Lucy Findlay

Are we reaching peak greenwash? Finding a better solution.

As I write the movers and shakers of the business and political world are meeting in Davos for the World Economic Forum.  I’m sure that there will be the usual platitudes about how good business is at addressing the world’s crisis as well as pointing to ‘evidence’ to support this claim.  

Economic, social and environmental trends, however, paint a different picture.  Oxfam has brought out its annual inequality report (this year’s aptly titled Inequality Inc.) to coincide with this event.  It’s depressing but not that surprising to see existing inequality continuing to grow exponentially.   

Headlines are that since the beginning of Lockdown in 2020, the world’s 5 richest men had doubled their substantial fortunes. It also shows that the power of the corporate is exacerbating inequality and climate change through behaviours that run counter to ‘good business’ – a mixture of squeezing workers, tax dodging, privatising public services and pollution – i.e. being driven by shareholder private gain rather than social and environmental good despite all the talk of business being ‘purpose led’.  Are we reaching peak greenwash? Many of the checks and balances (for example Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reporting) are mere window dressing as are the messages about corporate altruism and putting people and the planet first.   

What is needed (confirmed by the report) is for governments to reimagine and shift their view of what makes the private sector include wider business models such as social enterprise.  It’s not a fringe, hippy activity – it should be a desirable mainstream destination.   

Even those politicians that support social enterprises are too enmeshed in the current business paradigm to realise the full potential of our sector. This is why we have become part of the Future Economy Alliance which advocates for the wider social economy to be taken more seriously in building a more sustainable, equitable future economy in the UK. 

Unfortunately, most governments and many businesses are going in the opposite direction and doubling down on corporate-led, cheaper, short-term decisions driven by excuses like the cost-of-living crisis (that affects the poorest most) as well as short-term political and shareholder expediency.  

The shareholder profit equals good efficient business equation embedded in our worldwide culture and financial systems.  It’s so ingrained that mainstream financial products and tax incentives are driven by this assumption, which is why there is a dearth of alternative businesses and finance to support their growth and flourish. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. We need to decouple shareholder profit from business and support other viable models such as social enterprises and worker cooperatives.  And it’s not only the business model that counts – it’s also about the journey that the organisation is on.  What we don’t need is a load more incentives (tax breaks and financial products) to perpetuate the business status quo- we need the government to listen and act to incentivise new and existing, good well-run social enterprises that are really delivering social and environmental value rather than shareholder value.  We also need to incentivise conversions from the extractive business model towards a more regenerative approach (through the application of tools such as those by the Doughnut Economics Lab) 

This is where accreditation comes into its own. Recent research from the platform In Good Company shows that despite the challenges of the current economic climate and consumers spending less, ethical businesses still see accreditation (66%) as important in verifying their claims and showing their ethical credentials.  Governments need to be supporting those who can back up their claims and verify true social value.   

Our accreditation journey demonstrates that social enterprises can be the best at this.  Social enterprises cannot sit still stating that their business model makes a difference without striving to be even better at what they do.  We are the leaders in setting standards for what makes good business, governments should be looking to us to demonstrate best business practices, but we need to ensure that we can independently verify any claims that we make.  This is why we would encourage existing social enterprises to look towards progression to our new Silver and Gold accreditations.  The process will help you become the best that you can be!

Crowdfunding for social enterprise, the future of match funding and how to get it!

The Crowdfunding Coach

My name is Bertie Herrtage and after 5 years as the Senior Coach at the fundraising platform Crowdfunder UK, I started my own business ‘The Crowdfunding Coach’, promoting crowdfunding education within the Third Sector. I specialise in donation and rewards based crowdfunding for social enterprises and I’m a strong advocate for the use and development of ‘match funding’ opportunities to plug the financial gap that these organisations are facing.

Social enterprises perform well when crowdfunding

Back in 2018, I started to see that social enterprise campaigns performed particularly well when crowdfunding. This was because of what we call a ‘dual motivation’ to support them. Their service to society attracted donations and their capacity for trade allows them to offer rewards, which are products or services in return for a financial contribution. The use of rewards in the crowdfunding context acts as a further incentive to give, encouraging supporters to pledge more money, increasing the average spent on a donation-only campaign from £20 to £50.

I believe that crowdfunding should be part of the financial life cycle of every social enterprise because the process is an accelerator programme in itself. Beyond raising the money they need it allows these organisations to benefit from the inherent; story telling, marketing, audience development, networking, product testing and content creation involved. With less than half of VCSE organisations rating their digital skills as “good” (Gov, 2022), crowdfunding serves us as an opportunity to correct that.

Social Investment

It’s been my experience that social enterprises are being steered towards social investment but with 42% of social enterprises under 5 years old (SE UK, 2019), they often do not have the necessary revenue to take on debt. Furthermore, with the median amount of repayable finance sought at £50,000 (Good Finance, 2023) these numbers are not appetising for banks to lend, because the due diligence and administration alone rubs out the profit in the deal. In an economic climate where the average grant awarded is £12,000 (dsc, 2023) and ‘almost half of social enterprises report the amount of suitable finance available to their organisations is insufficient’ (SE UK, 2023), we know that we need to be more creative about where this funding is going to come from.

Crowdfunding is a technology which allows for a more collaborative and transparent approach to finance. Instead of a bid for a grant or investment done behind closed doors, it’s done out in the open on a digital stage. 

Collaborative finance

Match funding is based on the belief that there is no one financial solution to the funding of these organisations. Instead, the answer is to enable a more collaborative approach to finance which involves; government, local authorities, corporations, trusts and the public. The premise being that the more funders we can encourage to host match funding opportunities through crowdfunding, the less pressure the organisations put on their own networks. This is especially relevant for smaller organisations in less affluent areas and in the context of the cost of living crisis that we’re in.

What this will take is for the traditional grant making organisations to become more comfortable trialling the distribution of their finance in new and innovative ways. By even making small pots of finance available through this method, they will be quickly able to see what the demand is, how the application process suits them and most importantly, witness the benefits of public participation and the impact of collaborating with other funds on the financing of these organisations.

The technology is already here and crowdfunding platforms like Crowdfunder UK have the potential to become one-stop-shops for organisations in need of finance. By making multiple funds available under one roof, the process of finding appropriate finance becomes much easier to navigate for these organisations and therefore much more accessible.

Here’s an example of how match funding works

Fat Macy’s

fat macy'sA social enterprise based in London which is tackling the impact of our housing crisis by providing support for those at risk of homelessness. Fat Macy’s allows those they work with to save for a deposit and develop skills through a culinary and hospitality training programme, thereby helping them into work. 

After closing last week, Fat Macy’s has successfully raised £56,454 from 203 supporters of a £50,000 target (the median amount of repayable finance sought by a social enterprise).

The current breakdown of what they have raised

Match funding: £34,155

Access’s ‘The Cost of Living Resilience Fund’: £17,350

Aviva Community Fund: £10,225

Aviva Employee Giving: £1,520

Sovereign Network Group: £5,000

Solus Employee Giving: £60

The public: £22,299

Luminary Bakery

My next example is a social enterprise which uses baking as a tool to take vulnerable women on a journey to employability and entrepreneurship, equipping them with transferable skills for the working world.

In November this year, Luminary Bakery raised £51,386 from 360 supporters and if you have a few minutes to spare, please do watch their crowdfunding video, it is very inspiring!

This is the breakdown of what they raised through crowdfunding

Match funding: £31,528

British Airways ‘The Better World Community Fund’: £15,000

Avios donations: £516

British Airways Executive Club: £516

Aviva Community Fund: £13,426 

Aviva Employee Giving: £2,070

The public: £19,858

As we can see, £50,000 is an achievable target for social enterprises to reach through crowdfunding, provided that there are the match funders there to support them.

The process is simple, create a project on and by adding information about where you are based and who you benefit, you’ll quickly see which match funding opportunities are available to you. The secret is to submit your applications before launching your campaign, thereby ensuring you know exactly what the shape of the opportunity is before you start. The good news? Crowdfunder UK charges 0% fees for social enterprises.

At The Crowdfunding Coach, I offer a free 1-2-1 consultation for social enterprises. If your organisation is based in the UK and you’re interested to see how crowdfunding might be of use to you, please reach out via one of the channels below.


Instagram: the_crowdfundingcoach

LinkedIn: bertie-herrtage-11987663


Social Enterprises: Why Greener Methods Make Sense

In collaboration with Social Enterprise Mark CIC, I am exploring the challenges social enterprises face in adopting environmentally sustainable strategies and operations. It’s increasingly clear that as a planet we need to radically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we release, produce less waste and help the natural environment recover. Many companies are shifting to strategies which not only ‘do less harm’ but actively help replenish the resources we use as society.

But let’s acknowledge it isn’t as easy as all that. Embarking on the journey towards more sustainable and climate-conscious operations can be a daunting task for social enterprise leaders in the UK, who already have a difficult balance of running a successful socially-driven organisation. It can seem complicated, needing time and money to make the transition to greener suppliers and methods.

It’s important to note that small businesses can make a huge difference – a recent OECD report showed that SMEs produce 70% of Europe’s carbon emissions. We can all contribute to a radically reducing greenhouse gases across the world.

It’s also important to recognise that this transition is not just about reducing your carbon footprint – it’s also a strategic move that can bring significant business benefits. In this blog, I’ll explore why greener methods make sense for social enterprises and provide six top tips to help you get started on this transformative path.

Why Greener Methods Make Business Sense

  • Meeting Customer Expectations: A Forbes report recently showed, more than three quarters of Gen Z and millennial consumers consider environmental sustainability in their purchasing decisions. By adopting greener methods, you not only meet customer expectations but also attract a larger and more loyal customer base.
  • Attracting and retaining the best talent: Gen Z and millennials care deeply about the environmental credentials of companies they work for. Over half research the sustainability of the prospective employer before they accepting a job. Greener companies also enjoy lower turnover. All companies must make sure that its strategy, purpose, operations are meaningful and fulfilling to its teams.
  • Cost Savings: Sustainability isn’t just about saving the planet; it’s about saving money too. Implementing energy-efficient technologies, reducing waste, and using less water and other resources can lead to substantial cost savings. These savings can be reinvested in your social enterprise’s mission or used to improve your products and services.
  • Risk Mitigation: Climate change and environmental degradation pose significant risks to businesses. By embracing sustainability, you can mitigate these risks. E.g. being prepared for supply chain disruptions caused by extreme weather events can keep your operations running smoothly.
  • Access to Funding: Investors and grants providers increasingly favour enterprises with strong sustainability credentials. By adopting greener methods, you improve your chances of securing funding that can help you grow and scale your social enterprise.
  • Enhanced Reputation: A reputation for environmental responsibility can set your social enterprise apart from the competition. It can open doors to partnerships, collaborations, and opportunities that may not have been available otherwise.

The Social Enterprise Mark Community Told us What’s Stopping Them:

We recently asked the Social Enterprise Mark community on LinkedIn what the main barriers are to adopting climate-conscious actions and operations. Responses showed that some social enterprises are unsure how to go about assessing their practices and adopting greener strategies and operations, or that it is too expensive or will take too much time.

Barriers % Response
Unsure what to do/how to start 46%
Too costly/resource intensive 54%
Transition is too difficult 0%
Unsure of business benefits 0%

In response to your answers, I’d like to suggest some tips on how to start considering your environmental impact which do not have to turn your business upside down or blow the budget.

Six Top Tips to Get Started Without Costing the Earth

  • Conduct a Sustainability Assessment: Start by understanding your current environmental impact. You can use free or inexpensive tools to conduct either a light-touch or more thorough assessment of your operations to identify carbon reductions. This assessment should encompass energy usage, waste production, supply chain practices, and more..
  • Set Clear Sustainability Goals: Discuss what you want to achieve around sustainability. Whether it’s reducing greenhouse gas emissions, minimising waste, or sourcing sustainable materials, having clear objectives will guide your efforts and help you track progress..
  • Get Started: explore some easy switches for supplies you already use which could have a big sustainability impact:
  1. One of the most impactful things a business (or an individual) can do is move their money to ethical financial institutions. There are banks which intentionally avoid funding fossil fuels, mining and other extractive industries and instead invest in renewable energy and technologies. 
  2. The other big switch is your energy supplier. Shifting to renewable electricity promotes its greater use across the grid and will encourage yet more future investment and lower costs. Find ways to use less energy eg. insulating your premises, or downsizing offices.
  3. Find simple ways to reduce water use and waste – saving money as well as carbon.. 
  4. Another area, albeit often with a bit more to consider in terms of time or cost, is transport. There may be lower carbon options for freight, deliveries, commuting and business travel. 
  5. One area which might be a surprise – your IT servers and web hosting can be much more carbon intensive than you’d think. Greener solutions can be found where the hosts use renewable electricity and offset the emissions from cooling refrigerants. 
  • Release the Power of Your Staff Teams! Sustainability is a collective effort. Engage your team members by raising awareness about the importance of sustainability and involving them in the decision-making process. Encourage their input and ideas for greener practices – they might come up with interesting, innovative ways to get things done differently..
  • Collaborate and Seek Expertise: Don’t go it alone. There are lots of free resources with carbon calculators, checklists and guidance. If you want more bespoke support that doesn’t cost the earth, check out companies like Green Small Business or Small99 who support SMEs on their sustainability journey.
  • Measure, Communicate and Celebrate Progress: Regularly measure your sustainability efforts to track your progress toward your goals. Communicate your achievements and challenges to your stakeholders; celebrate your progress and make your staff and customers proud! 

While the transition to more sustainable and climate-conscious operations may seem daunting or costly, it’s a journey that holds immense promise for social enterprises. 

By embracing greener methods and integrating environmental sustainability into your strategy where appropriate, you not only contribute to a healthier planet but also unlock a range of business benefits, from cost savings to enhanced reputation. You can strengthen your social mission by using responsible practices. With determination and commitment, you can navigate this green path and lead your social enterprise toward a stronger and more sustainable future.

I hope this article gives some food for thought on how social enterprises can start to consider their sustainability and start to make changes to greener practices. 

Social Enterprise vs Entrepreneurship: Are we Missing the Point?

Often the term social enterprise is laden with certain assumptions and stereotypes – many of these come with the term ‘entrepreneur’.  Entrepreneurs are presented as ‘mavericks’ challenging the status quo, systems and processes and not conforming to the norm.  In a nutshell, Silicon Valley types! 

It’s liberating to be different and to think about how to solve a problem creativelyWithout creativity and challenge many of the world’s problems would remain unaddressed with no identified solution to fill the gaps left by the state and the market. However good social enterprises should not be flash-in-the-pan start-ups aimed at ‘high growth’ to pay back shareholders, focused on a couple of heroesThey are here to stay for as long as the social challenge exists and to create and mould themselves to the next challenge whatever that isThis is why I don’t agree with the social enterprise leaders who say ‘I’m working myself out of a job’.  There will always be social and environmental challenges and we need good social enterprises to address them as they come along rather than constantly having to reinvent the wheel. 

Thinking of the current world situation with war so close both in Russia and the Middle East, I am reminded of my trips to Siberia in 2018 and 19, where I first learned of the rise of the ‘NGO’ in the early 90s when the whole economy collapsed.  People were struggling to feed themselves.  Academics at the university I attended were growing potatoes in the woods. Women (and by and large they were and are women) community leaders got together to fill the gaps as state intervention completely disappeared.  They formed organisations like the Siberia Centre that raised money and created NGOs to help the community cope and support other NGOs – a concept previously unheard of.  I don’t think that these women would have classed themselves as mavericks and entrepreneurs though.  They just got on and did what needed to be done, creating social infrastructure for the long term, where the system had failed.  Increasingly Siberian social enterprises

 are now filling these spaces (also mainly led by younger women) addressing all sorts of social and environmental problems including recycling and eco-fashion. 

What we need internationally, are good, well-run social enterprises with longevity and resilience and an ability to adapt to the challenges that society presents.  It’s a journey.  It’s not enough to just have the right legal structure and cause, we need to show continual improvement and consistent social impact.   

Social Enterprise Silver Mark

This is why we have extended our services to launch the missing step in our social enterprise pathway – the Social Enterprise Silver Mark.  The Silver Mark is aimed at social enterprises that want to show maturity and continual improvement.  They are on a journey to excellence, providing independent proof, a supportive tailored process and recommendations for achieving our highest level of excellence (the Social Enterprise Gold Mark) using the same robust criteria and assessment methodology, but with lower evidence thresholds and capacity requirements from the applicant.  The Silver Mark also offers a chance for reflection and celebration that social enterprises don’t often get because they are so busy changing the world! 


We will be welcoming our long-standing friend and founding Chair of The Big Issue Nigel Kershaw who join us to speak at our online celebration.  I hope to see you there.



Details of the launch event can be found here:

The Social Enterprise Silver Mark – Launch Event



If you are interested in accrediting your business to show your ethical and purposeful social enterprise credentials, you can register your interest here. You can also take our short online quiz to quickly identify if your business is eligible.

If you would like to keep up to date with our latest news please sign up for our newsletter.

Wooden tiles spelling 'blog' with a pen and pad in the background

University sector finances are broken; can social enterprise be the solution?

Dr Eric LybeckBy Dr Eric Lybeck, Lecturer & Presidential Fellow at University of Manchester

The world of academia, particularly within research-intensive universities, is undergoing a seismic shift. Growing financial challenges threaten our longstanding academic traditions and structures, but amidst this turmoil, might social entrepreneurship provide a means of preserving what’s best in higher learning, while at the same time, breaking down the barriers between ‘town and gown’?

The looming financial crisis in top-tier research universities

Recently, the Financial Times highlighted an alarming trend: a majority of Russell Group research-intensive universities in the UK have reported an average financial shortfall of about £2,500 for each domestic undergraduate student in the ongoing academic year.

Even more concerning, financial analysts predict this deficit could double, reaching £5,000 by the year 2029-30. This looming financial challenge recalls the pronounced funding crisis of the mid-1990s, a crisis that controversially culminated in the introduction of university tuition fees.

However, the fiscal crisis for universities goes beyond tuition fees. With uncertainty around Horizon Europe funding coming into play, inflation and related pressures, the apprehensions concerning the management of research expenses have skyrocketed. Navigating the tight rope of funding becomes harder and harder for individuals and institutions.

Zooming in on the day-to-day operations of these institutions, the root of the problem becomes evident. The days of armchair philosophers is well and truly gone. Contemporary academics find themselves ensnared in a relentless pursuit of research funds, often to merely keep their roles intact. The fierce competition of these bidding processes, combined with an archaic accounting system, exacerbates the issue. Soaring overheads are gauged against the number of full-time researchers creating perverse incentives when these cost-benefit calculations are integrated into grant proposals.

More and more value projects get sidelined as non-viable within this environment. The highly bureaucratised system becomes inherently biased towards larger-scale projects, neglecting the smaller yet often transformative experiments and more humble projects. Sadly, many academics, once at the forefront of innovation, are retreating or leaving the profession simply to conduct their research properly.

Investing in Civic Engagement

Civic University NetworkIn response to the overemphasis on ‘world leading’ research and a global student market, a ‘Civic University Commission’ was established to encourage more local engagement. This has since been supported by the government, research councils, and a ‘Civic University Network’ is based in Sheffield Hallam to document best practices.

However, while the terminology surrounding ‘civic engagement’ and ‘social responsibility’ is becoming a regular fixture in boardroom discussions, there remains a mismatch between intent and action. Initiatives hastily labelled as ‘civic’ often prove to be mere reiterations of previous efforts. Universities’ genuine commitment and strategic investment in robust civic engagement is still wanting.

This discrepancy means many community projects, despite their undeniable potential, are left in limbo, as academics, burdened with ever-increasing teaching and research responsibilities, find it difficult to engage – then, when funding is sought, the same competitive atmosphere pervades experiences, resulting in more failed bids than successful investments in community-led initiatives.

Such a lacklustre approach often leaves community partners disillusioned. They feel the brunt of unsuccessful funding bids, experience the sting of unmet promises, and grapple with the void left behind post-project completion even when initial projects are successful, but not sustained by follow on funding.

Social Entrepreneurship: A Way Forward?

With a bit of foresight and ambition, universities could solve these problems, through investment and engagement with social entrepreneurs. Imagine a more collaborative future where academic researchers partner seamlessly with community organisations, leading to projects that resonate with real-world impact.

Instead of transient associations, these alliances promise lasting change, with the flexibility to morph based on genuine community needs and not just the whims of fluctuating research grants.

However, for social entrepreneurship to gain a firm foothold in academia, several inherent challenges must be overcome:

  • Lack of experience: Academia desperately requires pioneers in this realm. Initiating student and faculty groups for exploratory projects could serve as a starting point. With firsthand experience, these pioneers can refine strategies and catalyse widespread change.
  • Time constraints: Social entrepreneurship projects, by their nature, demand patience. Universities need to recognise this and be willing to invest time in such transformative ventures.
  • Funding: Even though the ultimate aim is to attain self-sustainability, initial capital is indispensable. Governments can bridge this gap by offering specialised grants aimed at fostering both university-led and community-driven social entrepreneurial initiatives.


The financial clouds gathering over research-intensive universities are undeniably dark. But within this challenging environment lies a promising chance for reinvention. By embracing social entrepreneurship and bolstering civic engagement, academia has the potential to evolve and adapt in this changing landscape.


Dr Eric Lybeck is a Presidential Fellow and Lecturer at University of Manchester. He is committed to making universities and places better through research, engagement and teaching. He contributes regularly to media in print, television, radio and online on a number of topics including issues around culture wars, higher education policy and politics/culture generally. 

Photo of a woman speaking with text overlay: "The world is changing, and governments and businesses need to change with it, not remain stuck in the old paradigm."

Having real teeth: A taxing issue

I’m not talking about dentists or crowns (although we do have a brilliant Mark Holder in Peninsula Dental that does this!), rather tax breaks for social enterprises and businesses that can prove they are achieving a better world through their business model.

We can help prove and evidence this as all of our social enterprise accreditations independently verify that the business is led by social and environmental objectives rather than shareholder gain, and therefore could be used to help identify such businesses where tax breaks are applicable. In this blog I examine why we now urgently need this bold step.

Many political parties claim to want more businesses that are truly ‘purpose led’ but have not backed it up with specific policy or legislation. The world is changing, and governments and businesses need to change with it, not remain stuck in the old paradigm. Straightforward tax breaks would really make a difference and stimulate the growth that is so urgently needed.

The UK Government has consistently resisted the provision of simple fiscal incentives for specific types of company, preferring to remain agnostic on structure despite evidence that social enterprises contribute so much to the economy as well as tackling social and environmental issues. The sole recent tax relief aimed at social enterprises in England (which is now finished) was Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR), which was aimed at investors rather than for the business itself and was largely irrelevant to most social enterprises as they can’t take equity investment (not to mention it was complicated to administer and understand).

Rather than incentivise certain beneficial types of company that help deliver policy objectives, the orthodoxy is that the market will provide outcomes and investment due to the profit motive. The profit driver above all other considerations comes at a cost to non-financial outcomes. The time has come for all parties to challenge this orthodoxy, particularly in delivery of goods and services that people depend upon for their daily lives.

The current scandal around water companies perfectly illustrates why we need governments to incentivise in the right way. Currently, financial rewards are reaped for those that asset strip in the name of higher dividends – ignoring the social and environmental consequences of not investing in these aspects of the business. There have been other recent well-known cases often led by private equity firms making quick returns at the expense of long-term stability and reinvestment in staff and infrastructure.

‘Shareholder primacy’ as it’s known, is also one of the relatively undiscussed but key reasons that the UK is facing relatively high levels of stagnation and inequality according to a briefing by the Common Wealth Think Tank. The researchers have noted that it leads to behaviours that are much more pronounced in the UK – i.e. extracting larger shareholder payouts rather than investing in the workforce and the company, which leads to lower productivity. Their research finds that there is a correlation between democratic governance and higher levels of investment within the business. The pressure from financial markets to ‘disgorge cash’ has impact on both investment and thus sustainable growth.

Governance (i.e. the set of rules about how the company is set up) is an essential part of being ‘purpose led’. How can you have a business that extracts as much dividend and equity for shareholders as possible yet claims to be driven by social and environmental purpose? In the UK, the main stakeholder tends to be the shareholder – with relatively low priority being given to others such as the local community, employees and the environment.

Many political parties claim to want more businesses that are truly ‘purpose led’ but have not backed it up with specific policy or legislation. The world is changing, and governments and businesses need to change with it, not remain stuck in the old paradigm. Straightforward tax breaks would really make a difference and stimulate the growth that is so urgently needed. We will be lobbying parties for this change with our social enterprise partners on the Business Plan for Britain campaign. Watch this space!

If you are interested in accrediting your business to show your ethical and purposeful social enterprise credentials, you can register your interest here. You can also take our short online quiz to quickly identify if your business is eligible.

If you would like to keep up to date with our latest news please sign up for our newsletter.

Photo of a woman speaking with text overlay: "This is why social enterprises are far more than businesses, in the conventional narrow interpretation of the word. They are the fabric of the community that picks up those that are left behind for whatever reason by the wider economy and society due to market failure as well as providing goods and services that add social value."

Why should we be thinking beyond the ‘better business’ message?

In a few weeks we are holding our Beyond Better Business conference in Manchester.  It will be preceded by a drinks reception, which Andy Burnham will be attending the night beforehand, showcasing and celebrating local social enterprises.   

This theme is very pertinent and current in many ways, but particularly whilst the actions of business are increasingly being put under the spotlight following the allegations at the CBI, a body that purports to represent the wider business world in good practice and leadership.  

Whenever I have communicated with the CBI we seem to have been on a very different wavelength and it’s a constant source of frustration in many business fora that social enterprises are not understood or somehow seen as ‘not proper business’ because we put our stakeholders before financial gains for shareholders. We are often marginalised and ignored. The same goes for business departments of government.   

But this is not to say that the wider business community cannot learn and adapt to become more like social enterprises. B Lab (the home of B Corp for the UK) for instance use the strapline Let’s use business as a force for good. They talk about “redefining the role of business within our economic system so that every business is a force for good”. However, social enterprises have social good as their core mission, it goes beyond mere window dressing or ‘purpose signalling’… It’s in their DNA. 

This is why social enterprises are far more than businesses, in the conventional narrow interpretation of the word. They are the fabric of the community that picks up those that are left behind for whatever reason by the wider economy and society due to market failure as well as providing goods and services that add social value.   

The social enterprise raison d’être is making a difference by tacking some of the knotty issues that society faces, in a nimble and entrepreneurial way. They often fill the gaps that other businesses don’t or won’t reach, because their central mission is to solve a social/environmental problem (whilst making money to sustain themselves in achieving their social/environmental mission). It is this emphasis which makes social enterprises different from the mainstream business community. Many businesses that are not set up in this way just don’t get the values and motivations that drive social enterprises, their leaders and their wider stakeholders. 

This is why social enterprises are far more than businesses, in the conventional narrow interpretation of the word. They are the fabric of the community that picks up those that are left behind for whatever reason by the wider economy and society due to market failure as well as providing goods and services that add social value.   

I hope that at last we will soon see a paradigm shift in the concept and interpretation of ‘business’, the finance that supports it, along with the organisations that represent it. We need an end to macho toxic cultures that interpret ‘being commercial’ as financial growth before everything else with a bit of ‘purpose signalling’ to cover the cracks.   

If you want to join in and be part of this movement please come to our conference and if you’re a social enterprise, you can future proof your credentials and show your commitment to making a positive impact by becoming an accredited social enterprise!  

Lucy Findlay

Deeper than ESG – finding our soul

International Women's Day logoOn this International Women’s Day let’s think differently and do the world a favour by acting differently. It’s not about more of the same with a ‘female’ badge attached to it.

Women often feel that they don’t fit in the male-led business world, because they want to make a difference, not just make lots of money and be judged on how much their business turns over (this applies to many men that don’t fit the standard mould too!)

Growth vs degrowth or scaling up vs scaling out – we are not anti-growth, we are instead trying to make the world question the old assumptions and value not just financial outcomes that lead to certain types of behaviours, e.g. excessive personal financial profiteering of those in positions of power, taking priority over social and environmental considerations such as pollution, social inequality and exploitation.

A recent article The struggle for the soul of the B Corp movement by Anjli Raval of the Financial Times has ignited a debate on social media about how we truly know and identify businesses that are doing the best by people and planet, brought on by the B Corp certification being awarded controversially to the likes of Nespresso and Brewdog (now removed).

Subsequently I have been doing a lot of thinking around this issue. How do we truly know that a business is values based? There are so many different methodologies out there from looking at the outputs and outcomes (social value, impact and the rise of ESG reporting), to proving the DNA/governance of the business and its drivers (purpose driven and/or asset locked), to name a few.

There is no single answer, as we know that if an organisation is determined to ‘greenwash’, those in control will probably find a way to do it. However, there are ways in which we can reduce the likelihood and challenge the fundamentals of business – i.e. who owns it, who benefits (profits) from it, who is on the Board and the main mission all help.

Our Social Enterprise Mark accreditation independently proves that individual #shareholders are not in the driving seat, due to what’s termed an asset lock, which limits profits from dividends and on sale/closure. It also requires that social impact is measured and reported. Although B Corp certification does require a purpose driven mission statement, there is no restriction on shareholders profits and the pick and choose approach via the points based system can potentially let businesses off the hook – i.e. disguise the #antisocial actions. Our Social Enterprise Gold Mark goes even further, by further examining stakeholder involvement, social impact and business ethics – points are used  but there is a minimum number of points required.

In order to make a fundamental shift in this logjam we need to be much more revolutionary and precise in what we mean by the term business growth. We are truly stuck on one business model that provides a very limited set of benefits… Our traditional methods of accounting and valuing a business all point in this direction and investors perpetuate this. They are all holding us back and are not fit for purpose!

The criticism of this limitation of profits approach to business ethics is mainly due to the reduction in ability to attract growth investment (i.e. equity investors that take a stake in future profits and sale of the company) especially at start-up and growth phase. Social impact investment tends to be this type of funding – it requires very high rates of financial return as well as a social return.

Many people don’t realise that social enterprises which look for additional finance to grow are therefore largely reliant on debt finance (often known as social investment, with expensive interest rates) or grants (tend to be linked to specific outputs and hard to come by and need to be replaced).

In order to make a fundamental shift in this logjam we need to be much more revolutionary and precise in what we mean by the term business growth. We are truly stuck on one business model that provides a very limited set of benefits – i.e. financial return with financial products that respond in similar limited way. Our traditional methods of accounting and valuing a business all point in this direction and investors perpetuate this. They are all holding us back and are not fit for purpose!

There is a growing movement that recognises the challenge, with solutions that help redress the imbalance of financial interests as opposed to sustainability, yet to penetrate mainstream education of economists, business schools and accountancy let alone the professions and professional bodies themselves.

Rethinking Economics logoBut there are signs that this is changing. The Rethinking Economics network is doing some excellent work in this education space and there are forward looking professionals leading the charge for change.

The frustration is the time and the lack of progressive thinking from mainstream economists, politicians and financial professionals. I hope that over the next year we see an acceleration of a shift in thinking and that I am not saying the same all over again on IWD2024!

Text: "13 years of' and Social Enterprise Mark CIC logo with text "upholding the standard for social enterprise"

Celebrating 13 years of impact as a social enterprise accreditation authority

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

It’s hard to believe that today marks 13 years since we launched the Social Enterprise Mark. We are now officially a teenager!

After a challenging few years, where we have, amongst other things, faced capacity issues, we are excited to move into this new phase of growth to further develop the business, including updating our systems and expanding our assessment capacity in order  to help us reach out to more businesses globally, helping them drive their ethical and sustainable business practice and standards.

Consistently for the last 13 years, we have been committed to raising the standards of, as well as building the capabilities of, social enterprises as competitive, sustainable businesses dedicated to maximising social impact, and also broadening the reach, awareness, understanding and adoption of the social enterprise business model.

Even with the immense challenges thrown at us all over the past few years, we have been delighted to see our international network of accredited social enterprises continue to grow, as more and more organisations seek to prove their social enterprise credentials. In 2021/22, the total number of organisations holding one of our accreditations increased by 10%.

Yellow background with orange and white circles and Social Enterprise Mark logo with text 'Impact Report 21/22"With a larger network comes increased opportunities to create impact, and to mark our anniversary, we are excited to share our 2021/22 impact report, which summarises the impact we created during 2021/22 in our role as an advocate for the social enterprise sector.

In creating this report, we used data from our 2022 stakeholder survey, which consulted our Mark holders and wider stakeholders on the development of our accreditation services, to ensure our services continue to address the evolving needs of the growing social enterprise sector.

As a customer-focused organisation, we were delighted to see increases in key indicators of customer satisfaction, including 100% of Mark holder respondents agreeing that our social enterprise accreditations “prove their commitment to contributing towards the creation of a stronger and fairer economy” and “help them communicate the significance of being an accredited social enterprise to our employees, partners and other stakeholders”.

It was also pleasing to see that over 95% of respondents agreed we play an important role as an advocate and representative for the social enterprise sector. As this is one of our core values, it is really important to us that we are living up to this (and our other values).

A key area we focused on in the last year was our networking function – we have successfully developed several networks to better support our diverse community of Mark holders and supporters, including an international women’s leadership network and our growing HEI network, as well as connecting and expanding our Ambassadors,. We were excited to establish a new partnership with Cambio House for Change to host not one, but two national conferences, which focused on how social enterprise can be better embedded into higher education.

Group of people holding Social Enterprise Mark certificatesWe also further developed our existing partnership with Social Impact Ireland to accredit and raise the visibility of new and existing social enterprises in Ireland. Attending the official launch of the Social Enterprise Mark Ireland in Dublin in November was one of my highlights of 2022. As I mentioned in my previous blog, it was great to meet the first cohort of eight inspirational social enterprises that have been supported by Social Impact Ireland to achieve the Social Enterprise Mark.

We see 2023 as a key transitional year as we strengthen our Board, team, systems and processes to better equip us to reach the next phase in our journey, growing our gravitas, ethics, values and maturity.

Photo of Lucy Findlay with text overlay: Access to finance: challenging social investors to think differently

Access to finance: challenging social investors to think differently

Good Finance logoIn a guest blog for Good Finance UK, Lucy explores common barriers to accessing finance, including her own lived experience as founding Managing Director of Social Enterprise Mark CIC, and challenges social investors to escape the ‘business-as-usual’ approach that enables inequity.

Time and again access to finance comes out as the number one barrier to growth for social enterprises.

In this post, I want to drill down into what we mean by the terms ‘access to finance’ and how social investors can provide more flexible, accessible solutions.

In my research for this blog, I investigated the data that originates from the State of Social Enterprise Report in 2021 (SEUK). Interestingly, the effects of Covid and the economic crisis have reduced access to debt and equity finance (social finance) as a barrier to growth from 18% in 2019 to 6% in 2021.

The much larger barriers to growth were:

·       72%: Operational issues e.g. accessing customers,
·       61%: Economic factors such as cash flow
·       36%: Financial reasons e.g. grants.

Does this mean that social finance becomes largely irrelevant in times of crisis?  Even more so when we see the eye watering interest rate rises that are likely to see over the next year.

My thoughts are that this is not the case. However, we must see social finance within the wider context of pressures facing social enterprises and, as with any product/service, it needs to adapt, and provide flexible and hybrid products. In tandem, we also need to see social enterprises acting with a social value/sustainability head on rather than acting like corporates in their growth ambitions.

Continue reading Lucy’s blog on the Good Finance website.

An International Business Model: The Challenges and Highlights

Visiting Dublin during 2022’s Global Entrepreneurship week to announce the first cohort of Social Enterprise Mark Holders at the renowned Rediscovery Centre was a Watershed moment. The event had a great celebratory atmosphere beginning with the launch of the Social Enterprise Mark Ireland and hearing of the support from Social Enterprise Republic of Ireland (SERI) for accreditation and how important it is in gaining credibility for the sector as well as the ensuring quality standards are set and maintained.   

I would like to celebrate each and every one of those social enterprises who all spoke so eloquently about what the award meant to them. The event included moving stories about the journeys that founders and their supporters had been on.

To quote the founder of Alex’s Adventure, Nicole Ryan, “Gaining the Social Enterprise Mark for Alex’s Adventure has been one of the highlights of my career”. The death of her 18 year old brother in an accidental overdose in a nightclub inspired her to change the world for the better and become his story teller and catalyst. She gave up her engineering career to speak across the country to young people and help them make the right choices leading to Alex’s Adventure drugs education programme.

More pictures and case studies can be seen on the Social Enterprise Mark Ireland website.   

For a small social enterprise such as ours, getting the international business model right is a challenge both for capacity and quality assurance. Our international delivery partners have been crucial in sharing their understanding of the local social enterprise community as well as what we are trying to achieve, i.e. a clearer standard for social enterprises to ensure there is a robust business model which will support businesses to make a real difference and tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, e.g. global inequality and climate change.

We essentially want greater recognition of the social enterprise business model as part of the redistributive business solution in a world where business is often extractive. 

Social Impact Ireland team

Going forwards, we want to achieve sustainable scale through both a network of licensed partners and a network of peer assessors. Key to this has been our partnership with Social Impact Ireland, who have worked with us for the last three years to capacity-build and support a number of social enterprises as well as getting these businesses prepared for accreditation via the Social Enterprise Mark

This was a long journey given the different governance structures as well as the lack of recognition and relative youth of the social enterprise sector in the Republic of Ireland. It required patience and diligence from both sides, but I think it’s fair to say it was a true partnership that worked together to overcome what could have been insurmountable obstacles at times.   

In 2023 we want to build on our learning and, alongside building more partners, equip our Mark holders themselves to grow through a programme of trained peer assessors, who will help us spread the word and develop our own capacity to respond to the huge opportunities that international accreditation of social enterprise can bring.

Watch out for more in our newsletters and social media 

Business Investment: What is Degrowth?

By Lucy Findlay MBE, Managing Director of Social Enterprise Mark CIC

What is Degrowth? Is it something you’re familiar with? Keep reading and I’ll explain why it’s important.

During the 10th Anniversary Party for Big Society Capital, I was asked, along with 9 others about my experience of social impact investment for their blog. My answer was ‘I think it is a confusing term as lots of people have different interpretations of what social impact investment actually entails and sometimes that can be a bit of a barrier, especially for women and ethnic minorities who think ‘well why can’t I just go and get this investment from a bank? Why do I need this type of investment and what does it mean, does it mean I get special credit for activities that I am doing?’

Therein lies the problem. Why can’t we just go to a bank, why don’t banks understand our sector, why is there a need for social investment and does social investment solve the root cause? In my view, the root cause is the way, the narrow way, that business has been defined over the years as well as the narrow group of people that define it. Most specifically to the assumptions around the term ‘growth’ and ‘return on investment’.

For this reason, my antennae are being increasingly attuned to the term ‘growth’ and questioning what that means. For most automatic equates to getting bigger financially and greater financial  return for shareholders and other investors.

Ten voices from across the social impact investment sector on ten years Big Society Capital

Is Green Growth just “another” wealth creator?

More recently the term ‘green growth’ has gathered momentum – as a more palatable version. The assumption behind this term is that we can invest in green technologies and the green economy and keep on growing the financial bottom line which will help tackle climate change ie we can have it all and wealth will trickle down to the poorest. However, in a week of record summer temperatures in a cost of living crisis this is not the reality that we are seeing. Climate change targets are not going to be hit and social polarisation is getting worse, not better. This largely because profit and financial growth are still the main concern when it comes to growing an economy and aim of business – ie is Green Growth just another wealth creator? I’ll let that question sit with you.


Let’s talk Degrowth…

We need to think completely differently about growth to create sustainability – a system change. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some in the investment community are beginning to engage and embrace this idea. I came across an excellent seminar this week on concept of ‘Degrowth’ organised by US Investment Bank, Jeffries.

Degrowth, essentially recognises that we need to put social and environmental concerns before profit and create business that works in harmony with society and the environment, rather than fighting it on the fringes through tick box mitigation measures whilst carrying on with the same financial growth trajectories and assumptions.

This requires a complete rethink of what business is and why discussions in current business communities often feel ‘cross purpose’, even within the specialist social enterprise and investment community. We need to think radically about how we design a different ecosystem led by those that have been marginalised by it rather than adapting the current system incrementally led by those that have ingrained.


Do you feel confident with the investment options available?

Here are some helpful Links

Guides & Resources by Good Finance

Social Investors, Funds & Advisers

Jennifer Wilkins’ Presentation on Degrowth to Jefferies

Big Society Capital Website

Blog: Ten voices from across the social impact investment sector on ten years

Photo Credit
Big Society Capital 

Employee Ownership

Dispelling the myths of Social Enterprise, Employee Ownership and Purposeful Business

It is frustrating that the wider world tends to have a very narrow understanding of what the key characteristics of being a good business are. This is not helped by the media’s portrayal of a macho business world in programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den and follows the news that often focuses on corporate scandal and businesses that are solely focused on the delivery of profit for shareholders at the expense of other models of business.

The rise of the ‘Purposeful Business

This polar focus is not the reality as most business owners and stakeholders realise that there is more to being a business than just making a financial profit, particularly in the light of climate change.  The rise of the ‘purposeful business’ has become a noticeable trend over the last few years. These types of businesses should aim to tackle the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and address the negative effects of economic development.

One of the main ways to ensure that a business is driven by a social purpose and social impact though is to embed this in the governance of the business through either a specific legal structure/form such as a Community Interest Company (CIC) or an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) that can limit shareholder financial gain.

Another way to ensure that a business is social values-driven is to write purpose, values and rules into governance both within governing documents and via the modus operandi of the Board of Directors and in the interaction with stakeholders.  This means that such a business can have a variety of legal forms. Social enterprises (SEs) and employee owned businesses (EOs) are good examples of these types of business. The Social Enterprise Mark ensures that that there is rigour in this approach by accrediting governing documents, trading levels and social impact.

Below we look in more detail at the overlap between the two and bust some myths associated with both:

Why consider employee ownership?

Becoming an employee-owned business intrinsically helps to create a people-centred business that values its staff. As the first large law firm in the UK to give all eligible members of staff an equal share in its profits, Stephens Scown is leading this approach and attracting interest from beyond the legal sector. In their experience, employee ownership means staff become more engaged and motivated to achieve growth with a view to the wider ethos and impact of the business. It also promotes a culture focused on each person’s contribution to the business and this in turn can support the development of a purposeful business.

The link between employee ownership and social enterprise

Becoming a social enterprise creates a values-led business because it puts people and planet before profit for shareholders. The Social Enterprise Mark has 12 years’ experience of applying and accrediting this approach internationally in all sectors. Additionally, in many cases there is an overlap between social enterprises and employee owned businesses because of the close relationship to values and valuing people. A good example of this is Social Enterprise Gold Mark Holder Integrated Care 24 urgent care providers which have offered company shares to all employees with the aim of gaining better staff engagement and ownership.


Myths around EO and SE abound, though. Here we outline a few of them:

Employee ownership and social enterprise models only work for a certain size of company

Not true… The John Lewis Partnership is a longstanding example of a large employee owned business. Market Carpets in Devon with 29 employees is a smaller example. In the social enterprise world we have a number of mark-holders with multi-million pound turnover such as University of Westminster and The Growth Company.

All the shares must be held by employees in the case of EO

A founder in an EO may wish to retain a shareholding as they are not retiring or it may be a family business with family members actively working in the business.

A social enterprise cannot have shareholders

Most do not have shareholders, but there are shareholder models such as Community Interest Companies Ltd by Shares and Community Benefit Societies but any dividend distribution is either zero or limited to 35% of profits.  At Social Enterprise Mark, a dividend cap of up to 49% of profits is also acceptable.

The employees use their own money to buy the company in the case of an EO

Not true…the company could seek bank funding but usually the purchase price is settled using the profits of the company over a period of time.

Both SE and EO are very niche rather than mainstream business models

Not true – in January 2021 it was found that employee ownership represented 1 in 20 private company sales. It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 social enterprises in the UK. So long as the business is maximising social value rather than profit for individuals the many businesses could qualify as Social Enterprise’s for the Social Enterprise Mark.

A founder/shareholder (if a social enterprise has shareholders) will lose money if they choose Employee Ownership or Social Enterprise over a trade sale/company sale

True and false in both cases – it may be that the perfect purchaser wants to buy the company for more than it is worth because it fits into their strategic plan or the company is their main supplier in the case of an EO. If certain criteria are met, choosing employee ownership can be advantageous from a tax perspective for a founder as there is a capital gains tax exemption if at least half the business becomes employee owed. In the case of a CIC limited by shares, shares can be sold at a rate that a buyer is prepared to pay. This rate is likely to be limited, however, due to the limitations placed on assets and profit distribution.

If a business is employee-owned the employees could do what they like with it!

Not true – the company’s managers are accountable to the employees rather than external shareholders. If the company has a governing document, this will usually set out how decisions should be made and if certain criteria should be prioritised in decision making such as the likely impact on the climate or employees of a decision.

A social enterprise can be sold to a private company and lose its social enterprise status

True and false – a social enterprise should have some form of asset lock which maintains its independence from its parent that it is sold onto. In the case of the Social Enterprise Mark accreditation there’s a requirement that any parent company also holds an asset lock or can demonstrate a business case as to why it doesn’t (in very rare cases)

Offering different legal structures for a business out outside the Company Ltd by Shares model helps to ‘bake in’ social impact for employees and stakeholders.

Greater understanding and uptake of these models would help to ensure that social and environmental action are part of the business DNA.

We need greater profile of these alternatives rather than resorting to more common legal forms which put individual shareholder gain at the centre.

As the old saying goes ‘legal form should follow business function’.

By Catherine Carlton (Stephens Scown LLP) and Lucy Findlay (Social Enterprise Mark CIC)

Be the Best

The Golden Thread: Embedding social enterprise for better student outcomes

All professional worlds have their own jargon.  The term ‘being student-centred’ is an important one for universities, but can be a challenge to achieve for an institution that has so many competing priorities. The increasing politicisation of the university world has also led to challenges around what exactly this term means.

On 25th April 2022, we held our first face-to-face networking meeting as part of a collaboration conference, for two years at the University of Westminster, one of our Social Enterprise Gold Mark holders. It was a really exciting and energetic event. The summary report can be found on our website.

Dr Peter Bonfield, Vice Chancellor, University of WestminsterBeing more student-centred around social enterprise was a key topic flagged up at the event. Dr Peter Bonfield, Vice Chancellor at University of Westminster said that 1 in 5 of their students go on to set up their own businesses, with many looking to make a difference to society and create a better world. Generational trends show that Generation Z are much more socially and environmentally conscious with many dedicated to fighting social and environmental change.

Mission and values are therefore of increased importance to students in gaining a higher education. They also want to see evidence of how these are being delivered at all levels of the institution. This is why the social enterprise business model is so crucial.  It provides the framework for a business that is creating social and environmental value as its raison d’etre.  It links directly into, for example, the delivery the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and civic responsibilities.

It is not a by-product; it is a state of mind and culture – the Golden Thread.

Findings from our conference show that there is a need to make better connections between the different threads from the student’s point of view, both inside and outside the teaching environment. For instance, extra-curricular activity needs better academic credit as well as making the better links to local social enterprises by bringing the ‘outside in’ through knowledge exchange (KE) activities.

Finance is another area that needs greater connection and thought. Many universities are still not embedding social value with equal emphasis to financial value into their finance modules themselves. This leaves a disjointed approach whereby social value often sits separately in a different function within the institution.

SEEchange Conference Roundtable DiscussionsAchieving the right advice and type of funding and support is also a challenge with much start-up funding and support focusing on a narrow base of STEM and high growth companies. Pitching competitions can also act as a barrier as many more socially motivated and marginalised students to not feel confident in this style. We need more links to peer-to-peer lending and support programmes outside the university setting as well as pivoting internal university support (including pump priming and growth capital) to help social enterprises grow sustainably.

When a university shows leadership in this area, we see jigsaw pieces come together for students too. There are good examples of how universities, such as Westminster (that hold our Gold Mark) have done this as set out in my joint article with Diana Beech for HEPI.

By making more distinctive links between student’s needs, teaching, the community, research and values, we see the best outcomes for a supportive environment and greater sustainability for all in the longer term.

Lucy Findlay MBE

Managing Director, Social Enterprise Mark CIC

IWD Reflections for 2022

Welcome to a very poignant International Women’s Day. 

This year it is so sad to remember where I was 2 years ago when I celebrated with my Siberian peer exchange and good friend Irina Makeeva and her family in Novosibirsk, followed by a trip to see Swan Lake.  In the days following, I met so many amazing people interested in and actively engaging in making a difference to their local and regional economies through social enterprise and social innovation. 

One of my most abiding memories, however, was when I listened to a disabled girl sing a popular tune at the local folklore school with her friends.  She sang with so much passion and hope.  She was due to sing the song with the star Jasmin who made the song a hit later that year, but then Covid19 intervened.

This year we have agreed with our Russian peers that we need to support one another symbolically – Women in Solidarity.  We are making a small gesture of cooking each other’s national dishes.  I have just made a big pot of Borsht!

Today we also celebrate a year of our Women’s Leadership Network which was launched on IWD21.  In a world where women often don’t identify with the term ‘leader’ we have together to exchange stories, tips and thoughts from inspirational women.  These are now all recorded and can be viewed on our YouTube channel. At today’s event we will be hearing from Daniela Papi-Thornton who will be speaking about her leadership journey and thoughts on reclaiming social entrepreneurship from the niche.

On Wednesday we are extending our celebrations to partner with out friends at Millfields Trust to run another women’s networking session in Plymouth on the theme of Breaking the Bias featuring Jenny Evans, an award winning young entrepreneur and artist. She studied textiles at Cardiff Metropolitan University, has won Santander’s University Entrepreneur’s national competition in 2017, and went on to set up a high growth, investor backed business in 2018 after raising a seed round of £350,000.   It’s not too late to sign up!


Lucy Findlay MBE

Managing Director, Social Enterprise Mark CIC

#BreakTheBias #IWD2022

Image of a typewriter with a piece of paper with the word 'opinion' typed on it

Statement on the Adebowale Commission on Social Investment

By Lucy Findlay MBE, Managing Director of Social Enterprise Mark CIC

We welcome the findings of the Adebowale Commission on Social Investment, which states that a new approach is needed to social investment.  It is true that social enterprise has been deprioritised, particularly by the big players, due to the perceived challenges of reaching social enterprises, the rigidity of the financial products as well as the bias and lack of understanding of the financiers and experts that make the decisions which has led to inequality and discrimination.

When I remember back to the early days of government involvement with the setting up of Big Society Capital, there was an explicit remit to lend to social enterprises. We had early discussions with them about the need to be clear about that market, to demonstrate true social impact. Part of the reason for the dilution, in my opinion, was the lack of transparency, which allowed a diversion of funds away from the sector. Such transparency can be provided through the use of independent accreditation standards, like the Social Enterprise Mark.

I have blogged on this issue at quite some length as well as leading the charge to try to get mainstream providers to adjust their approach to government emergency loans. It is my firm opinion that we need an overhaul of how the mainstream finance world works to make it fit not only for social enterprises but other types of business that put society and the environment first. This can only be done by engaging much better with stakeholders and gaining their ownership and direct involvement in decision making as well as being clear about the types of business that really offer social value in their DNA.

I welcome the approach of the new Growth Impact Fund, which is due to be launched by Big Issue Invest, UnLtd and Shift. This potentially represents a big shift in thinking that should be applied to all social investment (both mainstream and more ‘niche’) through being flexible, supportive and involving the expertise of those that have ‘lived experience’. I hope that this expertise will be mirrored in the makeup of the investment committee too as demonstrated by the likes of international beacons of expertise, such as SheEO.

Find out more about the findings of the Commission and read the report on the Social Enterprise UK website.

Wooden tiles spelling 'blog' with a pen and pad in the background

All we want for Christmas is… freedom (not just from Covid!)

Stacks of gold coins with small plants on top next to a wooden houseCentral to social enterprise is the principle that the generation of revenue from customers can be used to create a business that uses this revenue to create social value. Alongside this, that the reinvestment of any/most profit, can allow us to address social and environmental justice, thus transforming society for the better, rather than for shareholder gain. The Social Enterprise Mark requires that this principle is written into the constitution and governing documents.

we need to be clearer about the detrimental effects that growth for growth’s sake have on the delivery of social value and justice

The main argument against this asset locked model is often that it doesn’t facilitate equity investment as investors want to make a profit either through shareholder dividends or from a sale of the business as they exit. Equity investment is a tool used to enable the company to scale/grow quickly.

The main arguments against equity investment however are a loss of control to outside influencers that have different motivations and a potential mission drift as investors require a financial return. I would also add that we need to be clearer about the detrimental effects that growth for growth’s sake have on the delivery of social value and justice. In particular, very large social enterprises can end up displacing smaller grassroots community-led businesses that may well create greater social value.

Ed MayoWhen we look back to the early days of social enterprise, there was not this urge to scale up and copy the standard business/corporate model. Social enterprises worked together and supported one another in order to increase their social impact – the emphasis was on identity not trade – this was well articulated by our friend Ed Mayo in a guest blog written for us in January. He also mentioned that this has had its limitations in terms of scale and argues for a scaling out model (i.e. working more effectively together to combine resources).

This ‘living within your means’ business approach is known as ‘bootstrapping’ but has become unfashionable because of its perceived limitations in scaling up the business. However, as Ed points out, there are ways that we could be promoting this model in order to maintain our values, creating focus as well as maintaining control of the outcomes whilst addressing the scale issue by working more effectively together. For instance, we can address unfashionable challenges and market gaps using the bootstrapping model, because we don’t need to persuade others of our ‘pitch’.

I might stick my neck out and say that the majority of social enterprises are using the bootstrapping model, but it gets little profile as it is perceived as lacking by most current business thinkers. This is one of the reasons that social enterprises have not been attracted to social investment – or any other types of investment for that matter.

Until we live in a time where investors are not just motivated by financial return, we need an approach that is fit for our social/environmental purpose and gives us the freedom to reinvest primarily in the mission that we set out to address.



Coins in a glass jar and three stacks of coins on a table in front on a blurred green background

Activating for a more financially inclusive world

Just 2.2% of total mainstream business investment finance goes to female led start-ups. It’s estimated that this falls to a pitiful 0.0006% for black women. The levels of deal are also way out of kilter, with women achieving on average just 1/3 of the total investment of men. These figures reflect the disparity faced by 51% of the population, not a minority.

No going back; State of Social Enterprise Survey 2021It’s true that things in the social enterprise world might be a little better in terms of business inclusivity. According to the latest State of Social Enterprise Report 2021, 47% of social enterprises are led by women, and diversity is growing with women from racialised community more likely to be running start-ups, but at the same time these organisations tend to have a lower median annual turnover (£31,900 compared with £100,000 for the mainstream world, although some of this difference may be because of higher start-up levels).

For this blog, Social Enterprise UK has kindly supplied a further breakdown of figures from as yet unpublished survey data around access to finance by ethnicity and gender. These  provide valuable insight.

It shows that over the last year women that have applied for finance have asked for less (median £30,000) than either men (£55,000), white ( £50,000) or BAME businesses (£50,000), whilst BAME led business have been 50% less likely to get the finance they aspired to (median £25,000) when compared with male (£50,000), female (£25,000) and white led businesses (£40,000). This suggests there may be a lack of confidence amongst women to apply for finance in the first place, and although the BAME led businesses might have high aspiration levels, these are matched with a much lower success rate in gaining the finance that they ask for – more research is needed to understand what are likely to be complex additional barriers that these communities experience.

Largely, the finance world’s response to the barriers to business finance has been adaptation of the existing model or the provision of a slightly different version tailored to address those businesses that don’t fit the standard mould, e.g. social investment organisations.

Here are some my observations:

  • A high level of risk aversion to anything outside the established (male led) norm in business lending in mainstream finance. Conversely high levels of risk were exposed in another side of their business, e.g. investment banking which led to the financial crash
  • The standard and adapted approach being marketed to a more diverse audience and it being the audience’s fault that they are not ‘investment ready’ rather than looking at the system/product itself and asking why it is not fit for purpose
  • The system being rigged against a more diverse outcome because it is designed, awarded and implemented by the white men who award those in their own image and prize ‘scale’ at any cost and presentation of ideas into a format that fits the ‘dazzle me’ mould (reinforced in the general population by formats such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice)
  • Financial ‘group think’ which leads to laziness and a lack of questioning of trends and norms in the financial world (also seen in social investment), whereby everyone jumps onto a bandwagon without questioning. Those that do question feel stupid because they do not have the right financial language/terminology to challenge and feel legitimate. I would liken this to the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome
  • Financial targets valued over social impact targets, which lend themselves to volume of safe deals rather than really addressing barriers for those that are most marginalised
  • The term social impact investment – that has become a catch all for start-up venture capital due to most businesses wanting to demonstrate a social impact. Demonstrating social impact is of course a desirable attribute for all businesses, but using the term social impact investment is confusing for those that really are marginalised and unable to access venture capital due the requirement for high financial returns for equity stakes

I was interested to see a recent interview in Pioneers Post with the CEO of Big Society Capital (BSC) to publicise their refreshed strategy. The interviewer points out that diversity is not mentioned once in the strategy despite being a priority. To be fair on BSC they do mention that they want to see both more diverse lenders and recipients, but this is in the context of “supporting enterprise growth and scaling business models to create more social impact.”

Many women led social enterprises define growth in a different way and see ‘scaling out’ (i.e. creating and working with other others to achieve social impact) as a way to achieve impact growth, not traditional scaling up to increase the financial turnover and profitability of the business that they run. This of course is how co-operatives work – growth is via greater collaborative and collective working

The conclusion that I draw from these observations as well as speaking to others, is that it’s time for a complete rethink and systems change in line with the new business world which must put social justice and tackling climate change at its heart.

SHEEO logoMy number one recommendation from recent research is SheEO– a global community of radically generous women that all believe that needs to be a shift in business paradigm and that women and non-binary people are leading the way. It seems to be modelled on the Women’s Lending Circle approach. It was founded by the inspirational Vicki Saunders, who is a Canadian serial entrepreneur. The community raises investment capital through Activator contributions and vote on those ventures that they want to support. These ventures work together to share resources and support one another and decision making is democratic and peer based requiring a level of engagement and understanding that is much more supportive than a standard finance providers. The application process is also simplified.

I became an Activator myself recently following listening to Vicki on a number of occasions, most recently at our Social Enterprise Mark Women’s Leadership Network . I would encourage you to have a listen or Google her as she has a real zeal for doing things differently.

Secondly, in the UK a new community has been set up by a woman led social enterprise – The Angelfish Community. It is a new online help forum aimed at helping start-ups and established social enterprise led by women and BAME communities. It will also aim to provide investment to those target groups via a democratic decision-making process like SheEO. They are welcoming feedback from those that engage.

In conclusion, I think that we are still in the foothills of creating the sort of offerings of appropriate finance for the types of business that we need for the future alongside being in the paradigm shift required to change businesses to address the future challenges that we all face. Some of us can see this and get frustrated just talking about it. We are not going to change the world without a bit of imagination and we need to support those that are moving in the same direction as us and activating on their convictions.


See below for links to specialist and mainstream providers, which can provide information and support:

Stacks of gold coins

Certification and social enterprise wages

This blog was produced in collaboration with social enterprise bodies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA.

Wages are a highly discussed topic across most sectors and industries. Around the world there is ongoing publicity that highlights concerns around modern slavery, exploitation of workforces and disparities in income.

When it comes to social enterprises there can be the expectation that they go above and beyond on wages, by virtue of their model – doing business for good. Wages are a complex area in general and, for social enterprises, there are unique circumstances that further affect approaches and perceptions.

We know that as social enterprises we must value staff, ensuring that they are being paid fairly, especially for those that are marginalised or prone to exploitation – for example, people with a disability. We also know that social enterprises need to attract talent and skills to the team.

As a group of international social enterprise certifiers and standard setters, we all recognise that we want to be more effective in creating transparency and understanding around these points. Giving the issue more prominence can assist and empower those that work in social enterprises, as well as create confidence in the ‘social enterprise brand’ for customers. Across social enterprise certifications/accreditations in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and USA – there are standard principles that we each apply around wages.

The focus for all certifiers is on the broader remit and raison d’etre of a social enterprise – i.e. evidencing social, cultural and environmental purpose being at the heart of the business. However, all certifiers include some form of ‘sense check’ on wages, for example through self or public declarations, and understanding pay policies and challenging ‘out of the ordinary’ pay levels where they are visible. However, wage audits and verification, which are not checks mastered in the regular domain, are not a pass-fail criterion of social enterprise certifications.

Amongst the certifiers there are several consistent issues and questions that arise around wages:

Concerns of underpayment

For some certifiers, stakeholder underpayment has now become a key issue, particularly for the most vulnerable employees and where there is no minimum wage legislation as a safety net, as is the case in the USA, where minimum wage varies by state.

Other concerns of underpayment have arisen in Australia, where many social enterprises pay employees with a disability an acceptable productivity-based rate. Although lower than minimum wage, these rates are consistent with legal requirements and enable these individuals to have employment where they otherwise might not attain it. While this is an ongoing subject of debate in Australia, solutions have and continue to be developed to equalise outlier wages.

Disparity in salaries

A further consideration is very high salary payments, with a focus on the pay differentials between highest and lowest paid staff.  Across all certifiers this is not an easy assessment and there are a variety of considerations at play including the sector of the organisation.

For example, in the UK there is a need to set salaries to attract locum GPs in the NHS, while other industries face similar shortages of skills which can affect wages. In the UK, the Social Enterprise Gold Mark standard considers pay differentials between highest and lowest paid staff but doesn’t have a pass/fail approach, rather a collective scoring on a number of ethical issues.

Paying yourself is not at odds with social mission

All certifications also report the issue of founder underpayment, which has largely fallen under the radar. At times each of the certifiers has encountered social enterprises founders, particularly amongst younger generations, who are uncertain as to whether they can draw a wage and how this would be viewed in the certification assessment.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what social enterprise is about. Social enterprise has to become a sustainable business, nobody can afford to work for free ongoing and indeed this may mask underlying viability issues. On the other hand, we expect social enterprises not to be duplicating the ‘fat cat bonus’ and huge pay differentials that have dogged other sectors.

Some social enterprises, where their business model allows for it, go over and above legal obligations, while others resource wages within their means and in line with minimum or legal requirements. Aside from a sense-check there are no hard and fast rules around payment of wages in social enterprise certification. The variations in legal context, industry and workforce means there are different and valid approaches. Ultimately, we should be looking at what social enterprises can achieve within their own industry and national context.

For seekers and stakeholders of certification, the issues around wages may affirm or challenge assumptions and experiences. The local certification bodies are a resource to tap into as questions and issues arise.

Contributors to this blog: Social Traders (Australia), Social Enterprise Mark CIC (UK), Akina Foundation (New Zealand), Buy Social Canada, Buy Social USA, Society Profits (USA), and Social Enterprise UK.

Watford Workshop employees

Creating better jobs and careers for disabled people

The recent Paralympic Games remind us how disability can motivate and challenge the public to see beyond the disabled stereotypes, but often the images and memories disappear quickly once they are over, as we see medallists struggle with barriers encountered in daily life, e.g. access to decent toilets on trains.

Having had a temporary disability myself (I have now recovered), I have a much greater appreciation for how little mainstream society considers the needs and challenges that disabled people face. It is not only equality of access to things like services and jobs, it is attitudes towards disability which can make people feel worthless and unable to contribute to society or the economy. This has been made worse by policies such as the move to Personal Independence Payments, which have contributed to the marginalisation of those in need of financial support to maintain a decent quality of life.

The government estimates that there are around 14 million disabled people in the UK, but nobody knows the true figures, as many people do not declare their disability or see themselves as disabled for a variety of reasons, including the stigma of being labelled. Whilst 4.4m disabled people are employed, you are twice as likely to be unemployed if you are disabled. Those in work also report discrimination around perceptions of the types of suitable job roles, a lack of flexibility and adjustment to help people participate and being overlooked for promotion.

In a world where business is increasingly about recovery and a positive contribution to people and planet, actively engaging and being inclusive as an employer is an essential part of the picture and makes best business sense especially at a time of staff shortages.

The delayed National Disability Strategy, which was published last month, seeks to address some of the points that have been made about employing disabled people, but the reality seems to be very slow progress, for those who have been observing this sector for a number of years. We agree with our partner UnLtd, which stated in a recent blog on the topic that they welcomed a commitment to more support for disabled people starting a business via BEIS, but the lack of formulation of any detail of what this might look like is frustrating.

Disabled employment campaigners, such as Jane Hatton from social enterprise Evenbreak (a specialist job board for disabled people), call for mandatory reporting for all employers, which the Strategy currently falls short on (preferring only to look at this issue with larger employers, with no firm commitment). This reporting should also include retention, progression and equality of pay.

We also welcome a recognition that Supported Businesses have played an important role in pioneering best practice for those people that need more support than the standard Access to Work package. The Strategy mentions for the first time the Proof of Concept for businesses that can be more flexible with their support and help those with more challenging access issues onto the first rung of employment with intensive support, with the goal to ultimately help them access a job in mainstream employment.

We have been working with DWP on this issue for a number of years as an active member of the Supported Business Steering Group and are keen to open this opportunity out to more social enterprises. However, we believe that these jobs must be of a high quality and fulfilling, allowing progression into equally high-quality jobs.

Social Enterprise Disability Employment MarkThis is why we developed the Social Enterprise Disability Employment Mark (and Local Authority Disability Employment Mark) – to verify and accredit the motivations and credentials of those businesses that carry out this important task.

We are currently piloting the assessment process alongside the DWP Proof of Concept roll out.

Ultimately all employment should be an activity that improves self-worth and confidence. In a world where business is increasingly about recovery and a positive contribution to people and planet, actively engaging and being inclusive as an employer is an essential part of the picture and makes best business sense especially at a time of staff shortages. Social enterprises and the supported business sector are leading the way in helping to create more inclusive businesses, but they need the support of government to help to achieve this both in terms of resources, recognition and urgency.

What the NHS White Paper means for social enterprise urgent care providers

By Mark Cockerton, Advisor on urgent healthcare & GP out-of hours services

Mark CockertonWe will soon be having a(nother) reorganisation of the NHS.

I’m assuming that readers will have read the White Paper so I haven’t covered the detail of those proposals. As a very broad summary: A major feature of the 2012 reorganisation was to introduce automatic tendering of NHS healthcare services and bring the commissioning of NHS healthcare services under the jurisdiction of the Competition and Markets Authority.

Both of those are going to be reversed next year. It says it all that the previous ‘reforms’ are being dismantled by the governing Party that introduced them.

9 years too late in my view…

Competitive tendering

Regular tendering of urgent care services has become commonplace. There is precious little evidence of any VFM or service quality benefits arising from tendering; neither are there any shining examples of that process improving collaborative working in urgent care. Some of you will disagree with that, however my assertion is that it isn’t the competitive tendering process that drives service quality.

Many of us remember the world before competition when our organisations were fully-compliant against all 13 NQRs and there was an immediate action plan drawn up to deal with any non-compliance. The assumption that including a requirement to collaborate in a contract specification would mean that collaboration would follow is a pretty damn naïve one. It often had the opposite effect with services much less inclined to collaborate after being in competition with each other during a tender process.

Had NHS competitive tendering been a success when judged against the huge cost of the organisations (including CCGs and Commissioning Support Units) set up to service the system, we’d have been given examples showing us how well it was all working. I have never seen any VFM comparisons taking into account the cost of commissioning, contracting and tendering.

Given the failure to achieve notable service improvements from competitive tendering there is strong public and NHS staff support for scrapping section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and for removing the commissioning of NHS healthcare services from the jurisdiction of the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. That’s something that I also support as the current commissioning arrangements are not fit for purpose.

Collaboration and integration

I believe that different parts of the NHS and other healthcare Providers will work together more easily once they are freed from feeling they need to erect barriers with organisations that could potentially compete with them, whenever the next tender is issued. Fear of future competition from ‘partner’ organisations is something I frequently observe and its a serious barrier to co-operation in the urgent care sector currently.

That’s because the local Acute Trust, Community Trust, Ambulance Service, GP Federation, Primary Care Network and commercial provider can (and do) compete with the Social Enterprise provider to deliver urgent care services; either alone, or in partnership with another organisation. I can’t think of another part of the healthcare system that has such a range of organisations competing to deliver it, or where tendering opportunities have been more plentiful. The replacement of the requirement to regularly tender urgent care contracts and replace that with the expectation that local Providers will collaboratively work together in an Integrated Care System, to provide the best service possible with the available resources, has my support… in principle.

However, there are huge challenges coming for organisations that have followed a policy of remaining ‘independent’ and made little progress towards integration. There are many references in the White  Paper to ‘placebased’ services and those organisations operating in areas where they have little geographical relevance as they won their contracts in areas where they had no history of service delivery are particularly threatened.


Where are the threats to Social Enterprise organisations, including UHUK members, providing urgent healthcare and unscheduled primary care?

  • Having worked for one of the Pathfinder Integrated Care Organisations I learned first hand how easy it is to push an ‘external’ Provider outside the integrated care system. How would an organisation without longstanding links to a local geographic area and enjoying little emotional ownership from local primary care and patients, be able to ‘win’ against an alliance of Acute Trust/ Ambulance Service/ core local Primary Care organisation and Local Authority?
  • Without enjoying strong local emotional ownership, or being fully embedded within local primary care and/or having local ‘political’ support, social enterprise and commercial organisations risk losing their contracts when the term ends. In my view.
  • The alternative outcome is that organisations external to the Integrated Care System may be offered a ‘take it or leave it’ financial envelope that will be very unattractive. The expectation is of course that the Integrated Care System delivers value-for-money. Those core organisations inside the System will seek to maintain their income so far as possible by forcing those organisations outside the System to take the brunt of efficiency savings.
  • Any commercial and social enterprise organisations that have depended on a strategy of continually securing new ‘out of area’ contracts to replace other ‘out of area’ contracts lost in competitive tendering processes in order to maintain their financial security, are particularly threatened. That’s because their prospect of securing future contracts in areas where they don’t currently have a very well-established presence is going to be minimal.
  • Future integrated urgent care contracts are very likely to be secured by collaborative arrangements between local Acute Trusts, Local Authorities, a core local Primary Care Organisation and Ambulance Trusts. Any provider outside the local area and the Integrated Care System is, by definition, going to be unable to define how they will be able to offer integrated care.
  • Organisations that have built an integrated management structure and physical infrastructure paid for by a contract portfolio that includes ‘out-of-area’ contracts are likely to have their future financial viability adversely affected. The economy of scale issues that drove their organisational development become financial barriers when the organisation needs to downsize if it loses one or more contracts that it is unable to replace.
  • Politically, Acute Trusts/ Ambulance services/Community Trusts/ Mental Health Trusts/ Primary Care Collaboratives and Local Authorities have a size and influence that no Social Enterprise could ever hope to match.
  • High-level discussions will already be taking place between NHS Trusts, Local Authorities and Ambulance services to position their organisations in the Integrated Care Systems. Agreement about who from those organisations is going to become the Chief Executive Officer may already have been reached.
  • In some areas Primary Care will have been included in those preliminary political discussions. However, only those social enterprise providers that are extremely well-established locally and have some local political clout will be a party to those discussions. That is also something I saw in the Pathfinder Integrated Care Organisation I worked for. By the time Primary Care joined the discussions it was clear that alliances had already been formed between the Acute Trust and Ambulance service and it was catch-up from that point. Securing appropriate influence for the Primary Care organisation against the combined might of the Acute Trust and Ambulance Service, when the CEO of the Acute Trust was the CEO of the Integrated Care Organisation following a deal with the Ambulance Trust ‘was a challenge!’.
  • Bear in mind that the Boards of Integrated Care Systems need only to include NHS Trusts, Local Authorities and Primary Care. There is certainly no expectation or requirement that Social Enterprise providers have a seat on the Board and very few will do.’

Plan for action

  • There is still nearly a year until the new Integrated Care Systems are expected to be up and running in April 2022. So there is still time to build a ‘political alliance’. The obvious alliance for social enterprise urgent care organisations is with local Primary Care Organisations but building relationships with local Acute Trusts/Ambulance services/ Local Authorities is essential too.
  • Social Enterprise urgent care providers tend to have unrivalled access to local GPs and that gives an opportunity to improve relationships and ensure that the organisation is ‘emotionally embedded’ within local primary care.
  • Much of the high-level strategy on the establishment of the Integrated Care Systems will be undertaken by senior clinicians. Clinical Directors of the organisation should be outward-looking and seeking to establish effective working relationships and networks with all other local healthcare Providers, including Acute Trusts and Ambulance Trusts. It is not the time for organisations to be inwardly-focussed.
  • All other Senior Managers should be given an objective to build effective working relationships with local healthcare providers. The Chief Executive has a vital role in building the most effective working relationships with CCG leadership.
  • Dust off the organisations constitution and ensure that it is being followed, particularly with regard to the involvement of patients, staff and GPs in the organisation. At times of change, buy-in and support from local people is often valuable.
  • Dust off too the latest tender submission you made and remind yourself about the promises made with regard to integration, seamless care, joint working, patient involvement etc.
  • There will almost certainly be a due diligence process before a Social Enterprise provider is included in an Integrated Care System so make sure you are keeping to your Constitution and can demonstrate how you are different to a commercial provider.
  • If there is any opportunity to work with the Acute Trust/ Ambulance Trust/ Primary Care – take it.
  • Any organisation that is dependent on ‘out-of-area’ contracts to maintain financial viability should be reviewing its exit strategy for those contracts and making plans to limit its financial exposure if those contracts are lost and replacement contracts are not secured. That includes reviewing its management structure so that staff and managers are identified to particular contracts and can be TUPE’d should individual contracts be lost.


The proposed reorganisation is, in my view, the biggest threat to the viability of Social Enterprise providers since the introduction of NHS 111. Leadership of those organisations need to step up and help to secure their future. Those organisations that are still around in 3 years time will be those that have been able to form political alliances and relationships with far larger organisations.


Mark Cockerton has 40 years experience in the NHS and not-for-profit urgent care sector. He is currently Managing Director of Urgent Healthcare Solutions, which provides leadership and support services including tendering, organisational development, interim management, IT and telecoms advice, HR support, mentoring services, patient involvement and financial advice exclusively to the Social Enterprise urgent health sector.

Wooden tiles spelling 'blog' with a pen and pad in the background

The role of accreditation in
the Post-Covid world

Our 2021 stakeholder survey findings make for encouraging reading. Given the extreme challenges of the previous year, it was promising to see a general feeling of optimism for the future. The majority of respondents were positive they could continue trading for more than a year, with only a handful reporting they would only be able to continue for 3-6 months in the current trading conditions at that time (Feb/March 2021).

A similar position is reflected in recent sector research from Social UK, which shows 65% of social enterprises have grown a healthy cashflow to support them for at least the next three months. This reinforces the earlier findings in February, which showed 65% of social enterprises expected to hold their position or grow.Table showing the cashflow position of social enterprises over time

Source: Social Enterprise UK

Comments from our survey suggest there is a renewed and strengthened determination to collectively take the opportunity to change the way we all do business for good, to put social enterprise front and centre, as we look to recover from the economic effects of the pandemic.

“Over the pandemic people have pulled together more, and I think now might be the time for social enterprises to be the solution for many of the jaded adults who are fed-up with mass consumption, and massive profits going to a few. They want to be part of something, rather than a bystander.” Emma Lower, CEO of Lendology CIC

As we know from our recent Making a Mark competition, social enterprises went above and beyond in their response to the Covid-19 outbreak, adapting to the constantly changing situation to provide much needed support to local communities and wider society.

At a time when there is much talk about ‘purposeful business’ and ‘building back better’, it is clear that social enterprises have led the way in this regard and need more recognition for this leadership. Social enterprises are not a social bolt-on afterthought to try to show how we are engaging with UN Sustainable Development Goals; we have this mission at our very core. Nor are we the charity sector asking for more grants (although this of course would be nice!) We are using our business model to create true sustainability owned and led by its stakeholders who can maximise social value in any investments made by governments and prove it.

Graph visual showing 81% feel there is an increased need for accreditation in the Post-Covid worldThe importance of proving this was also reinforced via consensus from survey respondents on the increased need for accreditation in the post-Covid world, in order to identify businesses that are genuinely operating in the interests of people and planet, rather than being driven by the requirement to create shareholder profit.

With the proliferation of businesses now looking to demonstrate their ‘purpose’, it will undoubtedly become more important to have standards that hold businesses to account on their sustainability claims. In this vein, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has recently set out recommendations for businesses when making such claims, after their research found that 4 in 10 corporates in the sectors analysed are providing misleading sustainability-related claims.

This highlights the importance of accreditation and standards systems in an increasingly crowded marketplace, where more and more businesses are wanting to align themselves to the purposeful business agenda. Although, it is positive to see a movement towards mainstream businesses wanting to become more sustainable, and focus on more than just profits, I am cynical (along with many others in our sector) that it is more often than not a marketing ploy in response to the rise in consumer and investor demand for more ethical products and services.

As the CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “Too many websites appear to be pushing misleading claims onto consumers, which means that companies offering products with a genuine environmental benefit are not getting the customers they deserve. People should be able to easily choose between those companies who are doing the right thing for the environment and those who are not.”

Although the CMA research was more product focused, the same point applies to service providers and B2B markets, where we are also seeing a rise in the use of communications around purpose and sustainability, which can generate confusion as to which businesses are actually ‘walking the talk” when it comes to their claims around their social and environmental responsibility.

All this points towards a new mandate for accreditation – to provide independent verification of such claims and to uphold robust and relevant standards by which businesses can be held to account. As an organisation that has been providing accreditation for the social enterprise sector for more than a decade, we pride ourselves on the comprehensive pathway to standards of good practice and excellence that we have developed to recognise and build the capabilities of social enterprises as competitive, sustainable businesses, dedicated to maximising social impact above shareholder profit.

I am pleased to say that feedback from our network of accredited social enterprises shows that we are achieving this. 90% of respondents to our stakeholder survey said that our social enterprise accreditation reinforces their positioning as a business that is primarily committed to using profits to maximise social impact above that of individual gain. This was up from an already high 83% in our last stakeholder survey in 2019.

Graph visual showing 91% agree that Social Enterprise Mark CIC provides a route to standards of excellence in social enterprise, by encouraging and supporting continual improvement in line with best practiceAn overwhelming majority (91%) also agreed that Social Enterprise Mark CIC provides a route to standards of excellence in social enterprise, by encouraging and supporting continual improvement in line with best practice. This was up from 87% in the 2019 survey.

It was also positive to see that 9 out of 10 of our Mark holders would recommend our accreditation to other social enterprises, which suggests we are providing a worthwhile and useful service for the sector.

Of course, there is always room for improvement, and we continually look to adapt and evolve our standards to ensure we are addressing the changing needs of the growing social enterprise sector. The survey responses contained constructive feedback in terms of what we could do better, which included the indication that there is more work to be done in increasing wider awareness of social enterprise in general, as well as our social enterprise accreditations and the role they play in creating a fairer and more resilient economy.

“I’m not sure how well known the Mark is. We still need more awareness of it to reach the levels of Fair Trade/Living Wage etc to have more impact.” Gareth Hart, Founder of Iridescent Ideas

The general outlook for social enterprises is good, but we need to do more to raise our game, and show how we change lives whilst developing better friendships and alliances with those that share our views. At the moment it feels like we are the hidden treasure. We all bear a responsibility to share our news more widely but we do need more volume and less timidity about why our business model is best, along with asserting our core differences from the mainstream – i.e. putting stakeholders and social/environmental mission first, reinvesting for good and proving our social value.

Person holding sign saying 'Planet over Profit'

Turning the business on its head: challenging the finance led culture

“The difference between rich and poor is becoming more extreme, and as income inequality widens the wealth gap in major nations, education, health and social mobility are all threatened.” Helene D. Gayle (CEO of The Chicago Community Trust)

It is now well acknowledged that the biggest and most pressing issues of our time are climate change and wealth inequality. We know that climate change is changing our planet and affecting the world’s ecosystem, potentially beyond repair, affecting the poorest and increasing the number/severity of natural disasters. We also know that more unequal societies lead to political instability, shorter lives for both rich and poor as well as more corruption and crime.

So why are we still only measuring and managing business performance through how much money is made?

The system is rigged towards financial gain being an end in itself, and one which leads to its own set of behaviours, which do not sit comfortably with the goals of social and environmental justice.

“If you really think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.” Guy McPherson (award-winning scientist)

Most university business courses teach that the value of a business is partially measured through something called EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), alongside other financial measures, e.g. order book, balance sheet etc. However, this formula makes some assumptions about value and growth because of its focus on earnings, through which shareholders derive profit. This approach facilitates a well-trodden road of a founder setting up a company, attracting in other equity investors in order to grow (attracted by future dividends) and eventual exit with hopefully high financial returns for both the founder and shareholders. The central tenet of this business model is that it focusses on the financial bottom line – i.e. wealth creation.

This wealth-creation based model is now completely ingrained to the point whereby anything else is just seen as an add on. Social value for instance, is a nice ‘add on’ if you can prove financial growth.

It was not always thus. Before the wider global wealth creation model was so prevalent, many businesses saw their role as being an active commercial citizen at the heart of the local community. Take for, example the role of the bank manager. The manager knew his (as it invariably was) community and an investment decision would include an understanding of what that business was trying to achieve, rather than a simple decision-making formula via an automated website. This is one of the reasons that social enterprises are unable to access affordable mainstream finance and has been a frustration for social enterprises trying to access emergency loans over the current crisis. They are just not understood as businesses.

In other countries we have also seen a more varied approach to shareholder profit led models. The recent European Super League development was the result of football club owners that wanted to profiteer from their clubs at the expense of the wishes of their fans and players. The German model, whereby 50% +1 of the shares are owned by fans to ensure that the wishes of the main stakeholders (i.e. the fans) do not become a side line and their social mission is not eroded.

Listening to today’s students and young people, there is a recognition that things need to change and that we can’t keep on with more of the same behaviours and actions. Many current students want to change the fundamental approach to their future careers – putting ‘making a difference’ first. This trend will become more marked as future generations have to live with the effects of current short-term, financial-maximisation thinking.

“Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” Michelle Obama (Former First Lady of the USA)

There has been some movement in recognising that the current system is not working and needs changing, but the question is whether the proposed solutions will make any real difference. Recent developments have included tweaks such as better reporting with the rise of what’s known as ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance); the 3 factors which guide investors as to what is an ethical investment in a business or corporations.

Sustainable Development Goals wheel iconThere are also active attempts to link activities to the UN Sustainable Goals (SDGs). Other businesses have looked to accredit themselves as B Corps to show their sustainability standards through a B Corp assessment process.

However, most developments do not in themselves tackle the fundamental problem of inequality, the redistribution of wealth and those most affected by climate change. Campaigners such as the TUC and Oxfam have highlighted the growing disparities with shocking examples. For instance the TUC’s High Pay Unit reported that, in 2014-18, returns to shareholders rose by 56% in the FTSE 100, growing nearly 7 times faster than the median wage for UK workers, just 8.8%. In 2019, Oxfam reported that the combined wealth of the world’s 22 richest men outstrips the wealth of all of the women in Africa.

The combined wealth of the world's 22 richest men is more than the wealth of all the women in Africa. Visual shows the number 22 = Africa with a female symbol

To address these challenges, we need fundamental changes to:

  1. financial accounting rules and convention, which still provide information on the basis that investors are only interested in financial returns, and not the consequence of these returns, to emphasise the financial bottom line as the ultimate measure of success (with social and environmental concerns as a mere filter)
  2. the ownership structures, which still place the concentration of wealth in the main driving seat, as well as changing the fiduciary duties of those owners (shareholders) to compel wider considerations of social and environmental impacts

It is only by limiting the power of the shareholder to expect the same financial returns whatever the social and environmental impact, along with a greater empowerment of stakeholders to drive business goals, that we will see fundamental change. This is where social enterprises and the wider social business family, including cooperatives and mutuals, lead the way. They put the impact on their stakeholders first, rather than as an aside to shareholder profits. The fundamental point is that these types of businesses need to be at the forefront of how the world views business, not just an afterthought.

The existing business teaching system needs a fundamental rethink as it gets its students ready to deliver to the current system and norms. It will require a complete shift in emphasis in business school and accounting teaching across the board. It is not good enough to give the option of a ‘social impact investment course’ and a tweak to ‘governance’; these aspects need to be interwoven throughout and the financial return bias detected and adjusted. Social enterprise should be the primary model of business taught.

We know most students are now looking to make a difference in their future careers, being very concerned about social and environmental issues as the next generation will be the most affected. There is clearly a demand as well as a moral imperative. We now need the education system to catch up and put changing the world at its heart.

Multicoloured image of two hands grasping each other

Why it is time for Social Enterprise to
Buy Social

Ed MayoBy Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of Pilotlight

It seems simple enough; social enterprises should trade together more. It is a bootstrap way to build a social economy and emerging from the pandemic, we need to pull together to build back better.

But we are a long way from this. Would it surprise you to know that, on one recent estimate, only one out of every four social enterprises are purchasing products or services from other social enterprises?

The early days of social enterprise were rooted in identity rather than trade. The flag of social enterprises attracted people who were willing to affiliate with a big idea and were liberated by it. The focus has been on new and growing social enterprises, spreading the model. Looking back, one legacy of this voluntarism has been its limits. Instead of building systems and scale, it is as if we have been working on the assumption that we can only change the world one social enterprise at a time.

How we do expect to build a social economy if we are not taking more care ourselves of how we direct our own spend?

To go fast, the saying goes, you should travel alone. But to go far, you should travel together.

There are three questions perhaps to ask ourselves:

  1. Why is collaboration not more prevalent across social enterprises?
  2. What can we do to encourage effective supply chain collaboration?
  3. Should we look to work across wider businesses with purpose?

The co-operative sector, overlapping with social enterprise of course, has long had an answer to these. It is called Principle 6 – co-operation between co-operatives – and it is embedded in international frameworks, national regulation and the articles of co-operatives themselves around the world. I would argue that we need the equivalent of a Principle 6 for the wider social enterprise sector.

Trade and exchange between co-operatives (secondary co-operation) has been at the heart of where co-operatives have been able to grow and make a big difference, in areas such as Northern Italy, Basque Spain, Finland and Francophone Canada.

In any region, once you have more than 10% market share through social enterprises such as co-ops, there can be an impact throughout the entire economy. Emilia Romagna in Italy for example is the region in Europe with the highest percentage of co-ops in regional gross value added, over 40%, and the lowest level of social and economic inequality. The networks of inter-trading across co-operatives in Italy, based on Principle 6, has led to the formation of wonderfully sophisticated financing mechanisms, such as mutual guarantee societies (a model we have never had in the UK) as well as development funds dedicated to new enterprise formation. In a ‘pay it forward’ model, every new social care co-operative in Italy commits to supporting a further co-op when they themselves are up and running.

We do have some great examples of social enterprises trading together:

  • Photo of a can of ale in front of a full beer glassToast Ale has made beer with Divine Chocolate. Enjoy!
  • CSH Surrey has been proactive in looking to buy social and also to support social enterprises in their trading area.
  • Over the lockdown, Renaisi, a social enterprise that helps people overcome disadvantage and exclusion, found new solutions through collaboration with other social enterprise, working with Bikeworks to deliver food and Hubbub to source mobile phones.
  • Cosmic has partnered with 3 Spirit UK and with Iridescent Ideas to deliver training and consultancy.
  • At Pilotlight, we have expanded the support service that we provide as a social enterprise ourselves from charities alone to include wider social enterprise. We are working for example now with Generation Success, which supports people from under-represented backgrounds into careers in business.

There are then those social enterprises who are set up to serve social enterprises, such as Roots HR, an accredited Social Enterprise Mark holder. Indeed, the Social Enterprise Mark itself would be an example, as a secondary service for social enterprises, as is FLOCERT, the fair trade accreditation service.

These are hopeful examples. The expansion of social enterprise associations and networks at UK, devolved and local level is a sign too of people wanting to connect and work together. But the reality of practice falls far short of this, as recent data from Social Enterprise UK for its research panel reveals.

Extract from Social Enterprise UK research, showing how social enterprises engage with other social enterprises

Source: Social Enterprise UK

Only 11% of social enterprises buy social for things that are core to their business and a further 12% buy social for incidentals such as office supplies, training or food/drink. Taken together, it appears that around one in four social enterprises (23%) are buying from other social enterprises.

This may just be too low an estimate. The research methodology didn’t allow for multiple choice answers and there are other positive forms of collaboration that the data points to, notably a further 11% that supply to social enterprises and 21% that partner with social enterprise in service delivery. It is also a significantly lower estimate than data from the State of Social Enterprise report in 2019, which suggested that around one in three social enterprises (36%) generated income by trading with other social enterprises – although the same report also cautioned that this level had reduced compared to two years before (43%).

As a sector, our focus is on others. We want to persuade others to buy social and in this, we are following the money. I estimate that for every penny of expenditure by business on corporate social responsibility, £25 is spent on procurement that could be open to social enterprise, while for every penny given by government in charitable grants, £1 is spent on procurement.

Buy Social corporate challenge badgeThe Buy Social Corporate Challenge (and in Scotland) is going from strength to strength, with over 20 private sector partners now signed up. £91.5million has been spent by them with social enterprises. Extraordinary efforts have also been made with the Social Value Act, to open up public sector procurement, for the state to buy social. From 1st January 2021, all major central government procurements must now explicitly evaluate social value, where appropriate, rather than just “consider” it.

But how we do expect to build a social economy if we are not taking more care ourselves of how we direct our own spend?

We have a big task ahead of us and working together has to be a component of this. We need to think social and buy social in far more creative ways if we are to build an economy based on values and enterprise.

Some of the comments from survey respondents for Social Enterprise UK help perhaps to explain why this is currently so low. The enthusiasts are finding a way – “In our retail shop, we stock a wide of products from other social enterprises who share our values of good design and creating impact with every purchase. We also rent space in our offices and showroom to other social enterprises.”

But the practical barriers are putting off others:

  • buying social is “not very important as there are not many to work with.”
  • “I have not found other social enterprises in the textile industry who I can work with.”
  • “We prioritise social enterprises as our suppliers but haven’t found many out there (we’re in retail, selling zero waste products).”

We can’t wish these barriers away, but equally they could be a priority for business development in the sector, because if buying social is to take off, here are the primary business opportunities.

At one point, Marks & Spencer was the most important source of small business development in the UK, with a team of 150 technicians who worked with domestic clothing suppliers to bring products to market. Why could co-operative retailers such as The Co-op, Midcounties, Central England, Lincolnshire, Scotmid and Southern Co-op, for example, not play a similar, patient role in bringing forward social enterprise products onto the shelves? After all, thirty years ago, as I saw, they were key to making things work for fair trade.

Where businesses collaborate in this way, it is possible to create a better outcome for all involved. Collaboration in business helps us to problem solve. It brings people together and opens up opportunities to learn from each other. Collaboration opens ups channels of development and of marketing that may have been closed before. Above all, it boosts morale, reducing the feeling of isolation and creating a sense of contribution and shared purpose.

Headline statistics from the Social Enterprise Census 2019There are opportunities here. In Scotland, the Social Enterprise Census concluded that the social enterprise sector – including housing associations and credit unions here – spent £3.98billion collectively in the last financial year.  Imagine the multiplier if we spent more of that through high quality and high impact social enterprises. Indeed, in conversation with me on this, Chris Martin, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise Scotland, suggests the need now for a Buy Social Challenge for social enterprises; to help map their spend and set targets for purchasing.

Just the process of mapping spending, as local authorities such as Preston have found, can help identify opportunities for business development. In the co-operative sector, many of the large ‘secondary’ co-ops in areas like Finland and Francophone Canada were formed by primary co-ops generations ago, coming together to create service providers. With the demand side on side, the suppliers they formed faced none of the usual early-stage trading challenges of winning sales for a new entrant. As businesses owned by co-ops, this also bound the new enterprises into a wider sector, with accountability flowing back to those they were serving.

Arguably, for scale, we could also be looking towards an integrated approach to buying social, including all organisations in social ownership and impact – including co-ops, mutuals, employee-owned firms, worker co-ops, B Corps, charities and non-profits.

Pauline Gannon of Social Impact Ireland tells me that this is exactly what is needed: “a true, innovative, pathway forward to putting social at the heart of all business, not just social enterprise.”

But I know… start on definitions again and we are all more likely to fall out than hang together.

We need a green, employment rich, caring and creative economy for the UK. This could be and ought to be led by social enterprises… We need to compete at scale, and to do that, we need to pull together.

Even Principle 6 in co-operatives has proved patchy in some countries and some sectors – international research by Euricse suggests that it is one of the least observed of the seven co-operative principles dating back to the nineteenth century Rochdale Pioneers.

We have a big task ahead of us and working together has to be a component of this. We need to think social and buy social in far more creative ways if we are to build an economy based on values and enterprise. Rather than celebrate simply the numbers of social enterprise, we should test the extent to which we are creating social enterprise value chains at scale. Imagine cascades of buying social throughout the economy and the effect this could have.

We need a green, employment rich, caring and creative economy for the UK. This could be and ought to be led by social enterprises.

We are not here to mess about, nor simply to sing our own praises as a sector. There is a bigger prize. We need to compete at scale, and to do that, we need to pull together.

It is time for social enterprise to think big… and to buy social.


Ed Mayo is Chief Executive of Pilotlight – an award-winning charity and social enterprise which transforms the lives of disadvantaged people in the UK by offering charities and social enterprises access to the strategic business support they need to become more efficient, effective and sustainable.

Thanks to the following for their contributions to this blog post – Chris Martin (Social Enterprise Scotland), Julie Hawker (Cosmic), Pauline Gannon (Social Impact Ireland), Andrew O’Brien (Social Enterprise UK), Rose Marley (Coops UK), Martin Shaw (Association of Financial Mutuals).

Group of people wearing orange t-shirts with 'Student Volunteer' on the back

Why youth social action and enterprise is the answer to a post-pandemic future

By Fiona Walsh and Junior Graham

Student Hubs logoStudent Hubs is a national charity that works with five UK university partners to deliver extracurricular and in-curricular social action programmes. Each year, we work with over 1,800+ university students to support the communities in our five Hub cities of Bristol, Cambridge, Kingston, Southampton and Winchester.

One of the biggest community groups we work with are young people, particularly young community participants facing disadvantage. It is these young people who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with 16-25 year olds seeing record unemployment, mental health issues at an all time high, and the issue of digital exclusion making schooling and education even more challenging. There is no doubt that the long-term impact of Covid-19 will continue to be felt by these young people for years to come.

Our vision and mission is about mainstreaming student social action, engaging university students with social and environmental challenges faced by our communities and creating active citizens for life – something we desperately need in the midst of the current crisis. So how can youth social action and social enterprise support these groups to thrive beyond the pandemic?

Students and young people need confidence and support

Young people are currently isolated, away from their peer and support networks, and potentially dealing with factors such as grief, unemployment, lost learning and lack of opportunities. Before we start with new opportunities, we need to support the crisis of confidence that lots of young people will be currently facing. This requires 1:1 support, role models and interventions which listen to young people and provide meaningful frameworks to get them to a place where they can see themselves making a difference again.

Through Student Hubs’ youth social action programme, LinkYouth, taking place at Kingston Hub in London, a key part of the offer is about providing mentorship, group work and 1:1 discussions for young people. This allows young people to be seen and heard, to have their opinions valued, and to have the confidence to recognize what they bring to the table, as well as for students to see themselves as leaders and role models in this space.

Students and young people need skills and experience

Once students and young people have found their motivation and confidence, that’s when the focus on skills, experience and learning can come back. Through social action, volunteering and social enterprise, students and young people become advocates for themselves, raising money and awareness for causes, and growing their skills in leadership, teamwork and communication in a supportive environment.

Young people need to make the change they want to see

A group of young people holding up signs reading motivational, bold, ambitious, socialFinally, it’s important that young people see themselves as the solution to a better future. But this requires other people to advocate and believe in them, and space for young people to reflect on this for themselves. These are the tools we will need to rebuild post-Covid, and social action and entrepreneurship allows young people’s ideas to blossom, and for them to provide the solutions their community needs.

We see this in our Service Learning programme at Kingston Hub, where we build social action into the university curriculum, with students becoming consultants and researchers for local community groups facing individual challenges. The programme allows students to have the opportunities to use their academic knowledge, support their community, and give back in a way that they may have struggled to access outside of their degree course.

At Kingston Hub, we’re currently working in partnership with the Rio Ferdinand Foundation through our Service Learning delivery, engaging Graphic Design students to create content for their 10 year anniversary launch, designing activities dedicated to engaging young people into activity. They are also working with students from the Children and Youth Development course at Kingston University to create content for their social media campaign encouraging young people into activities online.

We call all be active citizens

Becoming an active citizen for us at Student Hubs means being an active member of the community, volunteering, being a conscious citizen, and supporting others to thrive. By investing in this future, we can support the students and young people who have been so negatively affected by the pandemic, and build something better for the future we hope to see.

If you want to find out more about Student Hubs and our work, you can go to or email Fiona Walsh at to find out more about our partnerships, training and Hub model.


Fiona Walsh is the Sales Director at Student Hubs. Junior Graham is the Kingston Hub Programme Manager

Wooden tiles spelling out the MIND THE G_P

Mind the gap: Women’s leadership in social enterprise

By Lucy Findlay (MD of Social Enterprise Mark CIC), Julie Hawker (Joint CEO of COSMIC) and Pauline Gannon (CEO of Social Impact Ireland)

International Women's Day banner with photos of Lucy Findlay, Julie Hawker and Pauline Gannon

Like many, as three women leaders in the social enterprise sector, we have been carrying on supporting our teams and negotiating our businesses around the challenges of this time of crisis. For us it has meant looking hard at what we are doing, exploring different ways of working and responding to the needs of our customers and stakeholders as well as planning for how we will contribute to a better society moving forwards.

Now, there is no denying that leading any organisation, business, charity has been tough this past year whether male or female. But it’s also true that many, many women in leadership positions do not benefit from established networks for their support and peer learning. And this applies in business, charity, but especially in social enterprises where the prioritisation of networking and support has rarely been strong, and even less-so during this time of unprecedented crisis. But as we start to put our heads back above ground-level once more, its clear we need support.

Women tend to lead with more empathy and tend to have a personal connection to the work they do within the Social Enterprise space. A global pandemic has heightened the need for empathy, a need we, as women, rise to meet. Whether it’s the teams we work within, our services users, friends or family, with the heightened need for empathy comes also a heightened feeling of stress. 

So, when life is so frenetic, as we have experienced in particular over the past year, it can be hard to focus on our own support needs and this can lead to a feeling of isolation and disempowerment. Technology can help, but sometimes it adds to the communication pressure that we all feel, which can be overwhelming both in our businesses and in our private lives (which have merged more than ever over the last year). Zooms and Teams meetings also makes it harder to read the room and respond to the needs of both our staff and customers, who are all affected by the pandemic themselves.

Leadership programmes are hard enough to come by in social enterprise let alone a programme aimed at women. This need is more urgent now than ever, we all crave that quality connection with like-minded women in a space that inspires but also allows the real issues to be discussed, along with much needed peer to peer support.

Many women who find themselves leading social enterprises have a recognition that they “never chose to be CEO – the job chose me!”… our passion is often the factor that led us to achievements, and to role seniority. Our commitment, vision and values provided the leverage to get to the top. And it’s a lonely place, particularly during the past year.

Focus and facilitated time are essential for creativity and innovation are much harder to come by. Craving connection with those who inspire and understand our space, drive and ambition. You can’t just go for a coffee with a friend or colleague and chat! All three of us have found that much of our drive and strength come from informally speaking, exchanging ideas and working together and this becomes much more of an effort when we can no longer meet face to face.

We have also had brief discussions about how we gain more formal support through leadership programmes. According to the 2019 State of Social Enterprise Report, 40% of social enterprises are run by women. We did a bit of research and found….. nothing! Leadership programmes are hard enough to come by in social enterprise let alone a programme aimed at women. This need is more urgent now than ever,  we all crave that quality connection with like-minded women in a space that inspires but also allows the real issues to be discussed, along with much needed peer to peer support.   

There are some great initiatives which are adding profile to the work of women leading in Social Enterprises, including the Natwest WISE100 celebrating the top 100 women working each year – 2020 included Lucy for her work with Social Enterprise Mark CIC. But there are no specific networks or peer learning programmes that we could find. And so this got us thinking – is this a gap we could fill?

International Women's DayThis made us think about how we get the conversation going. Being three female ‘action takers’, we immediately recognised the opportunity to celebrate International Women’s Day today (8th March) by starting the much needed conversation. Therefore, we have decided to invite you, the women who inspire us, as a start. Some of the Social Enterprise Mark community’s international women leaders and supporters will attend an initial meeting to discuss this very issue and how we can better support one another as a network.  We can’t wait to hear the ideas!

If you are interested in joining discussions on this in the future please let us know by emailing us on Do keep an eye on our newsletter too.


The Need for Social Housing

By Calum Rosie, writer and correspondent for

Calum RosieIn a time when the world’s richest people have increased their wealth by $600bn, almost 100,000 people in the UK are facing homelessness thanks to the economic turbulence caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, adding to the staggering number of people currently living unhoused across the country.

Homelessness in the UK has always been a shameful issue, but due to recent circumstances surrounding the pandemic, the UK Government’s failure to address it is tantamount to a national disgrace. And since the government refuses to take positive action, what then can the country’s charities and social enterprises do to tackle homelessness? Unfortunately, there probably isn’t one simple solution, but rather a multitude of techniques will be required.

To that end, many charities and social enterprises are turning to social housing as a temporary salve to the homelessness issue. Social housing will provide safe, affordable, and high-quality homes to those most in need. It acts as an alternative to other temporary accommodation and aims to give people who would otherwise be homeless the support to escape from that life.

Social housing will allow residents to live and socialise together, and is a superior alternative to the likes of homeless hostels and even council housing, because trained staff will be on site to provide meaningful, 24-hour support to residents.

Well-known homelessness support charity Shelter recently commissioned a report on their vision of how to tackle homelessness in the future, where they recommended constructing 3 million more social homes, introducing new rent reforms to increase the standard of living across the board, and advocated for social renters to have a more vocal presence in the community.

Other notable charities and social enterprises that support this notion include Edinburgh’s Social Bite and Cyrenians. They have worked together to build a Social Village in the city, staffed by skilled social support workers who can provide one to one support to help residents achieve their goals.

Similarly, Community Campus ’87 is working hard to combat youth homelessness in Teeside by providing vulnerable young people with a place to live, as well as a personal support worker to help them break the cycle of homelessness, while Brighter Futures is providing employment skills and training to unhoused individuals in the Staffordshire community.

So it’s clear that some of the UK’s top charities and social enterprises support the idea of social housing, and for very good reason. This kind of housing is incredibly important, as it addresses two major problems that the UK is facing. Firstly, the trained staff present in social housing help to tackle a huge issue that exists in tandem to homelessness: mental illness. Around 80% of unhoused people have some kind of untreated mental illness which may act as a barrier to their successful reintroduction into society. With a dedicated staff, this barrier may be overcome, and it may well help the residents escape homelessness for good; it is certainly vastly superior to providing accommodation with no such support offered.

This support will come in a variety of ways: during their time living in social housing, residents can engage in social activities, including shared exercise and cooking lessons, which can reduce isolation and improve mental health. They will also be taught new life skills that will benefit them when they move on, and staff will help all residents find permanent housing, and after their stay will provide ongoing support in order to ensure that they will be successful in their new home.

Secondly, social housing promises to provide quality housing for low-income families and individuals. In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, we are in desperate need of safe and secure housing for all, not just those who can afford it. Social housing can provide this, because the charities and social enterprises who are dedicated to its implication won’t cut corners in the interest of profits.

This will be a much-needed change to the current private rental sector, which is experiencing sky high rent prices for low quality, even dangerous accommodations. Shelter predicts that this sector is currently reaching a breaking point, and that in the coming years, we will need more than ever a way to support low income individuals to escape not only homelessness, but also being trapped in extortionate and unsafe rental properties.Summary of recommendations from Shelter report on future of social housing

So, while social housing may not fight the causes of homelessness in the way we inevitably must, it provides a much-needed balm to the wounds homelessness causes. A country cannot be deemed successful or worthy if it fails to provide the most basic of human needs, housing, to every single citizen, and if the UK government refuses to shoulder this responsibility, then we must all do everything we can to support the charities and social enterprises that will.


Calum Rosie is a writer and correspondent for, a website dedicated to shedding light on immigration injustices and social issues.

A pebble with text 'Stay safe and be kind' sat on a rock

Building back better – make 2021 a
Year of Empathy

Lucy FindlayThe end of 2020 was a relief for many of us, but here we are in 2021 facing many of the same challenges, with the world seeming in many ways a more difficult place despite the roll out of the vaccine.

Many people are really struggling with the current conditions. Back in the early summer, a UCL study reported that a fifth of vulnerable people had considered self-harm or suicide. This was really brought home to me recently with a personal experience of knowing someone firsthand who sadly became a victim of this struggle a few weeks ago.

It made me dwell and contemplate on what’s important in life during this awful lockdown. How can we support each other better and build a more caring world within the confines in which we find ourselves in? How can we really listen and understand what people are saying? What is really going on in the heads of people when we don’t have the ability to read their faces and gain eye contact and share informal time and conversation?

The irony of Covid-19 is that it is intensely personal, as it has affected all our lives, but at the same time the response seems intensely impersonal, as it applies blanket rules and conditions that are not nuanced to personal circumstances.

In so many ways 2020 was a brutal year for mental health and well-being. The phrase ‘be kind’ was much touted but has often seemed hollow. Empathy has been in short supply and the government and press have increased the pressure on people and increased conflict through endless clickbait of blame, sensationalism and doom. Social media also encourages angry knee jerk responses that lead to conflict and a lack of compassion.

The irony of Covid-19 is that it is intensely personal, as it has affected all our lives, but at the same time the response seems intensely impersonal, as it applies blanket rules and conditions that are not nuanced to personal circumstances. Not being able to comfort one another and grieve properly is so cruel.

Brexit discussions are also a good illustration of the economic and personal rules Vs the personal impact. The government and press focus has all been on the blanket economic and trade implications of a deal, without considering the personal and emotional devastation it has wrought for so many people whose lives and families have been turned upside down due to the end of freedom of movement.

We need to think much more broadly about the breadth of the economy and what the economy must look like for the future. Scaling and globalisation need to be looked at through a fundamentally different lens.

Emotional impact is collateral damage that is not a valid discussion in a world that is obsessed with measuring and evidencing ‘things’ – and government policy follows this pattern. There is a divorce of emotional impact from the economic arguments, as if somehow the economy is not the result of the actions of inherently emotional beings (i.e. us!)

I would argue that we have to start seeing the two together with equal weighting, which is where social enterprises excel. Really listening and responding to the needs of those stakeholders and the challenges facing them goes back to the heritage of our movement – e.g. the cooperative model, which allows for people to support one another alongside creating wealth for the collective good. We as social enterprises need to be more conscious of getting better at working together too.

At the heart of our economy are human beings who are all being affected by the unprecedented challenges that we face currently and to ignore this will not lead us to Building Back Better – just a more divided incoherent society that cannot address the challenges of climate change and social polarisation.

It saddens me to see that the government have put together a Build Back Better Council that comprises all the same old faces of big corporations and businesses – where is the human side of that? We need to think much more broadly about the breadth of the economy and what the economy must look like for the future. Scaling and globalisation need to be looked at through a fundamentally different lens.

Ed MayoAs individuals we can each play our part too.  My colleague and friend Ed Mayo (formerly of Co-operatives UK and currently CEO of Pilotlight), has recently called for 2021 to be a Year of Empathy.  He recommends the following actions:

  1. Cultivate your curiosity – choose novels, newspapers or networks that talk to different realities than your own.
  2. Listen actively – ask open questions, hold back on judgement, share what you learn.
  3. Try a dialogue and not just a conversation – where the purpose of talking is not necessarily to reach agreement but rather to understand each other, including the differences and dissonances (‘dialogic communication’).
  4. Express your empathy – as a feeling, empathy spreads when it is visible, a phenomenon seen early when infant children cry when others do the same (the ‘chameleon effect’).
  5. Be generous, not just in a spontaneous, but in an organised, regular way, so that it becomes part of who you are.

I would also add:

  1. Try to analyse and be aware of your emotional impact – how is what you are saying impacting someone else, why are they responding in the way that they are? Be aware that people may have a lot of stress going on in their lives that might not be evident.
  2. Ask how someone is and really listen – if you are not feeling good, say so! It’s good to share.

In a Year of Empathy we need to get much better at hearing and responding, but we also need to think in a much more joined up way. At the heart of our economy are human beings who are all being affected by the unprecedented challenges that we face currently and to ignore this will not lead us to Building Back Better – just a more divided incoherent society that cannot address the challenges of climate change and social polarisation.

Social enterprises and their wider social economy family are doing a great job, but we need to be even better, and we desperately need amplification through allies and new converts to seeing the world through a joined up social, empathetic, environmental and economic lens.

Photo of a crowd with someone holding a banner saying 'Fight today for a better tomorrow'

Take action today for a better tomorrow

Lord John BirdBy Lord John Bird, Founder of The Big Issue

In 2016, I, an ex-beggar, ex-rough sleeper, ex-offender, ex-Marxist and an ex-racist (among other things) was elevated to the upper chamber of the United Kingdom’s bicameral legislature: the House of Lords. Why had I applied, you may ask? Gone through hours of interviews and applications forms? And what did I have to give to this reputed institution?

The short answer is that I am the founder of The Big Issue. An improbable social invention, a disruptor to charities and an emulsifier to the classes of society. Its success and my reputation grew from its novelty and usefulness: not a charity, but a social enterprise responding to a crisis. It sold opportunity. For The Big Issue’s customers were not those that read its magazine, but the homeless population who exchanged their money for the ability to work. At no point would a Big Issue vendor feel victimised or feel disempowered in their capability to shape their life. A seemingly odd approach to the vulnerable, and yet the only one I was comfortable with, given my experiences being in situations like theirs.

Out of the box thinking is what some have called it – something people have since characterised me by. Have you ever wondered what is intrinsic to out of the box thinking? Well of course, the box itself must not be working; it must be caging the aspiration of your thought and multiplying unoriginality. In 2016, Parliament was the box to me. Hence, my compulsion to intellecutally infiltrate the House of Lords to understand why our system broke and then to fix it.

Big Issue Today for Tomorrow campaignThe result is that in January 2020, I introduced my Wellbeing of Future Generations bill and launched my Today for Tomorrow campaign (just in time for Covid-19).

The aim? To bring about a culture of long-termism by shedding light on the unintended consequences of past actions. Jolt those who were on autodrive into a new way of thinking and as a result, tackle climate change, pandemics, poverty, mental health (and so on).

The negative consequences of not considering long-term wellbeing has become increasingly evident: to mention but a few, it has led to mass extinction of biodiversity (limiting our ability to make medicinal and agricultural discoveries), created waves of pollution which negatively impacts our health and is making mass migration evermore likely as climate change makes lands uninhabitable.

As with anything, we must start by diagnosing the problem: democracy, the best of the flawed systems available, on too many occassions is built on a process of short-termism. Hence, by putting checks and balances in place, we hope to avert the problems created by this attitude: like by emplacing a committee in Parliament to review the effects of all incoming legislation on the long-term and amend that legislation accordingly or by conducting assessments on the likely future trends and risks in our country, taking children’s views into account, so we can prepare for them well ahead of time.

This month our campaign notched into overdrive, as the date for the bill’s second reading in the House of Commons approached (now delayed due to Covid). The pinnacle of this will be our ‘Wellbeing Week’, running 25th – 28th January, which provides MPs the opportunity to have a 5 minute chat (online) with a few young people, actively seeking social justice in areas such as climate change, racism or mental health. This will hopefully offer MPs the chance to understand why protecting future generations and focusing on long-term wellbeing may just be our silver bullet.

So please visit our website now to take part in our Call to Action, making sure your MP attends! I came to the House of Lords, compelled to fix a broken system. With your help, hopefully I can.


Lord John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. The Today For Tomorrow is a cross-party campaign powered by The Big Issue. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill is being led through Parliament by The Big Issue founder, Lord Bird, and is co-sponsored by Caroline Lucas MP.

Is your website fit for purpose?

Cosmic logoBy Pete Goff, Head of Web Development at Cosmic

At a time when face-to-face interactions are limited to 2-metre distances and people are staying at home, the online presence of your Social Enterprise takes on new importance. Therefore, now may be a good time to improve your website and enhance the user experience.

Whether your enterprise is involved in hospitality, leisure, retail or any number of industries, Covid-19 likely means that your shopfront and customer engagement has moved online.

There are many steps you can to take to maximise the value of your website, keeping customers, beneficiaries, funders and partners happy.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Adjusting your current website, to enable you to sell and take payments online, or deliver services remotely and virtually. Pivoting your business model and processes can be the key to thriving (or surviving) during times of difficulty.
  2. Reviewing the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) performance of your website. This reflects how highly search engines, such as Google, rank your website when people search for it. It is important that your site is visible to the right people – helping your to promote your service/product/cause to your target audience.
  3. Enhancing the visitor experience of your website, ensuring that the speed of loading, the ease of navigation and the enjoyment of the content are all as good as they can be. Does your site respond to different screen sizes, such as smartphones? (You can check here). Is it accessible for people with reduced sight? These are considerations you might need to take into account.
  4. Securing your website, to avoid risk of malicious attack, and to give confidence to your customers and visitors. Do you have an SSL certificate? This provides the “s” in “https”. Without one, Google can penalise your performance in searches, and many popular browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox will warn customers that your website may be unsafe to browse.
  5. Aspiring to reach new audiences, attract new customers, win business, promote new causes – this is what the correct online presence can help you with. There’s more to it than just having a website. You need to ensure that your site up to scratch (as above), but you also need to take advantage of other areas of Digital Marketing: use of social media, advertisements, mailing-lists, newsletters, blogging and content creation.

If you feel that you would like advice or support on any of the above issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at Cosmic. We can provide you with trainingtechnical IT supportdigital consultancy, and website development. Helping our clients as much as we can in these troubling times is top of our agenda.


Cosmic is a Social Enterprise which specialises in digital skills training, digital consultancy, IT technical support and website development. It provides an innovative range of services and support to help people identify their Digital need and to progress with their ambitions.

Coins in a glass jar and three stacks of coins on a table in front on a blurred green background

Navigating a last-minute government loan… is it worth it?

Lucy FindlayUnfortunately, we are in the dreaded second wave and are now facing the resulting increased restrictions to all our lives again. We will be continuing to lobby for more support for the sector with our New Economy Alliance partners, but in the meantime you could consider (or reconsider) the existing government loan schemes, which are open to applications until 31st January.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been working with the Alliance to take a specific lead on banking, trying to work through some of the blockages that social enterprises have been experiencing in accessing government products. In particular, I have been working with Barclays to troubleshoot the common issues.

In order to gain more insight we recently carried out a survey on behalf of the Alliance to get a better handle on the issues for social enterprises, and I have used this information to help you navigate the vagaries of the emergency banking process, should you choose to!

I’ve talked about the challenges around social investment in many of my past blogs. In particular that, as social enterprises, we end up paying much higher interest rates than mainstream businesses due to a lack of understanding of business form and also the perception of risk, backed up by the eligibility algorithm used to make decisions by mainstream finance providers.

Therefore if you can access a fully government backed Bounce Back Loan (BBL), it’s well worth considering due to the excellent terms, which unfortunately current social investors (who are much more social enterprise friendly) cannot match due to their size. This option is what I will be focusing on for this blog.

However, it is also worth pointing out that there is also another scheme – the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBIL) – aimed at larger businesses, which is more difficult to access due to the requirement for the bank to guarantee part of the loan. A specialist version of this – the Resilience Recovery Loan Fund (RRLF) – can be accessed via consortia of social investors led by SIB Group. If you want to know more, there is a very helpful toolkit put together by Big Society Capital on their website.

Bounce Back Loans

The terms of the BBL include:

  • no arrangement fees
  • zero interest for the first 12 months
  • 2.5% interest rate with re-payment over 6 years (no fee for early repayment)

Essentially, it’s free money for 12 months, which can really help a temporarily tight cashflow and also provide longer term boost with the long repayment terms and low interest rates.

There are a couple of caveats here, though – the first is that the official deadline is the end of November, although we are hoping that this could be extended by the Chancellor. Our survey also picked up on some common barriers for social enterprises, which include:

  • Banks will only lend to existing customers and not all banks offer BBLs. It’s largely mainstream banks and this excludes Unity Trust and Triodos, which are popular banks for social enterprises.
  • If you have to set up a new account with a mainstream bank, start right now as it can take weeks, if not months. Many of the mainstream banks have currently closed to new customers (although this is currently being reviewed in light of the recent extension of deadline to BBLs by the government). On top of this there is a lack of understanding of social enterprise legal structures and governance, which is biased toward Companies Ltd by Shares.
  • In some cases, the banks have subcontracted out the processing of loans, and seem to rely heavily on technology which doesn’t necessarily understand businesses that are out of the standard mould. Thus, it is difficult to communicate with them one to one which can be very frustrating as customers get passed from pillar to post trying to get an answer.

From the limited responses to our survey, the Co-operative Bank appears to be the most straightforward supplier of BBLs for social enterprises, although it has not been bringing on new customers for BBLs. The most problematic banks appear to be Natwest and HSBC, mainly due to issues/delays with setting up new accounts. Barclays has developed a specialist process, but are currently closed for new bank accounts to access BBLs, so only existing customers should apply.

In summary, I would advise anyone with a straightforward Company Limited by Shares or Community Benefit Society model, who already bank with one of the direct providers (especially the Co-op Bank), to consider applying for a BBL.

If you are a Community Interest Company or Company Limited by Guarantee it might be more complicated, especially if you need to set up a new bank account. As the scheme closes in January, it’s best to apply ASAP and be prepared to be patient!

Increasing stacks of pound coins

Building Back Better and
the Growth Obsession

Lucy FindlayRecently I was interviewed about the possible barriers that women social enterprise leaders face in order to scale up their businesses, and it got me thinking: What do we mean by growing? Who are we growing for and why do we need to grow? 

It seems to me that society sees business growth through a very narrow lens – usually increase in turnover, staff and financial profitability, and, in the case of mainstream businesses, increase in shareholder value. But if we are talking social benefit are the same set of assumptions true?

The current economic crisis has highlighted a few trends that might be challenging the above assumption that economies of scale are always desirable. This trend has been stark in retail and food (with the exception of online), where  large faceless chains are now facing financial difficulties and smaller local shops that offer something different and a personalised service are the ones that are more likely to survive.

The government doesn’t want to get it either.  They carry on outsourcing to the same old massive companies to achieve a mediocre service. Social enterprises are encouraged to ‘scale up’ and ape these bland corporate mediocre monoliths. But we have seen the price of this. Look at the failures of these giants in primary healthcare that are now being propped up by the ideology that local can’t deliver.

The excuse is that it is just too complicated to deal with lots of little suppliers who cannot scale up to meet government demand. There are cases where small businesses can come together in consortia, but this is often very complicated to arrange, especially in reaction to opportunities with very little advance warning.

We need to challenge our assumptions about delivering better and more responsive goods and services into a different paradigm that reflects the new world, where the central challenges are tackling climate change and global social inequality.

I was recently made aware of the Government’s Strategic Suppliers list, which work directly with Crown Representatives in government departments. This direct relationship with government highlights the access that many big corporates have to government, which provides a direct channel of communication not open to other smaller suppliers.

So, how do we resolve all this? The Social Value Act provides some openings, but this approach is broad brush and generic. The whole system of social procurement needs to be turned on its head. We need to challenge our assumptions about delivering better and more responsive goods and services into a different paradigm that reflects the new world, where the central challenges are tackling climate change and global social inequality.

The Build Back Better agenda will not be achieved if we build back faster making the same fundamental and outdated mistakes leading to, yet again, the house collapsing in a few years’ time.

Social value is a central tenet for its delivery of a local and sustainable solutions, where the supply chain can be externally verified. The primary motivation should be to make society a better place and lower our carbon footprint.

We need a diversity of business approach that grows sustainably, not a uniform mono-culture which tries to tweak around the edges. The Build Back Better agenda will not be achieved if we build back faster making the same fundamental and outdated mistakes leading to, yet again, the house collapsing in a few years’ time.

Wooden tiles spelling 'blog' with a pen and pad in the background

How the ecosystem can enable social enterprises to build back better

Dr SalBy Dr Sally Kah, social entrepreneurship researcher and lecturer in business

Build Back Better should win the popular slogan of the year. In fact, we should call 2020: We Failed, But We Will Build Back Better. Now that we are slowly coming out of lockdown, how might we begin to build back better? What do we need to do to build back better? In the context of social business, what mechanisms are required to build back better? These are critical questions we must answer if we are truly going to build the local and regional economies back better.

Before I talk about how social enterprises can build back better, let me briefly explain why social enterprises are better equipped to address the implications of the global health pandemic. Social enterprises are organisations established to address social, economic and environmental issues. They use dual logics, that is, for-profit and not-for profit initiatives to create social change in society. These institutions can adopt any legal structure, operate through any organisational size and, in any sector of the economy – at least in the UK. Their fundamental principles and framework for doing business are about tackling complex societal problems. Therefore, social enterprises understand the social and economic implications of the pandemic and the interventions required to address them. However, these institutions face internal challenges, namely, changing workspaces and the financial constraints due to the lack of business (e.g. for-profit social enterprise). They also face external pressures in terms of the increased need for their social interventions, especially in deprived localities.

Therefore, building back better will require comprehensive mechanisms and a dose of cognitive processing. The social enterprise ecosystem is a framework that will enable social enterprises to build back better. The purpose of the ecosystem is to provide specific blocks to demonstrate important enablers for developing the organisation. In research authorised by the European Commission on 29 European countries, six dimensions of social enterprise ecosystem were identified:

  • certification systems, marks and labels;
  • legal framework;
  • social (impact) investment markets;
  • impact measurement and reporting systems;
  • networks and mutual support mechanisms;
  • specialist business development services and support
Certification systems, marks and labels

Certification systems, marks and labels are formal ways to validate systems and processes in an organisation. Certifying systems are vital for adding value to the technical and non-technical elements of the enterprise. For example, obtaining certification from Social Enterprise Mark CIC (or a national equivalent) is a value proposition and competitive advantage for procurement. Research has shown that implementing management or accreditation standards improves performance. It also exposes accredited organisations to different networks and supply chain opportunities.

Legal framework

The legal framework can also determine the opportunities and constraints that social enterprises face; therefore, consideration must be given to different actors and regulatory frameworks. For instance, opportunities may arise for social enterprises with a specific legal structure that determines their social identity, such as the Community Interest Company (CIC) in the UK. Many countries are now developing innovative legal frameworks to support social enterprises and the social economy more widely. In Spain, Sociedad Laboral was designed to facilitate the buyouts of employees from failing businesses. This framework presents an opportunity for social organisations in Spain.

Social investment

Another dimension of the ecosystem to enable social enterprises to build back better is social (impact) investment markets. Social investment is a common theme in the world of policy, particularly in Europe. The UK is the world’s largest social investment market, worth £3.5 billion. There are many investments and funding opportunities for social enterprises and Big Society Capital is working to increase access to investment. It is imperative that social organisations understand the finance systems in their region and the relationship between the typology of social impact and the investment.

Social impact measurement

Regardless of the significance of the social intervention, evidence of the impact created is crucial to funders, policymakers and the wider society. Impact measurement and reporting systems are vital instruments to establish legitimacy. Although many social enterprises face the challenge of identifying the right tool or framework for measuring impact, there are organisations and research papers that identify tools to capture the impact created. The New Economic Foundation is one such organisation, with a list of over twenty social impact tools for organisations in the third sector.


Networks and mutual support mechanisms differ across regions; however, they are important resources for collaboration. Networks can be formal (i.e. the School for Social Entrepreneurs) or informal (i.e. social networks). Networks that serve as incubators tend to provide resources through Corporate Social Responsibility funds, mentoring and workspace for innovation. The Global Social Entrepreneurship Network is one organisation that supports early stage social start-ups. More established social enterprises can network through membership at Social Enterprise UK, the British Council for social enterprise reports, and initiatives across the UK Commonwealth countries.

Specialist business development support

Finally, the specialist business development services and support dimension recommends seeking tailored business support for enterprise development or growth. Specialist support is now offered by universities and independent research centres, whose primary role is to contribute to knowledge on this topic. One of the most popular research centres is the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford. Collaborations between universities and social innovation hubs are becoming popular and more accessible. For example, in Rotterdam, a foundation and the city established a network of specialist advisors to train students from a business school to provide six-month mentorship programme for start-ups.

To conclude, social enterprises are game-changers and social impact creators can succeed and fail like any other business model; however, their fundamental principle for addressing social, economic and environmental issues places them in the best position to tackle the implications of COVID, both at local and regional levels. To address these challenges, the six dimensions of the social enterprise ecosystem discussed above are pivotal to building back a better and fairer society.

Dr Sally Kah is a social entrepreneurship researcher, and lecturer in business. She investigates the social impact of social enterprise in the UK.

Sally is currently working on projects that examine the social impact of vocational education and training programme on young women and, the social impact practice of social enterprises in specific regions of the UK. She has presented her research at recognised conferences – International Social Innovation Research Conference, Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and the British Academy of Management. 

Multicoloured image of two hands grasping each other

Are we any better? Bringing diversity to social enterprise thought leadership

Most of us are aware that more diversity within the workplace leads to a better performing business. The WEF recently published a report that shows overwhelming evidence for this. Increasing diversity is also vital to ensure that the business remains relevant to its customers and stakeholders in the way that it both delivers and develops its products and services. This is especially important for social enterprises, as we are trying to ensure that we build more inclusive products and services that are designed to support those that are marginalised from the mainstream market.

The Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted how Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people and communities are often designed out of solutions or ignored completely in favour of those that fit with our own images, biases and privileges. We would hope that this is not the case with social enterprises, and the figures from last year’s State of Social Enterprise report are more encouraging, with 13% being BAME led, 35% with BAME directors and 42% BAME social entrepreneurs. However, we certainly cannot sit on our laurels and say we are anyway close to being a truly diverse business sector when it comes to leadership and, in particular in my observations, thought leadership.

I have observed that social enterprise thought leaders are overwhelmingly white and in the main, male. Having been in the social enterprise sector for more than 20 years I think that this trend has become even more embedded without many noticing.

Fundamentally different, by putting social value at the heart, as social enterprises we need to live and breathe our values through our leadership and promotion. Thus, thought leadership is a central plank to our business model and its development. We often play a unique position in policy formulation, advocacy and delivery to those marginalised from mainstream society and the economy on many different levels. However I have observed that social enterprise thought leaders are overwhelmingly white and in the main, male. Having been in the social enterprise sector for more than 20 years I think that this trend has become even more embedded without many noticing.

So, why is this happening? I have been pondering… it may be because we have been trying to over compensate around the business message of social enterprise, thus veering to emulate the business sector? We want to be taken seriously as a business (not a bunch of ‘hippies’ as some would phrase it!) and stereotypical business tends to be dominated by white men talking to other white men.

Without more diverse voices leading the discussions about the direction of social enterprise for the future, we risk narrowing the dialogue and missing the real social issues by ignoring the marginalised voices to whom our goods and services aim to help.

I also think it’s about the assumptions around business growth. Often new-start businesses are much more diverse in their roots and leaders (and the stats show this). However, when it comes to business growth/scaling, the language becomes more complex and finance led, which can alienate and push the original social motivation sideways, i.e. you need the right set of language skills, ‘business speak’ and connections with the likeminded to fit in and get on. Ironically we are asking for our economy to become more people led, but it feels like social enterprise has to fit the old finance led economy mould to grow. I was interested to see for instance, that Divine Chocolate has recently had to change their business model away from social enterprise to grow and gain investment.

Therefore I would argue that we should be promoting, encouraging and supporting far more varied voices in the analysis and leadership of the sector, alongside challenging our recruitment and governance mechanisms. Without more diverse voices leading the discussions about the direction of social enterprise for the future, we risk narrowing the dialogue and missing the real social issues by ignoring the marginalised voices to whom our goods and services aim to help.

Lucy Findlay

Building back better after the crisis

UPDATE 09/06/2020

In the below blog, which I wrote at the end of April, I spoke about now being the time to #BuildBackBetter and how we need a new vision for the future that “transcends traditional political boundaries”.

To be effective, #BuildBackBetter has to be a broader movement, encompassing both sides of the political spectrum, and I am pleased to see more forces do seem to be coming together in this way. Compass, the centre-left think tank, has brought together a core group of trade bodies, think tanks and network organisations to ensure that there is wider ownership of the campaign.

They are inviting others to add their voice to a broad-based call to ‘Build Back Better’ from the coronavirus crisis, which they hope to launch this month. They write:

There should be a simple statement of what #BuildBackBetter means, around which people could gather and from which they can build. We think that can be done by bringing a significant group of civic leaders from across all walks of life as signatories to a relatively short statement, and then publicising this through a mainstream and social media campaign. It is important that this is not led only by those whom the media and political leaders would expect to support it. It needs to come from a group with diverse political views. And it should not be party political – politicians should only be asked to back it after it is launched.

They have created a statement and are now asking a range of civic leaders to give it their support. You can sign up here – they welcome organisations to be signatories as well as individuals.


Covid-19 has shaken the world to its core. There is not one aspect of our daily lives that hasn’t been touched, and this is mirrored all across the world. It seems a lifetime since our 10th birthday party and my trip to Siberia at the beginning of March. Life will never be the same again and we now have to face the struggle for survival of vast parts of our economy as we protect ourselves and our loved ones from the unseen danger everywhere in our communities.

The most worrying thing to me is that the situation is exacerbating the huge chasm between rich and poor around the world. Recent research from Oxfam warns that the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty unless urgent action is taken to support developing countries.

half a billion more people could be pushed into poverty by Covid-19

We see this especially starkly in countries such as India, where crowded conditions caused by poverty make social isolation impossible, as well as the challenges of an economy dependent on the poor servicing the rich often hundreds of miles away from their homes. The poorest do not have the resources to stay at home, and in some cases don’t even have a home, or a home that is safe. It is the poorest that are dying in much greater numbers due to greater exposure, poor diet and healthcare, amongst other factors. They are also the ones that are likely to face long term economic hardship.

“Social enterprises and community organisations are the businesses that provide the ‘glue’ that holds society together often where the traditional market and public sector doesn’t provide.”

Frustratingly, the government has advocated community solutions to inequality, but largely not funded them. Social enterprise is a case in point. With government divesting themselves of community support programmes and increasingly relying on social enterprises and charities to fill the gaps, they have pushed the business and independent approach to self-help and then snatched this revenue away in the crisis without replacing it.

Instead, there has been a focus on helping social enterprises and charities that are dealing directly with support to tackle the effects of COVID 19. This completely misses the point. Social enterprises and community organisations are the businesses that provide the ‘glue’ that holds society together often where the traditional market and public sector doesn’t provide. They also have greater flexibility to create a more ‘person’ based, flexible  solution in their locality, rather than the clumsiness of a centralist approach.

“The social enterprise sector cannot simply be reinvented if there are major shut-downs. It takes years for social enterprises to become sustainable businesses and they interweave solutions to problems that politicians often do not acknowledge exist or, if they do, they don’t know how to tackle.”

When we emerge from this crisis will the economy and revert back to more of the same (like we saw after the 2008 financial crash), or a more nuanced personal approach that recognises that humans are part of an eco-system? I think most people agree that there was something really wrong with society that let the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The gulf has been getting bigger every year and on top of this we have a climate crisis.

We need to think differently and social enterprises are examples of this in action. The social enterprise sector cannot simply be reinvented if there are major shut-downs. It takes years for social enterprises to become sustainable businesses and they interweave solutions to problems that politicians often do not acknowledge exist or, if they do, they don’t know how to tackle.

This has to be the time to grasp the nettle and #BuildBackBetter. We need a new vision for the future that transcends traditional political boundaries. We need to be working with both the left and the right and getting the media on board and, more to the point, working outside the boundaries of the UK as well encapsulating a more local approach. A world-wide movement is required that will transcend the forces of those powerful interests that will default to previous setting.

To this end, we are working with partners in the UK social enterprise and social value movement to campaign to #SaveOurSocEnts in order to #BuildBackBetter.

#SaveOurSocEnts campaign partners

We are also reaching out to wider allies, and have become members of the Well Being Economy Alliance, an international movement to put people at the heart of economic decision-making, not economic growth at all costs.

We need to stop being territorial and join together to create a safe and better future for all.

Image of two open hands

Financial support for social enterprises during COVID-19

By Ishita Ranjan, Project Manager at Good Finance

It’s been over a month now since we went into lockdown, and as individuals and businesses fight to adapt, we are all adjusting to life in the new normal.

This is no different for social enterprises; some have struggled to operate and have lost entire revenue streams, others have adapted business models, traditional brick and mortar businesses operations have moved to digital delivery, and some have even managed to thrive in a changing world.

We’ve seen and heard some amazing stories. For example, Creative Optimistic Visions, who work to positively influence and support people who are vulnerable to victimisation and abuse, have moved to online classes to ensure they can keep delivering. The Good Loaf, a social enterprise bakery, has pivoted to a click and collect delivery service, and Oddbox, a fruit and veg delivery service, has expanded their catchment area for deliveries. From providing PPE, to keeping essential services going, to ensuring basic good reach at risk groups, social enterprises are making their mark on the new normal.

However, many social enterprises and charities are also struggling to survive, whether that’s due to significant drops in revenue, furloughed work forces or uncertainties about the future of their business model. Whatever position you’re in, it’s important to understand some of the key areas of financial support that are in place.

Diagram showing funding and finance opportunities to support social enterprises

Social Investment

Grants will often be the type of money most needed at the moment, however social investment could be an option when you:

  • Need bridging finance: where it’s clear where the repayment will come from
  • Are pivoting your business model: when you have a good business plan that may have additional risk in delivery
  • Are operating business as usual: where revenue streams appear resilient or unaffected and you are delivering your plans pre-crisis

In light of the Covid-19 crisis, social investors are looking at a number of options to help the sector, including exploring new funding and adjusting existing funding. Here’s a few ways of finding out more:

  • Learn about new emergency finance options being offered by social investors to extend the Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to social enterprises, making it easier for them to access. This includes the Resilience and Recovery Loan Fund, specifically aimed at social enterprises and charities, as well as the Community Investment Enterprise Facility, which is aimed at small enterprises that have a positive impact in their communities.
  • Use Good Finance’s investor directory to explore which social investors are providing emergency finance and are open to new investees.
  • Read more about how social investors are responding and their key messages in this open letter.


For many organisations, grants will continue to play a crucial role in supporting them during this time.

Government Support

Through the budget and subsequent Treasury announcements, there is a range of Government support that is available including:

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month
  • Business Bounce Back Loans: will help small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000
  • HMRC Time to Pay Scheme: because of Coronavirus you may be able to delay (defer) some tax payments without paying a penalty
  • There are also several dedicated grants and schemes for specific sectors or issues

The below cribsheet explains all the various types of support, as well as what charities and social enterprises can access.

A diagram outlining government support for social enterprises and charities

If you want to find out more on any of the above types of financial support, visit the Good Finance COVID-19 Resource Hub or Tweet @GoodFinanceUK.


Lucy Findlay with Irina Makeeva, Yulia and Anna (Green Squirrel) at Social Enterprise festival in Novosibirsk

To Russia and back… by the skin of my teeth!

The rate of current social and economic change is breath-taking. My second visit to Siberia will forever be associated not only with the horrors unfolding in Western Europe but also the capacity for human kindness, generosity and love in a society that is often stereotyped and treated with suspicion.

It began as a fairly routine trip, albeit with the Coronavirus headlines in the press but not really penetrating much further than advice not to shake hands and to wash them for 20 seconds. The plane out to Moscow was very quiet, but the final leg of the journey to Novosibirsk in Siberia was packed, as the following day (Sunday) was International Women’s Day, a major holiday in Russia. Novosibirsk is the third largest city in Russia, after St Petersburg and Moscow, and is 7 hours ahead of GMT. The city’s name means ‘new Siberia’ due to its relative youth growing largely over the time since the arrival of the Trans-Siberian Railway and it’s positioning away from Moscow during the Cold War.

On arrival I was greeted by Irina (my exchange peer) at the airport. Hugs that were becoming less commonplace in the UK were still generously shared around and although I mentioned Coronavirus, it was mainly in the context of jokes about toilet paper shortages in the UK!

International Women’s Day celebrates all women and is a big family occasion. I was invited to Irina’s sister-in-law Polina’s house where I met Irina’s family, including her parents-in-law Vladimir and Luba. They live in Chita, which is further East near to the Mongolian border. It sounded a lovely place with its own bottled spring water (although quite an acquired taste!) Vladimir is originally from Buryatia, which is a republic in the Far East (of Russia) where they have their own dialect and the native people, Buryatians, are ethnically similar to Mongols. Luba however is originally from Crimea and told me that it was controversial for her to have married a man from an ethnic minority. Luba is a musician and a very passionate woman and even though they didn’t speak any English, I felt an immediate bond thanks to Irina’s excellent translation services!

Students at the Lel folklore school in NovosibirskThe next day, a state holiday, I was guest of honour at the Folklore School ‘Lel’. This school keeps up the traditions of Siberian traditional singing and dancing for girls who are interested in becoming ‘folklore’ teachers. They taught the stories behind the dances and songs and even invited me to join them to become a dancing ‘fence’!

I was very touched by all the dedication and that the girls showed, particularly when a deaf girl showed me how she passionately ‘signed’ along to a popular song (she was apparently due to sign to the song when the star who sang it appeared in Novosibirsk, live on stage!)

Olga, one of the teachers, spoke English and told me that she had visited the UK in in the 1990s with her mother. Apparently she attended an exchange to Portsmouth and even met the mayor, although they were embarrassed to say that they didn’t remember his name. I explained that mayors of most major cities in the UK are merely ceremonial and it was unlikely the people of Portsmouth would remember either (apologies to any local councillor’s reading this)! Afterwards we all shared some cake, tea and pies (a Siberian speciality) and the students were interested to hear English actually being spoken as a ‘real’ language (not as a school subject). There are so few foreigners that come to that part of the Russia.

Lucy Findlay at Novosibirsk’s Technical University Innovation/Incubation HubFollowing the extended celebrations, we started work later the next day as I was still adjusting to the time difference. We went to speak to a number of students and lecturers from Novosibirsk’s Technical University at their Innovation/Incubation Hub. It was an open invitation and appeared to attract a number of different disciplines including environmental sustainability and healthcare. It was a small gathering, so we were able to have a conversation about the lessons of certification as well as the challenges of different disciplines taking on different agendas. It seems academic silos are the same the world over. It was encouraging that a number of academic social entrepreneurs were very engaged in developing their ideas.

One of the reasons that I travelled to Russia again was because we wanted to explore a new ‘social enterprise regulation’, which was approved by the government last January. This allows mainstream businesses to convert to become social enterprises. There is much more regulation and restriction of organisations depending on their legal structures. For instance, NGOs are largely unable to trade and can only gain income through foundations. This poses challenges and it is hoped that the new law will enable existing ‘for profits’ and new social enterprises to set up.

On this basis, the local Chamber of Business organised an event for local business people, which I addressed with the help of my new translator Yuliya. There was a lot of interest in the idea of social enterprise and some interesting questions. I got the general feeling that social enterprise led accreditation was a welcome alternative to more regulation from government, so I’m not sure how much the new law will help with conversions, although it was interesting to hear that the spirit of the new laws seemed spookily to map our criteria! Perhaps the work that we did a number of years ago with Russia’s Our Future Foundation helped to shape this?

Lucy Findlay with Irina from disability led NGO in SiberiaI also visited a local disability support organisation, set in a very ‘Soviet style’ housing estate. The building (but none of the bills) was provided for free by the local authorities, but this came with restriction clauses in terms of use – no commercial activity was allowed. This was very frustrating for the boss Irina (another one!) who obviously had huge entrepreneurial flare but could not sell the pottery that her clients were making (only donations are allowed).

They had however managed to corner the market in Russian Braille school textbooks, which they are allowed to sell, but these were huge and space restricted due to the building size. We talked through potential solutions, the main being to find a better building as well as potentially setting up a separate trading company, but it seems much local and federal bureaucracy puts up barriers to the development of social enterprise in Siberia, even if there is a new law.

Clothes and fabric at Green Squirrel recycling social enterprise in SiberiaEnvironmentalism is a real growth area in Siberia. Recycling is carried out but it is not yet embedded as there are no kerbside recycling schemes. I visited Green Squirrel, which is run by a very enthusiastic bunch of young people who I met last time I came to Siberia. They collect recycling and reuse/upcycle many of the items donated where they can. I was given a set of waterproof shoe covers made out of old umbrellas (very useful for cycling!)

However, it’s clear that these sorts of schemes have traditionally been ad-hoc and grant led, which means they need to scale up or find other income generating activities in order to achieve financial viability. The concept of cross-subsidisation seems to be pretty new in Russia (or at least to the groups that I encountered), perhaps to historical state and subsequent business culture/NGO grant reliance.

Akademgaradok UniversityThe crescendo of the trip was the 2-day Social Entrepreneurs Festival, which had been one of the main reasons for the timing of my visit. It was held at Akademgorodok – a university about 10 miles outside Novosibirsk in the woods. It’s an amazing campus and has an interesting history, as it was built largely on the initiative of a number of academics who came together in the 1950s to set up an idealised scientific community ‘away from it all’. It’s like a small city within its own right, albeit in lovely wooded surroundings. We were based in a weird, futuristic building locally nicknamed ‘the geese’ as it emulated two geese kissing.

The festival brought people from towns and cities across Siberia. I was the only international visitor and it seemed hard for people to get their head around the fact that I wasn’t from London… Devon was not a place that they had heard of!! I was one of the headliners but it was a new challenge giving a keynote whilst waiting for translation. I was feeling a bit off colour too, so was worried that I might be Case 0 of Coronavirus in Siberia!!! I also had an interesting discussion with an American who has lived in Russia since the 90’s (I first met her last year). She had some great ideas about the greater level of ambition that the social enterprise world should be taking in Novosibirsk given her US experiences.

Lucy Findlay speaking about social value at workshop at Social Enterprise festival in NovosibirskI was relieved that I felt much better on the second day when I ran a Social Impact workshop talking to a number of NGOs with Irina and Yuliya on translation duty. We used our Social Impact Guidance to take people through the steps and discuss each point, in groups. Because we had a number of new organisations in the group some of the discussions were more academic, but it did help to clarify better the objectives and plan for the impact that they wanted to make.

I was amused to have a very nice guy in the group who was representing Siberia’s arm of Putin’s political social support organisation. I tried to persuade him that their social impact should be about supporting and enabling social enterprises rather than setting them up and running them!!

The festival was my last official appointment, but alas not the end of dramas due to Coronavirus. During my last evening in Novosibirsk I had a message from my brother saying that Russia was partially closing its borders. The message was ambiguous so it wasn’t clear whether my flight from Moscow airport would be cancelled. I quickly got in touch with Irina and my husband to see if we could find out more. We couldn’t ascertain much so I was on tenterhooks until I finally made the flight back from Siberia to be reassured at the airport that my connecting flight from Moscow was indeed still scheduled. Of course subsequent to this I realised that other people abroad have not been as lucky as I was.

Coronavirus aside, it was an amazing trip and many heartfelt thanks go to Irina, her family and her colleagues at the Siberian Centre. I hope to be able to return the hospitality when she is finally able to visit us in Devon, although I don’t know if we will ever be able to compete with the warmth and friendliness of the Siberian people. I have now been bitten by the bug and long to go back, maybe as a tourist, to explore the amazing lakes and countryside – but probably later in the summer (or beyond) when there is no danger of a global pandemic!!

Lucy Findlay with Irina Makeeva, Yulia and Anna (Green Squirrel) at Social Enterprise festival in Novosibirsk

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.

Stacks of gold coins

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


Stacks of gold coins with small plants on top next to a wooden house

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.