Business Investment: What is Degrowth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Green Growth just “another” wealth creator?

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


Let’s talk Degrowth…

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

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

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


Do you feel confident with the investment options available?

Here are some helpful Links

Guides & Resources by Good Finance

Social Investors, Funds & Advisers

Jennifer Wilkins’ Presentation on Degrowth to Jefferies

Big Society Capital Website

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

Photo Credit
Big Society Capital 

Employee Ownership

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

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

The rise of the ‘Purposeful Business

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

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

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

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

Why consider employee ownership?

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

The link between employee ownership and social enterprise

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


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

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

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

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

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

A social enterprise cannot have shareholders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


EDEEY: Helping Aspiring Entrepreneurs Conference

The Ethical Digital Entrepreneurship for European Youth (EDEEY project) conference will showcase online learning platform that supports aspiring #entrepreneurs who are starting out on their ethical and social enterprise journey.

At the London conference you will hear from young people who are winners in the EDEEY competition to come up with a business idea and create a business plan. Expert speakers at the conference include our own Lucy Findlay MBE along with Christina Bonarou from Symplexis (Greece) and Sculpt’s Chief Executive Dr. Claire Bonham.

The learning platform has four available courses on:

1. Business Planning

2. Access to Finance and other support for your enterprise

3. Social Media and Content Marketing

4. GDPR and Digital Skills

Sculpt will be sharing the pilot cohort experience of the training resources in the UK, Cyprus, Czech Republic and Greece, and there will also be an opportunity to explore the online learning platform.

Lucy Findlay MBE says, “I am pleased to support the work of Sculpt. It’s really important for young people to find a source of support and guidance in their aspirations to help create a better world as well as to network and share with those with who have the same values.”

Book your place to attend in-person 22 June 2022 here.

Download the conference flyer here: Sculpt – EDEEY Conference JUNE 2022


Comm Growth Plan 2022

Community Enterprise Growth Plan: The Future of Dormant Funds

A coalition of organisations including partners Access Foundation, Impact Investing Institute, NAVCA, Power to Change, School for Social Entrepreneurs, Social Enterprise UK and Big Society Capital are launching The Community Enterprise Growth Plan.

Social enterprise, charity representative bodies and social investors have joined forces to call on Government to get behind a new plan to back enterprises in underserved places and communities in the forthcoming consultation on Dormant Assets.

The proposed new ‘Community Enterprise Growth Plan’ focuses on the untapped potential for growing enterprises with a social purpose across the country, particularly in places and communities that have been deprived of investment in the past. This includes areas identified by the index of multiple deprivation and those led by or serving protected groups such as people from ethnic minority backgrounds, those with an impairment or facing gender bias.

A 12-week consultation on the future use of dormant assets in England is expected to be launched this summer. The expanded scheme could release more than £880m additional funds for charities and social enterprises.





SEUK Social Enterprise Awards 2022 – Open for Applications!

Applications are now open for the 2022 UK Social Enterprise Awards

The SEUK Awards are the biggest celebration of the year in the social enterprise calendar, recognising the best in the sector – both organisations for their business excellence and contribution to society, as well as the incredible individuals who work at the heart of the social enterprise movement.

SEUK Social Enterprise Awards 2022There are a total of 15 categories at this year’s Awards which capture the breadth, diversity and impact of the social enterprise community. As well as the award for overall Social Enterprise of the Year and the ‘One-to-Watch Award’ recognising a pioneering start-up business there are also more specific categories for social enterprises working in particular areas such as healthcare or in providing education, training and jobs. There are also awards for social enterprises tackling the climate crisis and those leading the way in promoting diversity, inclusion, equity and justice across their work.

Organisations which support the growth and development of the social enterprise sector can apply for the ‘Buy Social Market Builder’ Award and there is also a category recognising the Social Investment Deal of the Year.

Winners will be announced at a gala ceremony taking place on 8 December 2022 at the iconic Roundhouse in Camden, London.

Click here to find out more and to apply – Applications close on 1 July 2022.

If you’ve any questions about the application process, please contact

Good luck!

SEMCIC Stakeholder Survey 2022

As we look to move into a new phase of growth, we are keen to consult our stakeholders on the development of our accreditation services, to ensure our services continue to address the evolving needs of the growing social enterprise sector.

We invite you to take part in our 2022 Stakeholder Survey, to share your thoughts on the services we provide and our role in the sector, as well as our future strategic direction.

The deadline to complete the survey is Monday 30th of May and your participation is greatly appreciated!

As a thank you for your time, you have the option to be entered into a prize draw for a chance to win a free one-to-one marketing masterclass from our Marketing Lead at Social Enterprise Mark.

Kind Regards,

Social Enterprise Mark CIC

Be the Best

The Golden Thread: Embedding social enterprise for better student outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy Findlay MBE

Managing Director, Social Enterprise Mark CIC

SEEchange conference

SEEchange Collaboration Conference

On Monday 25th April 2022, Social Enterprise Mark CIC and Cambio: House of Social Change came together for SEEchange THE GOLDEN THREAD collaboration conference focused on the universities sector and social enterprise engagement.

The conference was delighted to welcome a diverse range of expert speakers and roundtable facilitators and the input, energy and enthusiasm throughout the day whether in the thought-leader sessions, panel Q&A, roundtables or networking…. There was certainly a lot of valuable networking going on, which is fantastic!

Feedback from the conference has been really encouraging in that people enjoyed being ‘in the room’ and being a collective has allowed for those adhoc conversations and meet ups that often bring opportunity and action, perhaps an element of dialogue that is often hard to simulate on a Zoom call.

Absolutely outstanding conference yesterday… making many new connections!”

“Really energetic discussion on our table!”

“Excellent event…. Great speakers with short talks, lots of networking… Superb hospitality.”

For those who attended the event thank you for letting us know what comes from the event for you and your organisation…. new connections, new opportunities, a contract or collaboration of like-minded enterprises. We’d love to hear about it!

Finally, a short summary is available to download here SEEchange Conference SUMMARY April 2022 Final and we’re very much looking forward to the Pioneers Post article so please keep an eye on our social media channels for that release soon!

It is really important that we acknowledge the kind support from our partners who enabled this event to take place:

Nat West SE100 Awards 2022

NatWest SE100 Index & Social Business Awards 2022 – Open for Applications!

Pioneers Post and NatWest are once again seeking entries for the NatWest SE100 Index & Social Business Awards.

This is your #socent chance to be counted among the UK’s top #socialenterprises for 2022.

There is also a new Equality Award is being launched for this year’s NatWest SE100 Awards. The new category will recognise social enterprises that are leading by example and inspiring others to embed equity, equality, diversity and inclusion into their organisations and their work in communities across the UK.

Nat West SE100 Awards 2022

IWD Women’s Networking – Back in the Room!

Our first in-person networking event of 2022 to celebrate International Women’s Day 2022 was a great success and so lovely to see so many inspiring women attending.

In partnership with our office landlords Millfields Trust, we co-hosted this women-led networking event as we celebrated IWD at the Millfields Trust.  Our co-hosted event was over subscribed and attended by women across the City from all different sectors.  We all enjoyed an inspiring and engaging presentation from Jenny Evans who works at YTKO, as part of their fully funded Outset programme, helping other start-ups and entrepreneurs succeed and follow their passions!

Jenny offered valuable advice of how to #breakthebias for women in business having experienced difficult situations herself throughout her time of running her own businesses.

We felt very honoured to have the presence of the Lord Mayor, Councillor Terri Beer who presented gifts personally made by Jenny Evans; a pure silk cushion and notepad, as well as a free 1:1 Marketing Masterclass from the SEM CIC current Marketing Lead Sallie Ryan.

The lucky winners were:  Louise from Go South West and Antionio of Rhizome Artists’ Collective.

Thank you to all who attended and made our first event of the year a great success!

#IWD2022 # BreakingBusinessBias

IWD Reflections for 2022

Welcome to a very poignant International Women’s Day. 

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

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

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

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

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


Lucy Findlay MBE

Managing Director, Social Enterprise Mark CIC

#BreakTheBias #IWD2022

APPG Inquiry into the impact of COVID on social enterprises

Great to hear from Charles Courtenay (Earl of Devon) Liz Minns Social Enterprise UK Karen Lynch (nee Borsberry-Woods) Lindsey Hall Real Ideas Organisation as some of the Panelists at the #APPG Inquiry Report Launch on behalf of Lucy Findlay MBE who contributed to the #socialenterpise sector evidencing on behalf of Social Enterprise Mark CIC and #SE_Mark Holders.

The role of the Inquiry was to investigate the impact of COVID on social enterprises and what lessons can be learned.

The UK’s 100,000 social enterprises experienced the pandemic in a unique way having to balance both increased demand from those people they support and pressure on their business. Many adapted their business models and pivoted to support their communities at a faster rate than their peers.

The inquiry identified four key themes during the course of its work.

  1. Lack of understanding of social enterprise across HM Government
  2. The importance of place-based working and local delivery
  3. The vital contribution of social enterprises to public services
  4. The substantial opportunity for social enterprises to contribute to the UK’s recovery and levelling up after the pandemic

Resonant themes include localism, joined up working, social economy and move of #socent to Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)… lots to unpack, well worth a read.

📔 3 mins and a good ☕️

READ MORE and download the full report:
Inquiry into the impact of COVID on social enterprises » Social Enterprise UK

WiSE100 2022 list announced

WiSE100 Announced…. Our Congratulations to All

Exciting announcements this afternoon as the NatWest WiSE100 top women in social enterprise list is revealed!

Pioneers Post has now shared the incredible 100 women in the UK who are leading the way across the social enterprise sector…. and we are delighted that our own Lucy Findlay MBE is featured for the third consecutive year….

I am absolutely delighted to be named again this year in this prestigious list of amazing women.  It’s important to recognise the leadership of women, many often do not identify with the term ‘leader’.  Now more than ever we need a diversity in perspective that can help bring about a better world.

Lucy Findlay MBE, Founder & Managing Director, Social Enterprise Mark CIC

Also in the 2022 list of Women in Social Enterprise 100, we extend our warmest congratulations to Mark Holders who are brilliant ambassadors for the social enterprise sector: Devi Clark and Emma Lange of Impact Hub Kings Cross, Emma Lower of Lendology CIC, Julie Hawker CEO of Cosmic IT, Jacqueline Hollows of Beyond Recovery and Shannon Gorman of Resonance.

Next week, Pioneers Post will reveal the finalists in each of the four awards categories: Social Business Leader, Star of the Future, Environmental Champion and Social Business Champion. This will be followed on 18th March 2022 with a daytime celebration of the final Awards and winners of each category kindly hosted by NatWest Social & Community Capital. Book here to secure your free place (tickets numbers are restricted but still available).

Read more and explore the full #WiSE100 list here.

Photo of Lucy Findlay with quote text overlay: "As a sector we need to be the leaders in openness and transparency... in this world of increasing greenwash and hype around ‘purpose’ and ethics, so we are not left behind as others with louder voices and more power eclipse our voices through these means."

Tackling greenwashing through credible, independent standards

As we embark on our 13th year of providing clear and credible standards for the social enterprise sector, we remain committed to protecting the integrity of genuine social enterprises by supporting them to prove their credentials and lead the world in ethical and sustainable business practice.

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

Lucy Findlay at launch of the Social Enterprise Mark in 2010

We have seen many changes in the market over the 12 years since we launched the Social Enterprise Mark, and in recent years there has been a growing proliferation in marketing claims around ‘purpose’, ‘good business’ and ‘sustainability’. This has led to a more crowded marketplace for those businesses seeking to stand out based on their social enterprise credentials.

We have seen widespread ‘greenwashing’ – the practice of using misleading PR and marketing claims to appeal to ethical and environmentally-conscious consumers. Sadly, this is now commonplace in consumer markets and many large corporates often focus on specific areas of how their product/service is ‘environmentally-friendly’, ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’, while ignoring the other areas where they have a significant negative environmental impact.

With increasing numbers of consumers looking to spend their money with ethical and sustainable businesses, it is vital they are able to cut through this greenwash to identify those businesses that are genuinely focused on creating social or environmental benefits.

For example, in 2019 Shell announced a $300 million investment in ‘natural ecosystems’ as part of a strategy to take action against climate change. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has pointed out that such actions do not mitigate or offset the continued release of greenhouse gases that result from Shell’s extraction and burning of fossil fuels.

With increasing numbers of consumers looking to spend their money with ethical and sustainable businesses, it is vital that they are able to cut through this greenwash to identify those businesses that are genuinely focused on creating social or environmental benefits.

Following research by the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) in 2021, which showed a staggering 40% of green claims made online could be misleading consumers, new regulatory guidance has recently come into force in the UK, which protects consumers from misleading claims, and also protects businesses from unfair competition. The Green Claims Code, which sets out six key principles to help businesses ensure their green claims are genuine and not misleading, aims to creates a level playing field for those businesses whose products genuinely represent a better choice for the environment and who can make truthful environmental claims.

Our friend Sian Conway-Wood, Founder of the #EthicalHour online community, recently ran a webinar, which gave a really useful overview of the Green Claims Code and provided guidance to support businesses to get ready for the new guidance and use their sustainability as a competitive advantage whilst remaining compliant. We would recommend getting in touch with Sian if you would like support with turning your sustainability into a selling point.

Interestingly, the CMA guidance states that claims must not focus on a minor part of what the business does if the core business produces significant negative effects… I refer you back to the Shell example given above! Dependent on the power, resources and willingness of the CMA to act, hopefully the subsequent investigations (and probable high fines for those found to be flouting the regulations) will lead to a reduction in greenwashing. This would enable more social enterprises to truly differentiate themselves and stand out as the ethical and sustainable option.

Green Claims Code principle 5: substantiate any claims madeOne of the central principles of the Green Claims Code is that claims are substantiated by credible evidence. Part of this is being able to demonstrate that the claim has been subject to independent scrutiny/verification.

So, how can businesses that are genuinely driven by a motivation to create value for people and planet effectively back up their claims? One way to gain independent verification is through gaining external accreditation/certification.

In its guidance, the CMA states, “Symbols, trust or quality marks awarded by independent third parties on the basis of a formal assessment against lawful and objective criteria are less likely to be misleading. For example, where these endorsements are based on clear, publicly available criteria, or internationally accepted methodologies.”

Additionally, from a consumer point of view, they are more likely to trust claims that have been independently verified. Research commissioned by Compare Ethics in 2020 showed 83% of consumers would be more likely to trust a product’s sustainability claim if it had been verified by a third party.

Our own social enterprise accreditations provide independent assurance that an organisation has met a set of robust sector-agreed criteria, which are fully transparent and made public for anyone to view, which should create more customer/consumer trust in the claims made around being a social enterprise.

As a sector we need to be the leaders in openness and transparency, and we can’t expect people to take our claims for granted, especially in this world of increasing greenwash and hype around ‘purpose’ and ethics.

As social enterprise is still not a distinct legal form in most countries, in effect any business can claim to be one. By providing a clear and credible set of standards against which to assess social enterprises, we can hold these businesses to account for their claims and in doing so support them to prove their credentials and stand out from the crowd as in independently verified social enterprise, which is creating positive impacts for people and planet.

As one of our Social Enterprise Mark holders recently stated, “We can now proudly show that we have been assessed against a recognised and reputable framework, and that the work we do as a social enterprise has been validated by experts in the field… The accreditation process is very rewarding and has certainly been hugely beneficial to our organisation.”

As a sector we need to be the leaders in openness and transparency, and we can’t expect people to take our claims for granted, especially in this world of increasing greenwash and hype around ‘purpose’ and ethics. If we are not careful, we will be left behind as others with louder voices and more power eclipse our voices through these means.

Meaningful accreditation and showing our distinctiveness is an important part of getting our house in order to tackle the world’s challenges as we grow in maturity and stature.

If you are interested in finding out more about how accreditation can benefit your social enterprise, please complete our short online form and a member of the team will be in touch.

Roots HR

Success of Free HR Toolkits for the Social Sector

Roots HR CIC launched the first of a series of FREE HR Toolkits in July 2021, releasing 1 Toolkit per month, jam-packed full of useful guidance, templates, tools and training webinars to enable effective people management within small to medium social sector organisations.

To date over 1,000 Toolkits have been provided to organisations on Recruitment, Selection, Pre Employment Checks, Induction, Probation and Agile Appraisal. These free Toolkits have enabled social sector organisations to feel confident and fully equipped to recruit, onboard and manage people effectively saving time and funds to allow them to focus on service delivery for their beneficiaries.

Recipients of the free Toolkits have said:

“We are about to onboard staff for the first time and feel much more confident in doing so now”.

“The templates are super helpful and it’s the right level of information”.

“The templates are really helpful and having the webinars to share with colleagues has been great too”.

Over the next 6 months, Roots HR CIC is looking forward to launching 6 further free HR Toolkits on topics such as Wellbeing at Work, Pay and Benefits, Personnel Files, Leavers, Sickness Absence and Under Performance.

To request the free Toolkits please visit: Roots HR CIC can be contacted on 01562 840060, at or at

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

Statement on the Adebowale Commission on Social Investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of 2021 written in sand with the tide coming in over the sand

Social Enterprise Mark CIC 2021 review

As is our usual custom at the start of a new year, we have been reflecting on the previous year and have created a short video to share our key highlights from 2021 as well as looking ahead to our key priorities for 2022.

This year, we want the world to understand that there is credible business alternative that leads the way in creating a better, kinder society that heals and tackles climate change and global inequality; the biggest issues of our time.

If you have any questions, feedback, or would like to discuss how we can support you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Free agile appraisal toolkit for social sector organisations

Roots HR logoRoots HR CIC is giving away an Agile Appraisal Toolkit worth £349, which is jam-packed full of useful guidance, templates, tools and a training webinar to support your social sector organisation.

This Toolkit is aimed at helping small social sector organisations to:

  • Design and deliver effective agile appraisal systems, processes and practices tailored to individual organisations
  • Guide managers in delivering effective agile appraisal to maximise the potential and success of their teams
  • Keep records of employee performance and appraisal
  • Understand and meet minimum legislative requirements during employment
  • Treat all employees fairly and consistently, in line with equality of opportunity, the principles of diversity and inclusion and with transparency and accountability
  • Evaluate agile appraisal processes once implemented and use this information to improve recruitment, selection, induction and probation outcomes in the future
  • Maintain the minimum possible cost and administrative burden balanced against the direct and indirect financial costs of failing to manage performance effectively.

The toolkit includes a training webinar to train your colleagues on the use of the toolkit in your organisation and a voucher for one hour of free HR consultancy support from Roots HR in implementing this Toolkit in your organisation.

Visit the Roots HR website to order your free toolkit.

Wooden tiles spelling out 'Assessment'

Piloting a new approach to social enterprise assessment

We have recently been working with our friends at EFQM to learn how we can take a new approach to assessment as we scale our business. EFQM adopt a ‘volunteer assessor’ model and we are looking to pilot a similar approach with those organisations that are either already accredited or are considering applying for our social enterprise accreditations.

It is envisaged that this new scheme would provide training (SEM Certified Assessor Training) to those individuals that wish to become an assessor; they would become a Social Enterprise Mark Accredited Assessor (accredited by us) and then commit to a minimum of one assessment per year.  We would then allocate assessments as they arise.

There are a number of advantages for business in taking part:

  1. It provides an opportunity to benefit other social enterprises (added social/community value for your own business/social enterprise)
  2. Provides rewards and kudos to those taking part in becoming Accredited Assessors (i.e. they would be able to use for CPD and personal development purposes). We would also provide certificates and badges for LinkedIn and other platforms as well as joining a global database of Social Enterprise Mark Accredited Assessors
  3. Gives and insight into good and alternative practice in other social enterprises as well as benchmarking your own practice giving ideas on how to improve
  4. Gives greater insight and understanding for the Mark Holders taking part to enable more effective input and enable greater engagement and insight into the value of the Social Enterprise Mark
  5. Spreads knowledge and good practice more effectively, empowering our Mark holders

It is envisaged that this pilot will run during 2022, with the first step being developing the training course.

If you are interested in this pilot or have names (including contact details) of colleagues that you would like to suggest for this opportunity, please get in contact with Lucy Findlay by the end of January 2022.

Christmas wreath with a yellow bauble in the middle with the Social Enterprise Mark 'approved' logo

Merry Christmas from
Social Enterprise Mark CIC

Merry Christmas from the Social Enterprise Mark CIC team with a photo of the team and Christmas tree animation

We wanted to take this opportunity to wish all our social enterprise community a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2022. It’s been another challenging year but once again we have been inspired by the dedication and commitment of social enterprises across the UK and the world.

We hope you get the opportunity to take a well deserved break over the festive period. To allow our own staff to relax and recharge, we will be closing for the Christmas break from Thursday 23rd December to Monday 3rd January (inclusive). We will respond to all messages as soon as possible on our return in January.

We look forward to working with you in 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Help to Grow: Management banner

Apply now for January start of new Government business support course

Businesses in the UK are encouraged to register before Christmas to confirm their place on the latest cohort of an industry-leading national management training course, which is being delivered by Aston Business School.

The Help to Grow: Management course is designed to provide the management tools needed to help talented business leaders innovate and grow their business, driving our economic recovery from coronavirus (COVID-19).

Designed to be manageable alongside full-time work, modules cover financial management, strategies for growth and innovation, leading a high-performance workplace and digital adoption. By the end of the programme, business leaders will develop a tailored business growth plan to help lead your business to its full potential with access to mentoring and an alumni network.

Courses at Aston Business School are open for applications – apply and find out more here.

Current programme participant Karla Batchelor, Agilysys Ltd, said: “As a Finance Director, I expected this programme to be formally structured with clear homework and assessment points – that’s how accountancy qualifications work.

“What I have had to realise over the weeks, is that the learning I’m gaining is not necessarily about discovering new areas of knowledge. It is about having the time to re-cap on tools and models that we already have in our portfolio and taking them back into the business.

 “It’s gone beyond my expectations, and the mentor sessions alone are worth the cost. I’d really recommend it.” 

Paula Whitehouse, Curriculum Director for Help to Grow: Management and Associate Dean Enterprise of the College of Business and Social Sciences at Aston University, said: “As a small business leader, you have to know about all the key business functions and how to optimise them to drive high performance in your business. 

“Help to Grow: Management will combine this essential business education with the creation of a like-minded business network and support for the practical application of the learning to ensure businesses get immediate results.

“I am excited to be working with Small Business Charter business school colleagues all over the country to roll out the Help to Grow: Management curriculum and ultimately to be introducing many more business leaders from the West Midlands into Aston’s vibrant entrepreneurial community.”

Aston Business School’s Centre for Growth will deliver a special online information session on Tuesday 7th December for business leaders to find out more about the course and have their questions answered.

A group of multi-coloured people icons with a hand holding a magnifying glass in front

Free probation toolkit for social sector organisations

Roots HR logoRoots HR CIC is giving away a Probation Toolkit, worth £399, which is jam-packed full of useful guidance, templates, tools and a training webinar to support your social sector organisation.

This Toolkit is aimed at helping small social sector organisations to:

  • Design and deliver effective probation procedures and practices tailored to individual organisations
  • Guide managers in delivering effective probation processes to maximise the potential and success of new employees in their roles
  • Keep records of probation reviews
  • Understand and meet minimum legislative requirements at the start of employment and beyond
  • Treat new employees fairly, in line with equality of opportunity, the principles of diversity and inclusion and with transparency and accountability
  • Evaluate probation procedures that have taken place and use this information to improve recruitment, selection, induction and probation outcomes in the future
  • Maintain the minimum possible cost and administrative burden balanced against the direct and indirect financial costs of failing to use probation effectively.

Visit the Roots HR website to order your free Probation Toolkit.

Red background with text: 'we are hiring; business administrator (maternity cover)

Join our team!

We have an opportunity for an experienced Business Administrator to support our small team.

This part-time role will be a key part of the team, providing general administrative support across the organisation in areas such as marketing and communications, business development, assessment and finance as required.

We are looking for someone with demonstrable experience of administration or equivalent office experience, e.g. in marketing or sales, with excellent customer service, people skills and a desire to try your hand at new things.

This is a fixed term contract (6 months initially) to cover a period of maternity leave.

Roots HR CIC is handling applications for this role – visit their website for full details and to apply.

Closing Date: 15th November 2021

Interviews: 19th November 2021

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

Activating for a more financially inclusive world

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some my observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Front cover of Social Enterprise Mark CIC social impact report

Social Enterprise Mark CIC
2020/21 impact report

As a social enterprise, we hold ourselves accountable to the same standards that underpin our assessment of other social enterprises, which includes reporting on how social objectives are being achieved.

We report on our social impact on an annual basis through the social impact evidence on our directory listing, and now for the first time we have created a dedicated Impact Report, which summarises the impact we created during 2020/21 in our role as an advocate for the social enterprise sector.

This impact was not created in isolation and we recognise and value the power of collaboration in creating positive social change. Thanks go to all our partners and our social enterprise community for their contributions!

Click here to view/download the report.


Photo montage of Charity Bank borrowers

£4m investment boost to fuel growth in new lending

Charity Bank logoCharity Bank, the loans and savings bank for positive social change, today announced £4m in new equity investments from six new investors as well as an approved investment from its existing shareholder, Big Society Capital.

By leveraging these investments with deposits, the bank will be able to make more than £32m in new loans to UK charities and social enterprises at a time when the social sector is in acute need of sustainable financing solutions.

The Garfield Weston Foundation (£1m investment), The Clothworker’s Foundation (£1m), Bank Workers Charity (£250k), Places for People (£250k), Drapers’ Company (£250k)1and Alternative Bank Switzerland (£250k) become new shareholders in Charity Bank, while Big Society Capital has approved an additional £1m. These follow investments from Barrow Cadbury Trust (£500k) and The Samworth Foundation (£500k) in March 2021, and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (£230k) in late 2020.

These investments evidence the growing appetite amongst trusts, foundations and other impact first organisations to make social investments as an alternative to grant-making to meet their social impact objectives.

Ed Siegel Charity BankEd Siegel, Chief Executive, Charity Bank, said: “Having such a diverse group of impact investors joining as shareholders in Charity Bank is a positive reflection of our success in reaching impact-driven organisations in the UK with specialist financing and support.  With this additional investment, we will be able to expand and broaden our support, helping more charities and social enterprises access the funding they need to sustain and grow their services.”

“UK charities and social enterprises are responding to an array of urgent social issues, but following an extended period of public budget austerity, many have struggled to secure sufficient funding. The effects of the Coronavirus pandemic have only made this situation worse. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, when many lenders moved to the sidelines, Charity Bank approved a record level of new loans. The new equity investments we have secured will enable us to continue to grow our lending and to offer the bespoke financing solutions that will be needed by many organisations as they rebound from the effects of the pandemic.”


Carer Friendly Award badge - making a difference

Applications open for Carer Friendly Business Awards

Applications are open for this year’s Carer Friendly Business Awards.

These awards, run by Forward Carers, celebrate businesses and organisations in the West Midlands that have taken steps to  support unpaid Carers in the community or workplace. Whether you’re an employer with great support for your staff who are also in a caring role, an organisation that has made positive changes for your customers or an unpaid Carer who wants to celebrate a local business, you can apply/ nominate here.

There are six awards in total, which includes two new categories for 2021. These are;

  • Carer Friendly Customer Care
  • Carer Friendly Employer
  • The Carers Champion
  • Carer Friendly Dementia
  • Carer Friendly Autism
  • Making A Difference

It’s been a trying period over the last 12 months yet so many organisations have gone above and beyond to make life easier for the unpaid Carers in our communities. Celebrate your good work and apply for an award today.


8 Tips For Success: Taking Your Social Enterprise To The Next Level

Charity Bank and Social Enterprise Mark CIC meet an expert guide banner

We have recently collaborated with Charity Bank on the latest instalment of their Meet an Expert series, where they bring together sector leaders to provide expert opinion and insights to charities and social enterprises.

In a special guide, our MD Lucy Findlay shares her tips to help other social enterprises to learn from the mistakes and benefit from the wisdom Social Enterprise Mark CIC has accrued over the last decade of working within the sector.

Download your free copy from the Charity Bank website.

Roots HR free induction toolkit banner

Free induction toolkit worth £349

Roots HR logoRoots HR CIC is giving away an Induction Toolkit, worth £349, which is jam-packed full of useful guidance, templates, tools and a training webinar to support your social sector organisation.

This Toolkit is aimed at helping small social sector organisations to:

  • Design and deliver an effective induction programme that will welcome your employees and enable them to perform effectively as quickly as reasonably possible
  • Understand and meet minimum legislative requirements at the start of employment and beyond
  • Treat new employees fairly, in line with equality of opportunity, the principles of diversity and inclusion and with transparency and accountability
  • Identify the topic areas to be covered in induction for all roles in your organisation
  • Plan who to deliver induction and to design its delivery using a range of techniques to maximise engagement
  • Keep records of induction training
  • Evaluate inductions that have taken place and use this information to improve induction outcomes in the future
  • Maintain the minimum possible cost and administrative burden balanced against the direct and indirect financial costs of failing to use induction effectively.

Visit the Roots HR website to download your free toolkit.

Map of Europe with text overlay 'esem' with a magnifying glass

Closing the gap between social enterprises and EU decision-makers

Are you an Impact Practitioner concerned more about creating social and environmental good than profit? Do you want to have a say in social enterprise policies, investments and strategies that will affect your organisation’s future?

Make your voice heard! Take the European Social Enterprise Monitor (ESEM) survey and seize your opportunity to influence the next generation of social enterprise policies and funding on the national and on the European level.

The European Social Entrepreneurship Monitor is an initiative by Euclid Network, the European Network of Social Enterprise Support Organisations, in collaboration with close to 40 social enterprise support organisation members, partners and universities, and supported by the European Commission,, SAP, ImpactCity, Bertelsmann Stiftung, the World Economic Forum and Schwab Foundation.

Launched in 2020, it aims to to cooperate internationally to close the current social enterprise data gap and inform policymakers, investors and social enterprise support organisations on the needs and barriers that social entrepreneurs face nationally and internationally.

If you would like to know more about the project and read the 2020-2021 ESEM Report, you can access it on the Euclid Network Knowledge Centre

Front cover of Key Fund social impact report

Key Fund unveils £447million impact

Key Fund, a pioneering social investor, has achieved an economic impact of £447million over two decades across the North of England and the Midlands.

The figure has been unveiled to mark the Sheffield-based organisation’s 21-years of investing in community and social enterprises. In that time, Key Fund has safeguarded 2,291 jobs and created 1,442 new jobs, alongside creating 533 businesses, helping to sustain 2,229 businesses.

These figures were released in its annual Social Impact report, which tells the stories of some of Key Fund investees, including a community theatre in Manchester, a domestic abuse charity in Rotherham, and counselling services in Birmingham.

Sam Keighley, Chair of Key Fund, said: “Social enterprise has become integral in delivering key services to society, as well as generating thousands of jobs and contributing to local economies. These figures show how investing the right money, in the right way, into the right hands can support enduring and sustainable social enterprises in poor neighbourhoods, which go on to improve individual lives in innumerable ways.”

Key Fund was created in Sheffield in response to the collapse of the coal and steel industries in South Yorkshire. As a financial intermediary, it helped local communities access EU funding for regeneration projects.

Today, Key Fund provides flexible loans and grants to community and social enterprises traditionally excluded by mainstream finance. It shaped the early development of funding models for community-owned and managed assets, such as renewable energy schemes and community pubs.

The UK’s 100,000 social enterprises have been at the heart of community survival and recovery during the crisis, from making PPE for health workers, to providing food and connection in their neighbourhoods.

Matt Smith speaking behind a lectern branded with the Key Fund logoMatt Smith, CEO of Key Fund, said: “Many Key Fund clients operate at the heart of their communities, focussed on supporting local people. As such, they became frontline responders in the pandemic. Our approach is to support these organisations with finance, giving them the tools to develop, grow and deliver even more. Social investment has never been so vital or needed in supporting these enterprises, who offer hope, regeneration and recovery, especially to those even more at risk of falling through the cracks in society with the fall-out of the pandemic.”

Key Fund actively targets the main causes and impacts of poverty, with 80% of its investments in organisations that are in the top 30% most deprived communities; 20% of the awards were in the 10% of most deprived areas on the indices of multiple deprivation.

In response to the pandemic, Key Fund worked with partners to secure and deliver the £18.7m Social Enterprise Support Fund, made possible by The National Lottery Community Fund. As part of this and other funding streams, in just three months, it delivered £9m of emergency grants to social enterprises hit hard by lockdowns.

Stacks of gold coins

Certification and social enterprise wages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concerns of underpayment

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

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

Disparity in salaries

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

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

Paying yourself is not at odds with social mission

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

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

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

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

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

Watford Workshop employees

Creating better jobs and careers for disabled people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A person holding a pen over paper on a clipboard

Free Pre-Employment Checks Toolkit for social sector organisations

Roots HR CIC is giving away a Pre-Employment Checks Toolkit, worth £349, jam-packed full of useful guidance, templates, tools and a training webinar to support your social sector organisation.

This Toolkit is aimed at helping small social sector organisations to:

  • Understand and meet minimum legislative requirements in carrying out pre-employment checks
  • Identify the pre-employment checks relevant and proportionate to roles in your organisation
  • Carry out the most common types of pre-employment checks for roles in the social sector, applying good practice and appropriate flexibility
  • Review and record the outcome of pre-employment checks, determine whether the information received is satisfactory and know what to do when it is unsatisfactory
  • Treat new employees fairly in line with equality of opportunity, the principles of diversity and inclusion and with transparency and accountability
  • Maintain the minimum possible cost and administrative burden balanced against the direct and indirect financial costs of failing to use pre-employment checking effectively.

Order your free Pre-Employment Checks Toolkit here.

Power Up Scotland

Big Issue Invest Power Up Scottish social ventures with £500,000 of investment

Applications are now open for a lending scheme offering £500,000 worth of investment and support to 12 early-stage social ventures across Scotland.

Big Issue Invest logoBig Issue Invest’s Power Up Scotland programme was first launched in November 2017 and has supported 19 social business to date with a total of close to £500,000. The programme is funded by abrdn, University of Edinburgh, Experian, Places for People and the Scottish Government with legal support from Brodies LLP.

Danyal Sattar, CEO of Big Issue Invest, said: “We are really excited about this year’s Power Up Scotland programme. A lot of fantastic early-stage social ventures across Scotland struggle to access small to medium-sized loans, so we are so pleased, working with our brilliant partners, to be able to support those organisations with the investment and business development expertise that they need in order to make an even greater difference within their communities in a post-Covid world.”

The Power Up programme is open to organisations across Scotland. The funding available is to enable organisations to build on the good work they currently do within their communities. Whether it’s buying equipment, hiring new talent, or progressing with business development plans. Successful applicants will also receive mentoring and business development support to social ventures for the two-year period.

The programme has been designed for early-stage social ventures, regardless of company structure – social enterprises, charities, and private enterprises are all welcome, with social value creation being the key criterion. The expectation is that many applicants will be accessing finance for the first time.

Applications for this year’s Power Up Scotland programme are open until 17th September 2021. To apply, visit the Big Issue Invest website to apply.

Image of a winding mountain road with text overlay: 'Discover your impact score. Take the quiz'

Are you making the impact you want?

Good Will Studios logoDiscover your Social Impact Score in just 2 minutes with a new interactive quiz that Will Saunders at Good Will Studios has designed especially for Social Enterprises.

Based on hundreds over conversations with social entrepreneurs and ethical businesses, the algorithm quickly generates your customised score to help you measure and improve the impact you make.

Take the quiz now to see discover your impact score.

Social Enterprise Gold Mark Outstanding Practice

Recognising outstanding practice in social enterprise

The Social Enterprise Gold Mark was introduced almost seven years ago, providing a framework to encourage and recognise excellence in social enterprise, that encapsulated and built upon the standards established by the criteria of the original Social Enterprise Mark.

A few years ago, we completed a review and revision of these standards and the assessment process, which now serves to distinguish organisations that have demonstrated an exceptional level of consistency and depth of compliance across all the Gold Mark criteria. Having completed the re-assessment of all existing Social Enterprise Gold Mark Holders, any organisation that now engages with a Gold Mark assessment can now be awarded one of two levels of accreditation, as follows:

  • Social Enterprise Excellence – where an organisation has demonstrated a range of best practice across all five of the additional Gold Mark criteria as whole, even if they are stronger in some criteria, and less so in others.
  • Social Enterprise Outstanding Practice – where an organisation has demonstrated the highest levels of excellence and has clearly and unequivocally shown robust best practice across all the Gold Mark criteria.

Organisations that demonstrate the highest levels of excellent practice may be awarded the distinction of Social Enterprise Outstanding Practice. This standard is meant to be demanding, and whilst it possible to attain this recognition immediately, it may sometimes only be possible through closely engaging with all the requirements of the framework, which is best achieved through the Social Enterprise Gold Mark assessment and first demonstrating Social Enterprise Excellence. The assessment process helps inform where an organisation stands in relation to the Gold Mark framework, in order to better understand what specific development may be required to achieve Outstanding Practice.

University of WinchesterWe are delighted to announce that the University of Winchester has become the first organisation to be awarded the Social Enterprise Outstanding Practice status.

Assessment and Compliance Manager Richard Cobbett, who was responsible for assessing the University, said: “The Social Enterprise Gold Mark sets standards of social enterprise excellence, which an organisation can work with to help raise their performance and achieve recognition for the highest levels of best practice in what it means to be an excellent social enterprise.

The University of Winchester have held the Gold Mark for several years now, and in the intervening period between assessments, have continued to build upon the levels of excellence they originally reached, particularly in the criteria of stakeholder engagement and reporting social impact. Their progress and achievements in these areas reinforce their award for Social Enterprise Gold Mark Outstanding Practice, the first organisation to have achieved this, and the evidence suggests there is much to come from them as a result of these efforts.”

Our accreditation portfolio provides a pathway for development for all social enterprises, from those just establishing themselves to those who are beacons of a broad range of best practice. Any social enterprise committed to continuous improvement and external scrutiny can engage with the framework to help develop and reinforce recognition of their good practice against clear and robust standards.

If you have any questions about the Social Enterprise Gold Mark and assessment framework please get in touch.

SE100 index badge 2021

Social Enterprise Mark CIC included in index of top social enterprises

We are delighted to have been recognised in the NatWest SE100 Index of the UK’s top social enterprises for the third year in a row.

The SE100, which has been delivered by Pioneers Post, in partnership with NatWest Social & Community Capital, for the last ten years, recognises and rewards the leading 100 social enterprises across the UK each year, and also builds greater intelligence about the growing social enterprise movement through the collection of both data and stories.

Tim WestOn announcing the 2021 index earlier this month, Tim West, Founding Editor of Pioneers Post, said: “It’s always a high point of our year to reveal the names of the UK’s top 100 social enterprises, and a real pleasure to give these organisations and their teams some well-deserved recognition.

It’s never easy to make our final selection but it’s always an inspiring exercise. Their stories remind us what’s possible when social purpose and business savvy come together, even in these times of incredible pressure and uncertainty experienced during the past year.”

Congratulations to all the businesses featured in the index – we are in impressive company! We were especially pleased to see several members of our social enterprise community are also included:

  • Charity Bank
  • Forward Carers
  • Impact Hub King’s Cross
  • Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise
  • Pilotlight
  • Resonance
  • Social Ark

You can view the full list on the Pioneers Post website.

Photo of a woman sat at a desk in front of a laptop showing free recruitment toolkit

Free recruitment toolkit for social sector organisations

Roots HR logoRoots HR CIC is giving away a Recruitment Toolkit, worth £399, jam-packed full of useful guidance, templates, tools and a training webinar to support your social sector organisation.

The Toolkit is aimed at helping small social sector organisations to:

  • Understand and meet minimum legislative requirements in recruiting employees
  • Apply good practice whilst enabling an appropriate level of flexibility in their approach to recruitment
  • Respond effectively, strategically and operationally, to internal and external change
  • Attract and appoint the best possible candidates
  • Treat applicants fairly in line with equality of opportunity and with transparency and accountability
  • Maintain the minimum possible cost and administrative burden balanced against the direct and indirect financial costs of getting the recruitment process wrong.

What’s included in the Toolkit?

  • Toolkit documents:
    • Introduction
    • Contents
    • Guidance notes – direction on implementing the Toolkit
    • Example recruitment process – provides the steps in a typical recruitment process
    • Recruitment toolkit training presentation
    • Roots HR 1 hour free voucher
  • Template documents – These are the main templates you will need to implement this process. They are provided in Microsoft Word and Excel so they can be edited and formatted to the way you wish to use them:
    • Job description and person specification
    • Application form
    • Applicant tracking template
    • Advert template
    • Shortlisting template
    • Example wording for Out of Office Message on recruitment email inbox
    • Unsuccessful at shortlisting letter or email
  • Training webinar – use this yourself and to train your colleagues on the use of the Toolkit in your organisation
  • 1 hour free voucher – free HR consultancy support from Roots HR in implementing this Toolkit in your organisation, should you require us.

Click here to order your FREE Recruitment Toolkit.


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

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

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

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

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

9 years too late in my view…

Competitive tendering

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

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

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

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

Collaboration and integration

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

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

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


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

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

Plan for action

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


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


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

Forward Carers awards and accolades - collection of awards' badges

Recent awards success for West Midlands carer support service

Forward Carers logoForward Carers, a West Midlands based Carer and family support organisation, has recently had their good work recognised with several awards and accolades.

As well as being Highly Commended by the judges in our Making a Mark competion, Forward Carers also scooped two awards in recent weeks and were named a runner-up in another:

  • Winner of Best Innovation Award at the Working Families Best Practice Awards for the development of the UK’s first 3-in-1 Carers Card
  • Winner of Third Sector of the Year Award at the Birmingham Post Business Awards, in recognition of the extra efforts they went to during the Covid pandemic
  • Runner-up for Best Community Campaign in the SMK National Campaigner Awards in recognition of their Carers’ Voice Unsung Heroes Campaign

To find out more, visit the Forward Carers website.

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

The role of accreditation in
the Post-Covid world

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

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

Source: Social Enterprise UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solent Business School atrium/lobby with large red pod

Lucy Findlay joins new Business Advisory Board at Solent University

Our MD Lucy Findlay is proud to have been invited to join a new Business Advisory Board at Solent Business School.

This Board, which brings together senior business leaders with an interest and influence in relevant industries and organisations across various areas of business, will help inform student success, curriculum development and knowledge exchange.

Board members will provide input and feedback for both strategy development and operational requirements, such as supporting student employability, graduate outcomes, mentoring and ensuring our courses are future-proofed. They will also be actively involved in driving knowledge exchange between business and Solent’s student community, sharing their knowledge, expertise and experience through a range of programmes and initiatives.

On joining the Board, Lucy said: “I am very pleased to join the Solent Business School Business Advisory Board. I ‘m hoping to apply my knowledge and experience gained over the years in social enterprise to help prepare students and graduates for the new demands of the business world – where social and environmental issues are integral to a sustainable business model to create a better world.”

Caroline Walsh, Director of Solent Business schools said: “This exciting initiative will provide the school with an additional platform for collaboration and innovation with business.  It will help Solent achieve its strategic priorities by producing dynamic, work ready graduates that industry needs.

“By ensuring that the school is aligned to relevant industry practices and future skills needs, their valuable insights will benefit staff, students and the economy, Caroline continues.”

Visit the Solent University website to find out more about the Business Advisory Board and its members.

Making a Mark competition winner badge

2021 Making a Mark competition winner

Today, we are excited to reveal the final winner of our 2021 Making a Mark competition, which celebrates and recognises the incredible impact created by social enterprises during the Covid-19 pandemic.

We usually announce the competition winner at a special awards reception at our annual conference, but, like many events over the last year, this celebration has been moved online. This year, we are excited to be working with our media partner Pioneers Post to showcase the fantastic stories of impact that characterise the social enterprise sector.

Beyond Recovery logoWe are delighted to announce the winner of the 2021 Making a Mark competition is… Beyond Recovery!

The judges were really impressed with Beyond Recovery’s entry (video below), especially as a fairly new social enterprise, which had to adapt quickly when the Covid restrictions meant they weren’t able to deliver their offender rehabilitation programmes in prisons.

On being notified of their success, Beyond Recovery founder Jacqueline Hollows said: “We are delighted to be the winner of the Making a Mark competition. This award means so much to us all after a year of hard work and dedication to supporting our beneficiaries in new and innovative ways. We were also very impressed with the other finalists and wish them all the best in their endeavours and acknowledge the amazing work they are doing.”

You can find out more about Beyond Recovery in a special competition showcase in Pioneers Post.

Forward Carers logoIn addition to Beyond Recovery, the judges also wanted to recognise Forward Carers as a very close contender and have awarded them Highly Commended status.

As Pauline Gannon, Co-Founder of Social Impact Ireland and one of the judges, explained: “I loved how the Foward Carers video gave a voice to so many. They brought you to the heart of their social enterprise and the work they do. It was a very well laid out story and explanation, which showed how they rose to all challenges and showed great adaptability and resilience.”

Beyond Recovery were shortlisted as finalists alongside four other organisations, and we would like to extend our congratulations to the other finalists:

  • Montage of company logosHope Enterprises
  • Peninsula Dental Social Enterprise
  • University of Winchester

Our thanks go to our external judging panel for their time and support:

Person holding sign saying 'Planet over Profit'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To address these challenges, we need fundamental changes to:

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

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

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

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

Celebrating the social enterprise response to Covid-19

After a break last year due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we are excited that our annual Making a Mark competition has returned for 2021.

Earlier this year, we invited our social enterprise community to share their ‘Story of 2020’, which illustrates how they have responded to the demands and challenges created by Covid-19 – i.e. how they are ‘Making a Mark’.

We were really impressed with the quality and variety of submissions, which were scored by an external judging panel, made up of representatives from across the social business sector, including Tim West from Pioneers Post and Ali Ward of Social Enterprise Yorkshire & Humber (SEYH).

We are now delighted to announce the below shortlist:

  • Montage of company logosBeyond Recovery
  • Forward Carers
  • Hope Enterprises
  • Peninsula Dental Social Enterprises
  • University of Winchester

Entries were judged according to how engaging they were in describing the key role of social enterprises in the fight against Covid-19.

Click here to view the entries from each of the finalists.

The winner will be announced in June, with a special competition showcase feature in the Pioneers Post online magazine.

Quote - "you are leading the way in advocating on behalf of the sector for the recognition it requires and deserves"

Social Enterprise Mark CIC 2021 stakeholder survey summary report

Earlier this year, we conducted a comprehensive survey of our community of accredited social enterprises, as well as wider stakeholders, to ensure our services continue to address the evolving needs of the growing social enterprise sector as we enter a new phase of growth.

Many thanks to all who took the time to respond – we recognise the many demands on your time and really appreciate your participation. The feedback is invaluable in helping us to continue to develop robust, relevant and credible standards for the growing social enterprise sector.

Social Enterprise Mark CIC stakeholder survey report front coverWe have now analysed the responses and are excited to share this summary report, which highlights the key findings from the survey and illustrates the impact we have on the social enterprise sector.

The report contains headline findings and statistics, including:

  • The impact of Covid-19 on social enterprises
  • The impact and influence of social enterprise accreditation
  • The influence of Social Enterprise Mark CIC
  • The customer experience

As a customer-focussed organisation, the findings will now be used to inform our strategic direction and the future development of our accreditation services.

If you have any comments or questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Grey and orange overlapping circles with a stamp across the top left saying 'Approved Employer'

Recognising exemplar employers of disabled people

Social Enterprise Disability Employment MarkIn 2019, we launched the Social Enterprise Disability Employment Mark (SEDEM); a new standard for social enterprises that primarily deliver social value through the employment of people with disabilities or long-term health conditions.

This bespoke accreditation was designed specifically for the supported business sector, with the aim of providing assurance for commissioners/funding bodies and disabled people on the specialist supportive environment provided for employees with disabilities.

Following an initial pilot phase with a number of supported businesses, including Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company and MTIB, we have now developed the criteria and assessment process. This was done in consultation with the Supported Business Steering Group* to ensure the criteria and assessment is relevant and appropriately robust.

Assessments will be reviewed by an independent Accreditation Panel, which comprises individuals from different backgrounds, including those with experience of disabilities and long-term health conditions, and the criteria being examined. The Panel’s role will be to consider and make judgements on assessments conducted, ensuring these conform with criteria expectations and setting new precedents for assessing eligibility going forward.

Local Authority Disability Employment MarkAfter initial testing of SEDEM with a number of local authorities, we also developed a separate accreditation, the Local Authority Disability Employment Mark (LADEM), to recognise the specific benefits of supported businesses that are embedded in Local Authorities.

We are now rolling out these accreditations more widely to provide recognition to innovative employers that are tackling the disability employment gap by creating supportive working environments, which empower disabled people to find and maintain meaningful employment. Applications are subject to an external assessment process, where organisations are required to describe how they are meeting the criteria and submit supporting evidence in respect of this.

If you want to get recognised as an exemplar employer and prove how you are delivering social value through the employment of people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, you can register your interest and a member of our team will be in touch to discuss the next steps.


*The Supported Business Steering Group comprises members of the British Association of Supported Employment and other sector stakeholders. They provide an advocacy and lobbying role for supported businesses and promoting the employment of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. This includes regular engagement with the Department of Work and Pensions, who manage funding in support of these interests, who were also involved in the consultation around the development of these accreditations.

Multicoloured image of two hands grasping each other

Why it is time for Social Enterprise to
Buy Social

Ed MayoBy Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of Pilotlight

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

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

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

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

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

There are three questions perhaps to ask ourselves:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Social Enterprise UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the practical barriers are putting off others:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Red background with a white sign saying 'We are hiring'

Join our team!

Are you passionate and driven to help build a better world and have experience in sales or business development?

We have a vacancy for a Business Development Manager to join our small team, to cover a period of maternity leave (up to 12 months).

This exciting and rewarding role works closely with the Managing Director to ensure that business development, sales and renewals targets are successfully achieved.

Key Duties and responsibilities include:

  • Contributing to overall business planning
  • Ensuring that new customer sales and renewals targets are met
  • Working proactively to develop, manage and follow up on leads
  • Managing initial sales enquiries
  • Co-ordinating the application and renewals process, including effectively resolving queries and complaints
  • Representing Social Enterprise Mark CIC effectively at events
  • Building and developing effective partnerships

As Business Development Manager, you will have knowledge and awareness of the social enterprise environment and personal values and convictions that fit with the social enterprise movement and business model.

We are looking for candidates with:

  • Demonstrable experience of and skills in business development/sales in a commercial context
  • Excellent customer service and people skills
  • Effective written and verbal communication skills
  • Attention to detail, particularly in developing and delivering processes
  • Organisational and planning skills, including achieving goals and deadlines
  • Flexibility and willingness to travel where necessary
  • Ability to work independently and manage own workload and operate as part of a small, cohesive team
  • Good literacy and numeracy skills
  • IT literacy

Roots HR CIC is handling applications for this role – visit their website for full details and to apply.

Closing Date: 11.59 pm 16th May 2021

Interviews: 24th or 26th May 2021

The State of Us 2021

The State of Us; Powerful Communities and Economic Democracy

Real Ideas logoA ground-breaking group of social enterprises, co-ops, think tanks, networks and funders, including Real Ideas, ask you to join them for four focused online sessions exploring The State of Us, which will look at how people are building power and economic democracy in different contexts: our work, in our public spaces and in environmental action.

The State of Us is for anyone working on social, environmental, racial and economic justice, democracy and power at a local level across the UK, whether through local enterprise, community organising, activism, third sector, or local government. The conference will consider big questions, such as:

  • What role do community-focused, economic actors have in building powerful communities?
  • What is best practice?
  • Who are our allies and who shares our values?
  • How can we organise better?
  • What does democracy look like in everyday areas of our economy such as work, public spaces and the production of the goods we consume?
  • How do communities actively create power, within and beyond authority?

The conference is split across four sessions, starting on 20th April. At each of the three lead up sessions, participants will hear from four different activist practitioners, presenting their case studies linked to the session theme and exploring different approaches for discussion. The presentations will be followed by a Q&A and break-out sessions. There will be final discussion to share what has been learnt and decide on next steps.

Click here to find out more and to book your place.

Wooden tiles spelling out 'support'

Responding to the needs of the sector – assessment relaxation

During the Covid pandemic, we have been keen to support our social enterprise community in any way we can. We recognise there is likely to be long-lasting economic consequences for many social enterprises (like all other businesses), including a drop in their trading income following an increased reliance on grants and funding to support them through the crisis. Some may even have ceased trading temporarily due to national restrictions on businesses in certain sectors.

Photo of a shopfront with an open sign in the windowAs social enterprises work to re-establish their businesses in the aftermath of the Covid outbreak, we are keen to support them to get back on their feet, whilst continuing to recognise them for meeting recognised standards of good practice.

Therefore, we have consulted our Accreditation Panel and they have agreed a temporary relaxation of the Social Enterprise Mark assessment criterion around trading income.

We will continue to ask new applicants and existing Mark Holders to report their income levels, so that we can assess how social enterprises have been affected; but provided the trading criterion requirement* was being met before the outset of the pandemic lockdown, any failure to meet it following this will not count against an organisation’s eligibility to hold the Social Enterprise Mark (and similar conditions will apply for our other accreditations).

We hope this measure will alleviate pressure on our existing Social Enterprise Mark network, as well as encouraging other social enterprises to consider joining our pathway to recognised standards of good practice and excellence.

We remain responsive to the challenges facing the sector and will continue to consider adjustments to our processes, while continuing to deliver meaningful accreditation services.

If you have any questions around the assessment requirements, please contact Richard Cobbett, Assessment and Compliance Manager.


*The trading criterion normally requires organisations to demonstrate that they have been recently trading and that at least 50% of their income has derived from sales and fees, or similar receipts in respect of services and product outputs, as opposed to support grants, loans, interest, donations and other similar types of income.

Photos of groups benefitting from Charity Bank loans

Charity Bank secures new investment to fund surge in loan approvals

Charity Bank logoCharity Bank, the loans and savings bank for positive social change, has secured £1m in new equity investments from two investors.

The Samworth Foundation has become the newest shareholder of Charity Bank with an investment of £500k.  In addition, existing Charity Bank shareholder, Barrow Cadbury Trust, has increased their total investment in the bank by £500k to £750k.

The new investments are timely, coming as Charity Bank announces record new lending commitments in H2 2020, approving £49m of loans, the highest amount of new loan approvals over a six-month period in the history of the bank.  Demand for Charity Bank loans is high and continues to grow; with an additional £23m of loans approved in the first quarter of 2021.  Charity Bank has now made over £350m in loans to charities and social enterprises since it was founded in 2002.

To meet the growing demand for repayable finance, including the significant unmet demand for unsecured funding, Charity Bank aims to raise at least £3m in ordinary share capital from new and existing social investors by 2022.  For every £1m invested, Charity Bank can raise around £7m of deposits and thereby make around £8m of social loans.  When these loans are repaid, these funds can be recycled again and again, generating even greater multiples of social impact.

Ed Siegel Charity BankEd Siegel, Chief Executive, Charity Bank, said: “Since we emerged from the first lockdown in mid-2020, we have seen a sustained surge in loan applications from charities and social enterprises looking for support on projects, in part due to a reduced appetite for lending to the sector from mainstream lenders.  

As we emerge from the current crisis, the specialist financing and support that Charity Bank is able to deliver is going to be needed more than ever.  The attraction of new equity investment remains a top priority for Charity Bank as this is an essential component that will determine our ability to continue to meet the financing needs of the social sector into the future.”

There is growing interest in social investment from trusts and foundations in the use of repayable finance alongside grant finance.  The recent Association of Charitable Foundations report, ‘Investment: The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practice’ suggests that a strong foundation ‘considers how investments can be used to advance the foundation’s mission over and above finance for grant-making’.

Charity Bank’s 2020 social impact study illustrates its influence on its charity and social enterprise borrowers: 69% reported that their Charity Bank loan enabled growth in their service, 81% said their project could not have gone ahead without the loan, while 42% said that the financing actually helped to keep their organisation afloat.

Tessa Durham, Grants Manager, Samworth Foundation, said: “We recognise the importance of blended finance solutions to support charities to flourish.  We see Charity Bank as a strategic partner as we work together to support organisations become more resilient, manage risks and be better positioned to meet the future needs of their communities.” 

Erica Cadbury, Chair, Barrow Cadbury Trust, said: “We see this investment as a means to promote social justice and further develop the social investment market as an additional and vital resource for the social sector.  Charity Bank has proven that its model of lending to charities and social enterprises is a highly effective way to strengthen and grow impact-led organisations, leaving these organisations better placed to address the many pressing social issues facing people and society today.” 

Pioneers Post media partnerMaking a Mark competition

Partnership to boost the importance of storytelling for social enterprises

We are excited to announce we are working in partnership with social enterprise news network Pioneers Post to recognise and celebrate the fantastic stories of change that characterise the social enterprise sector.

Pioneers Post has come on board as the official media partner of our Making a Mark competition, which will showcase the incredible impact social enterprises have been creating during the Covid-19 pandemic, by sharing stories of how they have responded to the challenges of the last 12 months and weathered the storm to play a vital role in the response to the Covid outbreak. Pioneers Post Founding Editor Tim West will be joining an external judging panel, which will review the competition entries to select a shortlist and final winner, which will be announced in June.

Speaking about his role as a judge, Tim West said:

Tim West“What is a good story and how do you tell it in the most effective way? We all like to celebrate success – and goodness knows, we need some celebrating after the past year – but at Pioneers Post, we think the best ‘success stories’ are not simply about triumph in the face of adversity, but are those that we can all learn from. They need to be clear, engaging and honest – telling the whole story, warts and all, without glossing over the difficult stuff.

So in this Making a Mark competition, the ‘winning’ stories for me will be those that move and inspire but which also confront the challenges, explain the solutions – and provide more opportunities for positive impact as we ‘build back better’ in the coming months and years.”

Pioneers Post is an independent media platform committed to ‘solutions-led’ journalism. Operating as a social enterprise, it aims to explore, explain, connect, challenge and inspire this new wave of changemakers around the globe, whose pioneering approaches seek to build a better future for people and planet.

SE100As part of the partnership, we will be supporting the NatWest SE100 Index and Social Business Awards, which has been delivered by Pioneers Post, in partnership with NatWest Social & Community Capital, for the last ten years.

The SE100 Index recognises and rewards the leading 100 social enterprises across the UK each year, and also builds greater intelligence about the growing social enterprise movement through the collection of both data and stories. We are encouraging our social enterprise network to enter the awards and our MD Lucy Findlay is also joining the SE100 judging panel, which will select the nominees/entrants which demonstrate best business practice in six categories: Growth, Impact, Resilience, Leadership, Social Investment and Climate, as well as selecting an award-winner in each of these categories.

Speaking about the partnership, Lucy Findlay said:

“We are really delighted to be working in partnership with our old friends at Pioneers Post.  Working together we can really highlight some of the great work and stories from social enterprises that have been on the cutting edge of both responding to the pandemic as well as helping communities to recover as we move forwards into hopefully a more positive outlook for us all. 

Social enterprises are so important at this time.  We need to use every opportunity available to illustrate our leadership in creating a more sustainable economy that helps address the huge disparities that have been further exacerbated over this devastating year.”

Social enterprises can find out more information about the SE100 Index and Social Business Awards and submit nominations/applications here:

Health Devolution Commission; an independent and cross party inquiry into the value and accountability of devolved health systems.

Health Devolution Commission response to Integration & Innovation White Paper

The cross party Health Devolution Commission, co-chaired by Andy Burnham and Norman Lamb, has recently published a response to the Integration and Innovation White Paper, which was published by the Department of Health and Social Care on  11th February.

The White Paper is primarily about reform of the structures and ‘wiring’ of the NHS in England and ways that that the NHS may work more closely with Local Government and the social care system to achieve the objectives of the NHS Long Term Plan. The shift from competition to collaboration as the organising principle of the NHS is a major and welcome change to its way of working.

The Health Devolution Commission reports that the proposals are a positive and strong foundation to build equal partnerships between Local Government and the NHS in order to improve health and wellbeing outcomes, improve care and treatment and deliver best value.

However, it also reports that the proposals do not address the need for fundamental reform and funding of social care and, therefore, in their current form, the proposals are not  a comprehensive proposal for the integration of health and social care. Nor do they necessarily provide the necessary step change for improving and integrating public health, tackling health inequalities, ensuring parity of esteem for mental health services and addressing the social determinants of ill-health.

There are two key issues that the Commission feels require detailed examination before the White Paper becomes law:

  • the purpose of the proposed ICS reforms;
  • where power will really lie when the reforms become law.

From these arise twelve specific questions that the Commission believes need to be answered by the Government before the White Paper becomes a Bill and then law.

The Commission will therefore be holding two evidence sessions (by Zoom) to examine these two issues and address the twelve questions

Roundtable 1 – What is the purpose of integrated care system; health in all policies, tackling health inequalities and a voice for patients?

Chaired by Rt Hon Norman Lamb

Monday 26th April 3:30 – 5:00pm

Invited speakers:

  • Professor Michael Marmot – on health inequalities
  • Anita Charlesworth, The Health Foundation – on health in all policies
  • Imelda Redmond from HealthWatch – on patient voice
  • Simon Stevens – NHSE

Roundtable 2 – Integrated care system governance; where will the power really lie?

Chaired by Rt Hon Andy Burnham

Friday 21st May 2:00 – 3:30pm

Invited speakers:

  • DHSC
  • LGA
  • Third sector
  • IfG

To register your interest in attending one or more of these events please email

The Health Devolution Commission would also like to invite written evidence (2 page max) in response to the 12 questions asked – please answer as many or as few as you wish but please note two pages is the absolute limit! The deadline for submissions is the 26th of April.

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

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

By Fiona Walsh and Junior Graham

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

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

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

Students and young people need confidence and support

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

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

Students and young people need skills and experience

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

Young people need to make the change they want to see

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

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

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

We call all be active citizens

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

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


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

Enterprise Development Programme logo

Enterprise Development Programme supports social enterprise to gain accreditation

Second Shot Coffee logoSecond Shot Coffee, a social enterprise that trains, employs, and supports people affected by homelessness, has met recognised standards of good practice to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark.

The Social Enterprise Mark is an externally assessed accreditation, which provides an independent guarantee that an organisation has met sector-agreed criteria and is operating as a genuine social enterprise, committed to creating positive social change.

Second Shot Coffee was supported to apply for accreditation through the Enterprise Development Programme, which aims to support charities and social enterprises to become more financially resilient by developing new enterprise models, or by growing existing ones.

The Enterprise Development Programme (EDP) is funded by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment and delivered by a coalition of national partners, including Homeless Link, which is the delivery partner for the homelessness sector. As part of the programme, Homeless Link worked with Julius Ibrahim, founder of Second Shot Coffee, to identify which support could help them grow their enterprise activity to become more financially sustainable.

Murphy Hopkins-Hubbard, Enterprise Development Manager at Homeless Link, suggested to Julius that accreditation may be beneficial for Second Shot Coffee and the EDP grant supported him to apply for the Social Enterprise Mark. After an independent assessment process to ensure the organisation met the sector-agreed criteria, which defines what it means to be a social enterprise, Second Shot Coffee was awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in early February 2021.

Murphy Hopkins-HubbardMurphy said: “We have worked with 20 homelessness organisations this year as part of the Enterprise Development Programme and each of them has undergone diagnostic consultations to understand what support would be most valuable. It’s so exciting to see Julius’s work with developing Second Shot Coffee recognised through the Social Enterprise Mark. We hope to find this accreditation boosts the credibility of the organisation as well as boost opportunities for partnerships.”

Second Shot Coffee was set up to tackle negative misconceptions and lack of understanding around homelessness. By providing employment and training to individuals that have been failed by society, it aims to eliminate these perceptions and bring people closer together, and in doing so improve the long-term life outcomes and wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness.

Julius IbrahimOn being awarded the Social Enterprise Mark, Julius Ibrahim said “Creating meaningful impact has been at the core of Second Shot Coffee since we opened in 2016. It’s amazing to now have the Social Enterprise Mark to underpin that dedication and to highlight the work we do. Going forward we’re excited to grow within the community and work with new partners to shout about the importance of social businesses as we progress on to the next phase of the Second Shot story.”

To find out more about Second Shot Coffee click here.

To find out more about Homeless Link and the Enterprise Development Programme click here.

Top 100 women in social enterprise

Euclid Network announces Europe’s Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March, Euclid Network has announced the Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise, which features women leaders in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation from across Europe.

Lucy Findlay with her Euclid Network Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise certificateOur Managing Director Lucy Findlay was delighted to be included in this list of exceptional social enterprise women leaders, in recognition of her contribution to the social enterprise sector over the last decade.

Lucy said “I’m honoured to be in the company of so many amazingly driven women who are acting to change the world for the better. I think that this initiative is a great idea – it gives well deserved recognition, profile and voice to women in the sector who are often quietly getting on with the job.”

For almost 15 years, Euclid Network has been fostering social entrepreneurship and social innovation in Europe through knowledge exchange, capacity building, networking and international advocacy. In the spirit of empowering women leaders in Europe, it launched the Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise initiative in partnership with Empow’her, to celebrate women in the social enterprise sector, spotlighting their impact, journey and achievements, connecting them and enabling them to learn from and inspire each other.

Click here to meet the women who are leading the way in social entrepreneurship and innovation in the European social enterprise sector.

Free WriteWell community places for accredited social enterprises

Do you need a way to de-stress and boost your positivity?

WriteWell logoWriteWell, a new online writing community designed to support mental health and wellbeing, offers people the opportunity to explore writing as a practical self-care tool to boost health and happiness — no writing experience is necessary.

To support our social enterprise community during the pandemic we’ve partnered with WriteWell to offer a number of FREE 3-month places on a first come, first served basis.

Illustration on a hand holding a pencil and drawing a plant stemWriteWell offers the opportunity to tune into the power that writing and creativity have to bring perspective and fresh insight, particularly in difficult times. A growing body of research shows that writing and creativity can have a positive effect on mental health and help to build resilience. At the same time, being part of a learning community and writing alongside others can motivate, inspire change, and help alleviate feelings of isolation.

WriteWell is designed to work for people from all education levels and backgrounds, and as well as supporting mental health offers the opportunity to develop writing and creative skills that are much in demand in the professional arena.

The online platform offers a variety of learning activities for people to take part in. There are courses designed to help you build resilience, navigate change and create calm, as well live workshops with writing and wellbeing experts. There are also fun creative warm-ups, a library packed with uplifting resources, and a monthly book group.

WriteWell offers a safe learning space with moderators managing the community day to day, helping people find and complete activities. It is easy to access and easy to use.

The online community has been developed by the Professional Writing Academy, which already offers advanced therapeutic writing courses and has nearly 20 years’ experience of building online learning communities and premium courses.

Social enterprises accredited by  Social Enterprise Mark CIC can reserve their free 3-month place by clicking here. You must be over 18.

More information about WriteWell is available here.

Share your ‘Story of 2020’ to enter our Making a Mark competition

We know that many social enterprises have been at the forefront of the response to Covid-19 and will also play a vital role in the recovery from this crisis, and we are keen to showcase the incredible impact that social enterprises have been creating during this challenging time.

What's your story chalkboardFor our annual ‘Making a Mark’ competition, we are inviting our Mark holders to share their ‘Story of 2020’, showing how their organisation responded to the Covid-19 outbreak and how they have weathered the storm to continue providing much needed support to local communities and wider society. We are looking for stories of resilience and adaptability, of which we know there are many!

We are encouraging video submissions where possible – these need not be professionally created, just a short video message recorded on a phone will do! All we ask is that it clearly illustrates how the organisation has responded to the demands and challenges created by Covid-19 – this could be providing new services, switching to new ways of delivering services, or supporting different individuals/groups to your usual beneficiaries. If submitting a video, we ask that it does not exceed 5 minutes in length.

Entries will be judged according to how engaging they are in describing the key role of social enterprises in the fight against Covid-19. When judging entries, consideration will be given to such elements as:

  • Is the impact of Covid-19 on the organisation, its beneficiaries and other stakeholders (e.g. staff) clearly articulated?
  • How has the organisation worked to address these impacts? What results have there been?
  • How imaginative and creative was the subject matter in terms of how the organisation responded to particular issues or needs?
  • How the story is presented and conveyed

The competition is open to all organisations accredited by Social Enterprise Mark CIC. To enter, simply send across your ‘Story of 2020’ to by Friday 16th April. Although we do encourage video submissions, we will accept alternative entries if video is not a viable option for you. Alternatives could include impact reports, news articles, or updated social impact statements.

We will select a shortlist from the entries, which will be showcased on our website and via social media. An external panel will judge the final entries, with the winner being announced in June.

As part of our partnership with Pioneers Post, the winner and finalists will be showcased in a special competition feature in the Pioneers Post online magazine.

If you have any questions or would like any additional guidance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Wooden tiles spelling out the MIND THE G_P

Mind the gap: Women’s leadership in social enterprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Picture of bags of produce with text: grow your sustainable food business

Support for sustainable food businesses to grow

Are you a sustainable food business eager to grow?

Impact Hub King’s Cross is seeking ethical food businesses to join Feeding the City: Accelerate, a 6-month programme to help your social or environmental-driven food enterprise reach the next stage of growth and scale your impact. 

The programme brings together thought leaders in food sustainability, large-scale buyers, enterprise support providers and investors with the shared goal of supporting social or environmental impact-driven food enterprises with B2B revenue streams to grow and flourish.

Access expert business analysis, mentoring and support from experienced coaches and industry heavyweights, and the Impact Hub global network of 16.5k members. You’ll have the opportunity to meet and network with buyers, including supermarket chains, restaurants and major contract catering companies.

Application deadline: 2nd April 2021.

Visit the Impact Hub King’s Cross website to find out more and apply.

White text on a black background: recruitment

Recruitment for new specialist Certification Panel

Social Enterprise Disability Employment MarkWe are looking to recruit a specialist Certification Panel to oversee the assessment process for our bespoke accreditations for the disability employment sector – the Social Enterprise Disability Employment Mark and the Local Authority Disability Employment Mark.

The criteria for these accreditations has already been developed with the aid of people with declared disabilities or long-term health conditions, as well as organisations who employ and support them. We therefore want to ensure this experience continues to be reflected in the oversight role performed by the Certification Panel.

As such, we are ideally looking for people with a declared disability or a long-term health condition, who can bring their lived experience when helping the Panel reflect on the evidence being examined as part of the assessment process. Over time, they will also provide a valuable contribution to how the accreditation criteria and assessment process may evolve.

The Panel’s role will be to consider and make judgements on assessments conducted, ensuring these conform with criteria expectations and setting new precedents for assessing eligibility going forward. This will include reviewing all assessments where set evidence requirements are not clearly met, and routinely examining a selection that have been approved by SEMCIC every year, to ensure consistent standards of assessment are being applied.

In the interests of independence and impartiality, we are seeking representatives from outside the group of organisations currently involved in these accreditations. To find out more about the role and to express your interest, please contact Richard Cobbett at or 07813 151234.

Please note this is a voluntary role and involvement typically requires attendance at two meetings a year, which are usually conducted in Exeter or Plymouth, although virtual attendance is also an option. Outside of this requirement, Panel members are called upon to review assessments across the year. Although the number of times this happens may vary, it is unlikely to exceed a couple of hours in a month and it is quite rare for the Panel to be called upon in this way more than half a dozen times a year.

New Economy Alliance logos

Lobbying government for improved access to financial support (Part 2)

Throughout the Covid crisis, we have been working with our partners across the social sector to ensure that appropriate support packages are available to get social businesses through this crisis.

As part of this work, our Managing Director Lucy Findlay has taken a lead for the New Economy Alliance on tackling issues that many social businesses are having in accessing the government’s emergency finance measures, which the BBC recently reported on.

The Restore Trust logoThe BBC report features the The Restore Trust in Bristol, which is one of many social enterprises that has faced long delays getting necessary support. They explained that they had “tried every lender on the government’s list… none of them would let us open a new account and get a bounce-back loan.”

The social sector has been raising awareness of these issues for several months and it is now absolutely vital that these are addressed by government, to enable social businesses, which are playing a crucial role for our communities in this pandemic, to continue their important work for the long-term. The latest research from the social sector shows that Covid-related uncertainty, trading income and other funding/finance are the leading concerns for social entrepreneurs in the year ahead.

Back in the autumn, we collected feedback from the social sector, which showed there were some fundamental gaps and challenges in accessing the vital financial support being offered by the government. In particular, there were clear obstacles to social businesses trying to navigate the government emergency loan schemes – Bounce Back Loans (BBLs) and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans (CBILs).

As we reported in a recent news post, consistent anecdotal evidence from social enterprises, co-operatives and community businesses showed us that there are two key obstacles blocking access to government-backed loans:

  1. Many ethical and social banks that social enterprises bank with are not approved to provide Bounce Back Loans
  2. Social enterprises are not able to open new accounts with participating banks, with waiting times to open new accounts often being several months

In January, we wrote a letter to Minister John Glen (Economic Secretary to the Treasury), raising our concerns that many vital services are in danger of being lost unless access to emergency finance is improved. We were disappointed to receive a response which, although sympathetic to the plight of social enterprises, basically demonstrated that the government is unwilling to intervene in what they see as operational matters which are under the “commercial discretion” of the banks involved.

We plan to respond to the Minister, proposing solutions to the problems he acknowledged in his letter. We propose the following actions, which can be made to Government-backed emergency loan schemes to make them work quicker, better and more inclusively:

  1. The Treasury should explore every avenue to encourage more banks to become lenders of Government-backed emergency loans, especially the ethical banks popular amongst social entrepreneurs. If banks can’t take on new customers during lockdown periods when many businesses are being hit hardest, we need to extend the emergency loan scheme to more banks.
  2. The government should set-up a separate emergency loan/investment fund, or section out a specific ‘pot’ within the overall loan scheme, tailored to our sector, provided by lenders with sector-expertise.
  3. A central helpline should be set up to support social enterprises that are unable to communicate directly with banks to troubleshoot any issues. Reports of common issues and barriers should be reported to both government and the banking sector with a requirement to act on these.

The measures announced earlier this month to extend repayment periods for the loans shows that the government can still deliver improvements to the schemes and we hope they will take this opportunity to address the issue of access to financial support.

We’re committed to ensuring fair access to government support for all businesses, including social enterprises, many of which are currently missing out on vital emergency finance. Along with our partners, we will continue to push for action until these issues are resolved.

Image of people sat at desks in a co-working space

Looking for an inspiring co-working space in London?

Have you planned your workspace for 2021?

Impact Hub King's Cross co-working spaceImpact Hub King’s Cross brings social entrepreneurs together through an inspiring coworking office. They are part of one of the largest impact-driven networks, with 100+ Hubs across 50+ countries. After almost a year of  Zoom struggles and WFH isolation, they want to help you return to a motivating and supportive workspace once out of lockdown.

They’re offering fellow accredited social enterprises an exclusive offer of:

  • 10% discount on all co-working and fixed desk memberships for the first 6 months
  • FREE 3-month virtual Connect membership

As well as joining a thriving impact-led community, you can take advantage of outstanding business support, meeting room discounts, and smart perks, and direct access to 16.5k+ Impact Hub global members.

Are you part of a team? Fixed desks are an affordable solution to office rent, where you can have a dedicated seat for each team member, or rotate to keep things flexible.

The best part is, while times are still uncertain you can schedule and delay your start date at the Hub.

Curious to discover if an impact-driven workspace is right for you? Just get in touch with their Community Manager Sally. You can also find out more on the Impact Hub King’s Cross website.

The Need for Social Housing

By Calum Rosie, writer and correspondent for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Millfields Trust logo on a floral background

How Millfields Trust has supported tenants through the pandemic

Social landlord Millfields Trust has commended their business tenants on their commitment, business acumen, diversity and bravery throughout this pandemic. A situation we all hope not to see again in our lifetime for many reasons, but for business an incredibly difficult time for many.

With a wide range of businesses residing at the Millfields Trust premises, some have been hit harder than others. During this time of uncertainty, Millfields Trust itself has had to adjust and adopt working practices to ensure business continuity. Their priority remains their community of Stonehouse in Plymouth, their tenants and many other stakeholders.

Throughout this time, they have provided support to tenants and changed the way they do things through the following actions:

  • Regular contact from all staff members, ensuring tenants know the support available from the Government regarding available financial support. Many have welcomed a friendly chat as well
  • A competition for a free office makeover
  • Given the buildings and grounds a makeover
  • Each tenant  received a “welcome back” gift after the first lockdown
  • In partnership with Nudge, provided Genesis as a base to increase Wi-Fi for the local Stonehouse community, thanks to Pete at Outersight
  • Table and chairs in a garden covered by a sun awningCreated a new outside meeting space for anybody to use
  • Financially supported tenants where possible
  • Froze rental prices this financial year to continue financial support to tenants
  • Supported tenants who have made the choice to reduce overheads and make the decision to work from home
  • Flexible office spaces have enabled them to accommodate tenants wishing to downsize or expand to meet business growth
  • Office space with a sign on the wall saying 'The Plant Room'Created additional co-working space to meet demand and social distancing guidelines with the added introduction of fixed desks
  • Launched a new website and created regular blogs to keep their audience informed and up to date with latest news
  • Contributed to the `Small Business Toolkit` in partnership with the Devon & Plymouth Chamber of Commerce
  • Produced a Millfields Trust Business Start-up guide for people wishing to start their own business
  • All buildings are Covid Secure, including Conferencing facilities.

Millfields Trust has been working hard behind the scenes to ensure their business premises continue to work for all tenants and they very much look forward to the days when the buildings are once again bustling with activity.

Renaisi logo

Outsourced, ethical finance and back office services for the VCSE sector

Renaisi can make your back office and finance processes more efficient, by streamlining processes and taking day-to-day tasks off your hands, resulting in time and cost savings for your organisation.

Finance and Back Office Support Services

Renaisi understands the world you operate in and the challenge of managing finance or administrative tasks with small teams that focused on your social purpose.

Their finance and back office support is designed to suit impact businesses, charities and other VCSE organisations so you focus on your mission.

What you get

  • Review and design your finance functions and processes
  • Set up cloud-accounting software and relevant automation add-ons
  • Provide relevant training and ongoing support
  • Virtual CFO, bookkeeping and month-end accountancy
  • Accounts payable, receivable and cash flow management
  • Business planning, strategy and operational advisory
  • Back office support, payroll and pension management

Why choose social?

It matters not just what you buy, but also where and who you buy from!

As a social enterprise, Renaisi is driven by impact and 100% of our profit is reinvested back into our work. They are an accredited social enterprise and a Living Wage employer and can help you to procure ethically and sustainably.

Visit the Renaisi website to find out more.

A boy shouting into a microphone

Have your say on the future development of our services

As we look to move into a new phase of growth we are keen to consult our stakeholders, in order to ensure our services address the evolving needs of the growing social enterprise sector.

We invite you to participate in our 2021 stakeholder survey to share your thoughts on our accreditation services, our role in the sector, and our future strategic direction.

The Data PlaceAs a thank you for your time, there is the option to be included in a prize draw* for a chance to win a free data consultation from The Data Place, worth £250. Whether you have questions about GDPR compliance, making your data more reliable, using open datasets to help with marketing or targeting your social impact, using databases or publishing your own data, The Data Place has friendly and practical expertise to help you. The online session will run for approximately 1 hour with up to 3 hours additional work to follow up as appropriate.

Please complete the survey below, or click this link to complete the survey in a new window.

Please note: the survey will close at midnight on Wednesday 31st March.

*The winner will be drawn at random from all complete survey responses after the survey closes.

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

Building back better – make 2021 a
Year of Empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would also add:

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

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

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

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

Take action today for a better tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Is your website fit for purpose?

Cosmic logoBy Pete Goff, Head of Web Development at Cosmic

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

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

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

Here are some ideas:

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

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


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

Social Enterprise Mark CIC

Social Enterprise Mark CIC statement on Clarity & Co.

Social Enterprise Mark CIC is aware of the situation where former social enterprise Clarity & Co. is alleged to owe £200,000 in unpaid wages. In response to recent news articles, we wanted to make a short statement to clarify our position on this matter.

Clarity & Co. previously held our Social Enterprise Mark accreditation, but their licence to hold the Mark was expired in April 2020 following the sale to Mr Marks, when it became apparent they no longer met our criteria and did not intend taking action to return to the required standard.

Organisations are permitted a short period of grace to remove all mentions of the Mark from their website and communications following such action. We have since consistently repeated our requests for our Mark to be removed and have received assurance that this is now being actioned. We note that the Clarity & Co. website is currently unavailable, so are unable to confirm this action has been taken at this time.

We are deeply troubled by the allegations surrounding Clarity & Co. and hope that the situation is resolved as quickly as possible for the staff involved. It is sad to lose one of the UK’s longest standing social enterprises, which, over the last 160 years, has provided valuable employment and training for vulnerable and disadvantaged workers.

This matter has raised the important point of how social enterprises which fall upon hard times can be supported to remain true to social enterprise principles, in the event of a transfer of ownership. It is our policy to allow any Mark holders who are identified as not meeting the standard a fair period of time to take action to address issues and return to the good practice the Social Enterprise Mark encapsulates, although failure to demonstrate what actions they have taken will result in their accreditation being revoked.

Our accreditations are designed to encourage the maintenance of social enterprise good practice and raise aspirations to achieve standards of best practice, whilst regularly scrutinising and recognising these standards are maintained.

We are committed to working with our partners, regulators, Government and other stakeholders to protect the integrity of the social enterprise sector.

New Economy Alliance logos

Lobbying government for improved access to financial support

In response to feedback on the difficulties experienced by many social enterprises in accessing Covid-19 financial support, we are working with our social economy partners to influence the government to ensure that these support packages are available to support social businesses through this crisis.

These businesses are playing a crucial role for our communities in this pandemic. They are easing the pressure on frontline health and care services by producing PPE, facilitating online education and training, providing mental health support, and much more. It is also clear that the pandemic will continue to affect us all for many more months and social entrepreneurs need to be equipped and supported to keep doing their important work for the long-term.

Last week, we sent a letter* to Minister John Glen (Economic Secretary to the Treasury), raising our concerns that many vital services are in danger of being lost unless access to emergency finance is improved.

Back in the autumn, we collected feedback from the social sector, which showed there were some fundamental gaps and challenges in accessing the vital financial support being offered by the government. In particular, we looked at how easy it was for social businesses to navigate the government emergency loan schemes – Bounce Back Loans (BBLs) and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans (CBILs).

The results of our survey, and consistent anecdotal evidence from social enterprises, co-operatives and community businesses, showed us that there are two key obstacles blocking access to government-backed loans:

  1. Many ethical and social banks that social enterprises bank with do not provide Bounce Back Loans
  2. Social enterprises are not able to open new accounts with participating banks

The waiting times to open new accounts are being quoted as months rather than weeks, and some businesses are being turned away by the banks responsible for delivering these loans.

These delays are being further exacerbated by the lack of infrastructure for social enterprises, as many of these businesses have complex bank mandates and ‘out of the ordinary’ legal structures, which require special channels to process loans. A 12 week wait for a loan could be the difference between a business surviving or failing.

We have requested a meeting with John Glen and his team, to agree a way to remove these barriers to the much-needed government-backed loan schemes. We hope that by working together with the government, these two obstacles can be swiftly overcome.

Thank you to everyone who responded to the survey. Your time and answers have been very useful in helping us shape a supportive response, and we will continue to use them to advocate for a supportive political environment for social businesses.


*Letter signatories:

Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive, Locality
James Alcock, Chief Executive, Plunkett Foundation
Kirsty Cumming, Community Leisure UK
Lucy Findlay MBE, Managing Director, Social Enterprise Mark CIC
Colin Jess, Director, Social Enterprise Northern Ireland
Peter Holbrook CBE, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise UK
Catherine Manning, Interim Chief Executive, Social Value UK
Rose Marley, Chief Executive, Co-operatives UK
Chris Martin, Chief Executive, Social Enterprise Scotland
Mark Norbury, Chief Executive, UnLtd
Derek Walker, Chief Executive, Wales Co-operative Centre


Social Enterprise Mark CIC 2020 review

As we start a new year, it’s our usual custom to share our reflections on the previous year and to look to what the year ahead may bring.

This year we have created the below short video to share our highlights from what was an incredibly challenging year for us all, as well as summarising our key priorities for 2021.

This year, we look forward to continuing to champion strong and credible standards for the social enterprise sector, both here in the UK and internationally.

If you have any questions, feedback, or would like to discuss how we can support you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

New Social Enterprise Mark CIC Board members

Social Enterprise Mark CIC strengthens its Board of Directors

We are delighted to announce we have appointed three new Non-Executive Directors to our Board, as we look to move into a new phase of growth.

With over ten years’ experience of providing clear and credible standards for the social enterprise sector, we are now looking to take the business to the next stage, by expanding our international licensing operations and increasing our portfolio of standards, which support social enterprises to become better businesses.

During the first UK lockdown back in April 2020, we identified online board recruitment platform NuRole, who were keen to help make a difference at such a difficult time for the sector. They worked hard to find high calibre candidates, with impressive results. The recruitment process led to the appointment of three new Directors, all bringing a wealth of valuable experience.

Matthew DoyleMatthew Doyle has a successful track record in the management of transformational change programmes for regulated and complex environments, and was the Managing Director of Pension Quality Mark from 2016 to 2018, during which time he was responsible for re-writing the standards that UK DC Pension schemes are assessed against, and re-designing the accreditation process. He is also an Adjunct Professor for Global Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership at the Cox School of Business at the Southern Methodist University in the US.

On his appointment, Matthew said: “I am excited to join the SEMCIC Board at this pivotal stage in their growth journey. I hope to bring my experience from both corporate and regulatory environments to support the company to start influencing the corporate Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) agendas, to encourage more businesses to incorporate social enterprises into their supply chains.”

Nita P WoodsNita P.Woods is a senior strategist, specialising in purpose-led strategy, corporate sustainability and small business entrepreneurship. She has worked with well-known brands, such as Barclays, Danone, Tetra Pak, and Unilever, to provide C-suite and Board level advisory services and develop corporate sustainability strategy with social purpose campaigns or ESG (environment, social and governance) reporting. She also advises the Advertising Standards Authority and the London Mayor; sitting on both the London Recovery Board and London Economic Action Partnership.

On her appointment, Nita said: “I am passionate about facilitating the growth of many more sustainable businesses and social enterprises, which can provide strategic solutions for the world’s environmental and social problems. I am looking forward to bringing my extensive experience in purpose-led strategy and business sustainability to supporting the SEMCIC team to take the business to the next phase in their growth plan.”

Russell LongmuirRussell Longmuir is an accomplished CEO and board advisor with a long career of leading teams and driving strategic and cultural change. He is currently the CEO of EFQM, a well established accreditation framework that helps companies improve their performance and ability to manage change and transformation. Russell began his career in the banking sector in London and New York before moving into Management Consultancy. He spent 20 years working as a Partner at PwC/IBM and KPMG before moving to EFQM in 2018. He has also held a number of Non-Executive positions in the UK, US and Australia.

On his appointment, Russell said: “I welcome the opportunity to share my experience of organisational transformation projects to support SEMCIC to achieve their ambitious growth plans. In particular, I hope that my experience in developing an international accreditation framework, which can be applied around the world via an assessment and training franchise model, will prove useful in helping SEMCIC to strategically expand their own operations on a global level.”

On welcoming the new Board members, Professor Linda Drew, Chair of the Social Enterprise Mark CIC Board said: “I’m delighted to announce we have strengthened our Board, with the appointment of three new Non-Executive Directors, each of whom share our values and bring a wealth of experience to help us drive the company forward as we embark on an ambitious growth trajectory. I’m really looking forward to working with the Board (and staff team) to create the next chapter in the SEMCIC story together.”

We also welcome a new employee representative to the Board – Rachel Fell is taking over from Richard Cobbett, who has completed his year’s tenure in the role.

We would like to extend our thanks to Ian Bretman, who has stepped down from the Board after seven years, although will continue to be involved as a Social Enterprise Mark Ambassador.

State of Social Enterprise survey

State of Social Enterprise 2021

Social Enterprise UK (SEUK) is preparing to run the 2021 State of Social Enterprise (SOSE) survey; the definitive guide to the state of the social enterprise sector in the UK, containing data on turnover, scale, who social enterprises employ, where they operate, who they trade with, pay ratios and more. SOSE data is used by government, corporates, investors/funders, universities/researchers and more.

We encourage all those working in the UK social enterprise sector to get involved in this important research – your participation will help support and promote the sector.

Data will be collected from January to March, with the main report being launched in September. The survey will be run by a research company called BMG. To get involved, please email by Friday 15th January.

If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Emily Darko, Director of Research at SEUK –