What is the issue?
Almost a decade of global financial turmoil has thrown open major questions around traditional banking, lending and the international money markets. One response to this has been the emergence of ‘democratic finance’ models such as crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and community debenture schemes – ostensibly founded on more ethical grounds.
Organisations operating in this alternative finance arena suggest that these can each be inclusive instruments of social change, delivering the power of money back to the public. They point to their capacity to contribute to sustainable business growth and prosperity which can in turn foster greater social cohesion and tackle rising inequalities.
These alternative models of finance make claims to foster greater social cohesion, the empowerment of communities, and local economic resilience. But there has been little pause to reflect upon how these might practically work at the local level. Do they work, for whom and why? What opportunities and obstacles are there for these models to address the financial challenges faced by local communities?
In order to release this apparent potential, it is vital to shine an academic light on these developments to better understand how these financial models work, how they could improve people’s everyday lives, who they might reach, and how their wider use might help to build a more resilient economic model for the future.
There is an urgent need to understand the viability and desirability of these schemes, their potential social and ethical impact, and their possible benefits.
What will the project try to achieve?
Through the FITTER project, the Bauman Institute will provide the UK’s first sociologically-informed analysis of alternative finance with specific regards to local economic resilience.
Through interviews with those in the alternative finance sector, the team will gain an understanding of the motives of ‘democratic finance’ companies, especially their social, economic and ethical positions. This project is interested in how they see the relationship between their economic activities and their social impact.
The project will then compare these findings with wider evidence to be gathered on the alternative finance movement, in order to assess the extent to which the democratic finance models are successful in achieving their social, economic and ethical aims. These findings will then be synthesised with previous research carried out by the Bauman Institute specifically on ‘community resilience’, in order to test the viability and desirability of each of these models for building local economic resilience.
Finally, the project will draw out insights and examples of good practice from this synthesis, and identify opportunities and obstacles facing the sector, in order to evaluate the current impact of ‘democratic finance’ models – and to assess their potential impact in the future.
Who might be interested in this project?
The FITTER project has enormous potential to shape the future of a rapidly-growing sector of socially-responsible businesses in the UK. A wider context of growing inequalities, soaring personal debt, and the rise of payday lenders, give real currency to this research.
The project will be of interest to those working within and across the alternative finance sector, including: new and established SMEs with a commitment to social responsibility; to parliamentarians, think tanks, and local and national policy-makers striving to create a fairer, more inclusive and resilient economic policy that addresses the real needs faced by local people in their everyday lives; to third sector organisations dedicated to creating more resilient local communities; and to academic researchers across the social sciences who are interested in contributing to an alternative understanding of economic life.
UPDATE September 2016: This project has now produced its final reports. These can be downloaded here: full report / summary report.