Think Big!

Steve Coles

Here at The Shaftesbury Partnership, we spend a lot of time thinking about social enterprise.  Over recent months, we’ve particularly been reflecting on the role of social enterprise in tackling the problem of entrenched, long-term unemployment. Three things have struck us as interesting and hopeful.  When compared to mainstream businesses, social enterprises seem to:

  • recruit more employees, trainees and volunteers per unit of turnover
  • be much more likely to be based in areas of significant social deprivation
  • be committed to reinvesting financial surpluses back into the local community

There is also some evidence they are handling the economic crisis better than ordinary SME’s.

But despite these benefits the sector is simply not large enough to make a significant dent in the current scale of the unemployment problem. Therefore, we’ve explored the barriers to achieving scale.  We’ve learnt through conducting research, scouring academic papers, speaking to leading social entrepreneurs and through our own experiences of starting, managing or advising social enterprises large and small. Recently my colleague Patrick Shine spoke at an event organised by IPPR which discussed the role of franchising and Big Society Capital as two of the most important drivers to achieve scale.

We recognise that many individual social enterprises will lack the financial, social, political or leadership capital to go for scale, but our research so far has identified the key factors that are critical. They include a genuine brokerage service , access to networks, and expertise and knowledge of best practice in scaling. Watch this space for how we propose to deliver these in order to see more of those most in need of work find their way back into employment.

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