Social Enterprise Matters

From April 8th – 13th iSE held their annual CityDrive week in Birmingham, the biggest social enterprise event in the city’s calendar.  18 events took place across the city, and our West Midlands Programme Coordinator Sarah Milburn went along:

This is the second year I’ve been to the iSE CityDrive in Birmingham, which is in its 5th year of running, and it was another great experience.  A week of activities and events celebrating social enterprise in the region, and a great chance to network and generally meet some pretty amazing people.

On Monday April 8th I went along to The Social Enterprise Conference which iSE held at Aston University (a familiar campus to me as we hold a West Midlands Regional Final there every year).  Described as a ‘conference for social entrepreneurs, leaders, thinkers, investors, new start-ups and those serious about using social enterprise to achieve impact’, it consisted of two panel discussions followed by a choice of workshops, ending with lunch.

Professor Mark Hart gave a really interesting keynote speech, focusing on the often-under-rated and underestimated worth of social enterprise. The statistics show that this sector makes a difference, but there are still too many in big corporations and in government that imagine SocEnts to be small-scale, often voluntary or charitable, making local social impact but not really viable, potentially high-turnover businesses.

Yet the statistics prove otherwise; the data proves the viability of social enterprises as businesses just as much as having social impact – here are some to consider, from Professor Hart’s slides:

  • Compared to SME employers, more social enterprise employers generated a surplus or profit over the last year – 93% vs. 76% of SME employers.
  • SocEnt employers are more likely to report a positive longer-term outlook, expecting growth over the next 3 years.
  • SocEnt employers are more likely to innovate than SME employers (I love this one, we are all about innovation and creativity at S4TP!)
  • There are an estimated 471,000 UK SocEnts, which employ roughly 1.44 million people.

The first panel continued on the theme and shared all their individual SocEnt journeys with us: BELU; Miss Macaroon; Toast Ale; Madlug; ACH.  Their stories were inspiring, their organisations were fantastic (I have since bought a Madlug computer bag, and even won a party keg of Toast Ale in the raffle at the City Drive Ethical Wedding Fair at the end of the week!), and the advice and wisdom they shared was so valuable.  As the Communications Lead for S4TP, the one comment that really stuck with me was from Karen Lynch of BELU, who said, “Branding is what you/your people/your business does every day.  It’s not about the logo, etc.  Once you’ve got your brand don’t mess around with it.”

Throughout the day a number of the speakers talked about learning to tell the story of your brand, and learning to communicate your success and stories along the way.  There needs to be a story – you need to tell your customers what makes you different.  They also talked about the importance of data.  Graham Beaumont (Living Well Consortium) said, “Without data we can’t prove our worth.  Use your data to prove the difference you make, and prove what makes the difference.”

Simon Fenton (Forward Carers) said, “The future is about sustainability.”  And he wasn’t the only one – I heard ‘sustainability’ mentioned a lot by many of the speakers that day, in relation to organisations, businesses, programmes, processes and ideas.  That’s something that we impress upon the young people on our programme, because even if their Big Ideas don’t focus on environmental sustainability, the sustainability of the business (money, people, etc.) is also important.

It was a great conference, and I’m proud that S4TP is a member of and a supporter of the SocEnt community here in the West Midlands.


Written by: Sarah Milburn, S4TP Programme Coordinator, West Midlands / Communications Lead

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd