Social enterprise leaders share their wishes for 2013

In our recent live discussion leading figures shared their views on the state of the social enterprise movement and what 2013 could have in store

Servane Mouazan – founder, Oguntê

Highlights of 2012: The Women’s Social Leadership Awards last June proved that women social innovators and entrepreneurs are a real force to be counted with.

Important lessons learnt during the year: It’s necessary to be flexible and creative with our own business model, there’s no fixed structure, we have to be creative, “skin” change is ok, and that you should only work with people who are adaptive and keen to work hard.

Three wishes for social enterprise in 2013:

1. More awareness in the mainstream.

2. More women at board level and executive level, with decent wages.

3. Conscious open innovation within and outside the UK, and collaboration across sectors.

Melanie Bryan – founder, WhyNotChange

Highlights of 2012:

• Helping social enterprises and SMEs win over £145m of public sector contracts and funding.

• Seeing over 280 women attend North West Women’s Enterprise Day and hearing their amazing success stories since last year.

• Strengthening my organisation’s links with Manchester Metropolitan University Centre for Enterprise whose support has enabled me to increase my social impact.

Poverty report for 2013: One major initiative for me has been to serve as a commissioner on the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission where we have sought to understand the real nature of what it means to live in poverty within our locality and most importantly to seek practical ways to alleviate and prevent this. Our report will be launched on 15 January.

Lack of recognition for social enterprises: Its frustrating for me to see that the superb work being done around the country by social enterprises isn’t always being widely shared resulting in reinvention of the wheel unnecessarily. Some form of social franchising or social licensing would be beneficial.

Advice to new social entrepreneurs: Test their idea using whichever entity is easiest for them at the time, and then convert to the most appropriate model when they have a clearer idea of what they are doing. Most commissioners and customers aren’t overly interested in your constitution but are far more interested in whether you can deliver outcomes, add social value, and measure impact.

Local universities are a hub for social enterprise ideas: I’m working closely with a number of local universities who are fully supporting students, graduates, staff and academics to develop social enterprise ideas. They are a veritable ‘hotbed’ of great ideas and enthusiasm.

Trudy Thompson – founder Brick and Bread Sustainable Living Centre

Main hurdle: The only issues I have ever had whilst being a social entrepreneur have come from bureaucracy getting in the way of making a difference to society. The biggest obstacles have come from the public sector.

Wish for 2013: Keep doing it and collaborate with each other to make a real difference to society, rather than get bogged down in bureaucracy.

Christine Wilson – head of youth and society, British Council

Highlights of 2012: Realising we’d made real strides in east Asia, including supporting the Thai Social Enterprise Office in its formation.

Poor definition of social enterprise: Outside the UK, there is often surprise at the lack of legal definition. Then there is a perception that as the UK government is supportive of the sector, that it is somehow a government business. And some people don’t see the difference between a social enterprise and a charity.

Co-operatives thriving in eastern Europe: One interesting thing about working in eastern Europe is that some people are put off by terms of co-operative or community enterprise – it sounds like a throwback to something of the past. However, there is a thriving sector in development.

Changing face of social enterprise: It’s becoming more sophisticated, so we are tailoring our approach. Initially we were all about supporting individuals, making their community work more sustainable, providing training and so on in business planning, social impact evaluation and so on. Now the markets are developing and there is a groundswell, we can look at more policy impact – if a country wants a thriving social enterprise sector, what does the infrastructure look like? What’s the role of education? Or the finance sector? And so on. And there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Evan Scandling – head of communications, Sunlabob Renewable Energy, Ltd

Highlight of 2012: Scaling up and expanding internationally, it’s been exciting to be able to apply our operational models for bringing clean energy and water to rural poor in Laos and take that experience to Africa, India, the Pacific Islands.

Biggest challenge to being a social enterprise: Being able to effectively explain and illustrate your innovative business to your many different stakeholders.

Improve branding: Not just to mainstream audiences, but with an emphasis on the decision makers who can affect the success of our business and catalyse our growth and impact. For example, we need to be direct and clear to the public sector that their support and partnership is absolutely critical to the success and longevity of our company. Yes, we are a business, but grants are still key when your ‘customers’ are among the poorest of the poor.

Success of social enterprise in Asia: Things are really heating up and some of our most important allies are ramping up their programs focused on supporting social enterprise and inclusive business.

A few quick examples:

• Asian Development Bank’s inclusive business efforts.

• Impact Partners has created an online platform as a ‘meeting ground’ to connect social enterprises and inclusive business with key partners, particularly in regards to seeking funding/investment.

Three wishes for 2013:

1. Deeper understanding of social enterprises ever-increasing, important role in the broader economy.

2. Recognition from the public sector and also ‘big business’ of the value of collaboration and partnerships with SE’s.

3. Better resources, particularly for international companies, for capacity building.

Allison Ogden Newton – chair, Transition Institute

Diversity is key to social enterprise success: The diverse way in which we approach social enterprise in the UK is key to our success and should be celebrated. Legislation that defined any given model would have limited the application, as it see we see social enterprise continue to grow and propagate in all sorts of arenas that would have been hard to anticipate even five years ago.

For social enterprises to maintain success: We need to focus on viability and social impact that increases the value of our service thereby reducing long term costs, rather than constitutions.

Universities can further the work of the social enterprise sector: Universities have become a real resource for the growth of understanding and growth of social enterprise. The students here at Northampton are so enthusiastic and see social entrepreneurism as a prime strategy.

Three wishes for 2013:

1. Social value to be recognised within commissioning in a way that ensures all providers have to increase their delivery.

2. Social enterprises to become shorthand for all that is good in business.

3. Increased collaboration, this movement will grow as fast as it is inclusive.

Paul Gibson – national charity and social enterprise specialist, Mazars LLP

Success for social enterprise in 2012: The social enterprise brand is increasingly recognised as delivering social return along with financial sustainability. The commercial sector has lost a lot of credibility over bank crises, paying tax fairly and paying wages which are high enough to keep working families off benefit. The public sector cuts are biting hard and hitting the poor and the vulnerable hardest. Simple privatisation of public services to commercial providers is not the only answer. Social enterprises and other social purpose businesses are alternatives to privatisation.

Social enterprises have been lead more successfully: We understand leadership styles better. The founder syndrome or the charismatic leader can get an organisation started, but may not be able to grow the business. A more consensual style may work better in the long run.

To continue to be successful: Organisations will need to deliver on price and service every day to prosper next year. This must not be at the expense of the social purpose.

Adam Bradford – development manager, Live UnLtd

Highlight of 2012: Working with a group of our beneficiaries to co-create my own social enterprise, the initiative’s future strategy for 2013. It really helped tapping into the specialist knowledge they have; but mostly it has been a reactive year responding to changes in society, funding and available support.

More exposure needed for social enterprises: There’s a huge amount of work to be done in bringing social enterprise and the impact social enterprise have into the mainstream – a very quiet and humble breed at the moment, we could do with some high profile exposure and support from the rest of the private sector to appreciate our efforts.

More support for social enterprises than ever: There is a lot of support around social enterprise at the moment. The more advised we are the better, the more informed the better when it comes to business models. For me a mentor has helped greatly, having someone who has been there, done it and worked through the pros and cons can really help you understand what it’s like working inside different structures – not just predicting what it may operate like based on how it’s described on paper.

Wishes for 2013:

1. It’d be good to see social enterprise a provider of choice in many of the public sector/council tendering processes with fewer hoops to jump through.

2. More mainstream recognition is the second major advancement I’d like to see in the sector next year. More social enterprises starting up and the business proposition becoming recognised not just as a ‘structure’ per se but as an approach and a methodology; alleviating some of the stresses we’ve been talking about around structure.

Dr Pathik Pathak – director of undergraduate programmes, University of Southampton

Social enterprises need to embrace a different attitude to ‘failure’: One thing I’ve been aware of is some of the shame attached to business failure in the UK, and the need is to learn lessons and move on. This also applies to the way we research social entrepreneurship and generally communicate it to those outside the sector. Finding out what works and what doesn’t, and identifying roadblocks whether in terms of legislation or the wider ecosystem is very important.

Success of social enterprise around the world: India continues to be a trailblazing country for social enterprise. This year the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai – who run the first masters programme in social enterprise in India – have reached an agreement with the Asia Development Bank to fund incubation and a stipend for graduates of their masters programme. It’s a great way to nurture talent.

Three wishes for 2013:

1. For social entrepreneurship to move beyond business schools in universities to encompass all the talent available among our undergraduate and postgraduate bodies.

2. For more international knowledge exchange.

3. For more qualitative social impact tools to reach the market, especially for early stage and small social enterprises.

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