The Rise of the Social Enterprise

Andrew Devenport talks about the rise of social enterprise in the UKA social enterprise can be defined as a business with a social mission – a company that trades to tackle social or environmental issues and benefit communities.

There is evidence to suggest that the sector is growing.

What is behind this growth and why would someone want to start a business where all or part of its profits are used to drive social or environmental change?

In July of this year, Social Enterprise UK – the national body for social enterprise – released research which found that 38 per cent of the social enterprises they surveyed had seen an increase in their turnover over the previous 12 months, compared with 29 per cent of SMEs. A possible reason why these businesses are thriving is that they are making the most of opportunities presented by the recession. The report signals further evidence of this as it states that close to a third of social enterprises are three years old or younger – businesses that began life when economic times were tough. The market failure and social problems that a weak economy creates can present opportunities for social entrepreneurs who are passionate about solving these issues using business methods.

Eventful Bread is one example of this. Set up by Lisa Wilson in November 2012, this social enterprise runs training and events that enable people who may have faced unemployment to set up their own micro-bakeries. One of the youth groups that Lisa trained is now trading in London’s exclusive Brixton Market.

A second reason why social enterprises are thriving is that there are funding routes available to them that may not be available to standard start-ups (more information on social enterprise funding here. Take Winnie Maganjo. Winnie is a final year economics student, studying at SOAS University in London. In her second year she set up Wanderlust Gourmet Nut Butters, a range of nut butters that are made from natural ingredients. SOAS University provided funding for Winnie’s venture and one of the conditions of this was that her business had a social enterprise element, something she welcomes as it provides an opportunity for her to give something back to other budding entrepreneurs.

Even banks, which have historically shied away from supporting social enterprises, are coming on board to help drive their growth. Barclays, for example, runs a programme offering business tools, skills coaching and mentoring for social entrepreneurs.

This week is Global Entrepreneurship Week, which Youth Business International runs in the UK and 10 other countries. The Week aims to grow enterprise ambition and motivate people to meet their new business potential. Entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs from across the globe come together to share ideas, connect with each other and receive valuable support and advice. There are over 3,000 events taking place in the UK involving more than 300,000 people, and many of these have a focus on social enterprise – from social enterprise funding workshops to networking events.

I’d encourage current and aspiring social entrepreneurs to find out more about these events and explore how they can make the most of the growing social enterprise movement.

For more information about Global Entrepreneurship Week and to learn more about the events taking place across the world and how you can be involved, visit or follow the hashtag, #GEWfwd on Twitter

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