Throughout the twenty-first century, social enterprise has emerged as a global phenomenon aimed at meeting individual and community needs that have arisen amid evolving environmental, economic, and social developments. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor suggested that new social start-ups are emerging at a faster rate than more conventional, commercial ventures. By influencing social behaviour for the good, social entrepreneurs are also initiating systemic changes around the world.
In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a ground breaking agenda to tackle various global challenges and guide development efforts for the period 2015 to 2030. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which could be perceived as branches of the tree of human prosperity, and social enterprise can be the water source to nurture the SDGs.
WHAT IS SOCIAL ENTERPRISE?
The term “social enterprise” was first used in 1975 to distinguish the types of marketing activities used by governmental and cooperative enterprises from those used by the private sector. Since then, both academics and practitioners have made a handful of attempts to describe social enterprise but have not agreed yet on a singular definition.
For the purposes of this campaign, we will define social enterprise as a business venture created for a social purpose, one that intends to mitigate a social problem or a market failure and to generate social value while operating with the financial discipline, innovation, and determination displayed by a private sector business.
To put it simply, consider the motto of Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York: “We don't hire people to bake brownies; we bake brownies to hire people.” The below figure is a simplified spectrum of four types of practices.
SOCIAL ENTERPRISE IN SCOTLAND
Scotland is one of the most supportive environments for social enterprise—it’s the first country in the world to have a social enterprise strategy and action plan. The Scottish government has demonstrated its commitment to the third sector by investing millions of pounds into the support structures, compared with other governments who may talk about what they plan to do while investing few resources into their plans. In 2016, the government published Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016-2026, which reaffirms its significant position in the entire Scottish economy (see diagram below). A Social Enterprise Census has been taken since 2015 to track progress, and the 2017 Census offers the latest analysis of the strategy’s results so far. Some key facts include: 5,600 social enterprises exist in Scotland, and they are 20 years old on average; 81,357 full-time equivalent employees are working for social enterprises, generating £3.8bn total annual income and £287m combined operating surplus.
THREE KEY CHALLENGES
Despite this supportive environment, there is a limit what the government could do and Scottish social enterprises are facing three key challenges:
Awareness & Communication
Few people know much about social enterprise, even in Edinburgh. When starting a business, most people don’t realise they have a choice other than a traditional private business. Misconceptions exist towards social enterprise, such as its difference with charity and the quality of goods/services it provides. While some social enterprises collaborate with others, the majority still work in silos and don’t communicate much. Consequently, there is an urgent call for channels to share successes, failures, learnings and lessons to support and develop the sector.
Scotland has a long history and good reputation in the area of social enterprise, yet the recognition does not match its contribution. It is crucial to strengthen Scotland’s place and standing in the world. Only 7% of Scottish social enterprise operate internationally and Scottish government believes in its “enormous potential” and has “ambition for international excellence, leadership and impact in the social enterprise field”.
Impact measurement enables social enterprises to demonstrate their contribution to society, as well as attracting employees and investment for development. Though some basic training or support is available, there is currently no free or continuous hands-on support to help social enterprises manage their impact. In addition, most existing methodologies (e.g. SROI) are either too complicated, too expensive or too time-consuming, adding burden to social enterprises that are already tight with budget and resources.
WHO WOULD BENEFIT?
Realise it or not, most (if not all) of us are related to social enterprise directly or indirectly and will benefit from this project. The direct stakeholders include a entrepreneur who already runs a social enterprise, or a person intending to become one; a policy maker seeking to make the most appropriate decision; an academic interested in the field, or a student considering a career choice; or perhaps an investor looking into this latest business trend as the millennial generation pays close attention to social responsibility, ethics, and sustainability. There are also indirect connections with social enterprises. For example, a responsible consumer may examine the social impact of a product/service together with its carbon footprint in order to support the right organisation.
WHAT IS THE PLAN?
The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) is returning to Edinburgh for its Tenth Anniversary in September of 2018, which is why this project is being planned this year. SEWF provides a rare and unique opportunity to share wisdom, build networks and more specifically to maximise our probability in tackling some of the three key challenges facing Scottish social enterprises.
‘Visible Heart 2020’ is a carefully designed three-phased project running from 2018 to 2020 as shown below.
Phase 1 (2018.1-2018.9): 200-page Book of Invisible Hand with Visible Heart
Phase 2 (2018.9 – 2019.8): Multimedia Communications for Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
An exciting online and offline portfolio of website, social media content, photographs, campaign films, documentaries, bite-size explainers, information packs and monthly newsletter will be delivered periodically and at the end. Details will be shared with supporters the first month of its initiation if we can reach the £12,000 target.
Phase 3 (2019.9 – 2020.8): Impact Intelligence Instrument
Customisable and practical Impact Intelligence Instrument for the whole cycle of social impact creation, calibration and communication. A consolidated database for data collection, analysis and insight using machine learning and artificial intelligence is also planned. Tutorials will be conducted via online courses, webinars and workshops. £24,000 is needed to cover research time, feasibility check, testing cost, purchases of materials, conference tickets, fieldwork and other related expenses. Full proposal will be available in early 2019 to allow time for feedback and consultation if fund can be secured to launch this phase.
WHAT IS NEEDED NOW?
Phase 1 has been completed and the book was published in October 2018. However, due to financial and resource restraints, we are on hold for Phase 2 & 3, which are actually urgent because the book only touches the tip of the iceberg, and the three key challenges mentioned above are interlinked with each other and cannot be solved easily, quickly or in isolation.
Please feel free to contact me to to get a FREE copy of the eBook, or discuss ideas and collaborations.