Inspiration and learning from the global social enterprise community

4 Oct 2021

We’re super inspired and fortified by this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF). It’s the event for the global social-enterprise community, providing space for purpose-led people, policymakers, philanthropists, intermediaries and entrepreneurs to further the social economy.

At this year’s hybrid online event, hosted from Nova Scotia in Canada, we heard from new and under-represented social sector voices. Half the speakers were female, non-binary or trans. Nearly three-quarters were first time SEWF speakers.

Here are some key learnings from the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) team:

Young change-makers are reaching crisis point

We were shocked to discover the rate of burnout among young change-makers is 59%, according to new research from The Possibilists. People as young as 15 are suffering burnout. They identified their biggest challenges as: networks, a lack of peer-to-peer resources, ways to engage with thought-leaders or experts, and a lack of personal development and training.

Young people are working so hard to make a difference. We must step up and give them the support they need to build a better future for all of us.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and work with those unlikely partners and collaborators. They can help widen your network, introduce you to a diverse range of opinions and skills, and step out of your echo chamber. We were reminded of this wisdom from leading LGBTQI social enterprise Micro Rainbow’s Sebastian Rocco.

Digital and racism’s complex relationship

Dr Alisha Jean-Denis, Councillor Lindell-Smith, Arthur Lima and Riana Shah talked about algorithm bias and the link between digital and technological inclusion and racism. The connection seems obvious now. And the whole system contributes to this and needs massive change.

The social economy’s ‘problem in the middle’

Capital on its own won’t solve the social economy’s financing problems. Because there’s a U-shaped social enterprise growth curve – i.e. lots of start-ups and very large established organisations, with very few in the middle ground.

There’s also a U-shaped commissioning curve: lots of small contracts that go to smaller specialist organisations, then large contracts that go to large established (mainly private-sector) organisations. Genevieve Maitland Hudson, from Social Investment Business explained this problem of the ‘middle gap’ in social-enterprise financing so clearly.

Funders, commissioners and investors need to focus on the middle if we’re to achieve sustainable growth.

Social entrepreneurship can help address climate change

With COP26 just a few weeks away, it wasn’t surprising that the climate emergency was a key focus at the event. There was a consensus that our sector has a key role to play in tackling climate change.

Some social entrepreneurs are primarily driven by solving environmental challenges. For example, we were inspired by the young changemakers Marta Vânia Uetela, Ronald Mugaiga and Niall McGrath. They were respectively: upcycling ocean plastic waste into prosthetic limbs; recycling waste into eco-friendly bricks to build affordable refugee settlements; and using robots to replant seagrass (which is great at absorbing CO2).

More broadly, there was an awareness that climate change is inherently a global social justice issue. By engaging in environmental issues, we further our mission of social justice.

Inspirational quotes

“I will be the last one of my generation to be ‘the first one’” Arthur Lima (AfroSaúde)


“Covid could be seen as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming climate emergency” Hina West, WWF Nature Pays


“The burning platform is obvious. Our job is just to show that social enterprise is part of the solution.” Andy Daly, Social Enterprise UK


“When motivation is low – discipline can help you keep on track.” Anupra Chandran (young social entrepreneur)


“If we had more indigenous thought, more indigenous management systems around the world, I think we’d be making very different progress”. Thomas Benjoe, FHQ Developments (Canada)


Compiled by Hannah C, comms manager; with contributions from Alisha Mulhall, Jessica Holliland, Sophie Hobson, Henna Patel, Helen Animashaun, Sam Haydock and Tracey Muirhead.