Key Fund Tackles BAME Barriers to Investment

A leading social investor, Key Fund, is actively seeking to support social entrepreneurs from ethnic minorities. Key Fund, which operates across the North and the Midlands, offers investment (loans and…

Key Fund

A leading social investor, Key Fund, is actively seeking to support social entrepreneurs from ethnic minorities.

Key Fund, which operates across the North and the Midlands, offers investment (loans and grants) between £5,000-£300,000 to social enterprises in some of the most deprived communities.

The move is in response to ongoing research from the Black United Representation Network (BURN) that shows only a fraction of ethnic minority businesses in Manchester are accessing and securing investment.

The ground breaking study concluded productivity could be boosted by almost £4bn in the Manchester region alone, if steps were taken to dismantle the barriers Black and Asian business leaders face.

One million of the six million businesses in the UK are minority owned, yet people from minority groups face greater exclusion from the financial system, according to the Minority Businesses Matter Report*.

Key Fund began in South Yorkshire in 1999 in response to the collapse of the coal and steel industries. A social enterprise itself, it was founded by like-minded social entrepreneurs and philanthropists to breathe life back into its communities, by supporting new enterprise.

Matt Smith, CEO of Key Fund, said: “Key Fund has a long history of reaching the most disadvantaged places, but we’re aware the most marginalised groups in these places have traditionally been unable to access finance. Our mission to create successful communities can’t work if there are people still left behind. There is a profound need, and we have to step up to meet it.”

Key Fund supports social or community organisations who work to create positive social or environmental impact, as well as profit.

To date, Key Fund has awarded £49.4m in loans and £23.3m in grants, creating or sustaining 3,000 businesses, and over 4,000 jobs, with a total £370m impact.

Matt added: “At Key Fund, we pride ourselves in getting the right money, into the right hands, at the right time. We need to do more to address shocking discrimination. If you’re a social entrepreneur who has been turned down by your bank, or struggled with cultural or language barriers, our door is open. Please talk to us.”

Barriers include discrimination, and the lack of customised business and application support, delivered by diverse providers.

Dr Marilyn Comrie OBE, an award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of BURN, said: “Understanding the specific barriers that ethnic minorities face is a crucial first step in creating solutions that can overcome long-standing racial inequities. We’re thrilled Key Fund as leaders in the social investment sector, has recognised this issue, and look forward to working with them to help our economy be one where all can thrive.”

Key Fund

Dr Marilyn Comrie OBE co-author of the report with Roger Kadama from Phoenix Innovate and Andre Smith from One Touch Football

Key Fund’s commitment to inclusivity will feature a series of workshops aimed at ethnic minority social entrepreneurs, offering translation services as required. It is actively championing its existing BAME clients in the hope to inspire others.

Key Fund investees in the last year include Highway Hope in Manchester, which has grown into a social enterprise hub, with discount food stores, a beauty salon for ethnic minorities, IT hub, re-use furniture store and educational programmes. Key Fund invested £19,200 in loan and £5,800 grant in 2023 to help its CEO, Esther Oludipe, develop its community café.

It also invested in Toranj Tuition to allow them to purchase their own building and become more sustainable. Established by three Iranian nationals in Hull twenty years ago, it supports qualified migrants to re-enter their professions in the UK, and runs educational programmes for children from deprived backgrounds.

Other recent investees include Newcastle’s Africawad, founded by asylum seeker Afi Dometi, which supports over 20 women into education or employment in the UK each year, and saves 300,000 kilos of unwanted clothes from landfill.

For media enquiries contact 0753 194 8014.  Feature photo show Afi Dometi, Africawad

Research Reports


To access the BURN Barriers to Inclusion report for Greater Manchester go to: BarierstoInclusionReportJanuary2024.pdf – Google Drive

About Key Fund

Based in Sheffield, Key Fund invest in community and social enterprises that have traditionally been excluded; turned down by mainstream banks and building societies.

Founded 23 years ago, Key Fund has created or sustained 4083 jobs, 3,000 businesses, and created £370m of positive social or environmental impact.

Key Fund Case Studies

For photos of Key Fund case studies listed in Note to Editors for media use, go to:

Hitting all the Right Notes

Key Fund

Yasin El Ashrafi

How did Yasin El Ashrafi go from drug addiction to standing on a stage with (then) Prince Charles and TV royalty, Ant and Dec?

Yasin’s father was deported before he was born. Growing up on an inner-city estate in Leicester, he fell into drugs. But the birth of his son left him determined to be the father he never had. Since setting up HQ Recording studio, he’s mentored hundreds of disadvantaged young people who want to get into the music industry. Key Fund invested in his expansion with a £50k investment.

As an educational hub, it supports ex-offenders, long-term unemployed, and NEETs.

“From the commercial side…we want to go to the top.”

 Education Empowers

Twenty years ago, three Iranian nationals were studying for PhDs at the University of Hull. Shocked at the low educational record in the city, they set up Toranj Tuition.

Key Fund

Dr Pedram Saeid (right)

They tutor children from deprived backgrounds and deliver English language and employability training to adults, supporting qualified migrants in re-entering their professions, such as Vera, a doctor and refugee from Ukraine.

During Covid, their premises became a food bank and community hub. But the building wasn’t accessible and in need of repair.

Key fund invested £100k to buy a suitable premise in the centre of Hull.

“My passion is to help. The cause that we believe in keeps us going.”

The Road to Hope

Originally from Nigeria, Esther Oludipe’s father came to the UK to study dentistry. She did a PhD in pharmacy.

When she saw the deprivation around her husband’s church in Manchester, she set up a community café.

Key Fund

Esther Oludipe founder of Highway Hope

It evolved into ‘Highway Hope’ – a small army tackling the challenges in the community. It runs a discount food shop, re-use furniture shop, online store, music school, social hub, running educational programmes, IT clubs, a beauty salon for ethnic minorities and a gardening project, supporting people to grow their own healthy veg. It supports anyone in poverty.

Key Fund invested a £19,200 loan and £5,800 grant to help turn the café into a commercial social enterprise, the Cup of Hope.

“If I have the opportunity to do something, and if I can find people who can help do it, I just need to empower it.”

Clothes Can Change the World

Afi Dometi came to the UK as an asylum seeker when her life was in danger in West Africa.

An accountant, she learnt English and worked in hotels and kitchens while studying for a business degree.

Afi set up Africawad, which recycles and sells clothes, in a deprived area of Newcastle to help fellow women, struggling with the work and language barriers she did.


  1. save 300,000 kilos of unwanted garments from landfill each year.
  2. support over 20 women into education or employment in the UK each year.
  3. finance women in Africa to create their own micro businesses in the second-hand clothes sector to break the cycle of poverty.
  4. pay for the tuition of dozens of school girls in Togo each year.

Key fund invested £20k to help them expand.

“If women have education, their children will have education too; it will help the continent, it will stop war, it will stop immigration, it will stop dictatorship.”

Cause UK has been representing The Key Fund for over a decade, read about the work we did for their social impact report for 2023 here.

Photo shows: Afi Dometi Africawad