Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Danyal Sattar

Many of the friends we’ve made over the last fifty years have crossed paths with us time and again and that’s certainly true of our interviewee today. Here we meet Danyal Sattar, Chief Executive of Big Issue Invest (BII)

“ICOF really are the pioneers of social impact investment in the UK, there’s just no doubt about that. They were there before anybody else, really proving you can lend to cooperatives, charities, social enterprises, and you can get your money back. It’s never easy, but they were real pioneers in that and have always had a good track record as a lender.

I’ve known about ICOF for many years and through many different roles. It was probably in the 1990s that I first heard about ICOF, when David Ralley was the Chief Executive, and then I ran into them again during my time at the New Economics Foundation when there was work there around common ownership. Then in about 1995 I worked with ICOF and for Pat Conaty to set up Aston Reinvestment Trust, now ART Business Loans, in Birmingham.  Steve Walker joined the team as CEO to really get it going and Steve is still there to this day. ICOF were a key partner.

A key part of BII relationship with ICOF has been their ability to do fund administration on behalf of other organisations. They ran our lending portfolio back office, and that was a really crucial service. And they did that for a range of organisations because it meant others didn’t have to reinvent doing your back office time and time again as a new start community finance organisation. That was a very good service for us to have. We’ve only recently taken that in house, after it being with ICOF since shortly after we started in 2005, which I think shows how successful ICOF are in delivering that. That was at the core of our longstanding relationship with ICOF.

Kevin Lloyd-Evans, who previously worked here, now works for ICOF. When Kevin was at BII and the pandemic started, he just said , ‘Let’s put my mobile phone on the front page of the website’. There was a message there quite literally saying, ‘Call me. I’m Kevin, here’s my mobile phone number, call me if I can help’. His attitude there was emblematic of what ICOF are about and what they are doing – Kevin had that people focus that ICOF has and so his new role with ICOF was a great match.

ICOF are part of a great tradition. In 1542, the Sir Thomas White loan charity was set up in Leicester to make micro loans to apprentices who were to buy their own tools and thereby increase their income. So since 1542, at least, in the UK we’ve been setting up social investment organisations, including the first building societies in 1775. It goes on from there. So that’s the long tradition that ICOF have been working within, in creating a financial institution to support organisations who aren’t supported by the mainstream. It is amazing what they’ve been doing. And since they started in 1973, Ecology Building Society came along in 1990, then Triodos Bank came onto the scene, then Unity Trust Bank and a whole plethora of community finance organisations. More recently organisations like us at BII, but ICOF really has been a pioneer here in the UK, showing how the social economy is so much wider than charity, than just social enterprise. They show the social power of cooperatives which are a key part of our third sector in its widest sense, and they’ve been there supporting people who’ve got together to help themselves and help their communities. That’s an amazing thing… I mean, they were going in 1973 and The Credit Union Act was passed in 1979. So they’ve been going since before the formalisation of credit unions! It is truly extraordinary.

A very, very happy birthday to Industrial Common Ownership Finance, also Cooperative and Community Finance as it’s known today. What a fantastic 50 years it’s been in supporting our sector and we’re so pleased you’ve been here. You’ve been inspirational to me and so many others, let alone the practical work that you’re doing. So a very, very happy birthday.”