund.



Although funding and skills are important for the social sector to thrive, so is ensuring they have a safe place to work.

As a social enterprise ourselves we know how important it is to have a working space that is flexible, provides access to donors/customers for contracts and talent, is near to Westminster and the City and doesn’t see you tied in to lengthy leases. 

In 2000 CAN Mezzanine was born and our first space began. First-hand experience has taught us the importance of showing a strong, resilient and professional identity when it comes to winning contracts. Our CAN Mezzanine locations continue to focus on providing organisations exactly this. 

Since 2000 we have now grown to 6 CAN Mezzanine locations which are home to over 150 social organisations and 1,400 individuals. These locations have become our social enterprise engine. We’re able to sell at under market price and provide a way to support social collaboration alongside generation of cost saving and income.



The ability to understand how to best allocate resource (human and financial) is critical to sustained growth. As a sector we have grown up with the approach to this being high cost consultancy something that by its nature becomes inaccessible to many.


  • Muesli – more often funders and investors ask social organisations to provide their impact maps, aka “Theory of Change” as part of their application or evaluation. An impact map is not only a tool for strategy and evaluation but will enable them to visualise and understand where the best results are being achieved both financially and socially and, in turn, make informed decisions to create continued growth and positive impact. This tool launched earlier this year and provides an affordable way for organisations to create an impact map without the need for high cost consultancy.


  • Investment readiness – as touched on under Finance it is an area that is tough and competitive. Our team of experts work with organisations to get them investment ready and ensure that they stand the best chance to secure funds to continue growth.



These are just a few of the highlights in terms of what CAN have provided over the last 20 years. 

As an organisation CAN continues to have ambitious plans to play its part in the sector thriving and receiving the recognition it deserves.


Read the first part of this interview here.

Category: CAN Group