The phrase ‘extraordinary times’ has cropped up daily in most of our lives since mid-March. As the coronavirus pandemic developed it described the unprecedented change we all experienced. Now, as we begin to move beyond the first phase of the virus, these words still feel relevant. We are starting to see a new kind of ‘extraordinary times’; full of challenges and uncertainty, true, but also a unique opportunity for us to rethink our society and its values; a chance to reset, re-prioritise and build back better.
In a recently released paper, Kees Vendrik, chief economist at Triodos Bank, reflected on the scale of change that is possible; laying out a proposed reset of the economy placing humanity, equality and sustainability at its centre. During the pandemic we have already seen this beginning. Many businesses have pivoted their work, striving to better support their communities and key-workers have been celebrated; the value of their contribution more fully understood. Whilst we having been living through these challenging times society has woken up, recognising the organisations and people working for social and environmental good and beginning to think about what really matters.
This is not new thinking; pioneering metrics such as The Thriving Places Index have long been trying to showcase the intrinsic value of what makes communities thrive, outside of profit. Social enterprises have been working with this mission for many years, offering a powerful example of how success can be achieved without damage to the environment or society. With 100,000 social enterprises in the UK (contributing £60 billion of socially responsible GDP annually), they are now poised to play a leading part in driving the move to a different mode of business, growing and flourishing in the process.
Triodos Bank supports a diverse range of social enterprises to reach their potential. A different kind of bank, it connects finance to the ‘real economy’, one that works to serve society and the environment, supporting wellbeing and social inclusion. Customer Cafédirect is a pioneer of Fairtrade and an award-winning social enterprise. The company has used its success to help others develop, donating much of its profit through the Producers Direct charity. Its CEO John Steel recently described its aims, saying “We want the business to be a force for good”. Talking to Triodos as part of the bank’s 25th anniversary celebrations he suggested that although “you won’t solve the world’s problems by yourself, we can navigate and help change the way things are done, together.”
This change needs to be huge; involving both big actions from governments and banks, and small, still significant choices for us all in business and everyday living. Campaigns such as Social Enterprise UK’s ‘Buy Social’ offer easy ways for people to think about the choices they make and help them to understand their power as an individual. It can’t happen instantly, but by working together, our actions can be transformative. As we move forwards, we can perhaps create a different kind of extraordinary times; reshaping our businesses and our lives with a better future for all people and our planet. Surely, Social Enterprises have a huge roll to play in this.