As a London-based, web 2.0-liking, policy-focused, event-attending type of person, I’m aware that at times this blog might appear a little divorced from the frontline: from why SSE does what it does, and why I think social entrepreneurship really matters. Which is not, primarily, about big organisations, delivering solutions to (at?) the developing world, putting heroes on a pedestal, infighting over definitions, buzzword jargon, or consultations about legal structures.
Over the past couple of months, along with colleagues, I’ve visited parts of the UK where SSE is potentially seeking to expand / work in partnership / understand the area more. Today was in Peterlee (in the North East, between Hartlepool + Durham), a couple of weeks back was the Black Country (in the West Midlands: Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley), and slightly before that was Rhyl (North Wales).
In bald terms, these are areas with significant challenges. Easington (nr. Peterlee) has the highest incapacity benefit %ages in the UK; Rhyl has 3 of the top 5 most deprived wards in Wales; and the Black Country has pockets of deprivation to match both (and, despite a collective population to rival the city of Birmingham, not the same level of investment / focus). And in each, pretty much as we visited, the rate of JSA (job seeker’s allowance) was increasing significantly…as factories and retail outlets reduced hours or made redundancies. They are amongst the areas (for which, read people) being hardest hit by the recession.
What was inspiring was the sheer amount of work being done by good, impressive people to change these situations. Take Chris Ruane, the Rhyl MP, who comes from the town and is passionate and energy-fuelled (to say the least) in his desire to change it for the better, and the organisations he’s helped draw together in the Rhyl City Strategy who are working together in a genuine operating partnership to make things better. Or centres like the All Saints Action Network in Wolverhampton (which runs a Green-Works franchise, and heats its community centre by biomass) and the Savoy Centre in Netherton, run by Black Country Housing Group. Or organisations like Breathing Space (in Walsall) and Acumen Development Trust, under Kate Welch, which are relentless in their drive to empower, raise aspirations, create (sustainable) employment, and build confidence and self-belief.
Social entrepreneurship can’t, of course, solve all the problems in these areas, particularly not in the midst of the current economic crisis, and is never a panacea. But the triple win of personal development (of skills, knowledge, networks, + confidence), of job + volunteering position creation, and of addressing social needs can provide real, tangible impact in these areas…over years to come. And it is, as SSE has seen in other areas, an impact that can ripple out, inspiring others in the community, providing a local multiplier effect, and also connecting that community and its work to other ventures across the UK and beyond.
It is about people-centred sustainability; people-powered change; and adding to and complementing the excellent work already going on.
I’ve come away with greater understanding and knowledge, with renewed passion and purpose for expanding what we do to people who cannot currently access the opportunities, and a fair bit humbler.
One day, maybe, an Ashoka Fellow will come from Rhyl, a Skoll Awardee from Dudley, or an Enterprising Solutions Award-winner from Easington. That will be a sign of change, but the real signs will be in the communities themselves: that’s why social entrepreneurship matters, and where it matters most.