Person in a wheelchair unable to cross a chasm

The real barriers faced by disabled people looking for work

Jane HattonBy Jane Hatton, Founder/Director of Evenbreak

There is much talk about the disability employment gap and its causes. At Evenbreak, we wanted to find out from the real experts (disabled job seekers themselves) what barriers prevent disabled people from gaining work.  People on the Enactus programme at UCL conducted research on our behalf. They received an overwhelming response from more than 700 disabled participants, giving compelling evidence into the real lived experiences of disabled people.

By far, the most significant issue for disabled candidates is finding employers that they feel confident to apply to. Over 82% of respondents said that their most pressing problem was finding truly disability-friendly employers. Whilst many employers describe themselves as ‘equal opportunities employers’, this was rarely borne out in practice, particularly in relation to disability. And 71% of respondents rated employers poorly when it came to empathy and understanding around disability.

The second biggest barrier identified was a lack of confidence in the recruitment process, including a fear of the process being biased or discriminatory throughout. Candidates felt their opportunities to demonstrate their qualities and skills were limited. This included a lack of offering adjustments (which were rarely mentioned in job adverts), relying on CVs and work experience when their opportunities may have been limited, and the nature of interviews (50% said the face-to-face interview was their biggest barrier, with 75% regularly experiencing an obvious lack of interest from interviewers.

Lack of confidence in their own abilities appeared to be the third biggest barrier, including concerns about how employers might perceive them.

Broadly what this research demonstrates is that there are many ways that employers can remove barriers for disabled people, and some are quite easy. Ensuring that disabled candidates know that employers are serious about their talent is important, and there is a clear need for recruitment processes to be more inclusive and accessible.

One of the enduring mantras in the world of disability is “nothing about us, without us”. This makes perfect sense – why would non-disabled people try to second-guess what works for disabled people? It’s the reason Evenbreak only employs disabled people, and it’s the reason Evenbreak commissioned this research.

Now the barriers are known, it’s time we all work together to remove them. Are you in?

Email me on if you would like a copy of the research findings.

Books and a gavel and hammer

Accessing advice on social enterprise legal structures

Kath WalklingBy Kath Walkling, Account Executive at Byfield Consultancy

Social Enterprises – A Marked Distinction

Currently there is no single UK-wide legal definition for social enterprises. Within the social enterprise sector, it is generally agreed that certain criteria should be fulfilled by organisations claiming to operate a social enterprise business model. These include:

  • Trading primarily for defined social or environmental purposes, in contrast to trading to maximise the benefit of shareholders and owners;
  • Earning at least 50% of income from trading;
  • Having independent ownership; and
  • Committing to spending at least 51% of any profits on achieving social or environmental purposes.

For greater public trust and recognition, it is advisable to apply for accreditation, such as that offered by Social Enterprise Mark CIC (SEMCIC). It is responsible for the Social Enterprise Mark (SEM), the only internationally available accreditation for social enterprises, therefore securing global visibility. The accreditation body provides a checklist of the points mentioned above, externally assesses whether a business has fulfilled the criteria and regularly monitors successful applicants. Should your business not qualify at the point of application, SEMCIC also provides guidance about how to make the necessary changes.

The governing documents of a social enterprise, to be filed at the relevant authority, must clearly state its purpose. A number of law firms and legal advice platforms are available to ensure that you successfully set up your community-orientated business.

Free Legal Advice

Idea - To-do - Doing - DoneUnderstanding the complexities of the differing legal structures, law firm Tozers has created a free resource pack in collaboration with SEMCIC. The pack gives explanations of the various legal structures and statuses available to businesses, which include:

  • Community Interest Company (CIC);
  • Charity;
  • Company limited by shares;
  • Company limited by guarantee;
  • Charitable Incorporated Organisation;
  • Registered Societies – Co-operative society and community benefit society

Advice is given on the financial, reputational and regulatory implications of each structure.

For example, a company limited by shares is unlikely to automatically meet the SEM criteria. This company is usually established in a corporate environment. It issues shares to shareholders, encouraging investment for the company’s growth while also maximising shareholders’ benefits. Specific clauses, such as its trading purpose to be primarily for social or environmental purpose, must be inserted in order to attempt to qualify for the SEM.

CIC RegulatorOn the other hand, in most cases, a CIC should automatically meet the SEM criteria. Although this company can be limited by shares or guarantee, it will naturally have a social or environmental purpose, will be independently owned and will be approved by the CIC Regulator.

In addition to the resource pack, Tozers provides a free 30 min call or meeting to existing or prospective social enterprises. Businesses which have already received the SEM also receive a 5% discount for further legal advice.

A number of other law firms also give advice and provide a briefing note on their website about the services which they offer:

Other Platforms for Advice


Purposely is a free online tool which advises businesses on inserting the correct clauses and objectives in governing documents.

The platform provides model articles for businesses to adopt. For example, the Model 4 articles will meet the SEM qualifying criteria. The Model 3 articles similarly address the social and/or environmental concerns of a social enterprise. It lacks, however, a legal commitment to reinvest the majority of profits back into the business itself and the services it provides; it is therefore less likely to qualify.

GetLegal – free/discounted legal documents

Bates Wells LLP provides legal documents optimally priced for charities and social enterprises.

Using the platform, GetLegal, businesses can access free documents such as:

  • Tips for setting up a social enterprise business;
  • Q&A before starting a social enterprise;
  • Q&A about charity tax; and
  • Advice for protecting your social mission.

For a reduced free, other documents can be accessed such as:

  • Checklist of filing requirements;
  • Pros and cons of charitable status; and
  • Setting up a social enterprise – a guide to legal forms.
Summary of Advice

If you really want to hit the mark, contact a specialist law firm which can give you the appropriate advice to help you set-up a successful social enterprise business.

Gift box with red ribbon

Beneath the marketing wrapping:
is social value at the heart?

Our 10-year anniversary has given me cause to reflect more so than usual.  To me, the world seems to have become much less transparent and harder to negotiate. What you see might not be what you actually get, e.g. fake news, greenwashing/purpose washing, uncorroborated rumours on social media etc. In light of this, ‘authenticity’ has become the new buzz word in all walks of life, including the business world.

Many businesses are all striving to differentiate themselves through talking about being ‘purpose driven’ and authentic to their values. But what evidence is provided that they really are doing business differently? Or is it just a thin veneer or ‘wrapping paper’?

“With so many jumping on the bandwagon in the social value world, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate.”

The argument is often made that if more businesses are aiming to be more impactful then this is inherently good. However, if this is not backed up with action then it can lead to cynicism, particularly when it’s obvious that the evidence points in a different direction. One thing is clear, the current status quo is not working so we need to get more radical and less image conscious.

This is why you need to get under the wrapping to get to the heart; what is the real motivation?  We need to ask questions, such as:

  • Is there any proof of impact and purpose claims or is it just a cynical ploy and tick-box exercise used as part of a marketing strategy?
  • Who has overall responsibility?
  • Is it part of the organisation’s governance?

With so many jumping on the bandwagon in the social value world, it’s getting harder and harder to differentiate. I would argue that at the core/heart of this is whether the company is mission driven or shareholder driven, as by definition, shareholder primacy always puts the financial gains over other considerations.

“Profit is a desirable by-product and allows for the creation of greater social value; it is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. Social value is at the heart, not just a convenient marketing wrapper.”

How do companies act?Despite public and business perception, shareholder primacy is not enshrined in law in the UK and there is some flexibility, which is why we are part of the How do Companies Act campaign.

But this is not the case in the USA. The rise of the B Corps in some North American states helped to challenge this assumption by providing a new alternative legal structure facilitating deviation from the domination of shareholder financial gain. Outside the USA, the B Corp model has helped to indicate that a business can sometimes change its governance to promote business as a force for good, but this is only a small step change in the right direction. It’s important to remember that B Corp status is not the same as social enterprise.

I would recommend listening to the below recent podcast from our US colleague Eric Lombardi, who set up the USA’s biggest zero waste social enterprise, where he talks about how we can change the face of business. He explains so well his thoughts regarding turning current thinking on its head to address huge environmental waste challenges, not only in the US but worldwide. He explains how social enterprise presents a unique way forwards over and above B Corp.

We need to be more radical, as even B Corp status does not address the fact that shareholder value is still a central tenet. This is fundamentally different from businesses that put the act of solving an environmental and or social problem at the heart and why they were established in the first place.

This is why the restriction of shareholder profit and asset lock in social enterprises is so important. Profit is a desirable by-product and allows for the creation of greater social value; it is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. Social value is at the heart, not just a convenient marketing wrapper.

Social Enterprise Mark 10th anniversary

A new decade marks ten years of the Social Enterprise Mark

As is my usual custom as we begin a new year, I wanted to share my reflections on 2019 and look ahead to what 2020 (and a new decade!) may bring.

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

The national launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in February 2010

I am particularly excited about this year, as it marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark. I am so proud of what we have achieved during this time – the Mark has evolved from a regional, funded project to now being the only internationally recognised standard of good practice in social enterprise. We aren’t resting on our laurels though, we have bold ambitions for scaling and building firmer foundations for our work, both in the UK and internationally, and I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for us in 2020.

In my new year blog in 2019, I mentioned there was likely uncertainty ahead for the sector, as well as the wider world. Well, here we are a year later and not much has changed on that front! Once again, I think we need to buckle up and be prepared to evolve to adapt to changing situations and take advantage of opportunities as they come along.

The good news is that this is something that we social enterprises excel at! The latest sector research from Social Enterprise UK showed that, despite the economic and political turbulence, UK social enterprises are outperforming mainstream SMEs in terms of increasing their turnover, hiring more staff, high levels of innovation and increasing their social impact. This positive trend is also mirrored internationally. Our visit to the Social Enterprise World Forum in Ethiopia last year gave us a real flavour for the diversity and innovation that social enterprises are exhibiting internationally.

Challenge is where social enterprises thrive, so I feel confident that we can continue to come together as a sector to tackle these and be recognised as a credible and sustainable business model, as well as standing out from the crowd with our different way of doing business.

It’s always hard to summarise what has happened over the course of a whole year into a few sentences, but I have picked out a few of my highlights from 2019:

Moving forwards, these are our plans and priorities for the year ahead:

Providing a pathway to good practice and excellence

As always, our main focus will be on providing robust and credible standards for the sector and supporting social enterprises to demonstrate the added social value they create.

After ten years of developing these standards, we have built a portfolio of accreditations for social enterprises at every stage, which provide a comprehensive pathway to good practice and excellence.

Social Enterprise Mark CIC accreditation badges

In an effort to support those just starting their social enterprise journey, we have recently launched the new Aspiring Social Enterprise accreditation. This entry-level accreditation helps new start-ups to demonstrate their commitment to social enterprise principles from the start and offers tailored support to achieve the recognised standards of good practice represented by the Social Enterprise Mark.

Developing more partnerships

Increasingly, I see our future in creating alliances with like-minded partners (in the UK and further afield), which believe in the need for accreditation. This helps our visibility and reach to social enterprises around the world and will amplify the message and help to create a more global movement for better business and making a difference.

The valuable connections we made at the Social Enterprise World Forum last year will, I hope, mean that we develop closer working relationships to build our knowledge of the social enterprise movement in different countries. We plan to attend the World Forum in Canada later this year, and we also have a couple of international exchange visits, with Richard taking part in the Euclid Network MedUP! peer exchange with a partner in Tunisia, and I will be returning to Siberia to follow up with contacts made during my visit there last year.

Aligning our criteria with the SDGs

Sustainable Development Goals wheel iconResponding to feedback from our Mark holders and international partners, we acknowledge that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a powerful global framework to address the pressing social and environmental issues that we all face, and are pleased to have joined the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD), which brings organisations together to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals in the UK.

The work of social enterprises spans these various goals and accreditation is a constructive force in ensuring organisations maintain a momentum towards achieving them. We are looking into aligning our accreditations with the SDGs, especially with regard to how Mark holders report on their social impact. We have made a start on this by asking Mark holders to report on which SDGs they include in their monitoring and reporting of social impact, as part of the annual and full review assessment process. We have also added a new section in listings on the directory to show which SDGs our Mark holders are working towards.

Recognising long-standing Mark holders

Save the date; 2nd MarchLast but by no means least we are so excited to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Social Enterprise Mark this year. We are planning an event in London to mark the occasion – more details to follow soon, but in the meantime do put the date in your diaries… 2nd March.

A key part of this celebration will be recognising those organisations that have held the Mark for ten years. We certainly couldn’t have made it to this milestone without these pioneers, which recognised the value of the Mark to their organisation and the wider sector, and I want to personally thank them for their support over the last decade.

I hope as many as possible can join us for the celebrations on 2nd March. In the meantime, all the best for the year ahead!

Artist painting a wall with 'The future will be different' written on the back of their jacket

Social enterprise Vs.
anti-social enterprise?

Oxfma report: just 8 billionaires own the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion peopleRecently there has been a flurry of news and a growing acceptance from the public that the brand of capitalism that puts the shareholders’ interest above all else, is broken. Indeed, the FT recently reported that City Fund managers are calling for a radical rethink and an end to the constant obsession with economic growth.

We are in the middle of societal and environmental disaster, made evident by huge levels of income inequality and poverty (last year Oxfam reported that the world’s richest 1% bagged 82% of the world’s wealth), as well as the Climate Emergency.

It was also interesting to see the recent announcement by the Labour Party regarding their intention to revise the Companies Act to “take on the excesses of the shareholder model and lay some of the foundations of a stakeholder economy”, should they win a majority at the upcoming election.

Last week a shocking new report from the TUC and High Pay Centre highlighted just how broken the ‘shareholder first’ model really is. The evidence set out in the report shows how, in the corporate world, delivery to the shareholder has become an obsession.

Even those more enlightened CEOs who have tried to move outside the straightjacket to take into consideration people and planet (e.g. Unilever) have ended up being potentially strong-armed back into the prevailing model by becoming vulnerable to ‘Hostile Sustainability Raiders’ – i.e. hostile takeover organisations that jump in (in order to make quick financial returns) because the share price has dropped due to lower dividends. Short-termism is factored indelibly into the corporate business model.

The evidence of the resulting behaviours leads to stark consequences not only for those working for those companies, but also to their wider stakeholders and communities. The more money that is extracted for shareholders, the less there is for anything else. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budgets, increases in wages for workers and social and environmental impact come in as the ‘poor relatives’.

The following startling statistics illustrate the reality versus the hype:

  • In 2018, BP spent 14 times and Shell 11 times more on their shareholders as they invested in low carbon activity
  • Between 2014-18, while FTSE 100 returns to shareholders rose by 56%, the median wage for UK workers increased by just 8.8% (both nominal)
  • In 2018, the 4 largest food and drinks companies paid shareholders almost £14 billion – more than they made in net profit (£12.7 billion). To put that into perspective, just a tenth of this shareholder pay-out is enough to raise the wages of 1.9 million agriculture workers around the world to a living wage
  • Gender inequality is much higher in FTSE 100 companies (the gender pay gap is double the national average), as cheaper women’s labour helps to support increased shareholder returns

Person holding banner saying 'Planet over Profit'Shareholder primacy is reinforced in the Section 172 of the 2006 Companies Act, which requires company directors to act in the interest of shareholders, and only ‘have regard’ to a wider set of stakeholders. There are no significant examples of a director being held to account for their failure to ‘have regard’ for their wider stakeholders. We are working with Social Value UK and other partners to change this.

The How Do Companies Act campaign aims to change accounting behaviour to ensure that accounting practice also takes consideration of social and environmental impact.

Social enterprise (a business model that puts society and the environment before shareholder profit) is part of the solution to this rampant anti-social/environmental trend. We have been saying this for a long time.  Rather than shareholder gain being the sole driver, social enterprises focus on the three ‘P’s:

  • Purpose – social mission locked in through governance and legal form as well as creating social impact as a central tenet (including environmental objectives and impact)
  • Profit – profit and dividends shared by stakeholders for the benefit of the purpose. Check out my colleague Richard’s recent blog for more information on this
  • Power – the involvement of and dialogue with stakeholders around decisions making

Social enterprises (that hold the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark) dedicate a majority (at least 51%) of their profits to social and environmental purpose, as well as being dedicated to changing society for the better in the way that they conduct their core business. They therefore compare favourably on many different indicators of social benefit mainly because they are focused on social good:

Social Enterprises

(Source: State of Social Enterprise 2019)

FTSE100 (Multiple sources)

Pay real Living Wage



CEO to worker pay ratio



Shareholder profits



Directors from ethnic minorities



Female CEOs



Given all of this, it is pretty clear that if we are to change society for the better and to tackle the climate emergency we need to challenge much more radically what it means to be a business. We need to stop teaching and assuming that it’s all about getting financially more wealthy and see wealth in a much wider context – creating a better world for all.

Performers at the Social Enterprise World Forum 2019 opening ceremony in Addis Ababa

Getting out of our rut and into the colourful Brave New World!

Lucy Findlay speaking to visitors to SEMCIC stand at SEWF 2019I loved the recent Social Enterprise World Forum, not necessarily for the speeches (as I was busy running our stand so didn’t see those), but for the inspirational people that we met and spoke to. Ethiopia provided a boost to energy levels and a lack of cynicism that is humbling. It made us question ourselves but at the same time feel part of a wider picture.

It was colourful, enthusiastic and buzzing. It didn’t matter that the buses were late for dinner, the feeling of being part of something huge and positive more than made up for ‘Africa time’!

I read Heidi Fisher’s recent blog, where she shared her own reflections on the conference, and she is totally right – we are playing too small. We need to embrace the world and accept that we are not leading the way in the UK. We have so much to learn from those that literally have to get up and go and do it for themselves (albeit with the aid of technology). Someone said to me recently “If there is no money, then it forces partnership work” and they are right. Where there is a will there is a way.

It also highlights the very small world that the UK social enterprise sector inhabits and the rut that we have got into whilst much of the world around us has changed. For example, the obsession that we have for replacement of the state in the delivery of public services and more recently the metamorphosis of getting into corporate supply chains. I am not suggesting that these are bad, but we need to recognise them for what they are; someone else’s agenda – sometimes the means to an end but not an end in themselves.

“Let’s stop arguing about definitions, how we influence government policy and how to get corporations to take us seriously, and instead work with partners to develop a new more colourful and ambitious vision where social enterprise has a key place in changing the World.”

We need to turn this on its head and get back to our roots where social enterprises’ strengths are –  to deliver where the market fails, because it focuses on doing good, not making money for shareholders. African social enterprises models inspire us because that is exactly what they are doing, without funding, government contracts or supply chain deals (as Heidi refers to in her video above).

You can find out about the conference speakers here, and Pioneers Post provided great coverage of the event.

We need to find our family and replug into our values and drivers as well as starting to connect more effectively into those that share them. It was great to chew the fat with a number of people internationally who share this vision, but we need to translate this into action. We at Social Enterprise Mark CIC are in the foothills but want to find others that want to climb the hill!

Let’s stop arguing about definitions (we all know what’s important), how we influence government policy and how to get corporations to take us seriously, and instead work with partners to develop a new more colourful and ambitious vision where social enterprise has a key place in changing the World.

Collage of photos from the Social Enterprise World Forum 2019

Person holding sign saying 'Planet over Profit'

Social enterprise:
to profit or not to profit?

By Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager

Richard CobbettArguably, what principally distinguishes a social enterprise from other forms of commercial enterprise – including other types of “social business” – is the commitment to distributing the majority of profits generated towards social purposes. So why is it that some social enterprises take pride in the label of being “not for profit” organisations – literally going out of their way not to generate a profit? The irony of this is that it could be said these social enterprises are failing to adhere with the fundamental principle that distinguishes their business model.

“wouldn’t it be more useful focusing on what a social enterprise is, rather than resorting to a somewhat reductive label of what it is not?”

There are some who therefore flinch when they hear this “not for profit” label being used in describing social enterprise. As shorthand, it describes an organisation that is not primarily constituted to create personal profit for individuals, or other purely commercial interests – which includes organisations who may not be primarily constituted to serve social needs, address community disadvantages, or similar interests. So wouldn’t it be more useful focusing on what a social enterprise is, rather than resorting to a somewhat reductive label of what it is not? The label can be as misleading as it is helpful, sometimes seeing social enterprises written off as unviable businesses, not worthy of support and investment – because they are deemed to be “uncommercial”.

One possible complaint is that the social enterprise model of profit distribution is one that prevents a business from investing in its commercial success, therefore making it less viable. But this is false: a social enterprise is not prevented from retaining and using profits to sustain, develop or grow the business. If there are additional profits beyond this available for distribution, dedicating them to social purposes, rather than the pockets of individual investors, does not intrinsically make social enterprises any less commercial.

“The more profitable a social enterprise is, the more it can invest in activities and resources that create social benefit.”

GrowthThe reality is a social enterprise should operate along the lines of any other form of business. A social enterprise is committed to pursuing commercial success through trading, but it does so in support of its social objectives and to maximise its potential to generate social benefit.

The sustainability of a social enterprise, and its ability to maximise social outcomes, is therefore dependent on it being commercially successful – in it being profitable. The more profitable a social enterprise is, the more it can invest in activities and resources that create social benefit. But on a more vital level, being a profitable business means a social enterprise is helping ensure it can continue to exist and fulfil its social purposes in the long term.

Some social enterprises may justifiably argue that their in-year expenditure represents an investment in social purposes that has resulted in a deliberate suppression of would be profits; furthermore, in doing so they have avoided corporation tax and have therefore been able to invest more in their social purposes by doing so. Just because they resourcefully managed their income in a cost-effective fashion within the business year, does not necessarily mean the business is unprofitable. This leaves the question, does being a profitable business mean a social enterprise has to show consistent profits each year?

“The model in which a social enterprise “spends all it earns” does not necessarily mean they are either unprofitable or failing to maximise their social output: they may instead be maximising it through the application of income that could have turned into potential profit.”

Although this is a more immediately transparent indicator of commercial success and viability, it is by no means the only one. The social enterprise commitment to profit distribution should necessarily take into consideration its ongoing expenditure and investment, both in terms of how these show fulfilment of social purposes as well as actions to remain commercially viable. But how a social enterprise actually demonstrates its primary commitment to investing in the achievement of social purposes is much more of an organic process; there is rarely a neat equation of “x profits from last year = y social output this year”. Plus, the model in which a social enterprise “spends all it earns” does not necessarily mean they are either unprofitable or failing to maximise their social output: they may instead be maximising it through the application of income that could have turned into potential profit.

How a social enterprise reviews and reports on such matters to stakeholders and communities of interest therefore becomes significant in being able to show transparency of action in line with stated purpose and principles of operation. At the very least it represents good practice for social enterprises to aspire to this.

“Broadly speaking, (expenditure on social impact) falls into three categories: service enhancements, delivering free or subsidised outputs, and altruistic contributions.”

It is fair to say that approaches to social impact reporting amongst our Mark Holders are mixed (which is likely a fair reflection of the sector in general). Most social enterprises just take for granted that income and profits simply carry on sustaining their general social mission. But simply highlighting key areas of expenditure and investment does not have to be a costly or time-consuming exercise, and it at least shows a willingness to explain such matters – which a social enterprise can then be held accountable to. In having started to ask Mark Holders questions about their social impact, we are starting to see common sorts of example emerge in this regard.

Broadly speaking, this falls into three categories:

  1. Service enhancements. These are investments which go “above and beyond” service delivery requirements and expectations – ones that add value or reinforce the capability to deliver social outputs (delivering them “better”). This can include:
    • Additional infrastructure serving stakeholder needs;
    • Tools/equipment and similar resources employed in support of stakeholder needs.
    • Recruitment or training of people that is not recognisably a service requirement or expectation, but which adds to and/or improves the quality of social output.
  2. Delivering free or subsidised outputs. These are investments which show how social enterprises “deliver more” social outputs. This may take the form of:
    • Pro-bono work;
    • Outputs or outcomes in excess of contracted amounts (that are therefore unpaid);
    • Providing subsidised or free products, resources or materials, that may typically form part of a costed and paid-for service (or go beyond what this usually involves).
  3. Altruistic contributions. This is most commonly financial and therefore more easily quantifiable – donations to charities, community groups, projects etc. that support wider social or community needs. But it also encompasses other types of resource contribution. For example:
    • The free use of company resources, loans or donations of other properties, in support of social or community needs (premises space; equipment; other materials or usable assets);
    • Allowing employees to volunteer in the community, or do fund-raising on paid time.
    • Sponsorship (this may not be entirely altruistic as it involves a promotional benefit but the financial contribution could be well in excess of the value this has).

“Social enterprise is a model through which capitalism can be “re-booted”: inherently hardwired to benefit society, not just as side-benefit to the “for individual and commercial profit” motivations of shareholders and owners, but as a primary socio-economic purpose.”

There is much to be gained by raising public understanding of social enterprise as a commercial business model that generate income and profits, primarily in service of public benefit – not simply as “not for profit institutions”. Dare I say it… social enterprise is a model through which capitalism can be “re-booted”: inherently hardwired to benefit society, not just as side-benefit to the “for individual and commercial profit” motivations of shareholders and owners, but as a primary socio-economic purpose. Given the right focus and support, social enterprise can be the harbinger of lasting social change, helping reverse the deeply worrying trend through which the worlds wealth and resources are increasingly converging into the hands of the few.

Maybe this is an idealistic pipedream. But if social enterprises were to get better at shaping the conversation in these terms, it means they are more actively playing to strengths they can use when convincing others to support and do business with them.

Social Enterprise Mark logoThese arguments are bolstered by a willingness to stand up to external scrutiny of such claims, and achieving recognition for how they live up to them. This is why the Social Enterprise Mark exists. Through accreditations that define standards of good and best practice, Social Enterprise Mark CIC provides social enterprises of all shapes and sizes with a platform from which to build and better communicate what they are.

Person in a wheelchair working at a computer

Why are we not employing more people with disabilities?

Chris WalklingBy Chris Walkling

Working in a Mental Health setting, I have been a frontline witness to the many challenges my clients faced in their daily lives. And yet, surprisingly, one of the greatest challenges they had to contend with, had nothing to do with their disabilities per se

And it’s not a problem that normally comes to mind…


Boredom is something society tends to reserve as a problem only for People without disabilities. But that’s not the case. Nor is it a matter of simply having a bit too much ‘idle time’.

Let’s delve into it a bit more:

Have you ever been unemployed?

I have (does that plummet my Linkedin score?). It’s a week of bliss followed by interminable hours of existential crisis. Without the structure of work, the hours seem like days, the minutes feel like hours, and the seconds crawl past.

Now imagine living like that. Every. Single. Day.

The truth is, unemployment & boredom are far more prevalent afflictions for People with Disabilities than we seem to understand.

And yet, we do appreciate the psychological toll that unemployment & boredom place on People without Disabilities. It is clinically documented that unemployment “damages emotional health”.

The literature cites:

  • Lack of structure.
  • Damage to self-esteem.
  • Increase in Anxiety, self-doubt, & Depression.
  • Sense of “helplessness” due to a lack of direction & meaning.
  • Sense of disconnection with others & alienation from society.

Why do we assume the heavy, psychological disturbances of unemployment to be reserved only for People without Disabilities?

And there’s another misconception here:

Disabled person working at a car washWe tend to think People with Disabilities don’t want jobs. Like employment might somehow be ‘too hard’ for them. An unnecessary addition to their existing challenges and stresses.

But the fact is, employment is not an additional stress they wouldn’t cope with. It’s a way to empower them. It’s a path to fulfillment, identity, resilience. 

And that’s something many People with Disabilities crave. They want to offer value. They want to be contributing members of society. 

How would we feel if society only saw us as burdens? Ignored our potential? Refused our offer to contribute? 

We’d feel miserable. Disconnected. Inhuman.

Why do we think People with Disabilities are an exception to this? Why do we place the psychological burdens of a lack of structure, meaning, sense of value or self-esteem, onto people who are often already contending with existing emotional challenges?

We seem to think People with Disabilities are too ‘preoccupied’ for employment. But the desire for a sense of meaning, life-direction or self-worth are not lofty goals reserved for the able-bodied & minded, they are fundamental human necessities.

It can be difficult to fill the hours working in an Assisted Living Setting

Meals and activities can only take up a limited amount of time. 

It is the long hours in-between that are the most agitated. And, interestingly, these are also the hours where we’d see the most behavioural incidents. It’s demoralising to have that much time to fill. It is, ironically, too much freedom

Unfortunately, the solutions offered are fairly band-aid. Doctors offer antidepressant prescriptions. Netflix & Youtube become the defaults to fill the day. 

But watching movies from 10am to 5pm, with a break for lunch and a trip to the shops, is not a conducive path to wellbeing. Not for a person who is certainly capable of gainful employment. 

Think about it:

If you’d been unemployed for a year, and your Doctor offered you a Sertraline prescription and a few DVD’s to pass the time, how would you feel about that as a solution?

I sincerely believe that every client I’ve ever worked with is capable of at least some degree of employment. And I sincerely believe the lives of every single one of them would be transformed by having a job.

We must shift our attitude towards People with Disabilities, and appreciate them for the resource & value they can offer to the community. If you are an employer, and you have suitable vacancies, I urge you to consider applications from People with Disabilities. Full-time, part-time, ad-hoc or even work-experience. 

The benefits will be entirely mutual. 

Thanks for reading. 

Chris Walkling is a freelance copywriter, specialising in helping social enterprises to build their brand and sell their story.

Challenging the tribal culture to create a brave new world

Given our current political situation we see the negative effects of self-interest and not seeing other points of view at first hand. Many of us ask, why can’t we all work together towards the common good? The sad thing is that tribalism often trumps deviating from the party line in our political system.

In my professional life I have sat in a number of business fora over the years and I often feel like I don’t fit and identify properly. It’s often about the prevailing assumptions, accepted positions and customs and practice that lead to certain behaviours, without any real questioning of those underlying assumptions, i.e. a culture. I’m pretty sure it’s not just about me running a different type of business, more about a dance where everybody knows the steps and cannot deviate from the pattern. If you are unaware of or question the steps, you are cast out or never permitted to be part of the dance (unless you chose to learn them and fall into line of course).

“we need a more a more democratically accountable leadership with clarity about who we are, why we are different and how we can change the prevailing business model.”

Over the years I have found a more extreme version of this lack of fit in the social enterprise world. I’m not sure it is just because I am a woman, although some of it undoubtedly is. Given the wider involvement of women in leadership positions, and the maturation of the sector you would assume that this type of block was less common. However, I feel it’s worse as the tribal culture has spread with the growth of the term across the world.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many social enterprises and leaders beavering away at trying to change the world and supporting each other to do this, but then there are others that decide whether you fit into the established model of the way to do things. If you challenge prevailing thought, then you are irrelevant or worse to the self-nominated gatekeepers. A language of inclusivity and supportiveness hides the maintenance of the status quo.

I don’t think that this will lead to the best results for our movement. We need to be business led and entrepreneurial with more creativity and diversity to ensure that the sector is not just seen through one lens. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought and we need a more democratically accountable leadership with clarity about who we are, why we are different and how we can change the prevailing business model. Most importantly, it should be led most importantly by social enterprises, boosted and supported by those that that share our true values.

“We need to learn from the huge wealth of experiences internationally, instead of trying to control and fit everyone into the same old mould.”

Lucy Findlay and Rebecca Dray signing Social Enterprise Mark franchise agreement

I am currently delighted by the discussions that I have had recently with my colleague Rebecca Dray in the USA about the different attitudes that she sees on a day to day basis. The sector there is largely untapped and there is so much enthusiasm for an openness and transparency about trying something different. We need to go with it and learn from the huge wealth of experiences internationally, instead of trying to control and fit everyone into the same old mould.

I love social enterprise, but we won’t grow and develop and reach our true potential if we don’t welcome diversity.

Lucy Findlay

Tips for getting started in social enterprise

Social Entrepreneur IndexI was delighted to be involved in judging applications for the inaugural Social Entrepreneur Index earlier this year – it’s always great to see more people join the social enterprise community, committed to running their businesses for the good of people and planet.

I know it can be a daunting prospect for those just starting their journey into social enterprise, so as a ‘seasoned campaigner’, I wanted to offer some advice to start you off on the right track:

  1. Clarify your business proposition – regardless of how virtuous your social mission is, if you don’t have a viable business proposition behind it then it will be hard to create social value that is sustainable in the long-term.

  2. Do your research on the market you are entering and be clear from the outset on what it is that your business will deliver, and to who. Defining who your customers are is very important – you can then involve them in the development of your product/service offering to be sure it meets their needs.

  3. Be clear about what it is you are trying to change – you will need to be able to clearly articulate what issue(s) you are addressing and what changes you aim to make. This will make it easier for you to communicate your mission to your stakeholders (customers, employees, partners, local communities etc), and will help you to measure the impact you are having. We routinely ask our Mark holders to demonstrate how they are working to meet their social objectives and realise this isn’t an easy task for most. We have developed a set of social impact questions, which are designed to help social enterprises think about the social impact they create, and to communicate this clearly and succinctly.

  4. Get advice and support – build relationships with those who support your mission and share your vision – create a network of allies who can offer advice and point you in the right direction. Take advantage of the advice and guidance that is available for new social enterprises just starting up, such as the packages provided by UnLtd. Also, learn from the experiences of others – checking out the Social Entrepreneur Index Ambassadors is a good starting point, as they have a wealth of experience and insights.

Aspiring Social Enterprise accreditationIn our mission to support social enterprises at all stages to work towards credible sector-agreed standards of good practice, we have recently introduced an entry-level accreditation for aspiring social enterprises. This enables new social enterprises to prove their commitment to social enterprise principles from the outset, and get started on the pathway to social enterprise excellence.

Applicants will receive tailored support throughout their social enterprise journey, initially enabling them to understand how they can meet the good practice criteria defined by the Social Enterprise Mark, which will hopefully provide useful considerations for future development. For example, we offer tailored support to enable you to get started on measuring and articulating your social impact.

To find out more please get in touch – you can call our helpline on 0345 504 6536 or can register your interest here.

First published on the Social Enterpreneur Index website on 12th August 2019

Rachel Fell at UIMP social enterprise conference_Santander July 2019

Reflections from Santander

By Rachel Fell, Business Development Manager

Buenos Dias! Hola, me llama Rachel Fell. Which, translated to English is … Good Day! Hello, my name is Rachel Fell.

This is about the extent of the Spanish I managed to speak during my presentation at the Social Enterprise and Sustainable Development Goals conference a few weeks ago in Santander, Spain.

Luckily, they had translators on standby to translate our presentations to the Cantabrian people, as well as those visitors from further afield. It was my first visit to northern Spain – and what a delight it was… wonderful food, wine, and coastal walks, accompanied by a comfortable climate. As you may know, they do not speak much English in northern Spain (hence the need for translators), so I had to dig deep to bring out some of the trusty phrases I learnt back at school to get me by whilst I was away on this trip!

Rachel Fell presenting at UIMP social enterprise conference in Santander July 2019I was invited to speak by Ana Fernandez-Laviada, a Professor at the University of Cantabria, who I met at an Enterprise Educators UK event last year, which was hosted by Social Enterprise Mark Holder Plymouth Marjon University. I was asked to talk about the Social Enterprise Mark accreditation initiative and how this is working in the UK, particularly within the education sector, and also to share our experience in international development.

The event, organised by the Cantabria International Campus, UIMP and the University of Cantabria, was held at the beautiful Palacio de la Magadalena. The objectives of the week-long event were to raise awareness of social enterprise and to inspire organisations and individuals to implement social enterprise initiatives.

Rachel Fell outside Palacio de la Magadalena in Santander

I was speaking on Day 2, which opened with Professor Jonathan Levie of the National University Ireland Galway. Jonathan shared some great examples of students who have gone on to start their own social enterprises, such as The World’s Big Sleep Out, and the Ocean Clean Up.

Jonathan ended his session by sharing with us some interesting statistics on the distribution between economic, social and environmental motives of entrepreneurs in the UK. Interestingly, back in 2009 the biggest motivator was economic fulfilment, whereas now the focus is much more centralised between all three – phew, how reassuring to see how this supports the demand for the social enterprise business model!

He also emphasized how “It’s about being entrepreneurial, not just about wanting to start a business”, which I know we all feel strongly about here at SEMCIC when talking to our Mark Holders about being credible businesses who know how important it is to balance their social mission alongside being sustainable.

Karel Vanderpoorten from the European Commission followed with a session sharing what they are are doing on social enterprise and also shared some great examples of social enterprise initiatives from around Europe, such as The Social Club in the Hague and Magdas in Austria.

This was followed on nicely by Holke Brammer of Yunus Social Business, who shared their plans to address and support the Sustainable Development Goals using 5 pillars:

  1. Access to Finance
  2. Access to Market
  3. Improving framework conditions
  4. Social Innovation technologies and new business models
  5. International collaboration

Gareth Hart presenting at UIMP social enterprise conference in Santander_July 2019Following my own presentation, Gareth Hart, Director of Plymouth’s social enterprise Iridescent Ideas and Chair of the Plymouth Social Enterprise Network (PSEN), shared with the audience all the great things the ‘Social Enterprise City’ of Plymouth is doing around social enterprise and how PSEN supports this work.

So, all in all it was a fantastic day to attend. The other speakers were very interesting to listen to and network with. Although I can give an account of the days programme I participated in, it was just a small part of what was organised across the week.

Other speakers included the CEO of AUARA (the first Spanish social enterprise to be awareded the Social Enterprise Mark) Antonio Espinosa, our good friend Dr Emily Beaumont of Plymouth Marjons University, Chris Blues from the Skoll foundation, as well as representatives from B-Corp, UnLtd, Ashoka and Enactus. The week was closed with the awarding of a Honoury Doctorate to Professor Muhammad Yunus.

I came away from the event feeling a camaraderie with those I met and talked with, who are also serving to promote the inspirational and diverse world of social enterprises. In a time of much uncertainty and fragmentation between countries, it was nice to feel that together we all have the same passion and drive to make the Sustainable Development Goals work and create an environment where social enterprises thrive.


Lucy Findlay

Challenging perceptions to close the disability employment gap

Friday 28th June was the fourth UK Employability Day; a day for employers and employment support organisations to celebrate their hard work supporting people to enter or progress in employment. The theme this year was ‘Closing the Gaps’; with the disability employment gap – the difference in the rate of employment of disabled and non-disabled people – at around 30%, a figure which has remained unchanged for more than a decade, action clearly needs to be taken.

I’m very new to this specialist field but my main observations have been that disabled employment often seems to be stereotyped into a) volunteering or b) low paid manual work. According to Scope, 1 in 3 people see disabled people as less productive than non-disabled.

Such attitudes have led to significant unemployment, underemployment and under-valuing of the skills that disabled people can bring to the workplace. Often, this could be changed with minimal adjustments and a more flexible and creative approach to how a particular job is carried out.

Disabled employees photo montage

I watched the final episode of The Restaurant that Makes Mistakes recently and although it did a good job of raising the profile of what people with dementia can do on a voluntary basis, I was disappointed that a) it could not be carried on as a social enterprise if it was a viable business, and b) that it’s led to mainstream restaurants taking on more people with dementia in an unpaid capacity. If they are doing a good job, why are they not being paid for it? Disabled people should not be subsidising the profits of the restaurant trade!

With this in mind, we welcome some positive messages coming out of Government – Theresa May recently announced a set of new measures to break down barriers faced by disabled people. This included a consultation on proposed measures to help employers better support disabled people and those with long-term health conditions in work, which will be published soon.

At a recent roundtable discussion with DWP and organised by UnLtd, I was pleased to connect with like-minded businesses to look at how social enterprises and entrepreneurs can be supported to address the disability employment gap and to support UnLtd in its aims to help address this with Government.

Social Enterprise Disability Employment MarkOver the last 18 months, we have been working with the Supported Business Steering Group to develop a new quality standard for social enterprises that have a focus on providing supportive employment for disabled people. The Social Enterprise Disability Employment Mark (SEDEM), launched in April, has been designed to ensure that employment standards for disabled people are raised and are fulfilling the greater challenges set out in the 2011 Sayce Report, which examined how more disabled people could be supported into employment.

SEDEM recognises exemplar employers that promote equality and diversity, by providing valuable support to those people that encounter the greatest barriers to work, enabling them to find and maintain meaningful employment. It’s not just about providing a job for disabled people, it’s about creating good quality jobs and providing a pathway for career development.

We want more social enterprises and entrepreneurs to think about how they can move into being exemplars of good practice in helping disabled people get decent jobs. We encourage people to register their interest in applying for this new standard of transparency, which includes a Committed status for those that are not quite there yet.

We need to shift attitudes and move to action. Many people experience some kind of disability or long term condition over their lifetime. Currently we are missing out on the extensive skills that disabled people can bring, and the fact is that increased diversity in the workplace can actually increase business performance.

Social enterprises are well placed to lead by example, being values led businesses. So what’s stopping us?


Guest blog written for UnLtd, published on 19th July 2019

Society Profits logo

Society profits from new social impact support business launching in the USA

By Rebecca Dray, CEO of Society Profits

Lucy Findlay and Rebecca Dray signing Social Enterprise Mark franchise agreementA growing movement across the USA is getting a substantial boost this month, as we launch Society Profits in Michigan, bringing with us the Social Enterprise Mark accreditation and a partnership with the Good Market online platform.

Society Profits will be the first social enterprise support business in the USA to offer curated access to accredited, transparent and trustworthy sellers that exist solely for the purpose of doing good in our communities and for our environment.

Social enterprise is a growing business sector in the USA, combining the best of the non-profit and for-profit sectors; running businesses that sell everyday goods and services in companies that reinvest their profits for social or environmental benefit. Social enterprises often exist to employ those farthest from the labour market and tend to be run by women and minority ethnic groups. Research suggests that the USA social enterprise sector employs over 10 million people and has annual earned revenues in excess of $500 billion. I believe that consumers and corporate purchasers want to rest assured that buying from these companies is genuinely giving money directly to those in need, and that externally verified accreditation is essential for this transparency.

Offering third-party accreditation to social enterprise businesses, and routes to market through social impact procurement, is a concept that has been benefiting society in other parts of the world for many years. I feel strongly that this approach has real potential for local communities in the USA, helping the many hundreds of social enterprise companies in the country to grow and diversify. When the public can trust that a business is reinvesting all of its profits in social or environmental causes, they can buy with confidence and vote with their wallets for a better way of doing business.

Last week, I was in London with Lucy Findlay to sign the exclusive US franchise agreement for the Social Enterprise Mark – the only global accreditation standard for social enterprises. The Social Enterprise Mark uses rigorous criteria to externally verify that an organization is operating as a social enterprise.

There is no other accreditation like this currently in the United States. The Social Enterprise Mark goes further than the B Corp Certification. B Corps are for-profit businesses committed to responsible practices, whereas social enterprises have a social or environmental purpose baked into the very core of their business model. The Social Enterprise Mark accreditation provides a set of clearly defined standards for social enterprise and externally verifies that these standards are being upheld.

Good Market logoI am also excited to be working in partnership with Good Market to provide a curated online platform and marketplace that makes it easier to find and connect with accredited social enterprises. Good Market has a basic curation process that is accessible to startups and local initiatives, but enterprises that have third-party verification earn additional points and are recognised as being at a higher level. When it comes to social procurement, third-party verification is critical. Corporations and other institutional buyers need to be fully confident that they are sourcing products and services from accredited social enterprises.

To find out more about Society Profits, becoming an accredited seller or socially responsible buyer, please contact me via email or on +1 734 623 9907.

Person in suit doing yoga pose

The case for investing in the wellbeing of your staff, and the key to getting it right

By Heather Kelly, Founder of Aura Wellbeing


“When the well’s dry, we know the worth of the water.” Benjamin Franklin


Heather KellyKeeping our wells abundant, thriving with water is essential for survival. For an organisation, survival and success is dependent on performance of employees. For staff to perform at their best, to thrive, being at both optimal physical and mental health is a big contributor.

Workplace wellbeing is something that’s been making a recent splash in the business world. Some employers may be still looking on with hesitation to get their feet wet, wondering if it’s a fad or fashion. Well think back to Corporate Social Responsibility fifteen years ago and where it’s evolved to today, the fashion of workplace wellbeing is likely to stay, and here’s why.

The majority of the measures by companies to improve workplace wellbeing were until recently considered ‘perks’ or employee benefits. But as research from the Global Wellness Institute shows, $3billion is the current cost of work-related stress to businesses worldwide. And the 2017 Farmer/Stevenson Thriving at Work report revealed that the yearly cost of absenteeism to UK employers alone is £8.2billion. And these numbers are on the rise.

The matter of employee health and wellbeing is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s becoming a hard, economic factor of productivity. Governments, economists and a growing number of employers are urging that it’s time to take this topic as seriously as we take research and development and investment in technology.

The positive news is progress is being made. The UK government has set workplace mental health standards for employers to follow (Farmer/Stevenson Thriving at Work); some employers are now including performance indicators on staff health and wellbeing in annual reports (like Thames Water); and even the young Royals are campaigning for improved mental wellbeing in workplaces (Heads Together & Mental Health at Work).

So, if you’re a business leader who is considering getting your feet wet, you may ask, where do we even start? And what’s the most efficient and effective way to embark on the journey.

With mental health or stress contributing to the majority of absences, it’s suggested that core investment should be made here. But with more research now making links between what we eat and our mental and physical wellbeing, it’s important to also promote healthy eating alongside physical exercise for overall illness prevention.

But the key to getting it right is not making this a box ticking exercise. According to survey data from The Global Wellness Institute, if an employee identified their company as genuinely “caring about their health/wellness” that employee’s overall health, stress and job engagement/satisfaction improved significantly.

But what does creating a culture of care look like in practice?

  • Having a robust wellbeing strategy and running targeted awareness campaigns throughout the year.
  • A culture that nurtures strong, supportive relationships between staff and managers (offering training on how to effectively line manage mental wellbeing).
  • Execs & managers leading by example, consistently walking the talk when looking after their own wellbeing alongside the workforce’s.
  • Encouraging a culture where people can be as open and honest about their mental health as they are about their physical health.
  • Encouraging unplugging from work on holidays and during unsociable hours.
  • Providing paid wellness days for staff to look after self-care.

For Social Enterprises, often small or medium-sized businesses, operating with leaner teams and operating budgets—reliable and well human resource is critical. When business objectives are already social mission-driven, creating a culture of care by looking after the wellbeing of one’s own arguably has a natural values-alignment.

It’s no surprise that one of the UK’s leading providers of workplace mental health support, Mental Health First Aid CIC, is a social enterprise who shuts its doors one day a year for all staff to take a wellness day.

For such future-thinking businesses, starting to re-assess their role in promoting wellbeing as both a business imperative and as part of their wider social responsibility is becoming fashion—they’re understanding the worth of their workers so, as Benjamin Franklin would say, their wells will not risk going dry. Even if the bottom line or Health & Safety are the initial motivators for many, with consistent top-down commitment, creating a genuine culture of care and thus a sustainably well workforce is achievable.


Heather Kelly was formerly Business Development Manager at Social Enterprise Mark CIC, and now works as a Wellbeing Consultant and Health and Wellbeing Coach at Aura Wellbeing.

How helpful video content can boost your online traffic

Chocolate Films logoBy Alexandra Lens, Digital Marketing Officer at Chocolate Films

YouTube is not only the most popular video hosting platform in the world, it is also the second largest search engine.

Are you surprised? Then have a think: what was the last time you turned to video to learn something? If you recently looked up how to cook chili con carne, how to unclog your sink or how to do squats properly, chances are you found the answer on YouTube.

In Google’s popular communication strategy ‘HERO, HELP, HUB’, this is the HELP content.

HELP films are designed to answer any question your audience might ask or search for online. They allow you to show your organisation’s human side by being helpful and answering the public’s needs.

Crucially, they also drive traffic to your video channels, social media accounts and website. Is there a question clients ask you time and time again? What explanations are people actively searching for online related to your product or industry? Answer those questions and you will pull people to your content, whilst establishing your brand as an expert in the area.


One popular type of HELP content are How-To Videos. This film we produced for Migrant Help teaches newcomers in the UK how to use a cash machine to withdraw money:

Ask Us About Animated Explainers

Another example, is Historic Royal Palaces showing viewers how to perform a Victorian-style Morris Dance.


HELP films can be a response to questions about your organisation’s way of working, or your area of expertise. Here, bakery-cafe chain Le Pain Quotidien tells the story of how they produce organic coffee, from bean to brew:


HELP videos can also communicate practical information about your organisation, business or venue with your audience, like The Wallace Collection in London showing school groups how to enjoy a visit to the museum. We made this film in the most relevant way possible – with the help of local primary school children:

This is just the start of what HELP videos can be. Depending on your industry, organisation, products and areas of expertise, you can think of many more types. What about a tutorial for a specific product, a review from a customer using your new service, or a team member answering FAQs?

Keep in mind: what questions are your audience asking and actively searching for online? Answer those with helpful videos and you’ll drive traffic to your online channels.

For more information and advice on using video to boost your business, see our free e-book:

Chocolate Films e-book download button

This blog was first published on the Chocolate Films website on 5th June 2019.

Lucy Findlay

Outside our echo chamber – getting the bigger picture on growth

Sometimes in the social enterprise world it can feel like we are talking into an echo chamber. We all want to change the world, but we are talking to ourselves!

Cathedrals Group Lord Dearing Memorial Panel May 2019Earlier this moth, I was privileged to speak at the Cathedrals Group annual Lord Dearing memorial lecture panel. A question was raised about the priorities for personal action on climate change.

I was sitting alongside the eminent environmentalist Sara Parkin, and we both pointed out that essentially governments and business have succeeded in letting themselves off the hook by personalising the issue (i.e. what do I have to do ?), rather than focusing on what needs to be done at a national and international level to make businesses (by far the biggest polluters) change their ways and clean up their acts. As this is the Year of Green Action (I am proud to be an Ambassador) and we have a Climate Emergency, we should be concentrating on keeping up the pressure to see the bigger picture.

In a few weeks we will hold our annual conference. Our line-up is great and wide-ranging, focusing on the thorny topic of economic growth. It’s not just about social enterprise, it’s about the fundaments of what we need to see in changing society and business for the better. We are constantly fed a diet of messages about business being the answer to all problems… If this is the case, why do the world’s richest 1% now own more than the rest of us combined?

An Oxfam report published earlier this year shows that our economy is broken, with hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty while huge rewards go to those at the very top. With the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, it is clear we have failed to create a more socially just society. I’m really looking forward to having Alex Maitland from Oxfam’s Future of Business Initiative delivering the opening keynote at our conference on 20th June to set the scene.

Our friend Heidi Fisher has just written a great article, which questions how we can change from an intervention-based approach to a prevention-based approach, i.e. a world where social enterprises exist to prevent a problem rather than treat it. Many successful social enterprises, such as the Big Issue with their ‘hand up’ rather than ‘hand out’ ethos, help people get back on their feet, and are also taking steps to try to address the root of the problem, but homelessness is still on the increase. To achieve a solution requires a more fundamental change in thinking by government and society as a whole about the social impact of all our activities and policies.

The recent Social Mobility Commission’s annual state of the nation report reinforces what we have known for some time: many people left behind on low wages (which have not kept up with living costs), which holds them back from building a better life for themselves and their families. We know that higher levels of inequality lead to political instability, shorter lives for both rich and poor, as well as more corruption and crime. At a global level, extreme inequality is undermining the fight against poverty and widening other inequalities (e.g. gender and race inequality).

Urgent action needs to be taken to close the gap between rich and poor and to address climate change, so join us at our conference and help us to change the world!

Buy conference ticketsFor more information about our conference, and to book your tickets, follow the below link:

I hope to see you there!

How workforce engagement is delivering financial efficiencies

By Brian Jones, Chief Executive of Partnership of East London Co-operatives

Brian Jones, PELCAs a Social Enterprise delivering healthcare services, we are committed to the principles upon which we were founded, however, it is equally important to recognise that the organisation has to be financial sustainable to meet future demand.

I became CEO of the organisation at a time when we had lost a major contract and more than half of the 350 workforce were due to be transferred to the new provider; there was an urgent need to understand the core costs of the business and reduce the size of the organisation.

In order to deliver savings successfully you need to engage with staff, ensuring that they form part of the journey. Senior leaders within the organisation should remain positive about the process, providing reassurance to staff about the future.

In the past six months, we have delivered more than £1million of financial efficiencies, enabling vital funds to be redirected towards the frontline care of patients. This has been achieved in a number of ways, including the renegotiation of property rents, performance management of suppliers and by also focusing on the workforce and the internal culture.

It is important to recognise that any pursuit of cost savings should not be done in isolation or in a way that could be perceived as a ‘top down approach’; this can destabilise a workforce as people naturally feel unsettled and nervous about their job security. In order to deliver savings successfully you need to engage with staff, ensuring that they form part of the journey. Senior leaders within the organisation should remain positive about the process, providing reassurance to staff about the future.

By having this early discussion with staff, they felt part of the process, affording them the opportunity to produce sensible ideas to reducing costs.

I believe that we have been successful, because we have engaged our people in the process, being open and honest about the need to reduce our overheads and reposition the organisation; enabling us to invest in delivering high quality, safe services for the future. Like your organisation, our staff were hardworking and dedicated to delivering a high quality service to the patients that we serve, however, we knew that we needed to focus time and energy upon specific areas. In advance of starting this journey, I met with staff to explain the strategy that we would be pursuing and the rationale for it, ultimately, reducing overheads, enabling us to redirect those savings towards improvements.

By having this early discussion with staff, they felt part of the process, affording them the opportunity to produce sensible ideas to reducing costs. Despite pursuing a significant financial recovery program, the most recent staff survey has produced some unexpected results; high levels of staff satisfaction and recognition from staff that they felt valued by the management. These were some of the highest levels of staff satisfaction that we have achieved in our 14 year history.

Organisations shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to renegotiate with suppliers; we pursued an approach of informing our suppliers what we were willing to pay, versus what they were charging us.

With limited contractual information, the fastest way in which I was able to determine potential areas of savings was by simply spending a few hours reviewing our bank statements. This gave me an immediate snapshot of our suppliers, the costs attributable to each and provided me with an understanding of where to focus my time.

Organisations shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to renegotiate with suppliers; we pursued an approach of informing our suppliers what we were willing to pay, versus what they were charging us. There are numerous websites available where you can benchmark a vast array of different services, and we were able to use this as a baseline for conducting negotiations. Using this approach, we were able to reduce the cost of across a number of areas ranging from consumables through to software; all without a requirement for us to extend our existing contract periods.

We used a similar approach to that which is widely seen across the retail sector at the moment, of liaising with our landlord to obtain a rent reduction at our corporate offices. Initially hesitant, the landlord agreed a compromise which enabled our organisation to a real term rental and service charge reduction.

Embarking on an efficiency program can be daunting, but this can be a lever to effective change whilst still managing short term priorities with strategic goals and long term vision. It’s a balance between realising the positive economic aspects of change in conjunction with social aspects of workforce engagement.

The process of delivering financial efficiencies are typically focused upon identifying and achieving savings, identifying new ways of working can also be used to reduce costs. We are, at pace, now working with partners across the UK and Europe to develop new services based upon AI technologies. The repositioning of the organisation, coupled with our reduced overheads has meant that we have been able to pursue growth opportunities – we are on course to increase turnover by 20% this year.

Workplace change shouldn’t necessary have a negative effect. In our case, whilst undoubtedly there were pressures of managing an increased workload, there was an upbeat vibe across the organisation. Embarking on an efficiency program can be daunting, but this can be a lever to effective change whilst still managing short term priorities with strategic goals and long term vision. It’s a balance between realising the positive economic aspects of change in conjunction with social aspects of workforce engagement.  Leadership provides the key, to facilitate and realise cost savings within a stable environment.  Once balance is achieved, it then provides a platform for growth, sustainable development and produces the foundations from which the organisation can build upon.

Lucy Findlay with Irina Makeeva and young social entrepreneur Anna in Novosibirsk

From Russia (Siberia) with love

What an amazing experience. My recent trip to Siberia, for the second leg of the Euclid Network PeerEx exchange, far surpassed expectations and well and truly dispelled the myths – there were no gulags and it wasn’t -40 degrees! In fact it was spring so only just below freezing most of the time.

I arrived in trepidation into Novosibirsk, Siberia, having briefly and bizarrely crossed paths with my husband for an hour at Moscow Airport (I was flying out, whilst he was flying home from a trip to Kazan). What are the chances of that?!

My exchange partner Irina Makeeva made me feel so welcome.  Both she and her ten year old son Kuzma (who was keen to chat in English) gave me huge hugs when I arrived. I think our chatting in the taxi to the hotel was a bit fast for him as he apparently only understood the word ‘recipe’ on the whole journey – so started the food focus of my trip! Novosibirsk is 4 hours ahead of Moscow (which is 3 hours ahead of UK) so the added jet lag was probably going to be an issue too.

They have mitigated their risks through trying to diversify and build income generation models. They have bought their own premises (building ownership seems to be an important part of NGO business practice in Russia), but they are also more reliant on Government funding as a result of the situation.

My first day was spent initially having a look at the sights of the city. It is actually the third largest city in Russia (after Moscow and St Petersburg). It grew due initially to being on the Tran-Siberian railway line, and its distance from Moscow attracted a national relocation of people and services in the 1950s due to the threat of Nuclear War. The city has a lovely centre with an opera house and old giant statues of Lenin, some revolutionary soldiers and workers in the central Red Square. Myth has it that it is also the centre of Russia – but many places claim this.

We then went on to spend the day with Irina’s colleagues at the Siberian Resource Centre, to hear about the work that they are doing to support NGOs across the region. It was set up just after the fall of Communism in 1994/5 by three visionary women who identified the need to work with government to coordinate support and training for fellow NGOs (as well as an element of quality standards). Funding comes from a variety of sources, but they have challenges, especially more recently when they fell foul of government suspicion about the activities of foreign funded NGOs, and were declared ‘foreign agents’. The label was only removed once all foreign funding was sent back.  This also led to a suspicion of me, from the authorities, I later learned….

They have however mitigated their risks through trying to diversify and build income generation models. They have bought their own premises (building ownership seems to be an important part of NGO business practice in Russia), but they are also more reliant on Government funding as a result of the situation.

In the evening we went out for a lovely dinner with the whole Resource Centre team. The Siberians make fine salads and I was amazed at the diversity of what was on offer. I was told that due to the food embargos there is now a good market in ‘Polish’ cheese (French repackaged in Poland) and Belarussian Prawns (no coastline!).

Interestingly, charity shops in Russia are completely different to the UK, as there is no heritage of them. So having seen what other countries have done, they have reinvented the concept – a much more modern, young and fashionable feel (again, primarily run by young people).

The following day was an early start, with a business breakfast and filmed interview with the Siberian social entrepreneur network Smart Concept, which is shown below.  It turned out that they were due to hold a Festival of Social Entrepreneurship in Novosibirsk that weekend. I was asked lots of questions, but the one that surprised me most was ‘What do you think of Jamie Oliver?’ Obviously celebrity chefs get coverage the world over.

We then did a filmed tour of featured social enterprises.  All were run by hugely enthusiastic young people and included both a Dog and a Cat Café (not together!) as well as charity shop. Interestingly, charity shops in Russia are completely different to the UK, as there is no heritage of them. So having seen what other countries have done, they have reinvented the concept – a much more modern, young and fashionable feel (again, primarily run by young people).Cat and dog cafes in Siberia

After a very late lunch, we got a taxi to the district outside Novosibirsk to a place called Akademgorodok. It is a purpose-built science university, built in the woods in the 1950s, designed to attract young scientists, enticed by the relative academic and lifestyle freedoms being so far from Moscow.

Museum apartment at Akademgorodok in SiberiaOver a ‘soft vodka’ and herbal tea, we discussed how people lived in this community in the time of the USSR in the ‘living museum’ of a local academic’s house. She has set the apartment up with typical Soviet 1950 furnishings as a replica of the early days of the institute as well as collecting a huge level of knowledge and artefacts from the 50s and beforehand (even dating back to the last Tsar). It appeared that collecting these items and indeed finding them is relatively rare in Russia.  She was very impressed with my vintage 1920s brooch.

Impressively, more than 50% of the income is earned – the closest I’d seen to a sustainable social enterprise model

Lucy Findlay and Irina Makeeva with Margarita at Constellation of Heart FoundationOn my final Siberian day I visited Margarita Semikova, who runs the Constellation of Heart Foundation. Margarita is a driven, enthusiastic woman with a strong business sense and set up the NGO that links companies to volunteering opportunities and training opportunities as part of their CSR. As with many NGOs it seems that there are rich benefactors on the Board. In this case the Board member had bought and paid for the renovation of a property in a shopping centre the middle of a very trendy student area in Novosibirsk. The property had originally contained many spaces for NGOs, including a training suite, café and shop.

However, the local authorities decided to raise the ground rental overnight, so much of it had to be reconverted to commercial space to bring in the income to cover costs. It’s Margarita’s desire that this will all be reconverted once business is better. Impressively, more than 50% of the income is earned – the closest I’d seen to a sustainable social enterprise model – but it just goes to show how fleet of foot you need to be in Russia to address the next challenge.  But Margarita is a determined woman!

Euclid Network PeerEx group in Moscow_March 2019Following my trip to Siberia, Irina and I travelled back to Moscow to meet our fellow PeerEx colleagues, who had mainly been in Moscow and St Petersburg (except Kate Welch, our eminent Social Enterprise Mark Ambassador, who had been in Nizhny Novgord!) We were greeted as the survivors – because we had been in Siberia. Irina gave me a t-shirt which I wore saying ‘I’ve been to Siberia and survived’!

The exchange trip finished with a trip to the British Ambassador’s House for the grand finale – a slice of Britain in Moscow… it was all I would have expected, complete with cucumber sandwiches and British portraits in a suitably grand building overlooking the River Moskva. I was also asked to speak about my impressions, which were as follows:

  • Social enterprise seems to be a growing but unknown sector (outside Russia)
  • There is some great practice that we can learn from (especially around refreshing charity shops and using them as community hubs)
  • There are challenges to sustainability including government bureaucracy and taxes, cultural suspicion of foreigners especially classifications of ‘foreign agent’
  • We could do more together including linking to the university communities better and helping Russian NGOs have a greater online presence (there is an issue though with different alphabet and social media)
  • The world is people and we all experience the same things and whatever the barriers we need to work more closely to help address them
  • I feel privileged to have met so many lovely people and will never forget my trip to Russia and Siberia (which is in Russia whatever people tell you!)
Colleagues fist bumping

You need never walk alone

Tim SegallerIn the final of a short series of blog posts on sustainable leadership and team-work in social enterprise, leadership coach and social entrepreneur Tim Segaller explains why strong working relationships can make all the difference

So far in this blog series, I’ve explored two foundations for long-term success in social enterprise. Firstly, authentic vision and leadership: founding your business on the solid ground of a focused social vision, and on your natural leadership strengths – rather than unrealistic and pressurising ideals. Secondly, mental resilience: maintaining energy and inspiration in the face of complex pressures – through simple but powerful mindfulness-based techniques.

The third foundation is building strong relationships. As social beings, we all thrive when we’re in good connection with others. Surrounding yourself with the right people – and getting them on board with your social mission – is critical for your business. This includes all the people you work with or for – employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.

Some people may have more natural ‘people skills’ – but it’s also possible for anyone to learn how to nurture and strengthen healthy relationships at work. In my work with leaders and teams, there are two related ways I help them do this.

Firstly, let’s look at emotional intelligence (EQ) – the subject of much research in the last 20 years. Put simply, it’s about understanding and being comfortable with the emotional landscape of both yourself and those around you. Leaders and managers with a high EQ are able to really ‘get’ other people – their motivations, preferences, and challenges – and use this knowledge to make good decisions in everyone’s best interests. Helpfully, the best way to train EQ is through precisely the same set of mindfulness-based skills as outlined in my previous blog on resilience. It’s all about deepening your awareness of self and other.

Secondly, there’s the ‘co-active’ model of leadership and communication. Sometimes the people we work with or for may get stuck – bogged down in complexity and over-thinking, or lacking confidence or relevant experience. When that happens, there are simple processes you can follow to help others access their own problem-solving resources. It’s about stepping into a ‘facilitative’ mode and giving others the space to think clearly and creatively – rather than stepping in to micromanage or fix things for them. Not only does this support others’ long-term development, it also frees up your time and energy to focus on the bigger strategic picture.

As I come to the end of this blog series, let’s sum up my three foundations for sustainable leadership and team-work into a single narrative. By cultivating inner qualities of resilience and resolve, you’re able to think more clearly, calmly and creatively. This allows you to access the ‘fuel’ of your authentic vision and leadership strengths – to keep you going when marketplace challenges get tough. Personal resilience also naturally leads to great working relationships, which are an essential support to anyone navigating the rocky landscape of growing a successful social business.


Tim Segaller will be running a workshop on ‘Sustainable leadership and team-work in social enterprise’ at the Social Enterprise Mark Conference on 20th June 2019. Book your conference tickets here. To find out more about Tim and his leadership coaching and training, go to

Working with the grain of your brain: mental resilience for social enterprises

Tim SegallerIn the second of a short series of blog posts on sustainable leadership and team-work in social enterprise, leadership coach and social entrepreneur Tim Segaller explores the importance of mental resilience for social enterprises

My first blog set out the challenge of sustaining energy, creativity and inspiration in the face of complex challenges. I introduced three key foundations:

  1. authentic vision and leadership;
  2. mental resilience;
  3. strong relationships.

In exploring the first foundation, I explained why your vision and mission statements should be authentic, inspirational expressions of your desired social impact. And I made a case for an ‘authentic’ leadership ethos – based on your own natural leadership strengths – rather than striving to become the ‘ideal’ leader. This blog focuses on the second foundation: mental resilience.

Running a social enterprise can be tough (while rewarding!). Once the ‘honeymoon’ set-up phase has passed, there are many complex challenges: securing finance for scaling up, managing cashflow, and recruiting the right people. Such challenges can lead to frantic fire-fighting and plate-spinning. You may manage the intensity for a while. But eventually it’s likely to catch up with you – leaving you and your teams stressed, exhausted and inefficient. In the worst cases, it can lead to burnout or going bust.

The good news is that there are simple approaches to help you maintain energy and inspiration in the face of these stresses. Taken from the practice of ‘mindfulness’, they’ve been shown in neuroscience research to develop a steady mind – for focus, clear thinking and productivity. I’ve helped hundreds of people learn these skills, structured around a simple ABC formula:

Awareness – of your mental and physical experience

Being with experience – creating space to deal with intractable problems and challenging emotions

Choosing wisely – by responding flexibly instead of reacting automatically

For a taste of this approach, try this short exercise: Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Notice sensations of breathing in your belly. If your mind gets distracted – by thoughts, memories or plans – just come back to your breathing. Keep doing this for a few minutes.

This exercise gives your brain a ‘power rest’, allowing the mind to become clearer and sharper, and the body more energised. It’s like rebooting yourself – so you can approach whatever is ahead of you with more clarity and resolve.

This is what resilience is all about, and it’s arguably the most important capacity at work. It allows you to adapt wisely to fast-changing conditions, which is critical for social enterprises. Sometimes the bright glare of your social vision can obscure the need to shift focus or tweak your business model. Resilience gives you mental agility to continually fine-tune strategy to meet the twin demands of delivering on social impact, and securing revenue and growth.

When you’re resilient you’re also better able to relate better to the people around you, and to build strong relationships. That’s what I’ll be exploring next week in my third blog.


Tim Segaller will be running a workshop on ‘Sustainable leadership and team-work in social enterprise’ at the Social Enterprise Mark Conference on 20th June 2019. Book your conference tickets here.

To find out more about Tim and his leadership coaching and training, go to

Runner on road

A marathon not a sprint: long-term success for social enterprises

Tim SegallerIn the first of a short series of blog posts, leadership coach and social entrepreneur Tim Segaller explores how social enterprises can sustain energy, creativity and inspiration for the long haul

The passion, determination and creativity of social entrepreneurs are qualities to be celebrated. They are driving the growth of the sector, and broader social change.

My experience as co-founder of a coaching and training social enterprise, and in coaching leaders and teams in organisations, has taught me the critical importance of sustaining these qualities in the long-term – particularly in the face of complex challenges like accessing finance to scale up, managing cash flow, or recruiting and retaining the right people.

Most social entrepreneurs have shown they have the capacity to deal with tough challenges, otherwise they wouldn’t have got their businesses off the ground in the first place. But we all have our breaking points under pressure – in the worst cases leading to total burnout or going bust.

So how can you and your teams sustain energy and inspiration year after year, even when the going gets tough? That’s what I’ll be exploring in this blog series. I will set out three key foundations:

  1.  authentic vision and leadership;
  2. mental resilience;
  3. strong relationships.

Starting with the first: authentic vision and leadership. Every business needs a clear vision to provide ongoing focus and motivation to its people. This is particularly so for a social enterprise, as delivering on its social mission is usually as important as the need for revenue. So it’s vital to ensure your vision and mission statements fully and accurately reflect your original inspiration. They should be clear, heartfelt expressions of the social impact you want to achieve and why. Crucially, they should feel authentic and uniquely yours – rather than a worthy but bland general statement that you can’t really connect with.

On the theme of authenticity, let’s turn to leadership ethos. An easy trap to fall into, particularly in challenging times, is to think you must master new leadership models or skillsets. Of course there are always useful new tricks to learn. But often striving hard to reach a ‘corporate’ ideal can leave you feeling stressed and exhausted – preventing you from thinking clearly and acting decisively.

It’s far better to lead naturally, as yourself, based on your own distinctive leadership style and inspiration – trusting you’ve got what it takes to succeed. I’ve seen this many times in my work with leaders and teams: things run more smoothly when people play to their strengths and make space for their completely human imperfections.

None of this means that you should be complacent or resistant to learning and change. Successful social enterprises adapt to their environment – shifting focus and strategy, and evolving their business model. I’ll be exploring exactly this in more depth in my next blog, in the context of my second foundation – mental resilience.


Tim Segaller will be running a workshop on ‘Sustainable leadership and team-work in social enterprise’ at the Social Enterprise Mark Conference on 20th June 2019. Book your conference tickets here.

To find out more about Tim and his leadership coaching and training, go to

Karen Stanton, York St John University

Enhancing the contribution HE makes to the economy and society

By Professor Karen Stanton, Vice Chancellor of York St John University

In higher education (HE), we are certainly fond of the old acronym! I’m not sure how many people outside the sector will have heard of the TEF, REF and KEF. These refer to the Teaching Excellence Framework, the Research Excellence Framework and the Knowledge Exchange Framework.

Although, there’s much to be said about both TEF and REF, the focus of this piece is KEF, the newest of the frameworks, which is currently out for consultation until 14th March.

In November 2017, the Government asked the HE regulator of the time, HEFCE, to develop the KEF to support its Industrial Strategy ‘Building a Britain fit for the future’. Now led by Research England, KEF aims to enhance the contribution HE makes to the economy and society. In return, it seeks to bring the inspiration of that wider world back into universities and colleges.

The KEF has 2 main purposes:

  1. to provide Universities with information on their knowledge exchange activities
  2. to ‘provide business and other users’ with a ‘source of information, which may increase visibility of potential university partners and their strengths’

Research England is setting out to assess a University’s Knowledge Exchange performance against 7 perspectives:

1) research partnerships;

2) working with businesses;

3) working with the public and third sector;

4) skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship;

5) local growth and regeneration;

6) IP and commercialisation;

7) public and community engagement.

The inclusion of the 7th perspective (public and community engagement) should be applauded, and Research England thanked for its inclusion. But how is it to be measured and presented? It is proposed that a ‘narrative’ will be part of this process.

Social Enterprise Gold MarkIt is to be hoped that the Social Enterprise Gold Mark, which York St John University is proud to have achieved, will be recognised as part of the evidence to be used to demonstrate that universities are doing the right thing about knowledge exchange. The Gold Mark recognises business excellence and best practice in governance, business ethics and financial transparency. It is the only quality mark to provide a framework for achieving social enterprise excellence and recognises the important activity that institutions are doing in their local communities.

So, what can you do about KEF? If you believe that Universities should have a role in social justice and social enterprise, then you should go online and take part in the KEF consultation exercise – it is open to individuals and organisations.

Perhaps you might what to join me in commenting on the phrase ‘provide business and other users’ with a ‘source of information, which may increase visibility of potential university partners and their strengths’, quoted earlier in this blog. It important that we exchange the knowledge created and kept in universities with the most vulnerable members of our society.

The KEF, and particularly the public and community engagement element, is surely the framework which reflects many university’s values and their commitment to social justice and social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Gold Mark provides a quality standard that could be used to measure how far universities are achieving this.


Professor Karen Stanton is Vice Chancellor of York St John University. York St John changes lives by helping students to develop the confidence, knowledge and adaptability they need for a successful graduate career and fulfilling life.

Karen  is also a Trustee of UCAS, Vice Chair of the Cathedrals Group and a member of the GuildHE Executive, as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. She is also an Ambassador for the Uprising Charity and Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award.

Lucy Findlay speaking at International Social Enterprise Conference in Sri Lanka

Looking outwards – Sri Lanka and beyond…

International Conference on Social Enterprise and Social FinanceIn January I was lucky to be invited to Sri Lanka by Lanka Social Ventures, to address the 2nd International Conference on Social Enterprise and Social Finance. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience in so many unexpected ways.

The conference itself attracted very high profile speakers, such as the Governor of the Bank of Sri Lanka, but as is often the case with conferences, it was the discussions that happened on the side lines that fascinated me. We learnt a lot, even from my whistlestop three day trip!

The need for sustainable business models that will keep addressing the social and environmental challenges faced once the aid agencies inevitably pull out is becoming more pressing.

Firstly, the vibes that I picked up are that the social enterprise movement in Sri Lanka is such an obvious fit for the sustainable development of their economy. The country has gone through so much recent turmoil, with the combination of the civil wars and the devastating Tsunami in 2004. This has made the country relatively aid and donor focused, which brings its own set of challenges. The need for sustainable business models that will keep addressing the social and environmental challenges faced once the aid agencies inevitably pull out is becoming more pressing.

This is where the women-led social enterprises combined with the Fair Trade model come in! I was amazed at the level of co-operation and synergy between these entrepreneurs and business owners. The social enterprise business model fits in so many ways, for instance in addressing the extreme social challenges faced by women trying to earn a living, many of which have to travel to the Middle East to access work.

Having been so well embedded in the Fair Trade world, the Sri Lankan’s completely ‘get’ that there is a need for meaningful external certification/accreditation/ verification.

Selyn handloom weavingThose that stay experience huge challenges finding work that can be combined with the challenges of child rearing, as well as older women, who also find it hard due to cultural constraints. Examples of local social enterprises include Selyn, which is 99% women led and empowers women by giving them flexible working arrangements to make beautiful handloomed products to fit around their family commitments.

I was also very impressed with the way in which all these businesses have come together to develop the Good Market. Led by another impressive female social entrepreneur, Amanda Kiessel, this directory has over 825 ethical businesses, which are mainly social enterprises, based in Sri Lanka and now further afield. It has been very much community-led and is clear about the importance of certifications for all the producers and suppliers, to provide reassurance to buyers.

I encourage you to join it (although most suppliers are currently in Sri Lanka, it is expanding), it uses the Social Enterprise Mark to verify social/environmental impact and is free to apply!

This brings me onto the issue of certification and accreditation. Having been so well embedded in the Fair Trade world, the Sri Lankan’s completely ‘get’ that there is a need for meaningful external certification/accreditation/ verification. Following the conference, I was working with a number of stakeholders to develop ideas for an accreditation for social enterprises. One of the main challenges and issues discussed was ‘How do we ensure that this is robust and that the assessors have credibility too?’

We are the business models of the future and we can prove our credentials by being social impact led, commercially viable and focused on our stakeholders rather than profiteering for shareholders.

Erinch Sahan speaking at International Social Enterprise Conference in Sri Lanka

Erinch Sahan of WFTO

My final point is about alliances with the wider new economy movement – i.e. those that want to see genuine changes to the prevailing business models and the importance of credible certification in this mix. Brexit has made us look inwards, which is not healthy. The conference gave me a chance to catch up yet again with the pioneering David Brookes of Social Traders in Australia and the inspiring Erinch Sahan from the World Fair Trade Organisation (he was keynote speaker at our 2018 conference).

In Victoria (Australia), the government has its own social procurement policy, which requires that goods and services are bought from social enterprises. This seems much more robust than our Social Value Act and requires robust certification, which is provided through the Social Traders Mark. It is also clear that the World Fair Trade Organisation is the social enterprise wing of Fair Trade, with its own robust certification of social enterprises in its network.

We must work with these key allies to stand up to the challenges. We are the business models of the future and we can prove our credentials by being social impact led, commercially viable and focused on our stakeholders rather than profiteering for shareholders. As comments at the recent World Economic Forum prove, global corporate behaviour has caused a lot of the trouble we find ourselves in – we therefore need a radical change, not anti- business, but business that shares its wealth much more fairly with all people, not just those select few at the top. This is something we will be addressing at our 2019 conference, which will examine whether growth is always a good thing.

To hear more about social enterprises and Fair Trade in Sri Lanka I would recommend listening to the below WFTO podcast with Erinch Sahan, Amanda from Good Market and Selyna from Selyn.

Kat Luckock

What to include in your Social Impact Report

By Kat Luckock, Founder of Share Impact

So, you’re starting to think about developing your Social Impact Report and what you might need to include in it.

Like all documents or materials you produce for external consumption it’s important to think about who your audience for this report is – what will they be interested in reading about? What are the key messages you want to convey to them? And, what might they be looking for?

What's your story chalkboardThere’s no point creating pages and pages of facts and figures if it’s not useful and relevant to those reading it.

This list is not exhaustive but is to help you start planning what you might need to bring together in to a report. This way you can start to think what you don’t have and how you’re going to start collecting or finding it.

The essentials of what to include:

  • Why your organisation exists and what you do
    • What are the needs / problems you’re trying to solve?
    • Do you have evidence to back this up? Be sure to include this
    • What are you trying to achieve? What is your vision, mission and values?
    • What do you do?
  • Headline figures – These are often good to include as an infographic. The purpose of this is to highlight those key facts and figures you want to share, if people read nothing else of the report you want them to read this bit – sometimes includes outputs as well as outcomes and impact data. Some organisations choose to share just these as an infographic on their website.
  • Detail of your outcomes and impact – This should form the bulk of your report for obvious reasons. What have you actually delivered and achieved – what evidence do you have to back this up? This could include your:
    • Ouputs and outcomes – what you’ve actually delivered and the immediate change
    • Social Impact
    • Financial Impact / Social Return on Investment (SROI)
    • Environmental Impact
    • Testimonials, Quotes or Case Studies (which bring the data to life)
  • Lessons learnt and areas for improvement – it’s always good practice to recognise the things that haven’t gone as well as you’d hoped or planned for, as well as the things that did. A report that doesn’t include any information about targets not being reached, or things that didn’t work out as planned always feels slightly disingenuous. So, explain what didn’t go as planned, way you think that was the case and how you plan to improve it next year or what you’ve learnt from it.
  • Next steps and plans for the future – this can be a good place to outline your intentions, goals or objectives for the next 12 months. Maybe as a result of your evaluation you’ve decided you’re going to do something differently or change the way you operate. Alternatively, this could include reflections on your impact measurement approach, recognising gaps in the data and how you plan to develop this in the future.
  • Basic overview of your finances – for most organisations including a summary of your headline figures (income, expenditure and operating profit/loss) for previous year, current year and project forecasts for next year is a useful addition to a social impact report. It provides useful data to potential funders and investors, as well as partners and others potentially looking to support or work with you. Even if they’re not what you had hoped for it shows openness and accountability (it’s public information anyway once you final your accounts).

Photos on laptopIt’s also important to include images of your organisation ‘in action’ to bring the data and stories to life. This isn’t about creating a wordy document resembling a thesis. It should reflect your brand and form part of your wider business and marketing strategy, think about what needs to be shared and what you can leave out. The simplest impact reports are often the best.

Here are some optional extra’s you may also want to consider including in your report:

  • An executive summary or Welcome from your CEO/Board
  • If this is your first impact report it can be nice to include your ‘Journey so far’ or Key Milestones you’ve had along the way. Often best demonstrated on a simple timeline.
  • About the Founder/ your team – again depending on the purpose and audience of your report this can be another nice way to introduce who you are
  • Your Theory of Change or how you’ve gone about collecting data and measuring your impact (methodology)
  • Thanks to – funders, partners, supporters etc
  • Who you work with or have been supported by – key partnerships / funders


Kat Luckock is an Impact Strategist & Business Coach for social entrepreneurs and ethical retailers. She specialises in helping businesses measure and communicate their social and environmental impact to stakeholders and customers so they can build communities of support and increase sales and income. 

Kat works with social entrepreneurs all over the world and is excited to write a series of posts for the Social Enterprise Mark blog throughout the Autumn. This blog was first published on the Share Impact website on 14th January 2019.

Rising to the challenge with social enterprise

As we begin a new year, I am sure I am not alone in reflecting on 2018 and looking ahead to what 2019 may bring.

With continued political, economic and social turbulence, there is surely much uncertainty ahead for the social enterprise sector (as well as the wider world), what with the international rise of populism and the implications of the impending Brexit still not certain. One thing that will remain constant is the need to evolve and adapt, and the need for social enterprise to take advantage of the opportunity to do things a little differently.

Undoubtedly there will be numerous challenges for us all to face in the year ahead. I want to continue to work together to address these challenges whilst promoting social enterprise as a sustainable and credible business model (for now and the future).

On a personal note, my 2019 got off to an exciting start… I am delighted to be appointed an MBE for services to social enterprise in the Queen’s New Year Honours list. This accolade is testament to the growing strength of the social enterprise sector, and a recognition of the work that Social Enterprise Mark has done in raising the profile of both social enterprise and accreditation.

As we look ahead to the new year (our tenth year of providing credible standards for the social enterprise sector!), we have a number of priorities, the core of which remains providing robust and credible standards for the social enterprise sector and demonstrating its added social value. I have outlined our key plans for 2019 below:

Opening up the Social Enterprise Gold Mark to smaller social enterprises

Social Enterprise Gold Mark

Through consultation with our Mark holders, we have become aware that the fees for the Social Enterprise Gold Mark can present an obstacle to some smaller organisations.

We want to open up this valuable Mark of social enterprise excellence to as many as possible, and therefore have decided to reduce the annual licence fee for the lower fee tiers (up to £15m turnover), in order to enable some of our smaller customers to benefit from the higher level of accreditation and the support that the Gold Mark process offers.

Continued growth in new markets

In 2018, we continued to push the boundaries of the traditional social enterprise world, and we plan to do more of the same in 2019:

  • International:
    • The Social Enterprise Mark now has a presence in 11 different countries. We hope to continue our international expansion in 2019.
    • I am delighted to have been invited to the International Conference on Social Enterprises and Social Finance in Sri Lanka later this month to speak about the importance of assessment and accreditation for social enterprises.
    • I am attending the Euclid PeerEx exchange visit to Siberia and Moscow in March, to share good practice and catch up with our Russian friends
    • After attending the 2018 event in Edinburgh, we plan to attend the 2019 Social Enterprise World Forum in Ethiopia in October.
  • New quality mark for Supported Businesses:
    • Over the last year, we have been working with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Supported Business Steering Group to develop a new quality mark/framework for businesses that provide extra employment support for disabled people with the greatest barriers to work.
    • Social Enterprise Disability Employment MarkThe Social Enterprise Disability Employment Mark (SEDEM) will provide assurance to DWP on the quality of employment outcomes for disabled people, which will hopefully help to ensure a long-term future for these businesses, which provide vital employment opportunities for people who have a disability.

Raising standards in social enterprise

We will continue to develop the Social Enterprise Mark and Gold Mark, based on the feedback received in the consultation we conducted in 2018. This may include the introduction of new tiers/levels of accreditation to provide a more comprehensive journey to social enterprise excellence.

Responding to feedback

In the next month, we will be sharing a stakeholder survey, which will provide an opportunity for Mark holders, partners and other stakeholders to give feedback on their experience of the service we provide, and to have their say on the future direction of Social Enterprise Mark CIC and our accreditation services. This feedback is invaluable as it will enable us to develop robust and credible standards that meet the evolving needs of the expanding social enterprise sector.

We would love to hear your plans for the year ahead. Here’s to a successful 2019 and may the social enterprise sector continue to diversify and expand to create positive social change.


Paying workers in your social enterprise

By Shaziya Somji, Managing Director of Harris Accountancy

This is the third in a series of posts Shaziya is writing for our guest blog.

Shaziya Somji, Harris Accountancy ServicesOnce an organisation decides to pay individuals, it will need to consider setting up payroll in order to pay the correct income tax, national and pension contributions.

To set up payroll, the organisation must register with HMRC as an employer and submit payroll information monthly or quarterly to HMRC, along with the payment of PAYE and NIC.

Employers don’t pay the first £3,000 of employer’s National Insurance Contributions, provided certain conditions are met. From April 2020 this allowance will be restricted to employers with a NI bill less that £100K.

There are instances where an organisation can pay individuals as self-employed individuals/contractors. However, the organisation has to consider off-payroll working rules (information available on the website).

There are three main areas to consider in order to establish if an individual is employed or self-employed:

Factors in employment status


Who decides what, how, when and where the worker completes the work?


Can the worker send a substitute?

Mutuality of obligation

Is the employer obliged to offer work and is the worker obligated to accept it?


Below is an outline of the rates applicable for payroll:

  • Income tax: payable from gross wages at 20% at basic rate or 40% for higher income earners.
  • NIC Employee: 12% or 2% for higher income earners
  • NIC Employer: 13.8% payable by the organisation
  • Pension by employee: 3%
  • Pension by employer: 2%

For all of the above, there are allowances – please see links in the list of references below.


Shaziya Somji is Managing Director of Harris Accountancy; an accountancy firm specialising in working with CICs and Social Enterprises. For further details or advice on tax for your organisation please book a free call  via 0121 4558055 or online at


Shaziya Somji, Harris Accountancy Services

Investment relief available for social enterprises

By Shaziya Somji, Managing Director of Harris Accountancy

This is the second in a series of posts Shaziya is writing for our guest blog.

Harris AccountancyAn organisation can look for loans and investments that would entitle the investor to a tax relief, provided it meets the conditions of that particular scheme. The organisation can check with HMRC prior to receiving the investment through an Advance Assurance and a Compliance statement, which must be sent to HMRC every time shares are issued under the scheme.

See the references list at the end of this post for links to detailed information on the applicable criteria.

Below is more information the available tax reliefs:

Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR)

Community Interest Companies (CICs), Community Benefit Societies with an asset lock, and charities can apply for this relief when raising finance through shares and loans (charities however can only apply for loan investment tax reliefs).

This relief would entitle the investors to 30% tax relief on their investment provided the investment is held for three years, along with certain criteria being met. On disposal of the investment there are tax reliefs available to cover any gain. (*see Capital Gains Tax relief below)

Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS and SEIS)

Companies with a permanent establishment in the UK can apply for EIS relief within 7 years of their first commercial sale. This scheme offers 30% tax relief to the investors. When a company is raising funds (i.e. when it starts to trade) then it can apply for the Seed EIS within two years. This would enable investors to benefit from a generous 50% tax relief.

For all schemes there are eligibility criteria and conditions to be met in order to enable investors to benefit from the tax reliefs.

Capital Gains Tax Relief

When shares held in above schemes are disposed, gains arising on disposal on investment can be exempt if it has been held for three years.

Alternatively, one can claim for deferral relief. This can be applicable when you invest in SITR, EIS or SEIS the year you have a gain on disposal. The gain may be chargeable in later years. Here is a link with additional information.

Research & Development tax credits

R&D tax credits can be claimed by companies that work on innovative projects in science and technology. It can be claimed even if the project is unsuccessful. This tax credit allows you to deduct an additional 130% of the qualifying costs.

More information on the criteria and how to claim can be found here.


Shaziya Somji is Managing Director of Harris Accountancy; an accountancy firm specialising in working with CICs and Social Enterprises. For further details or advice on tax for your organisation please book a free call  via 0121 4558055 or online at


Diagram explaining taxes for social enterprises

Taxes explained for social enterprises

By Shaziya Somji, Managing Director of Harris Accountancy

This is the first in a series of posts Shaziya is writing for our guest blog.

Shaziya SomjiIt is a common misconception that Social Enterprises are exempt from tax. For HMRC, social enterprises are treated the same as limited companies for tax purposes. On a positive note, there are some reliefs available to social enterprises and charities.

In order to help you understand the different areas, I will be writing a series of guest blogs for Social Enterprise Mark CIC, which will cover the below topics:

• Corporation tax and VAT
• Payroll taxes
• Investments reliefs

Corporation Tax

Corporation tax is payable on the annual surplus (profit) at 19%. This is normally payable nine months and one day after the accounting year end. A simple way to work out an estimate of the surplus would be as below*Corporation tax calculation

*This is an estimate to enable you to budget. There would normally be adjustments and reliefs before coming to the final corporation tax figure. Also see section below on Grants.


An organisation needs to consider its ‘taxable turnover’ on a regular basis to monitor if it has reached the VAT registration threshold of £85K.

A few definitions first; taxable turnover is the income received that is considered chargeable to VAT, i.e. this excludes any income received that may be exempt or outside the scope of VAT. For example:

  • Exempt supplies would be health services provided by registered doctors, education provided by an eligible body, and insurance services.
  • Outside the scope of VAT are voluntary donations to a charity, postage stamps provided by Royal Mail and welfare services provided by charities.

VAT is charged at either standard (20%), reduced (5%) or zero rate (0%), and these all count towards the £85K threshold.

Here is a link to an extensive list of services and its respective VAT category.

There are options for organisations to register for VAT accounting schemes provided they meet the requirements. Click here for more information on the schemes.

From April 2019, organisations registered for VAT (compulsory registration) will need to comply with the HMRC new system of MTD (Making Tax Digital), which requires documentation to be held digitally and VAT returns to be submitted to HMRC electronically. For this reason, it will be advisable for organisations to use software compatible with HMRC Application Programming Interface (API) for book-keeping. (More details can be found in VAT Notice 700/22).  Software like QuickBooks are compatible with MTD.

Grants received

Grants received by a social enterprise are NOT always exempt from corporation tax and VAT. It depends on the nature of service and the agreements in place. Here is a link to an article explaining this in more detail:


Shaziya Somji is Managing Director of Harris Accountancy; an accountancy firm specialising in working with CICs and Social Enterprises. For further details or advice on tax for your organisation please book a free call  via 0121 4558055 or online at



Delivering regional growth through social enterprise

I was recently asked to be part of a panel session at the GuildHE conference, which looked at how universities (and other institutions) can deliver regional social and economic growth.

Oxfam report: An Economy for the 99%For me, behind the fundamental issue of delivering social and economic growth, is the question ‘for whom and why’? Given that the world’s richest 1% now own 82% of the world’s wealth – we have patently been failing to create a more equal society, with many people left behind on low wages that have not kept up with increasing living costs. We know that more inequal societies lead to political instability, shorter lives for both rich and poor, as well as more corruption and crime.

So how can we change tack and look at alternatives to create a more equal society that has a stake in economic growth and addresses the needs of the locality? Social enterprises are part of the answer – these are businesses that focus primarily on the needs of their stakeholders rather than profits for shareholders.

“So what about the future? How do we move to a more sustainable society and economy? The strait-jacket view of how businesses operate must change.”

However, businesses such as the Big Issue, with their ‘hand up’ rather than ‘hand out’ approach, although helping people get back on their feet, do not tackle the root cause of homelessness. There are social enterprises that aim to do this, but I would argue that it requires a more fundamental change in thinking by society and government as a whole about the social impact of all our activities and policies. The recent UN report on poverty in the UK illustrates this, showing the shocking results of policies and actions where this doesn’t happen; effects that impact the most vulnerable – the poor, women, ethnic minorities, children, asylum seekers, single parents and those with disabilities.

I am often asked how can we measure ‘social impact’ and ‘value’? Is there a magic formula that has eluded us all this time? After many years of trying and failing to find academic answers and time consuming and expensive methodologies, there has been an admission that statistics only show us a narrow interpretation and the human stories that back up the statistics are often more important. I will never forget Nigel Kershaw, Chair of The Big Issue saying “If we’d had to evidence our social impact the Big Issue would never have got off the ground.”

All the social enterprises that apply for our accreditation are required to state how they create social value alongside showing their essential business credentials. This sometimes involves statistics but often it’s simply describing and proving how they have made a difference to and with their stakeholders.

“This is a challenge facing the wider social enterprise sector. Should we let the government off the hook by trying to fill in the gaps and delivering public sector resources, or should we find the niches where we can add value by nature of our strengths and focus?”

A number of universities are now actively demonstrating their social value through accreditation with the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark.  We believe that enabling social, economic and cultural prosperity lies at the heart of what makes a university good at what it does, and through our HEI network we are interrogating various aspects of this conundrum. Universities, of course, are themselves wealth creators and important employers, investing money in the local and regional economy and with their capacity, skills and resources, they can reach parts that others can’t.

There is a huge range of good practice – for example York St John’s work in mental health and business development, Solent’s work with the Maritime sector, Plymouth College of Art’s placed based industrial strategy including the creative arts school in the most deprived area of Plymouth, and Winchester’s work with supporting regional suppliers and local community asset development.  I could go on!

This positioning does present some challenges though, especially in the light of austerity, declining resources at the national and regional level, as well as current uncertainties around the effects of the impending Brexit.

Professor Nick PetfordIn Northampton for example, the VC of the University recently contributed to a Guardian article about the role that the university could play, in acting as the glue in the absence of the bankrupt County Council. The university is dedicated to creating social impact, and supports all their students to understand the merits of social innovation and working with the local community to not only to provide direct employment, but also co-founding social enterprises. For example, Goodwill Solutions helps ex-offenders, addicts and former service personnel into employment. The university also works to support local community placements and supports the development of new social enterprises.

We need to be careful though, about displacement- it cannot completely take over the role of the Local Authority. As the state shrinks we could see universities’ resources being used to fill the gaps left by the withdrawal of the public sector. Where do responsibilities start and finish given the more challenging funding environment that some universities themselves are experiencing?

“It is not just about ‘a bit of CSR around the edges’ but about a more fundamental change where the stakeholders are given the same attention as the shareholders, and where the government considers ‘social value for money’ a crucial part of delivery of services.”

This is a challenge facing not only universities but also the wider social enterprise sector. Should we let the government off the hook by trying to fill in the gaps and delivering public sector resources or should we find the niches where we can add value by nature of our strengths and focus? The balance between economic and social issues always requires interpretation of where we can work best and how we can work with others most effectively to leverage scarce resources and bring in other partners, such as local social enterprises, businesses and the public sector.

So what about the future?  How do we move to a more sustainable society and economy? The strait-jacket view of how businesses operate must change. We need to look back at history to a time where businesses had a key role in their local and regional economy as part of their mission. It is not just about ‘a bit of CSR around the edges’ but about a more fundamental change where the stakeholders are given the same attention as the shareholders, and where the government considers ‘social value for money’ a crucial part of delivery of services with an equal weight and understanding to interpreting pure outputs and crude number crunching.

I believe we have a long way to go with this. In many ways we have taken steps backwards over the last few decades. I’m ever the optimist though and speaking to students and young people at recent events there has never been a clearer message that they don’t just want to make money – they want to make a difference. So perhaps there is hope for the future…

Lucy Findlay

Thinking bigger… ten years on (part 2)

This is a follow-up to my previous blog from September 2018

Last month I shared my reflections from the Social Enterprise World Forum, which I had recently attended, ten years after attending the inaugural event.

This prompted me to think about how much has changed in the social enterprise sector since then, which led me to reflect on our own development in that time. Ten years ago, we had just developed the Social Enterprise Mark and were piloting it with organisations in the South West. From what was a small regional project, we are now widely recognised as the authority and standard bearer of accredited social enterprise, both in the UK and overseas. All our income is self-generated through the direct delivery of the accreditation, or associated services.

I am a believer in practicing what you preach… last month I said the sector needs to be more ambitious and think bigger. This of course also applies to our own organisation; we can’t stand still… we continually adapt our services to changing market needs, which has included developing an international assessment process that can now be applied anywhere in the world.

International Social Enterprise Mark holdersThe Social Enterprise Mark now has a presence in 11 different countries. But we don’t want to stop there – we are thinking bigger and want to be internationally recognised as the global champion of social enterprise standards, alongside others who share our principles and values.

To this end, we are excited to have been invited to speak at a large social innovation summit in Sweden later this month, and I have also been approached to speak at an international social enterprise conference in Sri Lanka in early 2019. I am also participating in a Russian peer exchange, where I hope to build valuable partnerships with international counterparts.

As I said last month, we all need to acknowledge that collectively we are part of the bigger answer and be pro-active in finding ways to achieve this. We would love to hear your ideas about how we go about this!

Kat Luckock

Why social enterprise?

By Kat Luckock, Founder of Share Impact

This is the third in a series of posts Kat has written for our guest blog.

Why does social enterprise matter? What does it really offer us as an alternative to existing business practices?

I am super passionate about social entrepreneurship – you could say evangelical. However, I know there are many people confused by the concept and others who have simply never heard of it.

For me, if we are to make social entrepreneurship the norm (rather than the exception) and help scale it’s growth throughout the economy, more people need to learn and understand what it’s about, and also, more importantly, the impact that it can create.

Having spent the last 6 years operating in the social enterprise sector and being lucky enough to hear some amazing experts share their knowledge and insights I wanted to enable more people to access this information about what social enterprise is, why it matters, and what difference it can make.

Why Social Enterprise Virtual Summit_Nov 2018The ‘Why Social Enterprise’ Summit is my way to help in this mission. It’s a two week, virtual summit with a wide variety of guest experts talking on a diverse range of topics from what is money and where is wealth held, to why do people matter, and how are businesses and consumers responding to this changing model?

Why Social Enterprise Virtual Summit 2018

Why I created the summit…

At a conference for social entrepreneurs earlier this year I was disappointed to see so few people in attendance, especially when the speakers and content of that conference were so useful, interesting and significant. It was mentioned by many people there that these discussions needed to get out to a much wider audience. I highlighted that the conference had really missed a trick by not streaming it live and utilising social media especially as some of the speakers had tens of thousands of followers on platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

It sparked an idea I had seen done in other industries. What about a free virtual summit where people could sign up and either join live or watch and listen to the presentations and discussions at their own convenience? This way we could reach a much wider audience, in different time-zones and with differing priorities.

Attending events and conferences isn’t always easy: taking time away from work or other commitments; the cost of the ticket and travelling; arranging child care etc. All that’s required for a free virtual summit is an internet signal and computer device.

So here it is. Interested in learning more about social enterprise at a time that suits you? Join live or watch the replays throughout the two weeks (19th – 30th November).

Simply sign up here for free:


Kat Luckock is an Impact Strategist & Business Coach for social entrepreneurs and ethical retailers. She specialises in helping businesses measure and communicate their social and environmental impact to stakeholders and customers so they can build communities of support and increase sales and income. 

Kat works with social entrepreneurs all over the world and is excited to write a series of posts for the Social Enterprise Mark blog throughout the Autumn. To find out more about Kat visit the Share Impact website.

Brexit – Millions are ready for an opportunity…

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

Steve Hawkins, Pluss CEOThe UK is due to leave the EU in six months. There are many questions still unresolved, but one thing is clear. Whatever decisions are made between now and next March, UK employers will face a struggle after Brexit to find low skilled workers to keep their businesses moving.

A new report from the respected Migration Observatory at Oxford University calculates that over half a million EU citizens who currently work in the UK are carrying out low skilled jobs. These are jobs that don’t require qualifications gained after the compulsory schooling age. They include 132,000 people in cleaning jobs, 120,000 in basic hospitality businesses like coffee shops, 96,000 in warehousing and 90,000 working in factories.

That’s not all. In lower-middle skilled jobs (those involving some simple training as well as school qualifications), over 80,000 EU citizens currently work in our care services, 74,000 in food processing and 68,000 in shops and stores.

With parts of the UK experiencing virtual ‘full employment’, the Migration Observatory report confirms that current plans to address the likely shortfall of labour with non-EU countries will not be sufficient as the predicted number of EU workers in the UK falls.

But there is a solution closer to home…

We know that 1.36 million UK citizens who are keen to work don’t currently have a job. This might be because they are struggling to find the right job with the right employer, or because their support needs mean they need help to develop the right set of skills to help them secure that job.

Pluss is at the forefront of employment support. We provide specialist support for individuals with health conditions and disabilities to secure the right job with an employer who feels confident that they have recruited a great employee. Our conviction is that most people, with the right support, can be helped to realise their potential in work, and can make a significant contribution to our economy.

We believe that Brexit provides a real opportunity for government to reduce the welfare budget supporting working age people, currently standing at £81bn, by providing the necessary support for many of those 1.36 million Britons who are seeking a helping hand to find work and build a career in post-Brexit Britain.


Julie Hawker_Cosmic

Leading the way as a Social Enterprise Ambassador

By Julie Hawker, Joint CEO of Cosmic

Cosmic was Social Enterprise Mark holder number one. Although that position was very closely contested by the Co-operative Group South West!

In those days, I was heavily involved as Chair of RISE – the regional body supporting social enterprise developments in the South West – and therefore was also part of the team which developed and successfully launched the Mark. I also served for several years on the Board of Social Enterprise Mark CIC, working to develop its strategy for national and international developments.

Cosmic logoFor all of the years since then Cosmic has continued to support and encourage the further impact which the Social Enterprise Mark can make to the wider sector and business in general. The Mark has been a fundamental part of Cosmic’s brand identity for well over a decade now, and it has proved a highly effective way to promote to the world our social impact credentials.

Cosmic’s commitment to social enterprise remains as strong as ever, and the Mark acts as a regular reminder for all stakeholders – staff, Directors, partners and clients.

In more recent years, Cosmic has been able to embed the Mark into all of our marketing and promotional materials. As the sector and the Mark has gained wider recognition, it has become easier to describe how we use our business model to achieve social impact, but at the same time, the Mark still represents a very useful tool for us to engage in questions and discussions about how the model works at Cosmic. Describing that our commercial services (web development, training and tech support) have the ability to generate profits, which are then 100% utilised to develop social impact projects and match-fund our work in this area with other sources of funding has become a key message for our stakeholders and clients.

For example, our investment in digital apprenticeships for our own business and others, or more recently our involvement in the Enhance Social Enterprise programme, which provides digital business support for other social enterprise; both of these involved Cosmic’s own investment to achieve social impact. More broadly speaking, Cosmic operates every day in achieving social enterprise – staff, directors, partners and members all act as ambassadors to social enterprise, constantly seeking ways to achieve more social impact and share this ethos.

Cosmic is very proud to have been Social Enterprise Mark holder No.1 and we very much consider ourselves as a sector leader and ambassador. We will continue to champion the role which social enterprise plays in improving society in UK and abroad.

Julie Hawker is Joint CEO of Cosmic, a social enterprise based in Devon, which is very highly regarded for its work in addressing digital skills development and digital inclusion as key priorities across the region. Julie is also a Social Enterprise Mark Ambassador, committed to raising the profile of the Social Enterprise Mark.

Rachel Fell and Lucy Findlay at the Social Enterprise World Forum

Thinking bigger… reflections on the Social Enterprise World Forum

This year was the 10th anniversary of the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Edinburgh. I attended the first in 2008 (also in Edinburgh). So much has changed since that year, when the world economy had taken a tumble. We now have a new world order; all the old certainties have disappeared. The world seems a much more unpredictable, prickly and divided place.

Has the social enterprise world changed too? There are certainly far fewer big annual gatherings of social enterprises and far fewer familiar faces in the audience. Our stand attracted a whole host of businesses from a truly international audience (something that cannot be said about the first one), all buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm, who genuinely ‘got’ the social enterprise message and were doing their utmost to effect change, often in challenging circumstances. But in many ways, some of the debates on the platforms have not changed and are out of touch with the international paradigm shifts.

Rachel Fell and Lucy Findlay with Hong Kong General Chamber of Social Enterprise

Rachel and Lucy with delegates from the Hong Kong General Chamber of Social Enterprise

I can’t help thinking that as a diverse and growing sector, we need to be thinking bigger as well. Although the gathering attracted 1,400 delegates, a lot of these appeared to be sponsors and government delegations. I managed to get to speak to our equivalent in Hong Kong, who felt (even more keenly than us and perhaps unsurprisingly) that we should not just be looking to government for answers. Nor should we be looking to the corporate sector for the answers. We as a sector need to be taking control of our destiny. As Indy Johar mentioned in his session, we need to be more ambitious as a sector to create real system change.

Sometimes it feels like we are just dancing to someone else’s tune – e.g. how can we get the government or corporates to buy from us and support us? Yes financial sustainability is important but it is a means to an end – to change the world!

Given the theme of our own conference this year, ‘Spreading the Wealth’, we need to think big… we need to be linking to our true allies and partnering more effectively, not just sitting in our bunker and endlessly talking amongst ourselves and preaching to the converted. We need to acknowledge that we are part of the bigger answer and find allies and partners who also believe and want to achieve this. Collectively, we should be a powerful force for change – let’s reach out and grab it!

The risk of not focusing on profit in your social enterprise

Kat LuckockBy Kat Luckock, Founder of Share Impact

This is the second in a series of posts Kat has written specially for our guest blog.

It’s true that balancing social and environmental priorities with commercial and financial requirements of a social enterprise is a challenge we all face as social entrepreneurs. However, what I’ve noticed, and increasingly been surprised by, in many quarters of the social enterprise sector is a resistance to talking about and focussing on finance, income strategies and profit to the detriment of many organisations’ success.

This seems especially the case for early-stage social enterprises or those who haven’t received external support or backing from investors. In my experience a commitment to ‘doing good’ often gets in the way of prioritising a strategy to generating reliable income. And for many early stage solopreneurs with social or environmental aims, confusion about whether profit is allowed or the conflation of making profit with being wealthy sits very uncomfortably.

“Profit in and of itself cannot be seen as a dirty concept. Rather it should be understood that it’s the choice of how to spend or invest that profit that differentiates a social enterprise with other types of business.”

I suppose it does take a particular type of person to set up a business which doesn’t allow for personal profit or shareholder returns (at least not without limits). More often than not it’s about being able to do a job that’s aligned to one’s values and commitment to make a difference on an issue they care deeply about.

The risk however is that those of us working in the sector conflate the issue of limiting personal/shareholder profit with the need to create organisational profit. The difference being that organisational profit can be used to deepen or scale the powerful social or environmental impact the organisation was set up to achieve, rather than line the private pockets of individual shareholders.

Profit in and of itself cannot be seen as a dirty concept. Rather it should be understood that it’s the choice of how to spend or invest that profit that differentiates a social enterprise with other types of business. As such, it seems essential to me, as a social entrepreneur, to focus on both: delivering the social / environmental impact and creating a robust income strategy to enable it.

Where income and finance are not taken seriously the impact is limited and the social enterprises themselves struggle to continue at all or become dependent on increasingly constrained grant funding (with all its restrictions and limited timescales). This in turn hinders the sector as a whole and limits our collective opportunity to demonstrate the difference social enterprise can make to challenging the status quo (and those we compete with on a global scale), not doing business as usual, and most importantly tackling global inequality and environmental degradation.

A secondary symptom of not focussing on wealth generation (within a social enterprise) is individuals working more hours for less income; reduced competitiveness to attract the best people for roles; lack of investment in training and development; and limited research and development for innovation or expansion in to new markets.

Without profit we limit the possibility of the social sector to expand and challenge “business as usual” to the detriment of people and planet.

To conclude I want to share three reasons why getting more comfortable with generating profit is beneficial to your social enterprise:

1) It enables sustainability

With an operating profit you know you have reserves to take you into the next financial year. Consistent profits and sustainable income also allow you to plan more than 6-12 months down the line. Being able to create a strategy of what you want to achieve that extends 2-5 years in to the future helps you make big decisions and move your business forward.

2) It enables space for research, innovation and development (note how I didn’t say growth)

With profit you can choose to invest in the areas of the business that are struggling or new areas you want to develop and expand in to. Without an operating profit it’s very difficult to find money to invest in the development of your business and harness potential opportunities in the market place. Notably this isn’t always about growth or scaling the impact but could be about improving your service, developing products or simply deepening the impact you have by being able to invest more in your social or environmental cause.

3) It increases opportunity for investment

As someone who is no expert in investment this is just an assumption, but it is my understanding that an investor or funder is always going to look more favourably on a social enterprise that is able to demonstrate how it will maintain a sustainable income and generate a profit beyond the term of their investment.

On the whole, as I understand it, investors and funders want to help organisations start, get to the next stage or innovate something new (for profit or impact) but they don’t want to fund you indefinitely. They want to know their investment or grant will pump-prime your initiative and allow you to maintain operations afterwards – so they can see a return on investment and celebrate your success with you. So planning for profit and setting this out in your proposal will give them more confidence that it’s possible to happen.


Kat Luckock is an Impact Strategist & Business Coach for social entrepreneurs and ethical retailers. She specialises in helping businesses measure and communicate their social and environmental impact to stakeholders and customers so they can build communities of support and increase sales and income.

Kat works with social entrepreneurs all over the world and is excited to write a series of posts for the Social Enterprise Mark blog throughout September. To find out more about Kat visit the Share Impact website.

Save time and money using digital technology for your social enterprise

Kat LuckockBy Kat Luckock, Founder of Share Impact

I like to think of social entrepreneurs as innovative ground-breaking, revolutionary AND tech savvy. The type of people who want to create change and are at the fore-front of the technology landscape – maximising the best tools to advance their business and deliver phenomenal impact.

Although there are many examples of social entrepreneurs who are like this, the majority of us at the early stage of business (1-3 years in) tend to be stuck in the reality of do, do, do and not lifting out head up to discover what tools could help us.

Okay so you’re using email, Office 365, sharing documents with your team via Google Drive (or something similar), and frequently look up your competitors on Facebook or LinkedIn but you have no idea what else is out there to help your organisation when it comes to digital technology.

No one would argue that when it comes to digital technology the world has moved on phenomenally over the past 20 years. In fact, the pace of change is difficult to keep up with at times. But how are we supposed to keep apace of all these changes and more importantly identify and decide which technologies are most useful to us day-to-day in our business?

In the first of my four guest blogs (released over the next couple of weeks), I wanted to share a variety of tools that could help your social enterprise increase its productivity, save time and as a result save money.

All the tools mentioned below are free to use, with upgrades for extra features and larger capacity. I’m sharing both tools I’ve used and some I’ve heard others recommend. They cover everything from diary management to lead generation, sales to CRM systems.

The first thing I want to introduce you to though is a little thing called Zapier. It’s like a wonder tool that links everything up so you can automate workflows and alleviate repetitive tasks in your business. Seriously, I could write a whole blog post just about this, there’s so much possibility with the tool. But if you’re using some of the other tools I mention below and you want simplify how they all connect up then check if Zapier can do that first.

Time killers! I focus in the rest of the blog on things that eat up time in your business, which could be simplified, automated or completely avoided with one of these tools.


The first one I know we all struggle with is losing passwords. Especially when you’re working across teams, you have new volunteers or interns helping out every couple of months, and you have to update your passwords regularly to stay secure. LastPass is your answer. Never forget a password again and give access to team members at the click of a button all in one secure place.

Time waster number two; Printing out documents like contracts and funding applications to sign and then scan back in to your computer to send via email. HelloSign is a simple tool that allows you to sign documents electronically, without all the faff and unnecessary printing.

Been sent a file or document you can’t open? Cloud Convert  supports the conversion between more than 200 different audio, video, document, ebook, archive, image, spreadsheet and presentation formats without having to download any software on your computer.

Diary Management and booking meetings

DiaryHow many hours do you spend on the phone or emailing back and forth to customers and stakeholders trying to find appropriate times to book in a meeting or call? For finding a convenient date for team or group of people Doodle is an amazing tool.

But what about when you want to allow customers and clients to book a call or meeting with you directly from your website or Facebook page? Calendly is my number one tool for showing when I’m available for meetings and helping customers book a call or meeting in my diary, without me ever having to speak to them. It also automates an email to confirm the booking and there are settings for reminders. You can also sync it with your Google Calendar (ICal or Office calendar) so you know when it’s been booked in too.

Lead Generation

Do you spend hours looking for B2B leads on LinkedIn? Try Dux-Soup; a great tool that visits thousands of profiles for you, using key words and existing networks. When people see you’ve been looking at their profile they’re much more likely to look at yours and get in touch.

Video Conferencing & Webinars

Do you spend a lot of time on the road going to meetings? Why not organise more video calls to save you time, money and carbon emissions. It’s still face-to-face, you can share documents, screens, invite others in and record the calls with Zoom – my go-to video call platform. I run my business from my laptop and I couldn’t be without Zoom, it means I can connect to clients all over the world and jump on a call with my remote team members for weekly check-ins. You can also add bolt-ons for webinars and more than 10 people.

Email Communication & Sales Funnels

So you’ve probably heard of MailChimp and maybe you’re using it. I loved Mailchimp when I first started as a social entrepreneur. It was a great way to design and send weekly newsletters to our mailing list. It’s even easier now you can create opt-in forms and landing pages to capture email address on your website or via social media. And it probably is the simplest way if you’re just starting out with a mailing list and want to create a simple email sequence to introduce yourself and warm leads up.

But for the more advanced there’s the paid-for Convertkit or ClickFunnels; two great tools for creating more advance sales funnels for different audiences, leads and product types.

And if you want more of a CRM built in, Dubsado, Hubspot, 17 Hats and Capsule are recommended (although I’ve never used any of these myself).

Social Media Scheduling & Automation

Social media channelsIf you’re not scheduling your social media so it automatically posts each day, you’re probably wasting time or not being consistent enough on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram. Hootsuite, Buffer and Planoly (an App  for Instagram only), amongst many others, are great tools to schedule all your posts for the month ahead so you do it once and forget about it.

Project planning and team organisation

Trello and Asana are two of the most popular platforms I see people using for project planning and team organisation. I also like Wunderlist for creating quick to do lists and setting deadlines or reminders for things.

Simple Graphic Design or Document Creation

Not a graphic designer? Don’t have the funds for Adobe Suite? I use Canva every single day in my business because it’s so easy to create graphics and documents.

My last money saving tip…

Website manualIf your website is just for sharing information about your products or services, or you have an e-commerce store, don’t spend thousands with a web-developer – use simple platforms like Squarespace, WordPress, Wix, Weebly or Shopify to set up your website quickly and cheaply (from as little as £20/month including domain).


Kat Luckock is an Impact Strategist & Business Coach for social entrepreneurs and ethical retailers. She specialises in helping businesses measure and communicate their social and environmental impact to stakeholders and customers so they can build communities of support and increase sales and income. Kat works with social entrepreneurs all over the world and is excited to being featured in the Social Enterprise Mark blog for the next few weeks.

Lucy Findlay

Blurring the lines? Responding to the Civil Society Strategy

Civil Society Strategy 2018The new Civil Society Strategy explicitly sets the direction of government, by widening the strategy of the traditional third sector to include the private sector agenda.

It has been going in this direction for years of course – the advent of Big Society Capital, Social Investment, Social Impact Bonds have often been more concerned with social value creation than legal form. Is there anything wrong with this? It seems on the face of it, a ‘no brainer’. Why would you bother about the type of organisation when it’s creating loads of social value?

At Social Enterprise Mark CIC, we are often accused of being obsessed with form over function and of being pedantic about definitions. Interestingly, the definition of Civil Society within the strategy document – “we define civil society not by organisational form, but in terms of activity, defined by purpose (what it is for) and control (who is in charge)” – is in perfect alignment with our own criteria. In a nutshell, we look at the social mission, value and objectives of an organisation. We also look at the power relationship; through requiring an asset lock and independence, and by assessing the way that shareholders (if there are any) behave in distributing profits and controlling the company.

The strategy then goes on to say:

“Businesses are changing, to pursue social as well as economic purpose. The state is helping public service employees take control of their service through creating mutuals, reforming commissioning to support local and non-profit providers, and localising power.

All of this is ‘civil society’ – not a sector, but a range of independent activity aimed at achieving social value… we use the term ‘civil society’ in this hybrid sense, and ‘civil society organisations’ may be charities, public service mutuals, or businesses with a primary social purpose. To describe the ‘core’ of civil society we refer to ‘voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations’, or simply ‘the social sector.”

Crucially here they talk about businesses with a ‘primary social purpose’. This does not address the issue of where power sits/who is in charge. For us this is a core principle and must not be undermined, as the balance of power is crucial in the way that a company is run and who it’s really for – i.e. whose social purpose and what is happening to the profits. For example, the much-criticised Virgin Care has a social mission to provide health and social care, and I’m sure that they can prove that they are creating social value in many ways. However, the ultimate control of this company is in the hands of the shareholders who want a return for their investment, which means that ultimately it is not the patient at the centre of the company, it is the shareholder. Even if a social enterprise is created that is majority owned by Virgin Care, it is still ultimately owned and controlled by a parent company that puts profit before social value. This is why we test independence as part of our assessment.

Later on in the document, under the Business Chapter, the strategy states:

“Our leading businesses increasingly put social and environmental responsibility at the heart of what they do. It is key to their strategies for long-term, sustainable value, including how they manage risk, and how they sustain public and investor trust in their brands and business models. Alongside this, a new generation of businesses now go further and commit themselves explicitly to social and environmental purposes or missions, alongside profit, in their goods, services and how they operate.”

Oxfam report: An Economy for the 99%If this is the case, why do we have increasing social marginalisation and wealth disparity, as shown in a 2017 Oxfam report, which showed that just 8 wealthy individuals owned the same wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people. Just recently, we have also seen new evidence that the average pay of a FTSE 100 CEO is a 151:1 ratio to employees, which further demonstrates the wealth gap.

I do not mean to be dismissive about the motivations of all business, but at the same time we must not be naïve. Much of this stuff is tick in the box CSR and is not addressing the root of the problem; i.e. that there is a clear conflict of interest between being a shareholder owned and controlled business dedicated to maximising wealth, and the conditions that the business is creating for its workers and the communities that it interacts with. Can the government prove their statement above or do they take it at face value from the businesses telling them this is the case?

To be fair to the strategy, it does acknowledge that we are different as the ‘social sector’, but it is confusing that a lot of the document is not actually about the social sector at all and does not really analyse the challenges put forward in this case. I dare say, it’s far more palatable to say that social impact investment is being used to create social value, without questioning whether the social value being created is getting to the heart of the issue. Plus, who is actually in control? Is it at the expense of the marginalised?

We need a root and branch analysis of why we are creating a more unequal society and how current business practice is contributing to this. Are CEOs themselves dedicated to the creation of social value or is it a side-line in the CSR department?  I was interested to read recently that a Democratic Senator (potential Presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren in the US is proposing an Accountable Capitalism Act, which would lead to more wealth redistribution and power to workers by giving more power to stakeholders. This is the sort of fundamental change we need.

There are lots of business people out there with great social motivations (such as those mentioned in the strategy), but until we challenge the current business model we will not get to the root of the issue, inequality will continue increasing.


Going ‘Beyond the Badge’
in the fashion industry

By Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of Supply Compass

Flora Davidson, Supply CompassSome certification badges are instantly recognisable as a mark of assurance when purchasing a product. According to the Fairtrade Foundation, 97% of Millennials recognise the Fairtrade Mark on food, compared with 69% for the Rainforest Alliance logo and 41% for the Soil Association Organic label.  But how many people actually know what is required to acquire these certifications and how rigorous their testing methods are?

Whilst recognition is a good start, a deeper understanding of what badges actually mean and what tests and audits are required to achieve the result, will enable customers to be more discerning about the products they buy. Whilst certification bodies need to find better ways to engage and educate consumers, is it also key that consumers start to #GoBeyondTheBadge?

Fairtrade MarkEven though the shift towards more responsible consumption is gaining momentum, it’s still far from being the norm. To make matters harder for those looking to make greener and more ethical choices, certifications in garment production can be extremely confusing. Beyond the Fairtrade Mark, there are few badges with such widespread recognition. There are hundreds of certifications available for each area of the supply chain, but most of them are not consumer facing. As a result, consumers often have to rely on the brand that they purchase from to make responsible choices about their supply chain on their behalf.

The certifications brands look for in a manufacturer is often dictated by what country they are from and what products they are producing. It can seem overwhelming and overly complicated for brands to decide which certifications are the most crucial. Brands need greater clarity and visibility over what certifications actually mean in reality, what the verification process is and how reliable the results are.

Conversely, it can be difficult and costly for manufacturers to accommodate the increasing certification demands from multiple brands from multiple geographies. They can feel frustrated at paying for certifications which verify a standard they are already certified for with another body, and it can also be detrimental to their efficiency if they are having to constantly host auditors at their facilities.

As consumers are becoming more conscious about what they are buying, more certifications are starting to emerge as the industry standard. Below we have highlighted a few certifications that consumers can look for in their clothes, however it is important to dig further into each of these to understand what is Beyond the Badge.

fair-wear-foundation-logoFair Wear Foundation (FWF)

Works with brands, factories, trade unions, NGOs and governments to verify and improve workplace conditions. FWF represents over 120 brands, bringing together the key components needed to make a sustainable improvement to workplace conditions.

Brands should check if their manufacturers are certified by FWF if they prioritise having safe working conditions where their products are made.

FWF keeps track of the efforts made by the companies it certifies, and works to increase the effectiveness of efforts made by companies through sharing expertise, social dialogue and strengthening industrial relations.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

Global Organic Textile StandardKnown for being the world’s most predominant processing standard for testing and verifying organic materials. It also provides a consumer label.

To qualify, textile products must be at least 70% organic fibres. There are also strict environmental, toxicological and social criteria, and a detailed quality assurance system. A manufacturer with this certification is clearly dedicated to protecting the environment while producing high-quality organic fabrics.

Confidence in Textiles – Tested for harmful substances

Oeko-Tex standardOften known as Oeko-Tex standards. It is a global testing and accreditation scheme for the screening of harmful substances within consumer textiles. It is the leading label for textiles that have been screened for harmful substances. The Oeko-Tex certificate issued by the relevant institute or responsible certification centre is valid for 12 months.

Supply Compass logoFlora Davidson is co-founder of Supply Compass.

Supplycompass is a tech enabled end-to-end production management platform for responsible brands that want to find and work with the best international manufacturers. It enables brands to find their perfect manufacturing partner at home or overseas.

Brands can create tech packs, get matched with a manufacturer and use the platform to manage production from design to delivery. Supplycompass works with brands and manufacturers to embed responsible and sustainable practises in their businesses and deliver value and create opportunities for growth.

Runners at start line

Standing still? It’s not an option

Lucy FindlayFor businesses to grow, there is not an option to stand still. Of course, this is also true in the Social Enterprise world. The social mission may remain the same, but the strategy and tactics to reach the goal must change and evolve over time to reflect the customer’s needs, changing markets and the dynamism of the communities that they serve.

One of the big challenges for the social enterprise sector, has been the huge changes in the political, social and economic environment over the last 10 years. The tides have turned and we can no longer be reliant on the old established sources of support and revenue.

We set up the Social Enterprise Mark as a project at the end of 2007, little realising what huge global changes there would be (never mind the wisdom of launching a business at the beginning of a recession!) We have changed markedly over that time.

We started out as an ‘identifier’ for those businesses that saw themselves as social enterprises. It was relatively straightforward – our assessment looked at the legal and financial details of whether you met the legal definition of social enterprise. A yes or no answer.

Interestingly, the European Parliament is now looking to set up a ‘label’ for social enterprises, 10 years after we originally launched ours! It might be pertinent for them to find out what we have learned before embarking on such a project as we have firmly moved away from being just a ‘label’ and definitional identifier.

Following the Social Value Act, social value and impact demonstration became a focus for us all – how are social enterprises really making a difference? The Social Enterprise Mark therefore changed its approach to assessment to bring in a more demanding process, which helps social enterprises to articulate this more effectively.

Social Enterprise Gold Mark consultation 2018 summaryThe launch of our Social Enterprise Gold Mark (the Mark of social enterprise excellence), has been very successful with a number of markets, in particular the university sector. However, our latest stakeholder consultation has shown that there is much more of an appetite for new accreditation options that sit between the Social Enterprise Mark and the Social Enterprise Gold Mark, i.e. higher levels of scrutiny of what it means to be a ‘good’ social enterprise. We will therefore be moving in this direction, as well as making a few minor tweaks to the Social Enterprise Gold Mark criteria and assessment process.

We are also currently working on a bespoke product for Supported Businesses, in partnership with the Supported Business sector and DWP, which we hope to launch later in the year.

We have come a long way over the 10 years, and I put a lot of this down to the need to respond to customer need and to adjust the business to become more financially sustainable.  We cannot stand still and try to be all things to all people – focus is key.


Community owned change – we need to talk about anarchism

By Ed Whitelaw, Head of Enterprise & Regeneration at Real Ideas Organisation

Ed WhitelawWe need to talk about anarchism. Once you get past the often mis-leading, negative, bomb-chucking stereotypes of the proceeding centuries, many of the ideas contained within the, by definition, very broad church of anarchist thought are quite sensible. Indeed, in many cases emphasizing balance and moderation. They also have the potential to provide at least part of the answer to society’s infinitely complex growing list of challenges, from political disenfranchisement to growing inequalities, aging populations, environmental degradation and shrinking public services.

Be it by necessity and by design, anarchic ideas, and practice, are increasingly evident all around us. While the wider anarchist “movement” intermittently flares up, burning hot and fast, but ultimately short-lived like a virus in the popular mind – in moments such as Occupya more sustained, transformative genera of anarchism is growing, more like mycelium through the forest of society day-by-day.

These aren’t quick, but they are steady and cumulative steps, and coming from both directions – from activists and government alike – politics and politicians know this is needed. From localism, devolution and cooperative councils to the increasing prevalence of self-managing, self-organising, agile, matrix managed businesses and civic organisations. Running all the way from subsidiary in European Union, right the way through to energetic indy-towns such as Frome and Buckfastleigh. Though where this is often most evident is in the ever-growing UK-wide movement of enterprise driven social action: social enterprises, b-corps, community business, coops and just good businesses – a restless growing wave the anarchopreneurs balancing economic independence with social value, personal liberty with collective solidarity. This is beyond the politics of the Left or the Right, it is the politics community leadership – taking action and accepting social, and economic, responsibility.

South West England provides further examples. The Transition Towns movement grew out of Totnes, and just 20 minutes down the road, the “Plymouth Model”, the UK’s first Social Enterprise City where hundreds of socially enterprising organisations, with an enabling local government partner and a welcoming business community are driving everything from regeneration to education, from healthcare to clean energy and even the creative and digital industries. Towns like Watchet, where a group of local people, the Onion Collective (predominantly women) have painted an effective picture of what “taking back control” should actually look like. Igniting a range of locally owned community businesses following all-too-common market failures, resulting in the loss of local industry.  Projects include a visitors’ centre, a new green space community park and regular summer street markets, even reimagining the East Quay waterfront as a new space for studios, restaurants, galleries and visitor accommodation.

This community owned – anarchic – action is increasingly seeping into the mainstream. From the recent incorporation of the South West Mutual, part of a national network of the soon-to-be people powered regional banks, to the Big Lottery’s own endowment trust – Power to Change – that is tirelessly working (in both Plymouth and Watchet) to create locally owned, community accountable businesses and services up and down England. And then, Carne Ross’s story of his remarkable journey from diplomate to anarchist – The Accidental Anarchist – lands slap-bang in the middle of your BBC viewing – now something is really up?

Britain today is alive with constructive anarchism, anarchic ideas and substantial real action.

We need to talk about anarchism. We need to talk about community owned change. Take Proudhon for instance, one of the leading anarcho-theoreticians, sometime described as the “connoisseur of paradox” (or other words, he understood the need for balanced view!), who first adopted the word anarchist to describe himself and along with Godwin is often credited with “creating” anarchism. His position here could be summarised in three parts:

  1. Participation – far from being the absence of governance, he saw anarchism as the mass participation in government: limiting but with necessary layers of government, built from the people or the workshop up. Initially, and primarily, this came about via economic more than political means, growing networks of social and economic administration – “the cure for social ills cannot be found on political level and must be sought in the economic roots of society”.
  2. Local ownership – his most famed pronouncement – “property is theft” wasn’t a statement against the ownership of private property, only against the disproportionate ownership of large scale capital and assets by private interest, and/or indeed the state, what he termed the “cumulative proprietors”. With an emphasis on democratic and social value, he welcomed private ownership and saw economic liberation as fundamental to wider political freedom – “political right requires to be buttressed by economic right”. In a Smithian way he was an advocate of genuine free trade, as an effective regulating structure for society and recognised that, to a larger extent, communities are often remarkably good at managing themselves. Proudhonism, often cited as the philosophical bedrock of anarcho-syndicalism, envisaged a society organized around cooperating local businesses-like enterprising organisations, working units of society (social enterprises, coops and community business, even SMEs?), inter-trading and federating as needed on the larger scale.
  3. Reform –  flying the face of the anarchist caricature, Proudhon rejected revolution, favouring reform over time through education, fiscal policy, credit reform and new forms of social corporate ownership – he even tried to set up a mutual, Peoples’ Bank. At the heart of this was a good honest grasp of human nature, a Hayekian recognition of complexity, the value and need for personal liberty and individualism, well balanced with the important need for, and indeed facilitated by, community collective good.

We need to talk about anarchism. We need to move that anarchist debate beyond a quirk of the 19th century; beyond the flash of passion, courage, but ultimate tragedy of the Spanish Civil War; and beyond the unhelpful black bloc stereotypes. We need to move it to where it belongs – in our daily lives. Anarchism is more than a fringe political movement of the shadows, it is something that is happening and as C. S. Scott suggests with his “anarchist squint” it’s a way of looking, thinking and behaving. If we look at the world through the anarchist lens, we see it all around us and with many encouraging results.

While anarchism has often been good at defining what it is against, it is less clear when it comes to practical application and what it is for. Community enterprises are finding new, real ways for more people, often at the furthest fringes, to participate in society economically and therefore, also democratically. They are creating more meaningful forms of ownership, putting the means of production not in private or state hands, but in the hands of local people, and they are changing the way society works. Reforming healthcare, learning, social care, energy production, housing, pubs, venues, the creative industries, business services, finance and even banking – now government too? Isn’t this what Proudhon was talking about? We need to talk about anarchism.


Originally posted on Real Ideas Organisation blog on 19th July 2018

Alder and Alder branding guide

Harness the power of your brand

Jonathan AlderBy Jonathan Alder, founder and Co-Director of Alder and Alder

Your brand is a powerful communication tool that has the potential to differentiate you from competitors, and make you interesting and relevant to your audience. If you can harness the power of your brand it will give you the opportunity to influence what people think and how they behave. It will give you the power to change things.

And there is a need to change things. Existing models are struggling to adapt to the new demands that business and society is placing upon them. Change is all around us, and undoubtedly brings challenges, but it also brings opportunities. It brings the opportunity to do something different. Something new. Something better.

Social enterprises have the opportunity to be the change and bring the solution. But to win a new audience you have to explain why you are the solution.

As a social enterprise your brand is a particularly powerful tool. At the heart of each organisation is a ‘purpose’ – the reason they exist. This is the foundation of every brand. In commercial businesses ‘purpose’ can get lost, because the focus is often on making money, rather than making a difference. This is where the opportunity for social enterprise emerges. As a social enterprise it’s ALL about making a difference, and that’s attractive, not just to your stakeholders, but to the wider community.

Brand building can seem a daunting prospect, but breaking the process down into stages can make it much easier to manage. I’ve identified three stages that provide a practical approach to harnessing the power of your brand.

  1. The first stage is Brand Definition. Social enterprises need to clearly articulate the advantages their model can offer to each stakeholder group they engage with, when compared to the existing solutions available. For organisations that are selling a service or product to customers, differentiating a social enterprise approach from the commercial model of competitors can be even more important, as the trend for values-driven purchasing continues.
  2. Brand Design, the second stage, is focused on the tools an organisation will need in order to communicate with stakeholders. Engaging, persuasive, powerful communication is fundamental to influencing how your audience behaves, especially when you are offering something new or different. The quality of your visual communication will help you to compete more effectively against, what some stakeholders might consider, more ‘professional’ commercial competitors.
  3. The final step is to bring your brand to life. I call this stage Brand Delivery. Society is looking for change, but they don’t necessarily know where to find it. If you have an alternative solution you need to take it to your stakeholders and present it as a viable option, not some kind of worthy compromise. You will need to find an effective and efficient way to deliver your message, whether that is in print, in person or online.

The business sector – and society at large – is experiencing change and uncertainty. People are frustrated and looking for alternative solutions. This is the opportunity for social enterprise to move from a niche model to the mainstream. But to achieve that transition social enterprises need to communicate clearly. It’s time to harness the power of your brand, and build one that helps you to define, design and deliver your message.

If you would like to learn more about how to harness the power of your brand, I’ve written a guide to branding for social enterprises, Time For Change.

Alder and Alder branding guide for social enterprises

Changemaker Hub

Celebrating social enterprise success…one year after hitting the ‘gold mark’

Wray IrwinBy Wray Irwin, Head of University Centre of Employability and Engagement at The University of Northampton

Last year, the University of Northampton joined a growing list of universities and organisations committed to solving social or environmental problems, after gaining the Social Enterprise Gold Mark.

I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate one year of social enterprise successes with a recap of the University’s ‘Changemaker’ work since then.

The breadth and depth of the University of Northampton’s commitment to delivering social impact through and, as a result of its Changemaker student experience, has been singled out as the defining component of its Gold Mark recognition. Delivering social impact through Changemaking enables every student and member of staff to pursue their passion and address social inequality and environmental issues in a way that ‘transforms lives and inspires change’.

The range of ventures developed always impresses and inspires me, the approaches taken are impactful and are driven by individuals who are able to reframe the problems to create innovative solutions. Everyday examples emerge of the great work undertaken at the University confronting everything from homelessness to human trafficking, food poverty to raising educational attainment but the one thing they all have in common is the belief of students and staff that something must be done and it’s up to them to do it.

The examples outlined below are by no means the limit of what is being achieved but are highlighted to give a flavour of why the University has retained its Gold Mark accreditation.

June 2017

Eyespeak is a web-based TV channel created by second year International Tourism Management & Events Management student Hulda Adao, aimed at tackling online abuse and bullying on social media.

Her channel has grown its audience and Hulda is now delivering workshops for secondary schools to highlight the social issues related to cyber security such as bullying, LGBT, mental health, and relationships. She has so far delivered 16 workshops to more than 300 young people., with interest growing from schools and community groups.

Hulda now works with the University’s ASPIRE Schools’ Engagement team to deliver these workshops in schools across Northampton.

This is a social enterprise for the digital age.

Lara Hamer, a third year International Relations and Politics student, started supporting refugee communities by fundraising for volunteers who were helping at refugee camps.

Northamptonshire has the fourth largest community of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK so, following the ‘Cities of Sanctuary’ programme, Lara created a ‘University of Sanctuary’.

Lara, who hails from Croatia, is passionate about building a culture of hospitality and acceptance across the University of Northampton for asylum seekers and refugees.

Lara personifies the spirit of Changemaker, spotting that something in the world outside the lecture theatre needs addressing and then working to sort that problem.

October 2017   

Sukhwinder Singh, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University, has lead a team of 30 who are supporting and counselling refugee children from war torn South Sudan who travelled to Uganda seeking asylum.

Sukhwinder has Changemaker in his DNA, so it was no surprise he was named Global Changemaker of the Year at the University’s annual awards last year.

February 2018

Our latest ‘Big Bang’ event, held in collaboration with the OfS funded National Collaborative Outreach Programme, saw nearly 4000 nine to 19 year olds converge at Silverstone Race Circuit, for a day of hands on experience of science, medicine, engineering and sports commentary, as a way to explore all manner of career avenues.

TV personalities Dr Emily Grossman and Simon Watt came along to present shows and more than companies including Nissan, Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd. joined them for a day of fun and discovery…and made a lot of noise!

The aim of the Big Bang is to inspire young people to love science and maths by showing them they can be fun and have real benefit on their future careers.

April 2018

We beat 140 other education providers from around the world and scooped a coveted Innovation Award at the annual AshokaU Awards. This was in recognition of our institutional to embed social innovation and changemaking into every programme of study.

The award celebrates the brightest new approaches to teaching and we won for our ‘Changemaker Outcomes for Graduate Success’ (CGOS) Toolkit a downloadable guide developed by the University to help teaching staff provide students with important life and work skills and not just academic knowledge.

We are working with town and county partners to help make Northamptonshire more ‘dementia friendly’ raising awareness of and support for the needs of people with a diagnosis of dementia and their families and carers.

The University’s Changemaker Challenge Fund has supported a range of projects that support this work. This culminated in the launch of our first ever Dementia Friendly Organisation award. The award which recognises and celebrates excellence in supporting people living with a dementia diagnosis was awarded to the local theatre Royal & Derngate scoop who deliver dementia friendly film screenings in the Errol Flynn cinema. They are using the prize to employ an intern from the University who will help them develop the de film screenings, whilst enhancing the intern’s skills and learning.

May 2018

Not content with founding one successful school where vulnerable women and girls in Malawi are trained in conversational English and receive work experience, third year International Development student Emma Leering went on to create another ‘United Amayi’ school.

Emma spent 12 months as a primary school teacher in Malawi teaching in a rural primary school, when she first came up with the idea of supporting the village women to learn English. Through the experience she recognised that supporting the children to have the best possible life chances was only one small part of the way she could help the people of Malawi. Her commitment has ensured the growth and development of United Amayi to support more young people.

June 2018

We held our first SocialxChange late last year, hosting staff and students from the University of Warsaw who looked at ways to tackle prejudice. Students returned their home university with projects to develop to help deal with race inequality.

So worthwhile was the opportunity, the xChange has now been extended and we have just finished a second event with Ryerson University, Toronto with more planned for 2018-19, opening opportunities for our students to experience inequality from a global perspective and to do something about it back home.

Whilst these examples are early stage developments their potential social impact will begin to emerge over the coming years, and we will be supporting all of these to ensure their full potential is reach. As the University prepares to take up residence at its new Waterside Campus the potential to grow our social innovation work and impact will increase.

In November 2018 we will be celebrating the next batch of emerging social entrepreneurs at our Changemaker Awards Dinner; demonstrating that at the University of Northampton, social impact through Changemaking is at the core of everything we do.

Originally posted on the University of Northampton blog on 29th June 2018

Lucy Findlay

An inequality crisis – how do we spread the wealth?

The audience at our recent annual conference were universally shocked to hear from our keynote speaker Erinch Sahan (of the World Fair Trade Organization), that just 8 wealthy individuals now own the same wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people. In 2010, 388 billionaires owned as much as the poorest half of the world’s population, in 2012 this had gone down to 159, and by 2015 just 62 billionaires! He also highlighted that extreme inequality leads to political and economic instability, shortened lives (for rich and poor) and a rise in crime and corruption. 8 wealthy individuals now own the same wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people

In the face of all this evidence of the effects of the increasing intensity of inequality, why are we not doing more? There doesn’t appear to be any great sense of urgency from the powers that be and yet this is a fundamental world changer. Put this alongside the urgent issue of climate change (which exacerbates these figures) and we have a recipe for disaster for world peace and prosperity.

Whose job is it to take action on this? With current world-wide alliances being undermined on a daily basis it is hard to see who has the power or will to lead. Political parties are also often too short-term in their outlook. I would also be naive not to recognise powerful vested interests too.

There does at least seem to be wide scale awareness of the problem (with ¾ of people thinking that the gap between rich and poor is too great), if not the full extent of it, and this prompted us to question how we can all up our game to take action as part of our conference discussion.

Everyone seems to know there is a problem, but how do we go about tackling it? Especially when we are fighting against very powerful corporate forces who want to maintain the ‘shareholder wealth’ model of business…

A potential solution that emerged from the conference was the idea of true partnership and collaboration between big business and public/third sector to bring about positive social change.

Louise van Rhyn speaking at Spreading the Wealth conference 2018Louise van Rhyn from Partners for Possibility in South Africa spoke about their innovative programme, which demonstrates how reciprocal learning partnerships between business and community can be a powerful force for change. The key for me in this example, however, was the recognition was that it was a two-way process – i.e. that the leaders were actually learning too and didn’t have all the answers. The personal development journey stories were truly inspirational.

This got me thinking about how we can engage with more businesses to promote alternative business models, and encourage them to adopt these models to create significant social value. We seem to have forgotten the lessons of the past.

I was recently listening to a critique of the way that business schools ‘teach’ business. It is very one dimensional and tends to focus on wealth creation for shareholders, which is self-perpetuating. The World Inequality Report 2018 stated that ‘economic inequality is largely driven by the unequal ownership of capital’. In this model, the wages are driven down as a means to create greater wealth further up the ladder with fewer and fewer companies in control as efficiency becomes the main driver. In my view, we need to go back to the models of business ownership that value the wealth creators (i.e. the workers), including social enterprise, community businesses, co-operatives etc.

I am encouraged and proud of the work of our university Mark holders in this area.  They are firmly of the belief that the education they provide is about creating social added value, and in many ways challenging the status quo of typical business school approaches, by highlighting different ways of doing business, as well as trying to tackle some of the challenges that inequality presents in their local communities.

I was very pleased to see a recent report published by the University of Winchester (which holds the Social Enterprise Gold Mark), showing that the university contributes over £266 million a year to the regional business community. Our network of social enterprise universities also want to do more work in framing what a ‘good’ university looks like.

Our friend Phil Hope (who facilitated several sessions at the conference) also raised a few interesting questions following the event, one of which was how can we help more organisations convert to a model of business that is not all about maximising shareholder profit and power, in a stock market that will punish them if they do? This is where I think the BCorp model has most value. Erinch also highlighted examples of producers being represented at Board level, as well as the El Puente model in Germany, which gives equal stake to founders, customers, producers and employees.

Impact of the PfP programme on business leadersPerhaps the true partnership/co-learning approach taken by Partners for Possibility could be a way forward in engaging with more big businesses? Louise explained how it was the impact that the programme has on business leaders that was most exciting, as they become actively engaged in addressing pressing social challenges to build their nation.

There are no easy solutions to the problems caused by growing levels of inequality, but I am buoyed by the fact that the graduates that I talk to certainly seem to be engaged with the social change agenda and how business can be a force for good. Much research enforces this view, e.g. a recent HBSC global survey found that one in four young entrepreneurs (aged under 35) said they were more motivated by social impact than by moneymaking (compared to just one in 10 of those aged over 55). The increasing interest that women are taking in business is also encouraging, as Heidi Fisher highlighted in her session at the conference, referring to the fact that women tend to be motivated by more than just the financial bottom line.

Although I have highlighted some potential solutions and some positives, we really do need to think about how we can make our message clearer and more attractive. Too few people know about the fact that business can be about more than what’s shown on Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice. In the short to medium term we need better alliances rather than fighting with each other over nuance. You may think that is a weird thing for the leader of an accreditation body to come out with (?!), but we need to recognise our differences and work together for the common good.

If you are interested in finding out more about our accreditation services, please contact Rachel Fell or call 0345 504 6536.

Socent and gender equality_Heidi Fisher blog

Social enterprise and gender equality

Heidi FisherBy Heidi Fisher, Director of Make an Impact CIC

OK folks, let’s start off with something we could all benefit from doing a little more of – something I call ‘Positive Propositioning’… Take the name of this blog: Gender ‘Equality’. Not ‘Inequality’.

That’s simply because I’m of the mindset that if you focus on the positive aspect of change, you get more of it.

Also, I want to make it clear that this isn’t a feminist rant, far from it – in fact, it’s a bird’s eye observation on what is and what could, and arguably should be.

OK, now I’ve got that off my chest, let me share a couple of stats with you…

  • In global companies, 15% of women hold board positions
  • 4% chair boards
  • And 20% of boards have 3 or more women on them

And when you consider more female board directors give:

  • 16% higher Return on Sales
  • 26% higher Return on Invested Capital
  • Fewer governance-related controversies

…It’s certainly good for us to explore ways in which we can help businesses encourage more women into higher positions. And one of the ways I see this happening is by…

Encouraging MORE women to become Social Entrepreneurs in the first place.

Oh Heidi, but you would say that, you’re ALL ABOUT Social Enterprise. Yes, you’re right, but hear me out.

(Ready for some more stats? Here they come!)

  • 41% of UK’s social enterprises are led by women
  • Globally 38% are led by women
  • Women are 3x more likely to start social enterprises than men
  • Twice as many women run social enterprises than traditional businesses
  • Women equate to 46% of ‘traditional’ business workforce but 66% of social enterprise workforce

In comparison to the stats on traditional businesses, isn’t that absolutely, mind-bogglingly staggering?

And the thing is, having worked many, many years in the Social Enterprise sector, I’ve got to say, there’s a non-proven, but arguably rational, biological reason why there’s such a disparity between the two industries, and that is… Women tend to lead with their hearts, and men with their heads.

Women, driven by factors such as community, impact, connections and innovation are often social entrepreneurs without even realising it… If I had a £1 for every time a lady has told me their business idea and I’ve replied, “you’ve got a social enterprise there!” I mean…well, you know the rest.

But don’t get me wrong, if you’re a female reading this and you’re even slightly offended by that, please, let me assure you, this is, in fact, one of the reasons why it’s IMPERATIVE we have more female leaders in our world; not to dominate men, but to accompany, complement and work alongside them….As equals.

Instead of looking at this as a stereotype, let’s look at this as a celebration of traits and talents. If we had more Social Entrepreneurs in the world, heck, if EVERY business had a social element, think how much good would be given back to people and our world.

Social Enterprise isn’t a soft option, it’s actually, the only option.

So, in the push for equality within all areas of business, how about this as a lasting thought… If we’ve already recognised there’s a disparity and a need to change it, we should look at tackling it from the root, which naturally stems from education.

Let’s do what we can to educate our daughters (and sons!) about the importance of Social Entrepreneurship, self-actualisation and a love for doing good, but not only that, let’s also educated them on the importance of self-belief and inspire them to have just as much confidence as men to go out there and smash it.

If we help them grow up believing they have the power to make impact irrespective of their gender, just think what societal, environmental and health advancements can be achieved.

As you can tell, I am extremely passionate about this for reasons some of you will know and some of you won’t; that’s not the point here, what is the point is that we acknowledge with grace and respond with action.

If you have any thoughts on the above, I really hope you share them, after all, that’s what this is all about…

Originally posted on Linked In on 14th June 2018


How can we make our social enterprises fit for the future?

Blogging, Vlogging and Flogging

A couple of talks on change have recently got me thinking.  We live in such uncertain times at the moment, and it often feels like the rule book has been thrown out of the window. As Bill Gates said, “There will be more change in the next 15 years than there has been in the last 50 years.”

This rate of change can make life seem chaotic, hard to focus and sometimes downright scary (especially for oldies like me!)

One thing we do know is that, as businesses, we need to evolve to respond to these changes, to anticipate what the changes might be (as far as we can) and to be flexible in order to compete.

These are some of the thoughts that have struck me (in no particular order):

    • People have a lower attention span. There is so much information to take in that ‘out of the ordinary’ novelties catch the eye.  We are in the Instagram Generation.  People don’t want to read things, they want to scan and wait for things to catch their eye.  What makes your business different and eye catching?  Can you make marketing collateral more visual?  Can you film something rather than writing it? For example, I have recently published my first Vlog:

  • Technological change is taking us into the realms of science fiction. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, Virtual Reality are all with us and will increasingly change the way that we work; robots will do the more menial tasks and even some of the skilled tasks (where for instance, value judgements and human biases are a disadvantage).  We need to think about what skills will be needed for the future and equip ourselves to become Digital Leaders and support others to change and adapt their roles.  However, the flip side of this is that we still need to focus on the customer’s experience and not get carried away with huge digital solutions (witness the chaos that TSB has experienced this week as customers are locked out of their accounts).  The answer to this is to change incrementally and test as you go.
  • Social media appsBusiness models have also changed – we have seen the rise of platforms such as Uber, Air B&B, Google, Facebook etc. Much has been made of their different style of business – e.g. being client driven, employee self-organisation, flexibility and innovation.  I have no doubt that the old order of hierarchy in business and life is breaking down to allow much more personal freedom.  But at what cost?  Is this window dressing?  It seems to me that, underneath it all, the financial bottom line still remains the key driver. Social enterprises are authentic though and we really need to shout about how we are making a true social difference, our ethics and values (for example, through accreditations such as the Social Enterprise Mark!)

Change is also invigorating as it encourages us to think differently. Prompted by attending a Cosmic Digital Leadership programme (see video below for more details), we are currently thinking through all of this at Social Enterprise Mark CIC and it’s certainly opened us up to a whole set of new ideas.  We don’t have all the answers just yet, but we do know that staying still isn’t an option.

Heidi Fisher

Five essential factors for financial success with your social enterprise

By Heidi Fisher, Director of Make an Impact CIC

It’s easy to assume because there’s purpose, profit will swiftly follow, but you and I both know that only works if you work it.

As a Consultant to Social Entrepreneurs for over 20 years, I’ve built a robust understanding of the key factors that lead to financial success, and, for your convenience and relief, I’m going to share them right here.

Take note change maker, implementing these is not only smart; it’s your key to survival.

1) Manage your cash flow

CashCash is everything. You can be profitable, but if you have no money in the bank then you won’t exist for long.

Here are some practical steps you can take to manage and improve your cash flow position.

  • Take deposits for work if at all possible.
  • Clearly state your payment terms and chase customers if they haven’t paid by the due date.
  • Send out a reminder email before the due date and then phone them if it’s still unpaid.
  • Emails can be ignored. If you don’t like chasing for payments then hire someone for an hour or two to do this for you. It also avoids you having to have difficult conversations with clients.

2) Keep overheads low

Stephen Fear, aka the Phonebox Millionaire, says this is one of the reasons he’s been successful, as he doesn’t spend a lot on on-going overheads.  He’s right because so often people think they need to get premises straight away before they’ve even generated any income. Reality is, you probably don’t need it and you won’t have the income to pay for it either!  Think about what is essential for your social enterprise and what you can do without.

Another point to mention is the importance of paying your suppliers on time. Big or small, they’re a business too and are likely to be experiencing the same challenges as you. Keep it honest. Keep it fair, and that way everyone can benefit.

3) Pricing- Don’t undervalue your activities/products/services

Decide from the start whether you want to be budget, mid range or premium, but appreciate and be OK with the connotations attached to each.

Budget = could be perceived as providing low quality and attract customers that aren’t loyal and are only concerned about where they can get the cheapest item. Having a low price also makes it very difficult to increase prices in the future, and you could remain at breakeven or worse loss making just to keep this competitive edge. That aside, budget doesn’t always mean ‘cheap’ in the damaging sense of the word. As long as your service/product’s quality is aligned with price expectations, you can find ways of adding value that impresses the low-level customer, whilst not breaking your bank, i.e. customer service.

Mid-Range = safe. A good share of the market are what we call ‘floating voters’, which means they will happily straddle between price and quality often opting for the product or service that catches their attention the most (good marketing, product placement etc.) A potential drawback of this would be a lack of identity. Mid-range pricing can make you appear unsure of where your true USP sits, which, for a social consumer is key, for they often buy for the ‘why’.

Premium = Risky. Premium pricing requires thorough understanding of your market – you must be confident what you’re offering is what they need/want and are willing to pay the privilege for. Where higher prices mean reduced pressure in mass sales, it always requires consistent market research and development, plus strong relationships with your consumer. Loyalty is everything here, as is good, effective marketing.

My advice is to focus on determining YOUR value factors and being very realistic over what they’re worth. If you conclude it’s slightly on the lower end of the pricing scale, so what, it’s fantastic you’ve identified this. Spend time crafting your message and communicate it effectively so you can make a surplus and do more of your good work.

4) Trade if possible 

TradingIf you’ve received a grant to help pursue your societal purpose, you’ll know all too well the limitations that come with this, not least the restrictions on what you spend the money on.

Opting for a model that includes trading will ultimately give you so much more freedom, plus it doesn’t come with the reporting, monitoring or evaluation pressures from funders wanting to know where every penny’s being spent.

Being able to generate surpluses rather than just recovering the costs of delivering a project is also a massive advantage.

On a more subjective level, including trading within your business model shows that you’re focussed on your triple bottom line – something that will work in your favour should you wish to grow.

5) Diversify your income sources 

Don’t get married, play the field! OK, so figuratively speaking, when it comes to your income stream, this is a very smart move, as depending on just one source of income is risky and unpredictable.

Some of the most successful Social Enterprises I’ve worked with have at least 3 or 4 income streams working within their business.

This can be achieved through offering a mix of products/services, or looking for ways to include your offering alongside a project/initiative/programme that compliments it.

Whether that’s a training programme, an online course, a license arrangement, membership, or even offering your expertise on a Consultancy basis, you want to minimise your risk of failure by securing income streams in different places.


So, there you have it. I’m under no illusion a lot of this won’t be new to you, but oftentimes the most successful strategies are the ones that are simple and timeless.

A little known figure called Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result” – if you’re looking to secure financial success within your Social Enterprise, try one, two, three or even better all five of these strategies – I guarantee you they will work if you work them.

Lucy Findlay

Vlog – Lucy comments on the gender pay gap

Lucy Findlay

Forget ‘value for money’; how about ‘social value for money’

Are we heading for ‘Hard Times’?

Today’s political and economic climate reminds me of an episode in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Hard Times’.  At the beginning of the novel, Mr Gradgrind says ‘Now, what I want is facts’ in his school. He endorses an approach to education that prizes the logical, analytical, mathematical and statistical over common sense, creativity and emotion. Famously he asks a pupil who works in the circus to define a horse, an animal that she works with on a day to day basis. She can’t explain this factually and so invites his wrath. Another child gives a complete zoological explanation despite a much lower level of expertise in horses. This novel highlights the weakness of the utilitarian approach.

Higher education policy seems to be following this number crunching, pseudo analytical approach, which has been applied to schools over last few decades. Teresa May announced a review of post-18 education in February. The emphasis is now on value for money – but how can this be calculated?! There is some discussion that looks at which jobs students end up in, but how do you put a value on these – do we just revert to saying everyone should be aiming for the highest paid jobs? Do we want a nation of merchant bankers, city workers, accountants and lawyers? What happens to society, the creative industries and the public sector amongst others in this scenario?

Professor Nick PetfordGetting the right jobs is not only about a degree, it’s about lots of other contributory factors. This argument has been further elaborated on in the Guardian recently, in an article in which Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor of the University of Northampton, argues that there will be a disincentive to train nurses, midwives and police officers if post-graduation earnings are used in such a crude statistical way.

I have also seen suggestions that value for money might be calculated by how many student facilities a university has, or academic services? Or maybe it should be the cheapest beer in the Union and the most nightclubs in the nearby town?? No doubt some arbitrary formula will end up being concocted so we can all see which university ranks top and then this will be trumpeted loud by those universities that achieve the top marks.

The main problem for the ‘Hard Times’ fact-based approach is that we are dealing with human beings who have emotions and experiences. People may say that they are using pure facts to make a decision, but this ignores all the outside factors that make an experience enjoyable and feel worthwhile. It also flies in the face of existing research which shows that the new generations of students and professionals measure success by more than just financial reward.

Using my own personal experience as a case study, I worked as a researcher in my university after my degree, because I was interested in the subject (certainly not the pay). It wasn’t until my next job as a policy officer that I found the niche of social enterprise and community based regeneration (several years later). There was not necessarily a neat trajectory between getting my degree and a well-paid job, but both my degrees led me to challenge my thinking and helped to develop my personal value set.

The utilitarian approach also forgets that being at university is not just about the individual.  There is the experience of being part of the university community, as well as the fact that universities sit within communities themselves, adding value and richness to many more lives than just those studying. This goes beyond the pure number crunching of Value for Money to create Social Value for Money. We, in partnership with others in the university and social enterprise sectors, are making this point to the new Office for Students – where we argue for a more embedded approach, which looks at the development of a Social Value for Money Framework that engages directly with students.

We have been working with HEFCE and our Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark universities to bring out some of the wider essence of what it means to be a good socially enterprising university, caring not only about its students and staff, but also playing a crucial role in developing the links with the local community. The University of Salford for instance has a great reputation for enabling access to students locally who have been brought up in Local Authority Care.

Social Enterprise Gold Mark

The Social Enterprise Gold Mark in particular helps to highlight and bring together social enterprise characteristics and Social Value for Money. There is also a new report that has just been launched by HEFCE and Flourish CIC, which highlights and evaluates the work that has already been done by universities to develop social entrepreneurs amongst students, staff and the local population.

So where does this leave us? Louisa Gradgrind ended up having a mental breakdown as a result of her schooling in ‘Hard Times’.  We must not forget that we are dealing with people at the end of the day. Statistics should be used with caution and we must not lose the nuances of what it means to go to university. It is not a simple equation of good degree + ‘good’ university = well paid career.

I hope we are not heading for a breakdown – I am naturally a positive person, so I don’t think so, but we need to be careful about what behaviours are engendered by crude targets and statistics and we have ideas about how this can be countered – watch this space!

Lucy Findlay

Leading the way or minding the gap?

Lucy Findlay shortlisted for Venus AwardsInternational Women’s Day was on 8th March.  Reading my social media feed that day, it seemed to have much more prominence than in previous years. I think it was probably a combination of factors, including the many shocking stories in the press such as the #metoo campaign, the gender pay gap figures that show there is still such a huge disparity between men and women, and 100 years of votes for (some) women.  Personally, and more positively, I have also recently been selected as a finalist in the Venus Women’s Business Awards.

I was also asked to carry out an interview for Ethical Hour as part of the IWD celebrations, followed by an interview live on camera about the pay gap. It certainly got me thinking about how women fare in social enterprise/ethical business in general. Are we leading the way or do we still have some gaps to fill?

Unlike the mainstream business world, statistics show that social enterprises are more likely to be run by women than SMEs (41% according to the 2017 State of Social Enterprise Report) and we know from previous research done in the early days of the Social Enterprise Mark that women are also more likely to be consciously ethical consumers.

Equal gender representation and seniority in social enterprise however, does still mirror the corporate world in sectors where traditionally women have been less prominent.  For instance, I notice events about IT, transport, housing/property and finance still tend to be male dominated (including the speakers, but with some notable exceptions). However, I have been encouraged to see more changes over my many years in the sector, with more women running very large social enterprises, such as universities and in healthcare delivery. Although we do not yet see mirrored equality in other sectors, I hope we are on an upward trajectory as more women develop the confidence to not only start social enterprises but to continue to run them as they get larger. This also requires recruitment processes to take women seriously.

The interviews made me reflect beyond pay and representation to my own experiences as the leader of a ‘politically charged’ social enterprise. As part of my job, I have been required to develop blogs and other social media presence. Like many women, I have often found this to be intimidating and needlessly confrontational, especially at the beginning. I have also been in many meetings where I have been ignored, patronised or accused of being emotional (women are emotional or aggressive whilst men are passionate and assertive!) More worryingly, I have been subjected to some behaviours which would be considered unprofessional, and I was told by more than one male social enterprise leader that our business would never last and be gone in a few years. So much for supporting each other and mutuality!

I’m very proud of where we are at as a social enterprise 8 years down the line; we now have a presence in 11 countries and lead the way in meaningful social enterprise accreditation internationally. The sector as a whole has made some good progress, but needs to really reflect its values of mutuality and respect for all.  We all want to make the world a better place and I have great hope for the future – keep up the good work!

Lucy Findlay

Alternative models of business – time for a change?

John McDonnell at Labour Party Alternative Models of Ownership conference

John McDonnell speaking at Alternative Models of Ownership conference

Last weekend the Labour Party held a conference, where it launched a report highlighting Alternative Ownership Models. It criticised the prevailing model of public service delivery and highlighted some of the failures of the corporate sector.  It also challenged the old idea that renationalisation means bringing services back inside the public sector itself.

I too have written on many occasions about important lessons that big business could learn from alternative business models, e.g. social enterprises, particularly with regard to delivering public sector services. As we continue to see high profile private sector/corporate service delivery debacles, which put shareholder interests before people and communities; Carillion, Virgin Care, G4S to name just a few recent examples (not mentioning the banking sector!), I can’t help thinking that we should surely have reached a turning point by now?

There is another way, which offers a credible alternative to this corporate approach; social enterprise offers a flexible business approach to tackling key social issues, without the over-riding pressure to make profits for shareholders and investors. Frustratingly though, the response usually seems to be ‘how can we get social enterprises to scale up to meet the needs of commissioners and become more like corporates?’ By focusing purely on growth, the risk is that services become routinely standardised and therefore lack the flexibility to tailor services to the needs of the public. How many times have you been stuck on the end of a phone to a call centre only to speak to someone who has a standard response and can’t understand your individual issue and provide a satisfactory solution?

Social enterprises can offer a more flexible tailored approach that actually focusses on local need rather than ‘efficiency savings’ aimed at providing dividends and bonuses for shareholders, directors and investors.

Thankfully, consumers seem to be cottoning on quicker than the powers that be; the recent 2017 Ethical Consumer Markets Report showed that almost ¼ of respondents reported buying goods/services specifically because of a company’s ethical reputation, a 28% increase on the previous year. Hopefully this trend will force the hand of the public and corporate sector – to compete and survive, they will need to prove they are creating a positive impact on society and the world around us.

Although it may be considered naïve to think that we may see a day when social enterprise becomes the business model of choice, I would like to think that at the very least we may see an era where big businesses take inspiration from the example set by social enterprise, to consider public value as a key criterion when making decisions, rather than the other way around. I’ve lost count of the times when we have been required to listen to corporates tell us how to do things.  It would also be great to see more attention being paid to the motivations of the business rather than just putting a good bid together that over promises and under delivers.

Key lessons can be learned, much of it concerning change in the corporate mentality – profit is of course important for survival, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of everything else. There needs to be an end to ‘lip service’ and meaningless CSR claims, replaced by a system that looks realistically at the promises made by bidders and their track record (e.g. what is it at the expense of…. customers, beneficiaries, patients, students?).

Corporations need to view society and the environment as truly active stakeholders and therefore should consider public interests as a high priority when designing and delivering services.


Adapted from a guest blog written for Your Public Value, published on 9th February 2018

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

Another year older, another year wiser?

As we celebrate the 8th anniversary of the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark, I am proud of our progress, and how we have remained true to our original aim of identifying and certifying genuine social enterprises, and more latterly emphasising the upholding of standards to support this aim.

Since 2010, Social Enterprise Mark CIC (and formerly RISE, the umbrella body that supported social enterprises in the south west of England), has acted as an arbiter of robust social enterprise standards, working to ensure the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial, through independent accreditation.

It would perhaps have been easier at times not to have ‘stuck to our guns’, but we have learnt many valuable lessons along the way. Plus, I do pride myself on the fact that my USP is not following the crowd! We have continually adapted our products to the changing marketplace, responding to customer’s needs, market opportunities and changes to the economy.

Launch of the Social Enterprise Gold Mark at House of Commons in 2014

Launch of the Social Enterprise Gold Mark at Houses of Commons in 2014

For example, we developed and launched the Social Enterprise Gold Mark in 2014, as the first (and only) standard of social enterprise excellence. This was in response to people questioning how you can identify excellence and good practice in social enterprise. The Gold Mark is not just an accreditation; it scores businesses in different areas of governance, ethical business practice, financial transparency, and social and environmental impact, and also provides an action plan going forwards to ensure continual development.

As we continue to see high profile private sector/corporate service delivery debacles putting shareholder interests before people and communities, e.g. Carillion, Virgin Care, G4S, Capita etc etc (not to mention the banking sector!), I can’t help thinking that we should surely be at a turning point by now?

The debate nationally still seems to be – ‘how can we get social enterprises to scale up to meet the needs of commissioners?’ Surely this is the wrong question. Bigger and bigger often leads to standardisation, mediocrity and a lack of flexibility to the local circumstances.  Plus, there is another way and it does not have to copy the corporate world! Social enterprise offers a flexible, credible, business approach to the problems and issues that society has, without hands tied behind its back with pressure from shareholders and investors. Maybe one day the penny will drop?

It does appear to be dropping with consumers; the 2017 Ethical Consumer Markets Report showed that almost ¼ of respondents reported buying goods/services specifically because of a company’s ethical reputation, a 28% increase on the previous year. The tide is turning and hopefully the public and corporate sector will sit up and take note and we will see a new paradigm where businesses can’t just tick a box anymore – they actually have to prove that they are making a positive impact on society and the world around us. Maybe then we will welcome an age where social enterprise is lauded as the true business model of choice, proving that it is not just a ‘lip service’ CSR department.

In anticipation of this, we believe it is crucial to get ourselves prepared with clear standards, which differentiate and protect the integrity of genuine social enterprises, and to help consumers identify businesses that are committed to truly trading for the good of people and planet.

That is why, as we embark on our 9th year as the social enterprise accreditation authority, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction and that the big times are still to come!

Lucy Findlay

It’s time to put social value at the core of our public services

Former ACEVO Chief Executive Asheem Singh hit the nail on the head in his recent piece in the Guardian about the collapse of Carillion. I have written many times on the risks posed by the relentless focus on price above all other considerations when awarding public sector contracts (e.g. Cutting out a more effective way of doing business?)

This is not the first such story we have heard of big corporates failing in their delivery of public services; in fact they seem quite commonplace nowadays. So when will the Government recognise the increasing need to prioritise organisations that create added social value above and beyond the core service being commissioned?

Social enterprises, at their core, are committed to using income and profits in maximising social outcomes above that of individual profit motivations, creating real and lasting benefits for society. By embracing these alternative business models, the Government can move away from the short termism that has blighted public sector commissioning in recent years, and move towards a future where social value sits at the heart of our public services. It may not be the cheapest option on the face of it, but it could lead to significant savings in the long term.

Some of the work is already done…. the legislation already exists to require public bodies to consider the wider economic, social and environmental impact of the services they commission. It is a case of the Government putting their money where their mouth is, by doing more to ensure that the Social Value Act is fully implemented across our public services and widening its potential application to other areas of public expenditure.

As Asheem points out, social enterprises should take the Carillion debacle as a ‘platform for action’. It is a prime opportunity for us, as a sector, to demand changes and present social enterprise as a solution that can ensure public interests are put first and foremost in service delivery.

Lucy Findlay

A new year’s resolution that you can stick to

I am sure many of you have recently set new resolutions for the year ahead, be they personal goals (e.g. eating healthier or exercising more) or a commitment to make changes on a wider scale (e.g. using less plastic, getting involved in volunteering). However, how many of us actually stick to our resolutions for the whole year (and beyond)??

Perhaps then we should focus more on long term permanent changes to our behaviour, rather than short term ‘fads’ that we are likely to give up on at some point. Given that 2017 saw continued growth in sales of ethical products (up for the 14th year in a row), this gives me hope that perhaps more people will start to focus on their consumption habits and consider the impact of these on the wider world. An easy start would be pledging your commitment to supporting a growing movement of businesses serious about creating positive change.

We launched our Beyond the Badge campaign last year, to help consumers and organisations do good business, by looking out for credible independent labels as proof that a business is living up to its claims, therefore enabling them to make more informed choices.

Beyond the Badge campaign partnersTeaming up with a diverse group of fellow standard-setting bodies that share common values and principles in our approach to accreditation, we aimed to engage consumers with independent standards/labels and educate them on how these can help them to identify businesses that are serious about doing good.

We were excited to recently welcome Investors in People, the standard for people management, as a campaign partner, and would be keen to hear from other organisations interested in getting involved.

Despite the reported increase in ethical consumerism, we are conscious that there is still work to be done in promoting this message on a wider scale, to encourage everyone (both consumers and businesses) to consider the impact of their purchase decisions. This is why we are continuing the campaign into 2018 and I encourage you all to ‘Go Beyond the Badge’ this year, and look out for credible independent labels that actually mean something.

Independent third-party standards play an important role in providing an external endorsement of claims made by businesses – that is, they help consumers know that they can trust a business is committed to doing good. This year, it is one of our own resolutions to push this message into the mainstream, and encourage consumers and businesses across different sectors to use such standards and labels to be sure they are buying from a company they can trust.

I invite you all to commit to a New Year’s resolution you can stick to – you can start by signing the campaign pledge (below) and spreading the word to your contacts.

Beyond the Badge pledge

**your signature**

Share this with your friends:


*We will add you to our supporters mailing list, which we send regular updates to about our network of accredited social enterprises and our accreditation services. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the email.


Lucy Findlay

Profiteering from the NHS – have we reached a new low?

Back in 2014, I predicted that we would, in the future, question the values that are used to make public spending decisions.  However, we now seem to have reached a new low.

Following an unsuccessful bid for a children’s services contract in Surrey, Virgin Care had threatened legal action.  This has resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds (if not a few million) being taken out of the local cash-strapped NHS, which could have been used to help diagnose and treat people of all ages, in order to settle the dispute out of court.

Virgin Care has the power of a big corporation and a team of lawyers behind its every move.  Most tenderers could not, and would not, sue the NHS if they failed in a bid.  However, when the internal values of the business are first and foremost commerciality, the logical step is to challenge if you can.  I also wonder if this tactic will make other Commissioners think twice about turning down a Virgin Care bid?

With more than 400 contracts, Virgin Care has a growing track record in the health and social care world, but at what price?  They might make a big deal about how they will improve services and treat staff well, but someone has to suffer with profit maximisation being squeezed from the tight NHS budget.  The cuts in front-line staff ultimately lead to a poorer service for patients, who have no choice in the matter.

At least in this case the winners of the bid were two social enterprises and an NHS Trust, which will not be focused on creating profits for shareholders.  Surely it would make sense for this to become a more explicit criterion for commissioners to judge a contract?  Not only is it better value for money, but the values of the service are aligned to NHS delivery.

My Christmas message, and wish for 2018, is that public spending decisions need to become more values based!

Conquering misconceptions around social enterprise

We were interested to see a social enterprise pitching on Dragon’s Den recently. It’s always good to see alternative forms of business profiled in the mainstream media. However, it was disappointing to hear Peter Jones dismissing the entrepreneur by saying she was confused as to whether her venture was a business or a social enterprise…. this is a continual challenge for the sector; the misconception that social enterprises aren’t real businesses.

The first rule of social enterprise is that financial sustainability is of utmost importance, as without this, a business will not be able to achieve their social objectives. We don’t agree however that there is a choice to be made between operating a business or a social enterprise; the choice is what you do with the profits a business makes… this is essentially what defines a social enterprise.

It seems the sector is struggling to shake off the notion of a charity type model, reliant on grant funding and donations, even though recent figures show that almost ¼ of UK social enterprises earn more than 75% of their income from trading*. Although some progress has been made in bringing social enterprise to the mainstream, it seems we still have a way to go in achieving complete recognition and understanding of the business model as a credible alternative to capitalist structures.

So, how can we address the misconceptions that surround social enterprise?

The independent accreditation provided by the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark offer a solution by providing a credible standard, backed up by sector agreed criteria as to what constitutes a social enterprise. Organisations are externally assessed on application and on an annual basis, to ensure they are truly operating as a social enterprise, with the core motivation of using profits and income to create benefits for society and the environment. These Marks provide a visual sign that a business is trading for people and planet; trading being the operative word.

The key is credibility; to be taken seriously by consumers and businesses, social enterprises need to demonstrate they ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to operating as a credible organisation that is committed to creating real social change. The Beyond the Badge campaign aims to raise the profile of independent labels and how they can help consumers (and businesses for that matter) to easily identify businesses that are proven to be doing good.

We clearly still have a journey ahead of us on the path to widespread awareness and understanding, but, by enabling organisations to demonstrate they have a sustainable business model, with the potential to create real social impact, we are doing our bit towards conquering these common misconceptions.


* State of Social Enterprise report

Social Enterprise Gold Mark

Beyond certification – the Mark of a better business

Following the news in the summer that Sainsbury’s are replacing the established and trusted FAIRTRADE Mark with their own in-house certification scheme, there seems to be a general trend in this direction by big producers. Multinational giants Mondelez International (which owns Cadbury), Unilever, and Barry Callebaut (world’s biggest producer of chocolate and cocoa products) have all confirmed they are now using their own ethical standards, eschewing independent third party labels.

This is a worrying development. How do we know how rigorous standards are really being applied and assessed if they are not subjecting themselves to third party scrutiny? Multinationals and corporates make huge shareholder profits, and not to submit themselves to third party scrutiny seems to further reduce the accountability of their operations. As I wrote in my blog about the Sainsbury’s story back in July, we are concerned that this could also lead to erosion of consumer trust in any labelling schemes, which should ultimately exist to engender this trust, not damage it.

Social Enterprise Mark CIC has recognised that standards should not just provide openness and transparency, they should also challenge the business to become even better at what it does. This is why we now collect social value information on an ongoing basis, alongside developing the far more demanding Social Enterprise Gold Mark, which goes into much more depth around ethical practice in every area of the business, from procurement and sourcing to employee relations and governance.

The Social Enterprise Gold Mark was developed to provide a quality benchmark for social enterprises that can demonstrate excellence in key business areas, such as governance, business ethics, and social/environmental impact. As well as providing proof of a commitment to business excellence, it also acts as a business development tool – successful applicants receive an individually tailored action plan for continuous improvement, in line with Social Enterprise Gold Mark guidelines of best practice. Therefore, it is very much an ongoing development process, not just covering a snapshot in time at the point of assessment.

Given the high-profile scandals that have hit big brands such as Mondalez (formerly Kraft), which came under fire in 2011, when they closed a UK chocolate production factory following their takeover of Cadbury, there is a need for more businesses to submit to the scrutiny of external assessment with regards to their business practices and how they make and distribute their profits, and how they treat their workers.

At the time of the Cadbury takeover, Mondalez made assurances that production would remain in the UK and that the Somerdale factory would remain open. However, less than a week later an announcement was made that the factory would in fact be closed, at the cost of thousands of jobs.

In order to prove applicants’ businesses are excelling as genuinely socially responsible organisations, the assessment for the Gold Mark digs deeper to examine key aspects of the operations of a business. This includes looking at how they govern the organisation, employee engagement and terms of employment, as well as how income is used to create social and environmental impact.

Maybe this is the future of certification…. A visible and trusted identifier of those doing better business, in every aspect of their operations.

Lucy Findlay

Providing credible standards for social enterprise

Lucy Findlay blog for the Regulator of Community Interest Companies

Upholding the standard for social enterprise

For more than 7 years, Social Enterprise Mark CIC (and formerly RISE, the umbrella body that supported social enterprises in the south west of England) has acted as an arbiter of robust social enterprise standards. Since our inception back in 2010, we have endeavoured to ensure the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial, through independent accreditation. As well as providing a single recognisable ‘identifier’ for genuine social enterprises, which are externally assessed against sector-agreed criteria, we work to promote the capabilities of social enterprises as a credible alternative to more ‘mainstream’ business models.

We provide two accreditation ‘marks’, which assess applicants against robust qualification criteria to provide an independent guarantee of their commitment to creating benefits for people and planet, through the trade of goods and services.

The Social Enterprise Mark is the only internationally available social enterprise accreditation, enabling credible social enterprises to prove they put the interests of people and planet before shareholder gain. The Mark acts as an independent, externally assessed guarantee that a business is operating as a true social enterprise, with the central aim of using income/profits to maximise social benefit, which takes precedent over generating dividends for owners/shareholders.

The Social Enterprise Gold Mark is a unique enhanced accreditation for social enterprises wishing to demonstrate their excellence, assessing three essential areas of business operations:

  • Governance – stakeholder representation in strategy and operation
  • Business ethics – complaints handling, diversity, equality, pay, workplace issues and social auditing
  • Social impact and financial transparency – how income and profits are used to create added social and environmental impact

The accreditation focuses on measuring what makes a social enterprise excellent, and how they can continue to improve their impact. Successful applicants receive an individually tailored action plan for continuous improvement, in line with guidelines of best practice.

Community Interest Companies – the perfect fit for social enterprise

CIC RegulatorAlthough there is no single legal structure for social enterprise, the Community Interest Company (CIC) model was specifically designed with social enterprises in mind. It aimed to bridge the gap between standard commercial businesses and charities, recognising that some businesses wanted to provide some benefit to the community through their commercial activities but without the regulation and restrictions which come with being a registered charity.

CICs automatically meet most of the criteria covered by the Social Enterprise Mark. Over ¼ of our network of accredited social enterprises are registered as CICs and we certainly view the CIC model as a favourable one in terms of assessing eligibility for accreditation.

Broadening horizons – looking to the future

As a recognised and established social enterprise accreditation authority, we are increasingly broadening our horizons, both in terms of engaging with new markets and in expanding our offer internationally.

Over the last year, we have become increasingly engaged with the Higher Education sector, with several HEIs showing an interest in proving their commitment to using profits to create benefits for people and planet. This is an encouraging development, as it symbolises a commitment to creating social change, for which such institutions have a huge potential scope to achieve, given their size.

There are now 8 HEIs which hold Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark accreditation, with Plymouth College of Art, The University of Northampton, and The University of Winchester recently being awarded the Social Enterprise Gold Mark at our conference in June.

We have also seen a growing interest in social enterprise at an international level, and strive to be the global champion for credible standards for social enterprise. Following the approval of UAE based C3 as the first international Social Enterprise Mark holder in April 2015, there are now 6 organisations outside the UK that have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark, including FLOCERT (the global certification body for the Fairtrade Mark) and the Network of Asia and Pacific Producers (the network of Fairtrade certified producers in the Asia Pacific region).

Lucy Findlay in TaiwanAs well as welcoming applications from social enterprises across the world, we offer international consultancy services, to advise global counterparts looking to set up equivalent social enterprise accreditation schemes within their own countries. For example, in March 2016, we were approached by the British Council and invited to China to advise on the development of a Chinese social enterprise accreditation system, and in 2015 I was invited by the Taiwanese government to speak about the Social Enterprise Mark at the International Social Enterprise Conference.

So, in summary, we have bold ambitions to continue to develop our position as the global champion of credible standards for social enterprise!


This blog was originally posted on the Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies blog on Friday 8th September 2017.

Lucy Findlay

Can ‘fairly traded’ really replace ‘Fairtrade’?

As the authority responsible for implementing the robust standards and independent accreditation processes of the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark, we were very sad to hear of the decision by Sainsbury’s to apply their own “fairly-traded” scheme to Red Label tea in place of the widely trusted FAIRTRADE Mark.

Much as Sainsbury’s is loved and trusted by its customers, this move risks opening the door to less reputable businesses creating their own in-house schemes. We are very concerned that this will lead to a proliferation of unsubstantiated social and environmental claims that will confuse consumers and ultimately erode their trust in all such schemes, far beyond the sectors in which Fairtrade operates. The extent of these concerns is apparent in the response to the petition on Change.Org on this topic which quickly attracted over 5,000 signatures.

As a labelling company ourselves, we know that considerable investment, expertise and commitment is required to develop and process robust standards. We are concerned that by Sainsbury’s controlling the certification of its own products, it will ‘water down’ the regulations to suit its own agenda.

There is likely to be confusion amongst consumers, who have come to recognise the FAIRTRADE Mark as independent proof that a product has met international Fairtrade standards. This trust has been built up over 2 decades.

For our part, we verify the claims of genuine social enterprises, by providing a trusted independent label to assure stakeholders that they meet common standards. The assessment process helps them to benchmark performance against the norms and encourages them to work towards best practice. The key to credible accreditation/certification is an external assessment process, which should be conducted by an independent third party. Only with a completely impartial and transparent process is it meaningful.

We therefore fail to understand why Sainsbury’s would choose not to support such a process in respect of its own products that meet Fairtrade standards, rather than upholding the principles of transparency and consistency that the FAIRTRADE Mark provides. This is, I am sure, a sentiment which is echoed by our network of Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark holders, and the wider social enterprise sector.

We offer our full support to Fairtrade, which itself inspired our own Mark, and stand by the importance of independent, credible, transparent authentic labels that consumers know they can trust.

Lucy Findlay

Profiteering from the sick and dying…chapter 2

Another bonanza for the shareholders?

This blog follows on from a previous blog on this subject, published in 2014

My family and I have recently been subject to the vagaries of NHS system and the bewildering world of social care.  Like so many families when a loved one falls seriously ill, you take a dive into a parallel universe that you might have thought about, but suddenly get thrust into for real.  It starts with shock and confusion and pretty soon moves on to frustration at trying to find your way round a system that is supposed to put the patient first, but often fails due to being overstretched and managed by too many ‘cooks’.  I am aware, however, that in many ways we are in some ways more fortunate (if that’s the right word) than others in this situation – the illness is cancer, not dementia.  The NHS goes into full swing for us and we don’t have the added stress of to try to work out which care agency to use, how much it’s going to cost and how to pay for it.

The Conservative Manifesto suggests that in the future more social care will have to be paid for privately, if necessary by remortgaging any property without a financial cap.  I understand that there are pressures on the system, but what will the real cost be and who will be the winners if this policy is enacted?  It probably doesn’t take a detective to work it out, but one thing’s for sure, with an aging population there will certainly be profits to make.  The likelihood is that the private care sector will ramp up to fill the gap with little or no protection on costs from the government, along with equity release companies who will charge interest for the privilege of staying at home.  You only have to look over the Atlantic to see the impact that such private companies have on the lives of people who should be concentrating on caring for their loved one, rather than being stressed out about deciding which care/health company is good or bad, whether the insurance will cover it, and if not how to pay for it (possibly selling/remortgaging their house).

It is a shame that more creative and equitable solutions are not being considered in the future of social care as well as how to fund it – they do exist!  There is always a rush to look for a private solution, with the same old business models, which put their shareholders first.  The Manifesto talks about encouraging Public Sector Mutuals, but the current Government has made no real effort to encourage the formation of social enterprises that could reinvest profits back into the system as well as behaving more ethically.  The local community could even have a stake in such companies!  What is clear though is that if we are talking about delivery outside the state, then there is a need for regulation and a guarantee that people can have confidence that shareholder financial gain is not the underlying goal – profiteering from the sick and dying is inexcusable, morally questionable and one of the key reasons that the NHS was set up in the first place.

Have we forgotten to ask how we can BE and DO better?

By Caroline Bartle, Managing Director of 3 Spirit UK

I started to write this blog at the start of the year. Normally this is a time most people take stock and ask how can we BE and DO better?  However, within our social care sector, this reappraisal is not new, but rather ongoing, and insidious.  We are constantly being asked, how we can DO better. For many services this has resulted in cutting back, and prioritising profitability.

However, what is the impact of this?  Is there a hidden cost of dwindling social care funding, creating highly competitive, low cost, low value services? Has this disproportionate focus on the turning a profit  taken us away from more ethical aspects of our work, as we forget to ask how can we BE better? Surely the test of how we can ‘BE’ better as a social care service lies within the ‘social impact’ that we have, not in the profit that we accrue.

About twenty years ago after a relatively short career in social work I became a proprietor of a social care business at the age of 27, and when I look back over the last two decades I see the factor which drove me to business was the freedom to BE the person that I wanted to be. Because of this, I get immense pleasure from my work, and my collaborations. I spend time working with the individuals that I chose, and I have the opportunities to learn about, and develop what I determine as critical, interesting and applicable. I am motivated, engaged and free to be innovative. My values are at the heart of my business, sometimes at the expense of profit.  Over the years my values have evolved. As a young entrepreneur, I was always interested in creating and sharing, however now I am more concerned about how these collaborations impact on our communities, collectively and positively.

Despite being a ‘for profit’ organisation, we shared our resources, widely and openly (with no material gain), and attempted to reach out to individuals and organisations through our work. Whilst we have had many supporters, we have also been met with some alarming responses: individuals proactively unfollowed us, and actively excluded us. It was disappointing and deeply demotivating. There appears to be a lack of trust in our sector: driven possibly by competitive, anti-collective forces.   Consider though what the possibilities might be for our sector if we are able to foster trust, and build alliances beyond the competitive limitations of market forces. What if we all shared common goals, the communities that we serve? What if there was a less of a ‘me’ mentality and more of an ‘us’?

The growth of a market was stimulated, in part with the introduction of the Community Care Act, and has relied on competitive forces, creating best value. However, how effectively does this model work now, in this current climate?

In 2012 the government introduced the Public Services (Social Value) Act in an attempt to get commissioners to consider the social impact of their buying power. However, this only applies to high value contracts. So what of all the other services, or individuals, purchasing services in their community? Whilst these services are regulated by the CQC, many are driven by profit, and may not always be making their decisions in the interests of ALL of their stakeholders.  If we are to really make a ‘shared society’ work, should we not ‘expect’ that social enterprises are afforded preferential treatment at a local buyer level? In 2015 there was a review of the implementation of the Social Value Act, suggesting that the Act be extended to contracts below the public spend threshold. It is my view this could be extended further than suggested.

In the healthcare market we have already seen many services become social enterprises. Health has long had an expectation that it should service all stakeholders, as since the introduction of the NHS, it has been free at the point of delivery.

However, that is not the case for social care: the expectation remains that many providers maintain a ‘for profit’ status. Many business minded individuals identify opportunities in a growth market, particularly in the community, where there is a growing need to support individuals with more complex levels of care. The question is – how sustainable is this in the current market? Does the social enterprise model work better in this climate, and if so – should commissioners consider this as part of their market shaping strategy as part of a long term goal for smaller, as well as large organisations? Could this be applied across all types of services, particularly training services like us, whom should be embodying an example, as advocates of ‘best practice’.

So, what are your driving values as a proprietor? To make a profit or make a difference? Whilst on the face of it, it may be a little more complex than that, determining the overriding priorities will help to properly focus priorities on outcomes. As an education provider in social care, we aim to buck the trend, and embody this change.

Social enterprise  is a more comfortable fit for us: synergy with stakeholder expectations and our activities. Through raising awareness, we aim to provide better insights into the experience and needs of the individuals we support in the social care sector.  From a business perspective, it seems to make sense, as it is through trading that we may have a bigger impact in society.

Lucy Findlay

The rise of ethical consumerism: considering the impact of purchase decisions

Although it is heartening to see that consumers are increasingly looking at sustainability and ethical issues in their purchasing decisions, as evidenced by a recent international study by Unilever, I do worry about whether they are actually able to make an informed decision.  The proliferation of ‘greenwashing’ does mask and make buying decisions more confusing.

Greenwashing is the corporate practice of using clever PR and marketing claims to mislead customers into thinking a company and its products are ethical/sustainable/environmentally friendly etc. Sadly, the rise in consumer interest in sustainability and ethics seems to be marked by the rise of this tactic by big corporate brands.

This is a smoke screen for their anti-social behaviour, as has been evidenced time and again in the hypocrisy of the banking world.  I will never forget, on the passing of the Public Services (Social Value) Act, being lectured about what to do to add social value by a big name High Street bank, whose Chief Executive the week before had been apologising for yet another expose leading to huge fines by the regulator.

Another very high profile example is the Volkswagen ‘Dieselgate’ emissions scandal in 2015, where the organisation admitted fitting cars with software designed to give false readings in emissions tests. This served as a public reminder of the need to be vigilant for misleading messages – if a multinational giant that was once considered a leader in sustainability was deliberately deceiving customers, then it poses the question – who else is up to this dodgy practice??

Unfortunately, greenwashing isn’t always easy to spot, especially where there is an existing high level of consumer trust within a brand. Even where there isn’t trust, many consumers take claims at face value and do not question other behaviours of that company – people have short memories! There are so many ethical labels and claims used by brands to entice customers to buy their products, so where to start for consumers when it comes to knowing who they can trust?

This is the focus of our latest campaign – Beyond the Badge – which aims to help consumers identify genuine labels and claims, and therefore make more informed choices, rather than taking things at face value.  For instance if a product claims to be ‘fairtrade’ – did you realise that it is only certified as such if it displays the FairTrade Mark?

We are pleased to have the support of several high-profile partners, including Soil Association Certification and Ethical Consumer, to engage with a wider consumer audience across multiple sectors.

In our research , I was interested to come across the UL Environment ‘Seven sins of greenwashing’, which identifies seven of the most common greenwashing tactics used by big brands. Interestingly, these include ‘the sin of no proof’ – where a claim is not substantiated with any reliable proof – and ‘the sin of worshipping false labels’ – where the impression is given of a third-party endorsement, where no such thing exists.

To me, these seem particularly relevant to the markets in which we operate, as from its inception, social enterprise has been plagued with vagueness and moving the goal posts.  The advent of social impact reporting and social investment have not helped this cause as they do not support the uniqueness of the social enterprise business model – essentially that by putting people and planet before shareholder profit the business is focused on the social/environmental need that it aims to address.  It may be hard to prove – but the social outcomes are central, not a by-product.  Hence the Social Enterprise Mark – a way of assessing and identifying genuine social enterprises that have a proven commitment to trading for the benefit of people and planet.

We want to encourage everyone to consider the potential impact of their purchase decisions, and to think about whether brands that they support are actually living up to their ethical and sustainability claims. I invite you to get involved, by pledging your support to the campaign and spreading the word amongst your own networks, by joining our Thunderclap campaign, which will send an automated social media post out from your account to create a buzz of conversation about the campaign.

Lucy Findlay

Fairtrade: A Mark of inspiration

The impending Fairtrade Fortnight (27th February – 12th March) led me to reminisce that the Fairtrade movement inspired the roots of our own accreditation system, back in the late 2000’s. Fairtrade is a global movement to secure fair prices, working conditions and terms of trade for farmers, producers and workers across the world. By guaranteeing a minimum price and a premium payment, which producers invest into their businesses and communities, Fairtrade gives people in developing countries the opportunity to improve their lives and plan for their future.

Fairtrade Fortnight is an annual campaign to increase public awareness of Fairtrade certified products, organised by the Fairtrade Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation that licenses use of the Fairtrade Mark on products in the UK. This year marks 20 years since the inaugural Fairtrade Fortnight campaign was launched in Scotland on 12th February 1997.

The credibility of the Fairtrade system is upheld by FLOCERT, which is coincidentally a Social Enterprise Mark holder. FLOCERT is responsible for independently certifying Fairtrade products and awarding the internationally recognised Fairtrade Mark; an independent certification that you see on a product that meets the international Fairtrade standards. This label shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved. The Mark helps consumers to easily identify products that have met the required standards.

The Social Enterprise Mark was borne out of a similar need – to address the lack of robustness behind the term ‘social enterprise’ and the lack of a way to market social enterprise products and services. Social Enterprise Mark accreditation provides reassurance for customers and stakeholders that there is credibility behind claiming to be a social enterprise. Our two accreditation Marks – the Social Enterprise Mark and Social Enterprise Gold Mark – protect the integrity of genuine social enterprises and enable them to stand out from the crowd, as an externally assessed, independent guarantee of their primary commitment to using income and profits to create benefits for people and planet.

In very simple terms, the Social Enterprise Mark is the social enterprise equivalent of the Fairtrade Mark, providing a clear definition of what constitutes a social enterprise, and an instantly recognisable ‘stamp of approval’ to show that a business has been independently assessed and meets sector-agreed criteria to justifiably call itself a social enterprise.

With the Fairtrade Mark now well into its third decade, working with over 1,200 certified organisations worldwide, it is perhaps no surprise that 9/10 people now recognise and understand the label. Although, I am sure that maintaining and raising public and consumer awareness remains a key objective, hence the annual Fairtrade Fortnight campaign.

It has always been my wish that the Social Enterprise Mark will not only become as recognisable as the Fairtrade Mark, but that it will also stand for business that is striving to be really good at what it does, i.e. trading for people and planet. There are many challenges to this, as there are to any accreditation/labelling scheme, but it remains a key priority.

To this end, we are excited to be putting the finishing touches to a new campaign targeted directly at consumers, where we will be working in collaboration with several high profile partners. We hope that by working in partnership with other companies that share similar challenges of public perception and awareness that we can amplify our collective voice, to reach a wider audience across multiple sectors and demographics. We are planning to launch the campaign over the next few weeks and this will run into our conference in June, when we will consider the impact it has had in generating awareness and recognition.

Watch this space – more details to follow soon!

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

Celebrating 7 years of upholding the standard for social enterprise

On the  7th anniversary of the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark, I am reminded of how far we have come as a sector in that time, but also of how far we have to go in being truly recognised as competitive, sustainable businesses in the mainstream business world.

sem-homepage-buttonSince our inception back in 2010, Social Enterprise Mark CIC has endeavoured to ensure the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial, through independent accreditation. As well as providing a single recognisable ‘identifier’ for genuine social enterprises, which are externally assessed against sector-agreed criteria, we work to promote the capabilities of social enterprises as a credible alternative to more traditional business models.

This is not easy by any means, especially when it comes to spreading the message to the public and consumers. However, there is clearly a shift change occurring in consumer attitudes towards the sustainability of brands and organisation, as seen in a recent study by consumer goods giant Unilever, which found more than a third of consumers now choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

We are currently planning a new campaign, which will aim to encourage consumers to consider how they can be sure of the ethical/sustainable credentials of the organisations they buy from. By working with several high profile partners, we hope to spread the message to a much wider audience and to start a global conversation about how consumers can be sure brands are ‘walking the walk’ and not just ‘talking the talk’ when it comes to sustainability and their social purpose.

Another constant challenge is influencing government policy and embedding social enterprise within their mindset. I was interested to see PM Teresa May allude (albeit briefly) to her vision for an inclusive business strategy in the foreword of the government’s Green Paper on the Industrial Strategy: Building our Industrial Strategy. Although there was no direct reference to her recent Shared Society speech, the PM declared that the government wants to “move beyond short-term thinking to focus on the big decisions that will deliver long-term, sustainable success”.

As I wrote back in November in a post looking at the pressures faced by the public sector, tight financial constraints have been resulting in a rather short-term focus, where the bottom line has become of overriding importance, over and above what may be best for society in the long term. Social enterprises are rooted in their stakeholders and communities, and are therefore well placed to respond to the biggest issues facing society. They are set up to address a particular social issue or objective and this remains their driving, primary purpose for the long term – of course profitability is also important for the business to remain sustainable, but profits are used to serve the needs of social stakeholders and feeds back into their social objective.

As we begin our 8th year as the social enterprise accreditation authority, I am confident that we are moving in the right direction to achieving these goals, and look forward to what the next 8 years will bring.

Lucy Findlay

Is the Shared Society all ‘Motherhood and Apple Pie’?

Theresa May’s recent announcement of a ‘Shared Society’, after all the fuss about the Big Society when it was launched, has been greeted with a healthy degree of scepticism, but it is worth having a look at the finer detail and trains of thought that lie within the speech.  Much of it is ‘motherhood and apple pie’, but there are some key themes that chime with me, as she was talking directly about social enterprises (albeit in a limited context of social finance).

Firstly, she highlights the limits of the cult of the individual and how social enterprises help to break this down.  For me, this is a fundamental point about social enterprises.

Social enterprises aspire to be more than a single founder or entrepreneur, however charismatic and publicity hungry such individuals can be in driving the business forward. The most effective social enterprises are rooted in their stakeholders and communities. Conventional business may also be bigger than the individual who runs or sets them up, but social enterprises are set up to address a particular social issue or objective and this remains their driving, primary purpose for the long term; profitability remains important, but it serves the needs of social stakeholders above that of the whims of individual shareholders and their personal profit motivations.

Alongside this the PM also talked about how social enterprises (as well as charities) are not only dependent on the people involved, but also the trust which they engender in the way they work.  The Charity Commission and new Fundraising Regulator are working to help the government with this.  However this does not address the trust placed in social enterprises.  This is where the Social Enterprise Mark comes in – we externally assess social enterprise credentials as well as commitment to providing additional social value. The Mark acts as an independent guarantee that an organisation is trading for the primary benefit of people and the planet.

Lastly, social enterprises also often provide goods and services that address the needs of a whole community, not just the poorest, although they may have programmes that are targeted at or support those in the most need.  The fact that they are run as businesses (and as I touch upon above, must therefore be profitable) allows a cross- subsidy model and does not require grant funding, which tends to be more specifically targeted at the most marginalised.  Therefore you can legitimately argue that the social enterprise business model can help ‘the just about managing’.

Steve Hawkins, Pluss CEO

Social justice – more than just a pipedream?

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

PlussPluss has over 45 years experience of working with some of the most disadvantaged people in society. However, the fact is that today, we are working with many less severely disadvantaged people than we have done in the past.

This is absolutely not because the need has gone away, but as a result of the reduction in funding for these services, which has historically been provided locally.

The upcoming Building Better Opportunities contracts will provide a new range of support but these are not focussed in the way that, for example, local authority learning disability services have been in the past.  And whilst we welcome the focus of the Work and Health programme, it is clear that the programme is for people with a shorter-term into-work prognosis.

At the top level then, this situation is unfortunately at odds with the objective of increasing social justice in the short-term. Increasing social justice should be about addressing disadvantage, reducing inequality and widening opportunities for all people.

In terms of real life issues facing the people that we work with today, the nature of the economy in 2016 (typified by underemployment, zero hours contracts, minimum wage jobs) and the stresses on public services mean vulnerable people’s lives are often more fragile than they have ever been.

When talking about people who are disabled, it is always good to take a step back to reflect on who they actually are. They are not some “distant” group of people – the reality is that they are all of us. The fact is that well over 85% of people with disabilities have acquired them through the course of their lives as a result of illness or injury.

By definition, people with disabilities span the social and economic spectrums. As it stands, the help available from DWP contracted provision is primarily aimed just above the bottom of the demographic – ie. entry-level jobs. This leaves huge gaps at either end of the spectrum where people are not supported – an issue which has to be addressed.

The obvious fact is that this huge degree of diversity means that a one-size approach is never going to work. Halving the disability employment gap requires us to have an amalgam of support services ranging from pre-work, into work and effective retention strategies. All need to be delivered against the specific needs of the individual if lasting change is to be achieved.

Very often one of the major barriers which we see with those people who are more marginalised is the view that work is unattainable. This is often as a result of that message having been drummed into them over a lifetime by medical professionals, schools etc. This has to change, with recognition that employment is a health outcome being vitally important.

We know that at the macro level the labour market and people’s needs will change over time. Therefore it is critical that we have a range of integrated services which embeds local expertise so that it can flex to deliver what is needed on the ground now and for the changing needs of tomorrow.

So what does this mean for commissioning?

Quality, highly effective services are required to deliver lasting results and value for money for the exchequer. We must avoid the race to the bottom in commissioning to ensure that inexpensive just doesn’t end up being cheap.

  • We must retain a focus on in-work support to avoid churn and implement new retention strategies to avoid the bath tap analogy – as fast as we’re filling the labour market vacancies, it’s emptying out twice as quickly. This must take into account the numbers of people falling out of the work from professional, technical and managerial positions who have long careers behind them and who will choose not to access Jobcentre plus.
  • We need to find ways to support people who cannot access DWP provision to re-enter the labour market. It is vital that government finds ways of incentivising local authorities to retain employment services for people in receipt of adult social care who are unlikely to gain access in large numbers to the Work and Health Programme.
  • We need to bring on board others (such as NHS Confederation, CCGs, GP’s etc.) to support our efforts to make work a genuine and valuable health outcome for health stakeholders.
  • We need to build a presumption of employability in the eyes of commissioners for those unlikely to be accommodated by the Work  and Health Programme.

As well as increasing social justice for people because it’s the right thing to do, there is also a very clear economic argument. 

Landman Economics modelled the economic impact of a sustained increase in the rate of employment amongst disabled people between 2105 and 2030. They found that a rise of just five percentage points would lead to

  • An increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of £23 billion
  • A gain of £6 billion to the Exchequer

For Pluss, the argument for a return to the principles of “invest to save” in order to support effective local provision that operates alongside the DWP Work and Health Programme would seem clear.

As a sector, we need appropriate levels of funding to be available so that quality services are provided, thus ensuring that achieving social justice is more than just a pipe dream.

Promoting true professionalism as a social enterprise

By Simon Ayers, CEO of TrustMark

trustmarkAs TrustMark nears a close on its 10th Anniversary year, we nostalgically look back on how we got to this point. This year we’ve been campaigning heavily to promote reputable tradespeople, and shone light into the daily activities of our ten TrustMark Ambassadors, all of whom excel in customer service, trading practices and standards of workmanship.

Our ambassadors have been involved in a range of activities this year to promote reputable traders. They started off by being featured in our anniversary report which you can download here. This looks at their business practices, ethos and how they stay true to their customers. We’re proud to work with them to change the industry stereotype and instil confidence in customers that by looking for the right indicators you can find truly professional tradespeople.

trustmark-infographicFirms have come a long way from the commonly branded ‘cowboy’ brush that they are still tarnished with. This year alone, we’ve seen a huge drive to change this unfair image. We released an infographic at the start of this year with some keys statistics on how much UK tradespeople contribute to the economy, which unveiled some astonishing figures. The repair, maintenance and improvement sector alone is worth £2.7 billion every year, so the work carried out by tradespeople has a huge impact on the UK economy.

We’re proud to call ourselves a Social Enterprise Mark Holder. We’ve held the Mark for five years already, so we understand how much value it adds to a business such as ours. As a not-for-profit social enterprise, we put the interests of our Registered Firms and their customers at the heart of our business, and having a symbol that recognises this is important as consumers know that we aren’t focused on purely commercial gains.

Naturally, we aim to stay competitive, but in a way that benefits society and the construction industry. To us, the Mark shows businesses we have their best interests at heart, and we’re not just another scheme trying to make money. Social Enterprise Mark CIC are committed to ensuring the social enterprise business model remains ethical, credible and commercial through accreditation.

SE_BRAND_APPROVED_RGBAll organisations awarded the Social Enterprise Mark accreditation have one key quality in common: their main aim is to use income and profits to benefit society, rather than individuals such as business owners or shareholders. As the only social enterprise accreditation that is internationally available, we see it as a distinctive sign of quality and reassurance to consumers. It is also re-assessed on an annual basis, to ensure businesses are maintaining a fair approach and keep consumer interests at the core of activity.

As a social enterprise, we don’t have a big marketing budget to play around with, so for TrustMark as an organisation we focus on spreading the word organically and adding value to our firms and their customers in any way we can in order to grow and stay competitive. Being a Social Enterprise Mark holder sends a message to firms that we are a professional organisation, and we feel that such affiliations attract the right sort of firms to become TrustMark registered. It’s important in this day and age to give a platform for quality, expert people to sell themselves with the recognition they deserve.

Within our big drive this year to promote professionals in the industry and add credibility to their businesses, we’ve set about a number of initiatives, to expand on the work with our Ambassadors and offer easier ways of staying professional to all of our Registered Firms.

One of the ways we looked to do this way by launching a new feedback system earlier this year to add value to traders on the TrustMark website. We see online reviews as a real sign of quality, and is obviously a great way for these firms to prove their worth to new customers who might not be familiar with their standards of workmanship. We try to encourage our firms to request reviews from all customers, even those that might have had some hiccups along the way. Reviews are often criticised for their inability to distinguish between real and fake, but with this new system in place, we are going the extra mile to ensure reviews are genuine. All customers leaving a review will have their review moderated by Referenceline to ensure they are genuine customers, and are not denied the right to leave a review by the firm.

We’re now looking to 2017 and how we can continue to add value to our Registered Firms so that they can pass this on to their customers. We’ll soon be launching a National Trading Standards Approval scheme – so this is something to look forward to seeing in the New Year!

Lucy Findlay

Post truth and post authenticity?

I write this on a day when Donald Trump has been announced as President Elect of the USA.  There are many questions being asked and much soul searching for answers to them. Amongst others – are we in a post truth era or an era that wants to kick over the traces of corporate and institutional power that have bypassed them? One thing is for sure, it has been very difficult to see the truth from the myths and the authenticity of the message.

A lack of transparency and clarity from leaders and commentators regarding the business model has also been a feature of social enterprise too for as long as I can remember.  This has served a purpose; to pump-up the sector in terms of size and diversity without asking too many questions.  It has also served a small number of well-connected social enterprises that know and can milk the system, which has led to the development of opaque business models that have benefited from the patronage of government and support programmes, e.g. Social Impact Bonds and the advent of Social Investment.

se_brand_approved_rgbIt was partly for this reason that we set up the Social Enterprise Mark as a project 9 years ago, and 3 years later as a business in its own right.  We now have the longest pedigree and experience of social enterprise accreditation in the world and are indeed seen as leaders, with international academics and experts looking to us for our expertise in this field, e.g. British Council in China. Social enterprises outside the UK have also decided that they wish to accredit directly through our process, e.g. Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLOCERT). This proves that there is an appetite for being seen as different and being able to prove it credibly.

trustmark-logoWe can draw an analogy to TrustMark, a Social Enterprise Mark Holder, which evolved in response to concerns in the building sector. It is a government-endorsed accreditation scheme for trades in and around the home, providing reassurances that businesses must regularly stand up to scrutiny to.

Social Enterprise Mark CIC had an original mandate from our sector to provide a similar service in the UK, verifying businesses who are genuine social enterprises.

We have learned, from the experiences of Fair Trade, of the importance of having a status that could confer genuineness and authenticity.  At the time many different models were banded about, e.g. self-certification, CSR marks, membership bodies etc.  We were clear that certifying authenticity can only be achieved through independence (the certification panel) and with transparency (application of the criteria consistently). This is why we operate as an independent CIC and not a membership body.  Membership bodies depend upon and exist to promote the interests of their paying members, and through their sector – a potential conflict of interest.

We take our customers and accreditation very seriously and have built the value added to ensure that our accreditation does not stand still and is really clear to the outside world – for example, developing social value declarations to help demonstrate the commitment that all social enterprises should have to making a positive difference for people and planet, as well as the Social Enterprise Gold Mark as an indicator of business excellence.

The term “accreditation” may be used to distinguish a system of certification that actually seeks evidence in confirmation of an organisations credentials. The Social Enterprise Mark has always done this and we are challenge-stampcurrently working with international sustainability standards, established by ISEAL, to help align our Marks with best practice models of accreditation. Whenever you see the term “certified”, ISEAL encourage people to “challenge the label”; to consider a few critical questions that help determine what that certification is really worth.

In striving for the best practice in accreditation, we have been and will continue to consult Mark Holders (and the wider sector). Our aim is to continue to provide a certification process that offers genuinely credible accreditation, one that social enterprises can take pride in and learn to improve from the world over.

Lucy Findlay

Cutting out a more effective way of doing business?

Public sector commissioners are coming under unprecedented financial and political pressure to make huge savings, particularly in the health service.  Unfortunately, this type of pressure only leads to short-termism rather than more strategic, long term decision making.  The tight timetable for the submission of STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans) by government also added to these pressures.

The reality on the ground is hard and is leading to irreversible outcomes.  We have recently seen the closure of award-winning Social Enterprise Gold Mark Holder SEQOL, who had proved that they were adding great social value to their community as well as joining up health and social care (all the things that a great social enterprise can help to do).  The services that SEQOL provided will now be brought back into the NHS and Swindon Borough Council.

We have also seen the effects on other social enterprises that were set up as former ‘spin outs’ from the NHS, for example Sirona in Bath and North East Somerset has recently lost its contract to Virgin Care.

A short-term solution?

It would seem that the bottom line has become of overriding importance, over and above what’s good for patient care and a joined up health and social care service.  Those leading the STPs are looking for big savings – this often leads to ignoring the fine grain, and instead opting for the ‘big’ providers that appear to provide a more cost effective service on the face of it. Social enterprises (even those that spun out) are not big in NHS terms, they are just flotsam and jetsam in the grand scheme of things when you are dealing with one of the biggest employers in the world undergoing a serious financial crisis.

Unlike the NHS, all businesses also need to balance their annual books.   The irony is that the NHS can carry a deficit and still operate and deliver on services that are loss making, as they are ultimately backed by the government.  Handing back financially unviable contracts therefore may be an easier short term option.  This approach is of course unsustainable, as even the NHS cannot sustain a deficit in the longer term and will require government intervention or the collapse of parts of the service (unless we all start paying directly for it).

The other option of contracting with a big corporate can also be seen as superficially attractive, as big savings are presented at the bidding stage.  Savings are made, but at what cost?  The profits for shareholders have to come from somewhere.  They can only come through reducing the service and/or people delivering it (e.g. when SERCO ran Cornwall’s Out of Hours GP service).

Is there another way?

So is the baby being thrown out with the bathwater?  I think so.  It is too late after the act.

Medical examinationThe health and social care services are delivered by people for people.  Social enterprise offers a way to help those who delivered the service a chance to have a say and input their expertise and in some cases actually own it (where there is employee ownership).  It also offers the chance for patients input too.

I am not arguing for a bad service to be continued, but people will not stay if they do not feel valued.  We are seeing this currently with the shortage of staff and low morale in the NHS.

The added social value that the business can bring to its community, by joining things up that might not be healthcare related, is also lost.  For instance, SEQOL had a policy of employing people who had been through their supported employment programme.  It also provided savings that were not directly contract related, through prevention and partnership working.  These things are harder to measure and all came from the spirit of innovation and ‘thinking outside the box’.

It is therefore even more vital for us as social enterprises to try to articulate all of this to commissioners at a difficult financial time.  Social enterprises can provide part of the answer to the holy grail of outcomes based commissioning, but it requires a more long term, strategic, joined up approach and commissioners with ‘bottle’ who are prepared to take some risks despite the huge pressures to jump to the short term financial goals.

We have recently developed a set of new resources to support Commissioners in developing and embedding an outcomes based approach to commissioning public services. Please get in touch for more information.

Disability Confident

Yes we can – how the NHS can lead the Disability Confident movement

By Social Enterprise Mark holder Pluss

If you haven’t seen it yet, you will soon. And when you do, it’ll blow you away.

It’s the ‘Superhumans’ trailer for Channel 4’s coverage of the 2016 Paralympics that comes hard on the heels of this summer’s Rio Olympic Games. Set to the Sammy Davis Jr. track ‘Yes I Can’ being stunningly performed by a band of disabled musicians, the three-minute film features world-class athletes as well as a rock climber with one arm and a rally driver who steers cars with his feet. It also shows people carrying out everyday tasks – a woman without arms efficiently changes her child’s nappy; another writes notes during a phone call while gripping her pen with her toes. Cut to a gloomy room where a careers officer is telling a young man with a disability, ‘No you can’t’. His message is swamped by a kaleidoscope of people who’ve been featured in the trailer who take it in turn to chorus ‘Yes I can’.

The message is a simple one – see the person; recognise ability; help it flourish because that way everyone benefits.

Within the NHS, it’s easy to think of disability in terms of us and them. In fact, one in three people have some form of disability or limiting condition. The reality is that disability is a part of everyone’s life whether this means friends, family or colleagues, and any of us can become disabled at any time. Disability is everyone’s business.

The Government recognised this recently when, as part of its Disability Confident campaign, it made a commitment to halve the UK’s disability employment gap. That’s the difference between the percentage of people with disabilities who are in work and that of the working age population as a whole. That difference is currently around 33%. To achieve this ambition – in other words to close the gap – will mean one million additional people with a disability or a health condition in work.

Pretty much everyone agrees that this would be a good thing – for the individuals themselves, for employers, for all of us. For NHS Trusts in particular, it makes sound business sense, not least because the NHS Confederation reports a huge problem in recruiting – especially to the 60% of its lower tier jobs. Trusts need talented and resourceful staff, but how best to bring them on board?

There’s a mountain of evidence that workers with a disability are at least, if not more, productive and reliable than their non-disabled colleagues. From Pluss’ experience, disabled employees also bring to work those can-do attributes that they’ve needed to develop in their everyday lives. And having a workforce that is representative of the people being supported by NHS Trusts can only help inspire recovering patients, and help Trusts better understand and respond to their patient base.

For this to happen, Trusts need to think creatively about recruitment if they are to tap into this pool of talent. Employment rates amongst people with a disability or health condition (that’s one in three of us, remember) are low because stubborn preconceptions stop us seeing beyond the disability; and because inflexible recruitment procedures can prevent that pool of people from showing Trusts how they could shine if they were given the chance.
There are some simple steps that Trusts can take to develop a more inclusive approach to recruitment, one that is flexible enough to include some innovative routes into employment for people with a range of disabilities and health conditions. Traditional recruitment procedures such as panel interviews and group sessions are one of the biggest barriers for people with complex disabilities. Working interviews or time limited work trials offer a far better opportunity to judge whether a person has the skills and capabilities to do a job really well. Job carving, with the help of an organisation like Pluss, can ensure a job fits a person’s unique set of skills. Longer term recruitment techniques including traineeships and internships such as Project SEARCH help people grow steadily into outstanding employees.

A yes we can willingness to make small adjustments in work pays dividends too. The changes a Trust might need to make to support dedicated disabled employees are frequently tiny and, almost always, those changes are worth the investment. The NHS is the most iconic health brand in the world. As an institution, it is uniquely placed to see the whole remarkable person, to recognise not what people can’t do but what they can. Showing innovation in how it recruits its workforce can put an NHS Trust where it should be – at the forefront of the Disability Confident movement, and be good for business too.

PlussIf your Trust isn’t sure about the best place to start, or how to build on the steps you’ve already taken, the Disability Confident campaign offers some really good ideas to raise awareness and challenge perceptions. And you can always talk to Pluss. We love hearing from employers and we’re always happy to help.


Lucy Findlay

How social enterprise can facilitate innovation in health and social care

I was recently interested to hear about an innovative new movement focused on collaboration between practitioners, businesses, and communities, to improve and support health and social care services.

WHISWorld Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) is a platform for everyone in the community to come together and share knowledge to deliver solutions for the benefit of all. There is no denying that our health and care services are under increasing pressure…. to cope with the demand, we need innovative solutions. WHIS believe that collaboration is key here and they propose that, by bringing patients, clinicians, managers, voluntary sector, education and businesses together, we can improve the future of health and care services for all of us.

WHIS was brought to our attention by Steve Turner of Mark holder Care Right Now CIC, who is working to bring WHIS to the South West. As Steve explains, “This is a forum for healthcare unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. It really involves patients and the public, across the world and shows the benefits of seeing healthcare as a social movement.”

I agree with Steve – WHIS is an exciting development, as it highlights on a global scale the opportunities available for innovation in health and social care. We have long recognised that the social enterprise business model offers many opportunities for delivering significant improvements in health and care services. By having a certain amount of freedom from the bureaucracy of the NHS, ‘spin-out’ social enterprises can deliver innovative services, which focus on meeting the needs of patients and communities, as well as the wider health and wellbeing economy.

IC24For example, Social Enterprise Gold Mark holder Integrated Care 24 (IC24) places an emphasis on new product and service innovation for an improved patient experience and reduced demand on other services. ‘mylittleone’ is a unique example of how they have utilised technology to meet patient needs; to promote bonding between mother and baby when a child is placed in neonatal care. A camera is placed above the infant’s cot with video streaming to a tablet that the mother can have wherever she is, which reduces stress and anxiety for them both.

JTH nursesThis is just one example. Over ¼ of our network of Social Enterprise Mark holders operate in the health and social care sector, providing a wide range of essential services, including urgent and out of hours healthcare, general practices, community healthcare, and family services and social care.

We are therefore always keen to support new ways of working in this sector, and we welcome WHIS as an arena for encouraging innovation through collaboration, both within the sector and across other business sectors.

With a growing and diverse network of providers in the sector gaining Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark accreditation, we are keen to encourage Mark holders to collaborate and share their knowledge and experiences, in the pursuit of continually improving the services offered. This is why we are working with a number of Mark holders to set up a specific health and care network, which will be facilitated and run by the organisations themselves, supported and promoted by Social Enterprise Mark CIC.

For some time now, I have been increasingly aware that social enterprise can offer a platform to enable health and care providers to deliver more for patients/service users, whilst strengthening their business and increasing social value. This viewpoint has recently been endorsed by a report from the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN), which highlighted the potential for charities and social enterprises to play an important role in future models of health and care. Indeed, SW AHSN has recently partnered with social investment organisation Resonance to launch a £5million fund to support social sector organisations to develop innovative, person-centred health and care solutions.

With local authorities and commissioners now being encouraged and incentivised to consider bids on the social value they will create, rather than on pure cost, this presents an opportunity for social enterprises to stand out as proven creators of social value. Following The Public Services (Social Value) Act coming into force in 2013, health, social care and public services providers have been under increasing pressure to prove that they are creating social value. By becoming an accredited social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark/Gold Mark, health and care providers can prove they operate with the central aim of using income and profits to maximise their positive social impact.

It is encouraging to see the momentum the WHIS movement has gained already, and we are excited to be in discussions with Steve Turner at Care Right Now CIC about supporting the proposed WHIS Cornwall network.

To find out more about WHIS visit:

Health in our community and how we can work together

By Gareth Presch, Founder of World Health Innovation Summit

We now have the tools and the will to inspire, innovate and share knowledge to support our health services. World Health Innovation Summit provides that space for innovation and knowledge exchange to take place so all sectors of society benefit.

Problem: Our health services are under immense pressure with demand rising. Staff morale, recruitment, retention, patient safety and overall pressures are seeing the current health services stretched to breaking point.

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Solution: World Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) provides an innovative and unique global opportunity to bring people together. WHIS is about inspiring, innovating and sharing knowledge to improve and support healthcare services. It’s a platform for everyone in the community to come together and share their knowledge so we all benefit. Every sector is touched by health, and WHIS allows us all to contribute in a constructive manner and deliver solutions that benefit us all and most importantly while doing so it creates huge economic opportunities.

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Unique and Innovative – Previously we only had patients and clinicians discuss how we solve or improve our health problems. However, health touches everyone and every sector and WHIS provides the platform for all sectors to get involved (Patients, Clinicians, Voluntary Sector, Education and Businesses) so everyone benefits.

Our #WHISCumbria16 summit, which was held in the City of Carlisle, attracted over 300 people and we had a staggering 23.7 million twitter impressions around the World (#WHISCumbria16). This exposure and promotion for the City and region was unprecedented. The value to the City over the 2 days was estimated at £40,000 and we estimate that economically WHIS has brought in excess of £100,000 over the last few months through our various activities.

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To put the WHIS reach into context, we have had enquiries now from over 10 different locations around the World, proposing to host a WHIS summit. WHIS has reached over 100 countries and continues to grow. We’ve just signed a partnership with a top digital health influencer, Salus Digital, that gives us the opportunity to share our vision with key stakeholders in the digital sector.

The WHIS model is a community led initiative that supports existing health care provision while looking at prevention (WHISKids, WHISatwork etc).

An example of the local impact – A father of two disabled children attended WHISCumbria and. based on the knowledge exchanged, he set up a peer support group for other fathers of disabled children. This has a direct impact on alleviating pressure on the local health economy. It means those fathers don’t have to go to their GP’s for support, and also has a significant impact on their quality of life, which in turn results in improvements to the family’s well-being.

From a global perspective, a similar support group was established on the back of WHIS Cumbria – Global Villages for Mental Health – a twitter account set up to support people with mental health problems.

These are just two examples that are innovative and were born as a direct result of the WHIS Cumbria event.

Audience – 80% of our Twitter following are health professionals and decision makers. It’s very evident by the speakers we attracted to WHIS Cumbria that key stakeholders support our ethos and work.

With increasing population growth expected over the next 30 years, it is imperative that we look at how we communicate with the wider public on a local, national and international level around health. Education and knowledge exchange will play an important role as our current health services are stretched. The World Health Innovation Summit platform for knowledge exchange and preventative programmes will play a key role in how public engagement and support of our health services develop around the World.

For example, in six months we’ve seen WHISKids grow from a pilot project to being in 8 schools, with 10 more schools interested. These programmes look to support children with health & wellness and we use a mental health app, the My Way Code, as part of the programme. Results have been significant, with children reporting that it is fun and interesting while also educational.


The World Health Innovation Summit is a social enterprise and set up to support communities in a unique way. Our profits after costs go back to local communities. Income generated from our activities will be re-invested into local projects.

The WHIS model is aligned to social good and therefore businesses aligning themselves via partnerships with WHIS will see a return (CSR), based on supporting a health initiative that improves health and social care not just locally and nationally but also internationally.

We are unique and innovative in that nobody has ever done anything along these lines before.

To draw a comparison, we can look at Websummit (technology based summit), who saw growth from 400-42,000 in 5 years. WHIS, by comparison, focuses on health and social care as well as technology, so we expect growth to be similar or in excess of this.

Communities are supporting our activities and now we are seeking to partner with companies and agencies with the same values that are aligned to improving our community’s health care while sharing knowledge.

*If you have an idea that can help our health services or community contact us on


This post originally appeared on the WHIS blog on 15th July 2016:


Lucy Findlay

Services/products you wouldn’t expect to be delivered by social enterprises

During my 15 odd years working in the social enterprise sector, I have been asked countless times to explain what a social enterprise is. Like many others in the sector I am sure, I tend to wheel out the same well-known examples, such as Big Issue and Age UK, to illustrate the concept of social enterprise. Using these ‘mainstream’ big name examples does help to get people’s heads around the idea of social enterprise, although I often think of the many organisations operating across the country (and internationally for that matter), that fit the bill but do not have the label. That is, they want to make a profit but commit to reinvesting this to create benefits for people and the planet. These businesses operate in almost every industry, and I am sure many people would be surprised at the wide range of products and services delivered by social enterprises.

Using examples from our network of Social Enterprise Mark and Gold Mark accredited organisations, I have listed below a handful of the products and services that you probably didn’t realise were delivered by social enterprises.


Bed-iconAccommodation and conference facilities

It’s a service that we all use at some point, either in a personal or professional capacity, but many would not readily consider that hotels and conference venues would offer much in terms of creating social value.

The WesleyHowever, take the Wesley Hotel for example – the only hotel to have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark and the first ethical hotel in the UK. The Wesley is committed to sustainable operations and social responsibility, which underpins everything they do, from procurement to waste management, and from water usage to employment practices.

A distinct example of how they create social value is the Hilda Porter Bursary Fund, which provides funding for marginalised students and young people in the UK and developing world, who do not have the means to study at higher education level.


Dollar-iconBanking and finance

With the negative press frequently associated with the banking and finance sector, it may be surprising to learn that there are a growing number of ethical banks and financiers, including Charity Bank – a bank entirely owned by charitable foundations, trusts and social purpose organisations.

Charity-BankCharity Bank was founded to support charities with loans that they couldn’t find elsewhere and to show people how their savings could be invested ethically and in ways that would make them happy. Their community of borrowers, savers, shareholders and staff are all working towards one goal – helping to create lasting social change in communities. Loans are provided to organisations to further their social missions, and borrowers are assessed on both immediate benefits for their beneficiaries, and longer term benefits for the borrower themselves.


Degree-iconHigher Education

Higher Education is not the first thing that pops into most people’s minds when they think of social enterprises, especially given the modern cost of studying for a degree. However, we have noticed a growing in interest social enterprise from the Higher Education sector, and there are now 5 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) which have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark or Social Enterprise Gold Mark in recognition of their commitment to creating positive social and economic change:

More than ever before, HEIs are placing civic engagement, social and environmental justice, and sustainable economic development at the heart of their strategic plans and student experience, and each of the above institutions have demonstrated a commitment to these values, putting sustainable and ethical business practices at the heart of their strategic direction.


Browser-iconIT and digital services

Again, these services may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of services provided by social enterprises, but there are organisations in the IT industry that place an emphasis on operating ethically and creating social impact.

CosmicCosmic is one such example; an ethical digital agency specialising in website development, IT training courses, business consultancy, tech support, digital marketing and search engine optimisation. They were the very first organisation to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark back in 2010, and have a key objective of improving digital inclusion – providing IT support for people and organisations who need it the most.

They are continually involved in a range of projects which achieve meaningful impact for individuals and organisations across the South West and use their own resources to develop and deliver project work benefiting thousands of people.


Pen-iconOffice supplies

It’s not just services that are delivered by social enterprises – there are many retail businesses that operate in competitive commercial markets, whilst maintaining a commitment to social and/or environmental objectives.

Supply ShackAn interesting example of a non-conventional social enterprise is Supply Shack – a group of sub-divisions selling office supplies, furniture, promotional gifts, signs, as well as design and print services.

They have a strong social mission; their primary objective is to drive social change. They achieve this through their unique ‘giving back to the community model’, whereby they offer an extensive range of products and services at competitive rates, the majority of profits from which are reinvested into the community with a focus on making a difference to people’s lives. Each year their customers vote for the community projects and charities that Supply Shack will support. They also engage with charities and apprenticeship schemes to offer employment opportunities for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


This is just a handful of examples, you can find many more in our online directory of accredited social enterprises. I urge you to look out for the Social Enterprise Mark and Gold Mark badges as a sign of social enterprise credibility – all organisations that we accredit are guaranteed to be operating with the primary motivation of creating benefits for people and the planet.

New Look Marks

Steve Hawkins, Pluss CEO

Mind the gap…

…The step change needed to halve the disability employment gap

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

First the good news, then the maths.

The good news is the government’s unequivocal commitment to halving the disability employment gap.

Now the maths.

The disability employment gap currently stands at around 43 percentage points. To halve the gap means moving around 1.2 million more disabled people in work. In the last five years, the number of disabled people in work has risen by just 23,000. Halving the gap also means keeping people in work. According to the ONS, over 400,000 disabled people each year lose their job and fall into unemployment or inactivity. One in six of those who become disabled while in work lose their employment during the first year after becoming disabled.

What’s more, the challenge is increasing. The ONS predicts that by 2020, over a third of the workforce will be over fifty, and more than half of the over-50s workforce will have a disability or impairment. Like all really effective aspirational statements, the government’s pledge sets an almost unachievable goal. Almost, but not quite. It raises the bar. It demands that we think differently, that we make some brave choices.

Like President Kennedy’s pledge in 1961 that Americans would land on the Moon by the end of the decade, the idea of halving the disability employment gap is do-able because, perhaps naively, we can imagine a world in which it is possible. Many people believed that a Moon landing was possible, but not all of them understood the level of commitment, resilience and willingness to innovate that was needed to realise the goal in 1969. I believe we can, if we choose, get a million more people with disabilities into work and, importantly, keep most of them there – but not without an almost unimaginable level of commitment, resilience and willingness to innovate on the part of government and the partners it chooses to work with.

As the flagship initiative to deliver the government’s pledge, the challenge for the Work and Health Programme is that, for a majority of its customers, `any job` won’t be good enough, and for many a job start will, at most, represent only half of the journey. We’ll need to have primes in place who understand the critical nature of specialists in delivering outcomes on the programme, who can build and contract manage a team of specialists with local credentials and partnerships that are integrated with local health systems, in particular mental health, to support the journey back to work.

At £130 million a year, the Work and Health Programme will have around 20% of the combined resources of Work Programme and Work Choice, and will help upwards of perhaps 10,000 people a year to enter the workplace. It will set an important tone. But to reduce the disability employment gap by any significant measure will require a step change across half a dozen complementary areas of work.

  • First, government should explore ways of developing a robust retention service that meets the needs of both employers and disabled employees in a much more proactive way than the Fit for Work Service and Access to Work provision is currently able to do.
  • Second, we should ensure that the strategic and commissioning weight of LEPs, City Deals and Growth Plans are used in a co-ordinated way to maximise the opportunities of disabled people to enter local labour markets.
  • Third, I endorse the calls of a number of organisations for Government to explore the potential for ‘disability leave’ as a way of more constructively managing the fluctuating conditions of some employees. 40% of all employed disabled people say that modified hours have enabled them to stay in work; 36% of those out of work say that modified hours could have helped them retain their job.
  • Fourth, we need to find ways to support people who cannot access DWP provision to re-enter the labour market. Providing employment support is not a statutory requirement for local authorities or CCGs The four DWP mental health and employment pilots about to commence are welcome, but they take place against a background of dwindling funding for locally commissioned supported employment programmes, making it vital that government finds ways of incentivising local authorities to retain employment services for people in receipt of adult social care who are unlikely to gain access in large numbers to a capped Work and Health Programme.
  • Fifth, a significant percentage of disabled people falling out of the workforce are from professional, technical and managerial positions with acquired disabilities and health conditions who have long careers behind them and who will choose not to access JCP. Government and other stakeholders should urgently explore the potential for an intervention designed to support this cohort of people to rapidly re-enter the workforce.
  • Sixth, we need to get to grips with the transitions agenda, finding ways to help talented young people with learning disabilities and hidden impairments onto apprenticeship routes and supported internship programmes as part of a national unified drive to ensure that every young person with a disability who wants to transition into work can do so.

Finally, we need a step change in the way employers are engaged and supported to be part of the solution. We need to build on the Disability Confident initiative – from a promising PR campaign driven by committed providers and seventy active employers into a national movement which is identifiably driving the agenda, holding to account and championing innovation across each part of the plan.

Achieving remarkable things isn’t easy. We shouldn’t pretend this is a quick fix, or that more and more can magically be achieved with fewer and fewer resources. But a challenge has been set. Now we need some brave decisions that will move us from a visionary slogan to a detailed roadmap.

Please click here to read Pluss’ full submission to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into halving the disability employment gap.


PlussSquare_400x400Pluss is an accredited social enterprise with the Social Enterprise Mark. This means that Pluss has proved it is genuine against independently-assessed criteria for social enterprise. The Social Enterprise Mark provides assurance that profits are used to help disabled people gain opportunities to work, acting as a guarantee that Pluss is trading for people and planet.

Lucy Findlay

Cash cows and money milking

The public and press have short memories. Today and over the last few weeks there has been flurry of scandal and comment about corporate greed. Even the right wing press are shouting about how BHS has been asset stripped, leaving a huge pensions hole. From offshore accounts and tax evasion, to BP paying a huge bonus to their CEO (despite huge losses being made by the company), the prevailing behaviour seems to be keep milking as much shareholder profit out, pay very little tax and forget thinking or caring about the consequences and who it affects.

A magnifying glass is held up to this sort of behaviour whilst it’s top of the news agenda, but it soon goes back to business as usual. There is no consistency in reporting either. One day there will be exposure of corporate greed in delivery of public services and the next day that company will be telling the business pages what a great job it does in valuing its employees and customers – maybe the figurehead head becomes another government ‘business czar’ – and getting CSR awards to boot?!

It doesn’t have to be like this though. If social enterprise was seen as a viable alternative, not just a niche, do-gooding, market failure option then perhaps we would get somewhere! Instead we forever seem to be hidebound by the current business orthodoxy of business schools the world over; ‘business is there to make money for its shareholders’.

This is why we get into problems with arguments about lack of investment too. The orthodoxy is that it’s hard to expand unless you can attract equity providers. However, as a famous local business person told me, ‘this is the equivalent of selling the family silver’. It means that you are at the behest of the equity stakeholders and even if they own a small proportion they are likely to influence in a purely commercial direction as their role is one of primarily making money. The wider social value of the business comes second.

What we need is a radically different business model that is seen as mainstream, not marginal. I don’t think that this is Corporate Social Responsibility. Rather it’s about truly putting people first. The old co-operatives of the last century were the centre of their community, because they were owned by the people that lived there. They were first and foremost about serving the locality, not making a fast buck and running.

There are those out there that share this ideal and business model that are not just niche; they are a substantial part of the economy. Universities, colleges, theatres, arts groups, membership bodies, sports clubs, unions – they all have a strong social mission but operate in many cases as businesses. They are our allies and we should be working together more closely to present a vision of what we want business to look like, not what business dictates to us.

Our conference in June, entitled ‘Standing up to Scrutiny’ will look in more detail at how we can work together to promote social enterprise as a credible and sustainable business model for the future. We will discuss the importance of accreditation and standards systems, and how these can help social enterprises to measure, demonstrate, and report on their social impact. Please click here for more information and to book your ticket.


Global champion of standards for social enterprise

Influencing the international destiny of social enterprise

By Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager

British CouncilLast month I had the great privilege of visiting Beijing, China, where I had been invited by the British Council to talk about the development of the Social Enterprise Mark certification process.

As well as the Council, I met with several key academics, including Professors Yuan Ruijun, Zhang Yanlong, Meng Zhao and Zhiyong Chen, from the Universities of Peking and Renmin and Ruixue Zhang from the China Philanthropy Research Institute (CPRI). As a group, they are striving to establish a clear definition for social enterprise in China, with a view to then developing their own infrastructure for certification. Through this they aim to encourage the development of social enterprise and influence the conditions in which it can flourish.

The term “place of contrasts” is somewhat of a travel cliché but could certainly be applied to my short time experiencing Beijing, and also visiting other locations in China as a tourist. I wonder though, do indigenous populations recognise this about the countries they live in or simply accept everything as part of a greater whole? As I was to discover, this provided a metaphor for the social business landscape in China, as they continue to explore questions of social enterprise differentiation.

On my arrival, I had a short time to recharge, although jetlag was yet to seriously take hold. Over the next few days though, this and the inevitable language barriers found me more than once recalling Bill Murray and the film “Lost in Translation”, which suddenly took on a whole new level of meaning for me!

Richard in ChinaI initially met with Hou Peng and Jack Yu from the British Council, along with Ruixue Zhang (CPRI) for an early dinner as part of a general welcome. I was to find that mealtimes always raised a few polite smiles as people observed me honing my chopstick skills but I like to think that by the end my stay I had got quite proficient at it!

The following day I met with the University Professors and CPRI representatives, who have done extensive research into different systems of social business certification from across the world. I talked about the development of the Mark, the rationale behind the criteria and workings of our assessment process.

We drilled down into these matters in detail, provoking lively debate amongst the group concerning how far the Mark could be applied in China, and the potential barriers and challenges posed. It was a fairly intensive interaction – quite a baptism of fire for me and one that certainly kept me engaged as the jet lag slowly kicked in! I made it through the day, stubbornly refusing the offer of a knife and fork at lunchtime (and not going as hungry as I did the previous day)!

The following day I contributed to a workshop lead by my Chinese colleagues involving delegates from across China – people either supporting, running or working in social businesses. The workshop provided a forum for people to discuss social business certification and the relevance of this for China. It was a long and fascinating day, placing several of the questions raised during my first day within the real life contexts of organisations who see themselves as prospective social enterprises. Those in attendance included business entrepreneurs, organisations we might label “social firms”, charitable and community businesses, as well as ones that would more immediately conform to our stricter definition of social enterprise. There was also an agency present who were administering a regional pilot certification initiative and an organisation that had achieved it. This follows very similar criteria to that of the Mark and both organisations spoke positively about the process: the value they perceive in differentiation but also in how it has encouraged them to think more carefully about their purpose, how they work, and the social value they are creating.

Richard in China_workshopAs the mix of delegates suggests, those who might describe themselves as a “social enterprise” in China include all manner of businesses laying claim to social purpose through what they do and/or how they operate. This and other challenges for certification that revealed themselves across the day included familiar ones. Views ranged from those who are suspicious of the need for standardisation if they can simply show their social value; to those who see it as a means of improvement, by clearly aligning themselves with certain core principles and gaining recognition for these credentials. More uniquely to China perhaps, their varied terrain also includes distinct local economic and cultural differences, which pose other difficulties for standardisation.

The potential cost and benefits of delivering robust certification understandably lay at the heart of many questions and this revealed similarities to what our MD Lucy Findlay, found when she visited Taiwan last year. At the moment, there are a mixed bag of interests and all want to know how certification may lead to social investment or legislative advantages. But throughout the day, it was interesting for me to observe how many of the questions being posed were ones echoing our own experience of developing the Mark. As discussions unfolded though, I found myself quite deliberately taking a back seat. This wasn’t me succumbing to jet-lag or the audial acrobatics of simultaneous translation! It was satisfying to see answers to different concerns or objections being identified from within the room, instead of there being a reliance on so-called “experts” to provide these. Whilst it was inspiring to see how we may be helping to influence the destiny of social enterprise in China, to see people on different sides of the debate contributing so keenly and taking such ownership was much more so.

Questions around our profit distribution criterion possibly generated the most interest. I have to admit to being a little bit surprised when one delegate suggested that it went against human nature and the desire to achieve personal profit. But it was a reminder that China has come a long way in developing capitalist sensibilities. The obvious answer perhaps was “it depends on how you measure your sense of profit”, but it serves as a recognition that social business comes in various forms. As I said at the outset: China is a nation of contrasts and their social business landscape is made up of different interests. In this they are no different to anywhere else. There is room in the world for any business seeking to make a positive social difference, and they are all to be commended for it where they do.

Richard in China_workshop2In my closing address, I recognised this point and attempted to answer the question – why differentiate social enterprise? I explained how several years ago in the UK we asked the same question, and the Mark was born. We did this because the social enterprise sector believed itself to be a distinct form of social business that is committed to maximising social outcomes through how profits are invested towards these. Of two businesses delivering exactly the same service and same standards, the one committed to investing income/profits in social outputs will always exceed the potential for social impact, compared to the other that exists to generate profits for shareholders. Maybe this is an oversimplification but it helps crystallise why differentiating social enterprise from other forms of social business is relevant. And certification or accreditation should ultimately provide a means through which genuine social enterprises show how they willingly hold themselves up to scrutiny against this differentiator.

I finally reflected on how accreditation essentially represents a form of regulation – a dirty word for many, but in considering this I asked people to cast their minds back several years ago. To recall a rapacious sector, one resistant to regulation in the belief that it placed a burden on their capabilities, restricting their potential for success and any associated benefits for the economy and wider society. The results of this arrogance, of being above and beyond scrutiny are well known. I suggested that social enterprise is meant to be better than this and that accreditation should actually be seen as a natural element of helping build trust through ensuring and proving this. More than this, subscribing to achieve and maintain standards, to be held account to them, is actually a means through which people and organisations can build their capability – not have it restricted. Certification is therefore a form of enablement.

China PandaI thoroughly enjoyed my time meeting with a vanguard of social enterprise in China and learned much from them while I was there. My time in the country was not over at this point as an army of clay soldiers, the delight of pandas at play and a hike across a great wall awaited me (amongst other magnificent sites, along with some dubiously informed menu choices!). But that, as they say, is another story… My memories are of a country of great and beautiful contrasts and an experience I will fondly recall. I would like to thank Hou Peng of the British Council in China for his organisation and expert facilitation of my visit.

How the Social Enterprise Mark can benefit Higher Education Institutions

By Cara Aitchison, Vice Chancellor of University of St Mark & St John

Our students and graduates are increasingly reporting that they seek employment and lifestyles that enable them to contribute to the social, cultural and environmental well-being of their communities, society and the world around them, rather than simply thinking of their degree as a route to a highly paid career. This presents an opportunity for university leaders who chose to put ethics, civic engagement, social and environmental justice and sustainable economic development at the heart of their strategic plans and student experience.

By being accredited with the Social Enterprise Mark, universities can better demonstrate their sustainable and ethical business credentials to the next generation of applicants. We can show our students how we apply in practice the values and knowledge that we teach and how they too can be part of a social enterprise culture.

We are all under increasing pressure to expand and diversify our income streams, and to demonstrate our positive benefit to the students, communities and stakeholders we serve. The social enterprise business model provides opportunities for HEIs to transform the way we are perceived by stakeholders and can enable us to position ourselves as ‘businesses’ driven by social objectives.

MARJON-LOGO-CMYKThe University of St Mark & St John was awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in 2015, signalling our commitment to social enterprise and demonstrating the social value that we create as a university.

As the number one university in the UK for social mobility, we are proud to be recognised for our commitment to helping local communities and the broader south west peninsula to thrive and prosper. The Social Enterprise Mark helps us to communicate this commitment to students, potential applicants, partners and the wider business community and sets us apart as a values-based, socially conscious university.

As we enter a new era in Higher Education, where the Teaching Excellence Framework and other policy developments emphasise graduate earnings, we need ways to demonstrate our parallel commitment to social enterprise principles, and the Social Enterprise Mark offers one such mechanism.

There is currently a potential discount for GuildHE members that commit to apply for the Social Enterprise Mark before the end of August 2016, and I would recommend doing so. My colleague, Professor Brendon Noble, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and International who took forward our application for the Social Enterprise Mark, can also talk to you about our experience and the benefits.

You can get in touch with Social Enterprise Mark CIC with any questions, or to express your interest in applying – 0345 504 6536 or via email.


Originally posted on the GuildHE blog on 22nd April 2016

Why talking about ‘what is a social enterprise?’ is still important

By Gareth Hart, Co-founder of Iridescent Ideas

“So you’re a social enterprise, eh? What does that mean then?” How many times have you been asked that question? How many times have you answered it but still aren’t convinced that they questioner has ‘got it’ or believes it?

The debate about the definition of social enterprise may well seem jaded and old news to those of us within the social enterprise community but it seems that a large proportion of the general public didn’t even realise there had been a debate going on. So, the aforementioned question comes up time and time again. If we want to establish new audiences for social enterprise and push the concept into a wider public consciousness it is vitally important to maintain a public dialogue about ‘what is a social enterprise’.

No one really seems to question you in the same way if your business is a charity or Fairtrade or eco-friendly. There is an automatic assumption these are ‘good’ things. People know what these terms mean. They come with a nice badge, logo or number that tells the public they’ve been checked out and do indeed do what they say on the tin. If only there was a similar thing available to social enterprises…

SE_Business_Identifier_RGBEnter the Social Enterprise Mark. The Mark is the social enterprise equivalent of the Fairtrade logo or the Charity Commission number. The Social Enterprise Mark provides:

  • A clear definition of what constitutes a social enterprise
  • An instantly recognisable ‘stamp of approval’ to show that your business has been independently assessed and meets criteria to justifiably call itself a social enterprise
  • A national community of like-minded ethical businesses for social enterprises to engage with
  • A range of other benefits around marketing and support

There is growing interest in the Social Enterprise Mark, particularly among large organisations like universities. Plymouth University was the first social enterprise university and has held the Mark since 2012. Many of the large health spin-outs also hold the Mark. These organisations provide services to huge numbers of people and have strong roles in public life in their respective towns, cities and areas. I would like to see more large healthcare providers really engage with the public around understanding that they are receiving great services from a local social enterprise. The Mark could help them do this.

As the social enterprise sector, and public awareness of it, continues to grow, so I hope that the Social Enterprise Mark will continue to flow into public consciousness and eventually become as recognisable as the Fairtrade logo. The Mark will evolve, I am sure, and we need an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be a social enterprise both within and outside the sector.

With the introduction of the Social Value Act in 2013 there is a requirement for social value and impact to be given more weight within commissioning of services. Consumers are looking to purchase ethical goods and for businesses to behave better. Surely then, the time is right for the Social Enterprise Mark to become a stamp of social value so that commissioners and customers alike will recognise social enterprises and be able to make more informed choices about the goods and services they buy and use.

I believe that social enterprises are better for the economy and for society. We need to articulate more clear what ‘better’ looks like of course. Social enterprises create wealth and jobs and also deliver environmental and social value. The Mark can be the guarantee that proves this.


Originally published on Iridescent Ideas blog, 2nd September 2015

Lucy Findlay

Helping to create winning or better social enterprises?

I recently stumbled upon an American blog which talks about whether competitions are good for social enterprises.  They are indeed all the rage – from social enterprise ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitches, to ‘Social Enterprise of the Year’ awards.  However, are they really what social enterprise is about, and do they really tell us about whether that business is genuinely applying good practice?

Objections to competitions could include:

  • They offer a ‘flash in the pan’ snapshot view that doesn’t represent the long hard graft that goes into making a social enterprise work
  • What about those who don’t win – is it too much about winners and losers? Does it leave a bad taste for those that don’t win?
  • Is collaboration better than competing?

Cup-champion-iconFor me, competitions represent a snapshot in time and do have their place – for example, we are currently running the Making a Mark competition to celebrate the vast and diverse social benefits created by Social Enterprise Mark holders.

However, what competitions do not do is to tell you much about the social enterprise beyond the moment they were judged, or indeed the openness and transparency of competition process. It’s up to whoever the judges are on the day.

Accreditation however offers something quite different. The Social Enterprise Mark for example, is both a tool of business differentiation, and a tool to demonstrate that those who have it have proved how they are making society a better place.  There are no losers if you make the accreditation standard consistent and transparent, and our independent Certification Panel ensures this. The Mark provides a guarantee year on year, for both customers and partners, due to the annual reassessment process. Our Social Enterprise Gold Mark goes further, to prove that the best attributes of social enterprise are being applied across the business, and further developed and improved upon over time.

Therefore, we are not just talking about a single snapshot in time, but rather a social enterprise that can prove its social and enterprise attributes on an ongoing basis.

There is more ‘greenwash’ going on than ever before, as businesses realise the benefits of playing the social value and sustainability game. Which is precisely why we, as social enterprises, need to stand up to scrutiny and be open and transparent about what our motivations really are.  This is where Social Enterprise Mark accreditation can provide the solution!

verifying social value with the Social Enterprise MarkThe Mark provides an independent guarantee that an organisation has been through a robust assessment process, and is proven to be trading for people and planet. This is the crucial differentiator, and distinguishes social enterprises’ core motivation for being in business, which sets them apart from standard business models, where the key motivation is often to maximise profits for shareholders.

‘Standing up to Scrutiny’ is the theme of our conference this year, and the event will focus on why it’s important to prove what we are and how we are doing it. We will consider the importance of accreditation and standards systems, and how these can help social enterprises to measure, demonstrate, and report on their social impact, therefore enabling them to stand out from the crowd.

Conference speakersWe are pleased to be welcoming a panel of speakers from accreditation and standards setting authorities across a range of sectors, which should provide interesting and diverse perspectives on the importance of such systems.

The conference is being kindly hosted by Social Enterprise Gold Mark holder University of Salford at MediaCityUK on 8th and 9th June 2016. Earlybird tickets are available to book online from just £50 + VAT.



Measuring Social Impact – The Difference of Social Enterprise

Part 2

By Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager

Last month, I started to consider how social enterprises should be distinguishing themselves when compared to other business models looking to validate ethical business credentials, through how they measure and report on their social impact (including environmental). To recap, there are three broad ways through which a business may report on its social impact:

  1. its social inputs (the activities and resources invested in, the services provided, which should at least imply social purposes);
  2. its social outputs (the extent of said activities and investment e.g. numbers of services provided, numbers of people helped, the level of social investment beyond operational cost requirements);
  3. its social outcomes (the positive results arising from activities e.g. measures showing how people have benefitted, and the perceived value of the services provided – financial and qualitative).

Measuring impact

The commitment to maximise social outputs using income and profits – at least in equal measure to the proportion of profit that may eventually be paid to shareholders and owners – is what ultimately distinguishes social enterprise from other ethical business models. I therefore posed that, in differentiating their outputs, social enterprises should be considering how the level of the investment towards purely social interests, compares with the annual profits it generates year on year. Ideally speaking, this form of analysis should form part of the social impact reporting of any social enterprise.

In calculating social impact, there is a distinct element that some social enterprises are keen to capture when considering the above: how can they calculate the cost of the social value they have created – the effective financial value of the benefits conferred to their social stakeholders (as opposed to shareholders)?

Social Return on Investment (SROI) and other forms of social auditing provide solutions for this but can be quite demanding and resource intensive, particularly for organisations with restricted resources. Is this methodology the only valid approach though?

We are beginning to see other methods of conveying social value being employed by Social Enterprise Mark holders, within the social impact statements they provide on initial application, and at each annual renewal of their Mark status. The types of example that are emerging are:

  • Mark Holders with contracts to provide a set number of social outputs/outcomes, who are paid up to a maximum but who choose to deliver more for their stakeholders;
  • Mark Holders with service level agreements or being paid for a defined level of service, who enhance the outputs and the experience of stakeholders in ways that are not required or expected;
  • Investing in free or volunteer services that otherwise represent chargeable income streams;
  • Investing in employee posts (temporary or otherwise) that do not support income generation services;
  • Making donations to external good causes (e.g. Charities, community groups) or investing in other community resources.

The above examples are by no means necessarily restricted to social enterprise – after all, pro-bono services and donations to good causes are common amongst all types of business. However, calculating the value of such activities and investments, then comparing it to profit distributed to owners or shareholders, can ultimately help distinguish the added value of social enterprise.

Clearly, this does not likely represent the whole financial value that a social enterprise may have created, which may be less tangible and reveal itself in various indirect and long-reaching ways. It therefore does not provide a detailed analysis of the return on investment; but it does offer a more straightforward way of at least beginning to illustrate the more immediate social value of investment.

When qualifying such costs, care must be taken in distinguishing investment that provides for a level of efficiency and quality that is the obligation of any good business in the services it provides. These are costs that its customers and stakeholders can reasonably expect for the price being paid for it. Once again, when assessing this a key consideration is motivation:

  • Was the investment one that was recognisably more altruistic than not?
  • Was the investment integral to an existing service or product line, more representative of good business practice, reinforcing the quality of delivery in ways that could be reasonably expected of any business?

Or, to put it another way, was the motivation primarily about serving a social objective or primarily about doing good business?

Ideally speaking, social enterprises should be equally committed to both: employing good business practices and using profits (or income that could feasibly be retained as profits) to maximise their social impact.

The line between investing in good business practice for commercial benefits compared to investments in actions purely designed to enhance social outcomes can become subjective and arguable. But what it most important is that social enterprises continually reflect upon what they are doing, ask different questions about how they have invested resourced in supporting social objectives and serving their communities of interest. This then informs how they report upon their performance to their stakeholders. As far as possible, a good social enterprise should strive to be transparent and accountable with the evidence it can provide in support of its claims. Ultimately, their stakeholders can then make informed judgements and responses to the social impact – including its value – that has been created.

To support Social Enterprise Mark holders to measure, demonstrate and communicate the social impact of their activities and operations, we have recently created guidance for creating social impact statements. Visit our Making a Mark webpage to see a variety of examples of social impact from our Social Enterprise Mark holders, covering a diverse range of business sectors.

Measuring Social Impact – the difference of social enterprise

Part 1

By Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager

“Social enterprise”, “Social business”, “Social Entrepreneurism”, “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR). How many people must be left scratching their heads when trying to determine the difference between these labels?

The fact that such business models can all measure and report on their ethical business outputs in similar ways explains much of this confusion. Their social impact (including environmental) may vary according to their resources, their sector of interest and other factors influencing their delivery capacity. But if they are all about the same ends, why is there a need for so many labels?

The Social Enterprise Mark evolved as a means of helping genuine social enterprises stand out from the crowd, driven by the desire of the sector to distinguish their distinct motivation for being in business – trading to serve social purposes. This is the crucial differentiator: what is the central motivation behind the business – why does it exist?

A social enterprise is not necessarily a guarantee of greater social impact – as I note above, the scales of output may vary according to circumstances unrelated to business motivations. An international corporation reporting CSR credentials may be able to point to greater levels of investment and positive social output than a small social enterprise providing a crucial service in a rural community.

But how does this investment compare with their overall profit generation? How far was the investment motivated by other interests, such as maintaining a positive public profile that helps them retain and expand their markets, thereby continuing to maximise shareholder profits? How far does such CSR related investment suffer when profits fall, compared to the bonuses and dividends paid to top executives and shareholders?

What distinguishes a social enterprise is it’s commitment to continually maximising social outputs with the income they generate through trading, at least in equal proportion to the objective of serving owner or shareholder interests. This specifically requires a commitment to investing at least 50% of annual profits in social purposes. Just as significantly, it also includes a consideration of how income that might otherwise be accumulated as profit (which could then feed personal shareholder gain) is used to support the fulfilment of social objectives throughout the business year.

There may be instances where social enterprises endeavour to minimise annual profits, to reduce corporation tax and thereby maximise the ongoing investment in their social purposes. In these instances, justifying how resources have been used to fulfil social objectives and achieve social impact becomes even more important. If a typical indicator of business success is bottom line profitability, when a social enterprise fails to report a profit, analysing and reporting on social impact represents an alternative rationale for demonstrating business strength and sustainability.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways in which a business may be able to report on how it has strived to fulfil its social objectives:

  • its social inputs
  • its social outputs
  • its social outcomes

However, the question remains: how can a social enterprise distinguish itself when reporting on its social impact when compared to other business models and their ethical commitments?

Following the logic of earlier points, this must necessarily take into account the application of income and profit towards social purposes; this may also include the cost of investments that might otherwise have represented income generation potential (e.g. people’s time given up freely to provide services). Once a social enterprise begins to consider its activities along these lines, it may consider how the level of the investment towards purely social interests compares with the annual profits it generates year on year.

Social Return on Investment (SROI) and other forms of social auditing provide formal methodologies that businesses can employ in reviewing and calculating the social value they have generated. Such approaches can be quite complex and demanding though and may have limited relevance or value to a business, particular smaller organisations or those with restricted resources. However, whilst these systems provide for greater transparency and external validation of an organisations achievements, there are simpler ways in which organisations can provide illustrations of the social value they contribute. We are beginning to see interesting examples of this emerging from our Social Enterprise Mark Holders, within the social impact statements they are asked to provide when first applying and at each annual renewal of their Mark status.

Next month, in part two of this article, we will consider some general illustrations that help exemplify alternative ways of how social enterprises can reflect upon the social value of their investment in fulfilling their social purpose.


Please click here to read part 2 of Richard’s blog

How Good Are We At Doing ‘Good’?

By Kate Pierpoint, Deputy Chief Executive of Manor House Development Trust

mhdtAs we continue to face social and economic challenges, the need for value for money and maximised social impact continues to increase. The Social Value Act of 2012 has seen an acceleration of this trend. More recently, the demand for both financial and social return is reflected in the Government’s backing of Social Impact Bonds and injection of £20m a year (Autumn Statement 2015). As a result, public sector commissioners increasingly want to know how much value their investment creates and social reporting figures help them to decide where to put their money.

When you market your organisation as one that is making positive impact, you open yourself up to extra scrutiny. Expectations are high and those looking at your impact will often compare your results to other organisations as a way to see ‘how good you are at doing good’. Figures can often be skewed and this contest to demonstrate the greatest impact creates the need for larger and larger numbers and more and more sensational stories in order to stand out- especially so in an economic climate with heightened competition for funding and customers.

So even if we are good at achieving positive impact, social impact figures are not necessarily going to reflect that or get us noticed.

Tools like Social Return on Investment (designed by New Economics Foundation) have been designed to measure the efficiency of projects to generate impact. The ratio of £:£ tells you exactly how good your projects are at doing good. But even this data doesn’t tell us about the needs of those you are supporting; it can’t capture the value of change to an individual; and it doesn’t explain why your work is important and why other people should care about it. Figures don’t tell the full story; you have to look beyond the data.

The ‘so what?’ statement

What I am getting at is the ‘so what’ statement. Context is everything in social impact measurement. Whatever type of organisation you work for, it’s really important to tell a story that others can get behind; whether they are customers, investors, partners or your staff. For this reason, you have to really know who your audience is and what matters to them.

Tell the story

“We realise a lot of social enterprises don’t have the means to do full social impact reporting. They just need to clearly articulate what they’re doing”
Venturesome in The Guardian, 2012, ‘The growing importance of social impact reporting’

Audiences don’t have 30 seconds to be interrupted, but they always have 30 minutes to hear a great story”
Sweetman, J., ‘The importance of social impact’


What we did

For 2 years, Manor House Development Trust has invested a great deal of time and money improving its impact measurement processes. As a ‘community development’ organisation, we found it difficult to articulate the impact we were having, in a way all of our stakeholders could understand. The concept of ‘Community’ means many different things to different people. It could be any size, any location (it doesn’t even need a location) and each of us probably belongs to many different ‘communities’. The word ‘Development’ in the context of community is also very difficult to describe, even though no one could deny its importance.

And this is what we were faced with as an organisation. How do we succinctly describe what it is we are trying to do, whilst also explaining these complex concepts? How do we tell the story, without it becoming a novel?

“We realised that even though we describe ourselves as a community development organisation,we don’t actually do community development”
Simon Donovan, Manor House Development Trust

The answer came from speaking to people, lots of people, about what changes we have brought about for them and why that was important; whether they were funders, service-users, staff or partners. And gradually, we began to use their language- piecing it all together. Key themes, priorities and commonalities emerged, which would then form the 5 Business Objectives of our new Business Plan.

What this has allowed us to do is to tell a narrative that speaks to many different types of stakeholders. It follows through the journey explaining how a project (however small) contributes to a wider context and can create a legacy for the future. The narrative has also steered the branding of the organisation, where the language of our stakeholders is embedded in the Business Plan and all communications that flow from it. Crucially, the narrative provides a framework whereby all future impact can be captured and reported effectively. In other words, we know what our impact is before our projects even start.

So in answer to the question: How good are we at doing ‘good’?
In my view, we are only as good as the story we tell. 

Originally published on 27th November 2015