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Social enterprise…business as usual?

5 April 2012

‘To be a social entrepreneur you have to be misunderstood for at least ten years’ according to a much re-tweeted quote from the 2012 Skoll World Forum on social entrepreneurship that took place last week.

Big Society tongue-in-cheek to be sure, but not so far from the truth at least until
relatively recently.

Apathy and cynicism have for long enough attended the rite of passage of social entrepreneurs looking to make an impact. Only thanks to their own stubbornness and persistence have they managed to break the mould and bring about their particular vision for positive social change.

However slowly but surely a new reality is starting to take hold in these straightened times, with widening  recognition of the value of businesses whose main reason for being is to provide solutions to today’s social problems and whose profits by and large are re-invested to benefit the people and communities they serve.

These businesses take many forms – whether social enterprises, co-operatives, mutuals, or trading arms of charities to name but a few. By nature they are creative, innovative, passionate, progressive and inclusive. Large established players including the likes of HCT, GLL and The Wise Group have demonstrated the resilience and effectiveness of the social enterprise model in contributing to sustainable economic growth and changing lives for the better. Successes range from providing more accessible community transport and improving health and wellbeing, through to helping people gain new skills and get off benefits into work.

The myriad of smaller social enterprises and business have found it tougher with many wondering whether the Government had more to offer than just the rhetoric of the Big Society. That is until yesterday, with the announcement of the launch of Big Society Capital. This new financial institution has been in gestation for quite a while, but holds the promise for the first time of being able to provide significant long-term financial support while leveraging its £600m of fire power to also engage private sector money to help create a fairer and more dynamic society.

Much remains to be seen, but these latest developments could well herald the start of social enterprise as business as usual.