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Sancroft Seasonal Podcast #NotJustForChristmas

Published on December 7, 2017

On 6th December, Sancroft welcomed a dynamic group of social enterprises, each with a mission to help solve the many issues facing society from job market exclusion to food waste, to our offices in London. We explored the rise of social enterprise and the challenges they face operating in today’s increasingly consumerist society.

We were joined by:

Joanna Hamer from Juta Shoes, an enterprise making upcycled leather espadrilles and providing empowering opportunities for socially isolated women in London.

Jenny Costa from Rubies in the Rubble, a business making high quality relishes and jams out of surplus food produce that would otherwise go to waste.

Camilla Marcus Dew from The Soap Co, a firm creating luxury skincare products made by visually impaired or otherwise disabled people.

Rob Wilson from Toast Ale, an enterprise brewing beer with surplus fresh bread destined for the bin.

Eve Wagg from Well Grounded Jobs, an organisation focused on developing talent within the speciality coffee industry, supporting individuals who are at risk of long-term unemployment.

The social enterprise movement is picking up pace, 25% of social enterprises are under three years old and over 13,000 community interest companies have been founded since 2005, and it is a major contributor to the UK economy, adding an estimated £24 billion to the economy[i]. Jenny highlighted the positive influence of the Millennial shopper, conscious to ‘spend money where they are making an impact and buying into something they believe in’.

Growth and Diversity in the Social Enterprise Movement

Significantly, a trend represented by those around the table is the role the movement has had in capturing female leaders; 41% of UK social enterprises are led by women. In response to this statistic, Eve homed in on the skills transfer that takes place between the female-dominated voluntary sector and the social enterprise movement, as well as its infancy relative to other industries, ‘creating more of a representation of the world we live in’.

What’s more, the flexible working environment attracts individuals with personal responsibilities that would not necessarily be accommodated for in the traditional ‘suit and tie’ workplace. Additionally, Joanna emphasised how she believes that social enterprise models give women the means to take a ‘leap of confidence’ to start a business on their own terms.

Role of Government

The unique ability that social enterprises have to present isolated members of society with opportunities and to provide innovative solutions to issues embedded within the global systems, often requires – amongst other avenues of support – a helping hand from the government. Crucially, the conditions must be created to ensure that social enterprises have the ability to thrive.

The speakers were quick to praise the various government mechanisms that they have positively engaged with; from British consulates helping overseas expansion, to financial support for employing isolated people. However, emphasis was placed on the need for the government to do more on the transparency of their supply chains; committing to supporting social enterprises through not just implementing regulation and funding structures but through actually buying their products.

Challenging Perceptions

The call for a more openminded approach extended beyond the government with discussion moving on to emphasise how social enterprises are distinct from charities as they address the problems that charities fail to tackle. Although Camilla noted that misconceptions were changing, continued work is needed to ensure people do not pigeonhole social enterprises into the charity sector.

Measuring Social Impact

The speakers each highlighted the various ways in which they are disrupting how impact is measured; going beyond the conventional to ensure that they are fully optimising the potential of their enterprise. There is increasing recognition of more qualitative measures, such as in-depth interviews, to illustrate positive change. However, social enterprises are also devising novel ways to transform traditional business mechanisms for the better. Rob introduced a concept coined by Toast Ale, ‘Equity for Good’, which asks investors to take any profit made from shares and to reinvest in another social enterprise. This ensures any profits made are not invested into other business activity that could be harmful to society, but are reinvested in social enterprise, creating an ‘impact investing ecosystem’.

Looking ahead

Critically, social enterprises are operating in a system that created the problems they are trying to solve; hence they find themselves constantly questioning their legitimacy. However, our speakers recognised that there is still a lot of good to be done and they are anticipating another exciting year ahead for both their businesses and the movement more broadly.

[i] https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=a1051b2c-21a4-461a-896c-aca6701cc441

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