Week 2 of Social Enterprise Futures was brought to a close with a session looking at the state of social enterprise around the world. SEUK’s Director of International and Sustainable Development, Dan Gregory chaired a panel discussion featuring Gerry Higgins the founder and MD of the Social Enterprise World Forum, Shalabh Mittal CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) India and Amy Brereton, Chief Operating Officer at Enactus UK.

Social enterprises can be found all around the world, addressing the biggest challenges faced by communities across the planet. This session looked at the rise of social enterprise as a global phenomenon, the role of youth in pushing the sector forward, the sector’s relationship with governments and how some countries are leading the way in supporting and growing their social enterprise eco-system.

Young people expect more from business

“it’s inspiring to see how our young generations are changing the discourse of business. It’s not enough anymore to have CSR as a nice to have or an add on” – Amy Brereton

Enactus are a global youth social action and social enterprise charity supporting young people set up social enterprise projects. Amy Brereton pointed to a real growth in global engagement with the Enactus Programme which now works with 72,000 students, expanding from working in 20 countries in 2010 to 36.

She said that more and more institutions are beginning to offer courses in social entrepreneurship with both academics and students pushing for their creation and for programmes like the ones offered by Enactus. Amy put forward the point that young people not only expect more from business but are also helping shift the discourse on how business is seen.

Grassroots led and inclusive – SSE India

“You are 10 years ahead of the time”

SSE India opened its doors in 2016 to support social entrepreneurs in India grow and develop social enterprises. Chief Executive Shalabh Mittal gave the audience an overview of what its model of social entrepreneurship looks like and attitudes towards the sector in India.

India’s sheer scale and diversity offer a particular challenge with replicability and scalability of businesses being difficult given the country’s range of languages and cultures. What is core to SSE India’s model of working is to take programmes out of the university to bring together “farmers, phd’s, labourers and doctors” in the same room – building an inclusive and diverse social enterprise community. He stressed that many of the people setting up social enterprises have direct experiences of the challenges they are looking to solve, something which no-doubt resonated with many attendees.

The kinds of issues social enterprises are working on in India are often linked to access to fundamental rights such as health, education, sanitation and water. He stressed that often “social entrepreneurs are working in broken markets, challenging the status quo”.

What support is available from Government?

Perhaps the main focus of the discussion was on how countries can nurture and support their social enterprise ecosystems. Shalabh made the point that for social enterprises to truly increase their outreach across India they cannot do it without the support of government. Whilst steps are being taken through the creation of incubation labs and thinking centres for entrepreneurs, both the Indian government and private sector need to take responsibility for social enterprise.

“there’s interest in social enterprise in every continent around the world” – Gerry Higgins

Gerry Higgins has been at the heart of the global social enterprise movement, heading up the Social Enterprise World Forum since it was set up in 2008. He gave us a real window into how the social enterprise movement is developing, focusing in on a few countries where some particularly interesting things are happening and showing how different policies and approaches are being used around the world to support the sector:

Canada – The Canadian federal government has introduced a Social Finance Fund worth $755 million to accelerate the growth of social economy organisations alongside a $55 million capacity building programme for intermediaries and support organisations. Most Canadian provinces also have specific social enterprise strategies in place covering areas such as procurement, supporting indigenous communities and support for rural businesses. Gerry particularly emphasised the work being carried out in Quebec which has a social enterprise strategy centred on community participation and ownership.

Malaysia – Malaysia has a series of Biji-Biji accelerators working nationally to foster the growth of social enterprises. The national government has also set up a department, interestingly called MAGIC (Gerry stressed this is just an acronym!) whose role is to accelerate social procurement so social enterprises can be identified by government and corporates.

Thailand – Thailand has passed the Social Enterprise Promotion Act, a tax relief specifically for social enterprises. This will accelerate the number of social enterprises in the country.

New Zealand – Following Christchurch hosting the Social Enterprise World Forum in 2017, the New Zealand government put social enterprise firmly on its agenda. It started a programme to develop a healthy social enterprise ecosystem tying it firmly to their goal to move beyond GDP as a measure of success towards a wellbeing economy.

The Netherlands – Social entrepreneurship is part of the Dutch education system and Amsterdam as a city is looking to embed the concept of doughnut economics and the circular economy into its operations.

A tipping point?

With so many social enterprise support systems in place are we at a tipping point globally? Is the world ready for social enterprise?

Gerry Higgins argued that increasingly “GDP doesn’t matter as much as people think” – economic growth may be increasing but inequality has risen with it. Countries are starting to see social enterprise as a solution to combine growth with social justice.

Support, however, varies across the globe and where we’ve seen real change has been where active social enterprise movements have had the ear of engaged decision makers at a national and local level.