Eight ways we want government to support social entrepreneurs

29 May 2018

When the government announced it was going to be creating a new strategy for civil society, we realised it was high time to shine the spotlight on social entrepreneurs and try to win them more support.

We joined forces with UnLtd and Social Enterprise UK to hear from social entrepreneurs in Bradford and London. We asked what social entrepreneurs’ greatest challenges are in the years ahead, and how government and organisations like ours can help to overcome them.

Here’s a summary of what we’ve asked the government to do in our response to the Civil Society Strategy consultation. You can also read our full response.

1. Raise the profile of social entrepreneurship

Trust us, we know how it feels when half the people you talk to still don’t know exactly what ‘social enterprise’ means. And we know that particular blind-spot can limit access to resources, funding and contracts.

The government has the power to ignite national interest in certain themes, just by mentioning them more often. But in its Industrial Strategy, ‘social enterprise’ wasn’t mentioned once. ‘Social investment’ snuck in a single reference.

So we want the government to:

  • Demonstrate to funders and corporates the value of supporting social entrepreneurs, so they increase their support for them.
  • Advocate for social entrepreneurship and highlight its successes, and ensure that social entrepreneurship runs as a golden thread throughout the Civil Society Strategy.
  • Advocate for social entrepreneurship to those with responsibility for regional growth, such as LEPs and regional growth hubs, city mayors, city regions and local councils.

We believe this validation from government will benefit the whole social enterprise sector, and help us secure the partnerships we need to support people like you.

2. Support learning that builds leadership capacity

Social entrepreneurs need access to learning, so that they can personally develop and better manage the growth and resilience of their organisations. We fundamentally believe this: it is why the School for Social Entrepreneurs exists, and why we help more than 1,000 leaders of social change each year through our learning programmes and short courses.

We believe that access to learning should be as low-cost as possible for people running organisations that benefit society – or even better, learning should be fully-funded. We’ve asked government to:

  • Communicate the value of supporting social entrepreneurs through learning, to encourage more funders and corporates to put money into providing this vital support.

3. Improve access to finance

Access to appropriate finance is the biggest barrier for social enterprises, according to Social Enterprise UK’s State of Social Enterprise 2017 report. The organisations we support, as well as those who responded in our Future of Civil Society workshops, repeatedly cite access to suitable finance as a barrier to growth and sustainability.

We feel that much attention and resource has been given to social investment in recent years, but this form of finance is often unsuitable or inaccessible for smaller, earlier-stage organisations. After all, one third of social enterprises generate less than £50,000 a year in total income. They need more support to improve their resilience and diversify their income streams.

  • The government can increase the impact of civil society by exploring new finance models that support resilience for organisations that are too early-stage for social investment.

4. Support Match Trading grants

We’ve known for some time that social investment often isn’t an option for lots of the smaller organisations we support. We’ve also noticed that these organisations can become over-dependent on traditional grants – which leaves them vulnerable in an uncertain funding climate, especially as public-sector funding is harder to come by these days.

That’s why the School for Social Entrepreneurs developed Match Trading, a new type of grant-funding that incentivises social-sector organisations to increase their income from trading.

We believe that Match Trading can help social-sector organisations to become more sustainable – especially those who are not yet at the stage where they can take on social investment. In our pilot, Match Trading grants supported social enterprises to increase their income from trading by 92% in one year, as part of an SSE learning programme.

We want the government to:

  • Support Match Trading to help us propel this new funding model to achieve even greater impact.
  • Engage with the development of Match Trading to further benefit civil society, and consult with SSE and the Match Trading Task Force we’ve established to do so.

5. Support those creating change in their local communities

The social entrepreneurs we support tackle the most urgent problems in their communities while unlocking economic growth at local and regional level. For example, three in four of our students buy products and services locally, and 93% are helping to build strong, vibrant communities. Among our students who employ two or more people, 84% of employees are recruited locally.

Our regional schools have the expertise and connections needed to empower and equip more people to tackle problems at local level. They help social entrepreneurs generate employment and act as an engine for thriving, independent local economies. Many of our schools run programmes to strengthen specific communities, such as SSE North West’s Well Skelmersdale Social Innovators Programme, and SSE East’s Thurrock Social Entrepreneur Programme.

We want the government to help us strengthen communities by:

  • Raising the profile of social entrepreneurship – and organisations like the School for Social Entrepreneurs – as a vehicle for strengthening communities, especially to those with responsibility for regional growth such as LEPs and regional growth hubs, city mayors, city regions and local councils.
  • Advocating for regional and local hubs of learning and connection, which are able to bring together diverse groups of people from specific communities to lead change together.

Find out how our SSE Cornwall student Tree is using trapeze to support young people in her community:

6. Ensure everyone is empowered to create change

We believe it is essential to connect people from different walks of life, to create change together. This deepens collective understanding of how to tackle social and environmental problems in the community. We need to help individuals realise they can lead change in their community, regardless of their background. The learning approach at the School for Social Entrepreneurs helps unlock people’s confidence and sense of legitimacy as changemakers. That gives people the power to transform their communities.

We call on the government to help us:

  • Bring together diverse people to create change, and ensure everyone has a voice and is supported to take action.
  • Advocate for social entrepreneurship as way to help people realise they can lead change in their community, regardless of their background.

7. Make it easier for social entrepreneurs to win public-sector contracts

Public-sector commissioners need to focus more on building the capacity of their communities to address the problems they face. They should be encouraging local communities to take up more enterprising approaches to solving local problems by supporting the creation of new organisations and new approaches to persistent problems. For us, that means supporting social entrepreneurship.

Through social entrepreneurship, the public sector can unlock local economic development as a tool for addressing social and environmental problems, while building local communities.

The government can support these aims by:

  • Providing leadership and strengthening the use of the Social Value Act.
  • Empowering local commissioners to make the decisions that work best for their communities.

8. Keep talking to the social enterprise sector!

We’ve got to hand it to the Office for Civil Society, which sits within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – this consultation is certainly making it feel like they want to listen to our sector. Officials from the Office for Civil Society came along to our workshop in London, and we’ve been involved in a number of workshops they’re running to inform this strategy. The director of the Office for Civil Society also sits on our Match Trading Task Force, the cross-sector group we established to help develop Match Trading grants.

This kind of engagement is fundamental to develop policies and initiatives that will support social entrepreneurs and civil society in ways that genuinely benefit them.

  • We encourage the government to continue engaging with organisations like us and the people we support.

 Read our full response to the consultation.

By Sophie Hobson, head of communications at SSE. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @sophiehobson @SchSocEnt.