Fifty years of friendship and finance – meet Theodora Hadjimichael

We are almost at the end of our series of interviews with friends made over the last fifty years. Today we speak to Theodora Hadjimichael, Chief Executive of Responsible Finance, the membership organisation for not-for-profit lenders, of which we are a member.

“We have about 50 members overall that do similar lending to ICOF, supporting small businesses, social enterprises, community groups and individuals. The overall goal for us is to help more communities and people reach their full potential and be able to grow because of the access to finance that they’re getting.

We’ve always had a good working relationship with ICOF which was probably one of the first community development finance institutions or social lenders in the UK. I’ve been at Responsible Finance for about 10 years and have been involved with ICOF and worked with Alain and Tim for all that time. They’ve always been very active in the membership and the network, too. ICOF has always been an important part of the movement.

We work really closely with all of our members, and as a membership association we’re here to make sure they have the resources and the knowledge and the tools that they need to grow to have more of an impact. Alain and Tim contribute a lot in terms of trend spotting – they see patterns and are always very willing to share learning from projects and programs they’ve run.

I’ve found it particularly interesting hearing about the work ICOF does with organisations around decarbonising, decarbonisation and net zero, and in ways that they’ve funded social enterprises and community groups to work towards those goals. This is a big opportunity and challenge for the whole country, and ICOF works proactively with organisations and community groups in this space. They’ve done things around solar panels, heat sources and energy generation which helps really small organisations become more resilient. Often they couldn’t get the funding elsewhere and it makes a huge difference to them. I’ve found those stories inspirational and it’s something that ICOF seems to be leading the way on. There’s a lot that we can learn from them in that area.

ICOF is unique in the sector as our only member to focus particularly on co-operatives and community owned organisations or assets. There’s a lot of potential across the country and in different communities, but probably a lot of communities don’t know they exist and are an option.

We’re really supportive of the work ICOF does. After COVID people spend more time at home and in their hyper-local areas – community assets and spaces feel more and more important. I think there will continue to be a lot of interest in community ownership and buying community assets from people all over the UK/country. We’d love to see that part of ICOF’s work grow and we want to support them in any way we can to do that.

Happy birthday ICOF!  We’re thrilled to have you as part of the Responsible Finance membership. We’re very impressed and grateful for all of the impact that you’ve had on your customers and communities over the years. So thank you so much, and a very happy birthday.”