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.


Paying workers in your social enterprise

By Shaziya Somji, Managing Director of Harris Accountancy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Factors in employment status


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


Can the worker send a substitute?

Mutuality of obligation

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


Below is an outline of the rates applicable for payroll:

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

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


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


Shaziya Somji, Harris Accountancy Services

Investment relief available for social enterprises

By Shaziya Somji, Managing Director of Harris Accountancy

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

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

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

Below is more information the available tax reliefs:

Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR)

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

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

Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS and SEIS)

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

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

Capital Gains Tax Relief

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

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

Research & Development tax credits

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

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


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


Diagram explaining taxes for social enterprises

Taxes explained for social enterprises

By Shaziya Somji, Managing Director of Harris Accountancy

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

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

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

• Corporation tax and VAT
• Payroll taxes
• Investments reliefs

Corporation Tax

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grants received

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


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



Delivering regional growth through social enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Findlay

Thinking bigger… ten years on (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kat Luckock

Why social enterprise?

By Kat Luckock, Founder of Share Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Social Enterprise Virtual Summit 2018

Why I created the summit…

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

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

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

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

Simply sign up here for free:


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

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

Brexit – Millions are ready for an opportunity…

By Steve Hawkins, CEO of Pluss

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

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

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

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

But there is a solution closer to home…

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

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

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


Julie Hawker_Cosmic

Leading the way as a Social Enterprise Ambassador

By Julie Hawker, Joint CEO of Cosmic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Fell and Lucy Findlay at the Social Enterprise World Forum

Thinking bigger… reflections on the Social Enterprise World Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The risk of not focusing on profit in your social enterprise

Kat LuckockBy Kat Luckock, Founder of Share Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) It enables sustainability

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

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

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

3) It increases opportunity for investment

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

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


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

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

Save time and money using digital technology for your social enterprise

Kat LuckockBy Kat Luckock, Founder of Share Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Diary Management and booking meetings

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

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

Lead Generation

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

Video Conferencing & Webinars

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

Email Communication & Sales Funnels

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

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

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

Social Media Scheduling & Automation

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

Project planning and team organisation

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

Simple Graphic Design or Document Creation

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

My last money saving tip…

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


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

Lucy Findlay

Blurring the lines? Responding to the Civil Society Strategy

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

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

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

The strategy then goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Going ‘Beyond the Badge’
in the fashion industry

By Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of Supply Compass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

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

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

Confidence in Textiles – Tested for harmful substances

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

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

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

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

Runners at start line

Standing still? It’s not an option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Community owned change – we need to talk about anarchism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Alder and Alder branding guide

Harness the power of your brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alder and Alder branding guide for social enterprises

Changemaker Hub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 2017

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

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

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

This is a social enterprise for the digital age.

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

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

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

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

October 2017   

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

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

February 2018

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

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

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

April 2018

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

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

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

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

May 2018

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

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

June 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Findlay

An inequality crisis – how do we spread the wealth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socent and gender equality_Heidi Fisher blog

Social enterprise and gender equality

Heidi FisherBy Heidi Fisher, Director of Make an Impact CIC

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

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

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

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

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

And when you consider more female board directors give:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on Linked In on 14th June 2018


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

Blogging, Vlogging and Flogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heidi Fisher

Five essential factors for financial success with your social enterprise

By Heidi Fisher, Director of Make an Impact CIC

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

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

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

1) Manage your cash flow

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

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

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

2) Keep overheads low

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Trade if possible 

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

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

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

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

5) Diversify your income sources 

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

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

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

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


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

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

Lucy Findlay

Vlog – Lucy comments on the gender pay gap

Lucy Findlay

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

Are we heading for ‘Hard Times’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Enterprise Gold Mark

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

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

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

Lucy Findlay

Leading the way or minding the gap?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Findlay

Alternative models of business – time for a change?

John McDonnell at Labour Party Alternative Models of Ownership conference

John McDonnell speaking at Alternative Models of Ownership conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

Another year older, another year wiser?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Findlay

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

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

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

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

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

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