The third session featured some of the sector’s leading lights. Titled ‘Over a century of wisdom’ it featured Sophi Tranchell, Former CEO at Divine Chocolate, Dai Powell who recently stepped down as CEO at HCT Group, Claire Dove, the Crown Representative for the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector and former chief at Blackburne House and Sarah Crawley from Birmingham based iSE.
The aim of the session was for these sector leaders to share some insights and learning which the social enterprise sector can take forward, looking at the issues they dedicated their careers to taking on and what challenges we face looking to the future
“Ownership really matters, it changes the way we relate to each other.”
Divine Chocolate was set up to change the way the chocolate industry works being a pioneer of the Fairtrade movement. It works with cocoa farmers who own a significant share of the company, have seats on the board and a say in how the business runs. Sophi stressed the importance of working with communities to find local solutions stating that Divine’s ethic is “nothing about us, without us”.
Divine has succeeded in mainstreaming their ethical approach in a highly competitive market. Her last top tip for social enterprises was to keep hold of your sense of imaging a better world – “imagine how you’d like the world to be so you can make it that way.”
“Everyone will say ‘no’, that things can’t be done – this is the start of the conversation not the end. It’s you and your colleagues that will make this a better world.”
After a career as a miner, a fisherman and a stealworker, Dai joined transport social enterprise HCT Group 30 years ago. It’s a social enterprise using the power of transport to bring people together which grew from a small community transport provider to an £85m turnover bus company.
Dai’s challenge to the sector is to be more radical asking the room “have we achieved anything like what we hoped we’d achieve”. We need to “leave behind the nice and focus on being great” at a time when inequalities are widening and food banks are having to put together businesses plans for growth. We’d made huge steps forward as movement but now is the time to be revolutionary!
Sarah is CEO at iSE in Birmingham, a social enterprise supporting the growth and development of social enterprises in the area and a real driver behind the city being recognised as a Social Enterprise Place.
Sarah focused on social enterprises being the unsung heroes of the pandemic, citing the many that have shifted their busines models to keep on supporting communities through COVID. Looking to the future her main emphasis was that we need to be better at telling our stories so we can be at the heart of the economy.
“This is not an easy field to work in and our sector is not for the feint hearted”
Claire has spent her carrier breaking down barriers and headed up Blackburne House in Liverpool, a social enterprise set up to support women access careers, especially those from a BAME background.
Her top words of advice for social enterprises were to not deviate from your mission, which can easily happen when you’re chasing contracts.
She also emphasised that you “have to be the best, with the best products and services” saying that social enterprise is not about getting commodities on the cheap, rather on providing quality goods and services with your values needing to be at the heart of what you do.
Social enterprises should also not be afraid of saying that they are for profit organisations emphasising that it is what you do with your profits that sets you apart.
Finally, she stressed the importance of support networks and the need for social enterprises to buy from each other, a theme echoed by the other panellists.