The face of social enterprise is evolving and evolving fast, but have the rest of the business world noticed the change?
When it burst on to the official scene in the early noughties it was greeted with unanimous approval as it offered a much more acceptable approach to the corporate fat cats and big bonus mentality dominating the headlines.
However, with all the platitudes came an undertone. These aren’t proper businesses? They won’t last long? They will need to be continually funded? All of these were common questions thrown in their general direction.
This may have been justified in a few cases, but on the whole the sector has matured and is now a valuable part of the UK economy, delivering a £18.5 billion contribution and employing over a million people in the process.
There are social enterprises turning over tens of millions of pounds, winning major public sector contracts and bringing innovation to market. Equally, there are also organisations that have been set-up to save the ‘local pub’ or provide much needed transport systems for isolated villages. Variety is the spice of life they say.
I had the pleasure of providing the PR activity for Social Enterprise West Midlands’ Social Finance Fair last year.
This event attracted more than 140 people and was designed to address the current finance landscape for companies with a social impact.
It was noticeable that there was a fair few differences to normal corporate events.
Grey suits were definitely few in number, ties were the exception rather than the rule and there was a much younger feel to the audience. There was also an audible buzz in the room and a level of social media engagement that many larger conferences could only dream of.
As mentioned, finance was on the agenda and it was good news for the region’s social enterprises with Key Fund announcing a £1m treasure chest for the West Midlands.
Now this is made up of loans ranging from £50k to £300k and the interest rates are competitive. Make no mistake this isn’t a hand-out or a subsidy. And you know what, the social enterprises wouldn’t have it any other way.
They’re not looking for free gifts and they certainly don’t want a patronising pat on the head from the UK economy. They just want a fair playing field and funders that understand the drivers of social enterprises and the type of challenges they face.
If they get this, then I have no doubt this small but vibrant part of the business world will continue to grow and have an even greater impact on society.