The story of the SSE

Michael Young


The School for Social Entrepreneurs was founded in 1997 by Michael Young, the latest in a distinguished line of organisations to spring from the Institute of Community Studies (now the Young Foundation).

"Everybody has the capacity to be remarkable"

Lord Young of Dartington, as he became in 1977, died aged 86 in 2002, but his spirit of social entrepreneurship lives on at the SSE.

(You can listen to a BBC radio profile of Michael Young here)


Original Staff and Students 1998

The SSE was launched with founding donations from HSBC Holdings plc, the National Lottery Charities Board and the Esmée Fairbairn Charitable Trust. The SSE welcomed its first group of students in January 1998 and ran from Bethnal Green in East London with its first programme consisting of a 22 student cohort.



In 1999-2000, as the national programme proved its worth, the SSE decided to demonstrate that the methodology and approach could work in other locations and applied to the Millennium Commission to run a £1million Millennium Awards Scheme that allowed 10 local programmes to be established around the UK. These took place in Glasgow, Devon, Salford, Shrewsbury, Bradford, Cardiff, Aston, Belfast, Newcastle and London.

In 2000, the SSE also helped lead the consortium which created UnLtd - the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs to provide start-up grants for social entrepreneurs across the UK.

In 2002, the first SSE franchise officially launched in Fife, with the franchisee being BRAG Enterprises.

Alastair Wilson, who was a student on the first SSE programme, was appointed Chief Executive in autumn 2004. Alastair was preceded by Rowena Young, who joined the SSE as Chief Executive in 2002, and went on to head up the Public Services Innovation Lab at NESTA.

Growth and the Future

The SSE has continued to expand and in the UK we founded further schools in Liverpool (2008), Cornwall (2008), Hampshire (2008) and Suffolk in 2011.  Internationally, we now have two schools in Australia-  Sydney (2008) and Melbourne (2010) - as well as in Canada - Ontario (2012) and Ireland (2014).

Fire Station, Tooley St

During October 2011, SSE Central moved from its original home in Bethnal Green to brand new offices at The Fire Station on Tooley Street, London Bridge.

Since we were founded in 1997, the School for Social Entrepreneurs has supported over 1300 individuals; we hope to support many more in the years to come.



People Powered 

We believe that people are central to the change brought about by the SSE, whether it is our staff, our students, our fellows, our funders or our supporters.

Some of the people who have helped shape the SSE include:


Michael Young



Michael Young, founder and the greatest social entrepreneur of the 20th century.



Gerard Lemos


Gerard Lemos, founding staff member.  Central to designing and delivering the original concept of an action learning programme for social entrepreneurs.





Charlotte Young

Charlotte Young, founding staff member of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, under the leadership of Michael Young, was responsible for the design of the programme, acted as course leader for 2 years and is now Chair of Trustees. 


James Smith


James Smith, ex-Chief Executive and co-founder (with Michael Young) of the School for Social Entrepreneurs. 



James Cornford


James Cornford, first chair of the SSE and board member. James gave his wisdom, humanity and wit generously to students, staff and the SSE Board for 10 years and everyone came away from an encounter with greater insight and confidence.



Alastair Wilson


Alastair Wilson, student in first cohort and current Chief Executive.


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