Empowerment and confidence

A couple of things stood out in the social entrepreneurship field in the past week or so. the first was the launching of the Empowerment White Paper from Department of Communities and Local Government, expertly chronicled and tracked by their secondee Simon Berry (check out the EWP Pageflake for example). Two relevant funding streams in this: a £70m Community Builders fund, which seems to be an amended, reduced version of the previously proposed ‘community anchors’ fund (a large proportion is capital). There is also a £7.5m which is a reworked version of the withdrawn Strategic Partners fund. Particularly pleased to see the emphasis here on the individual, and on practical action (one of the principles of the paper is "within the third sector, we recognise and celebrate the role of individual active citizens, social entrepreneurs, campaigners, volunteers and political activists…these people deserve the support and recognition of government").

Alongside that launch, there was the release of the new Social Entrepreneurship Monitor (as was), now simply called Social Entrepreneurship in the UK. (pdf download available from this page). In the past, the SEM has been a largely finger-in-the-air exercise in how it comes to its figures, but this report seems really well-thought through and researched. Includes case studies for the first time, and some interesting (and helpful) delineations of various terms. As with previous reports, it emphasises that "social entrepreneurs are not as confident as their mainstream counterparts….and do appear to be less confident as their activity becomes more established". This has always been something SSE has focused on (88% of SSE Fellows have an increase in skills and confidence to lead; 60% say this continues after the programme has finished), and it’s important that this is recognised from independent sources elsewhere. Also worth noting that the report underlines that "mentoring and coaching as well as access to finance through the growth process are important". Again, it’s good to see endorsement of our call for specialist support, without which all the good work on financial instruments, measurement tools and legal structures is lost.

What connects these two reports, I think, is that they both draw attention to the need to a) support and develop individuals and b) that this is not, primarily, about level 2 box-ticking audits, but about more intangible and "softer" (though harder to pin down) things like empowerment and confidence. Whilst many social entrepreneurs are driven by frustration with the status quo, or powered by personal experience, this can also become disillusioning if they are not supported on a long-term basis through the journey and if they are not genuinely able to achieve ’empowerment’. By which I mean not only in the sense of " To equip or supply with an ability" but also in the direct sense of "To invest with power", either via organisational forms they’ve established, or via genuinely representative roles within (and outwith) the political system.

If this research and this white paper can help make the case for and deliver that kind of work, then last week will have been an important one for social entrepreneurs across the UK.

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