This year was the 10th anniversary of the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Edinburgh. I attended the first in 2008 (also in Edinburgh). So much has changed since that year, when the world economy had taken a tumble. We now have a new world order; all the old certainties have disappeared. The world seems a much more unpredictable, prickly and divided place.
Has the social enterprise world changed too? There are certainly far fewer big annual gatherings of social enterprises and far fewer familiar faces in the audience. Our stand attracted a whole host of businesses from a truly international audience (something that cannot be said about the first one), all buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm, who genuinely ‘got’ the social enterprise message and were doing their utmost to effect change, often in challenging circumstances. But in many ways, some of the debates on the platforms have not changed and are out of touch with the international paradigm shifts.
I can’t help thinking that as a diverse and growing sector, we need to be thinking bigger as well. Although the gathering attracted 1,400 delegates, a lot of these appeared to be sponsors and government delegations. I managed to get to speak to our equivalent in Hong Kong, who felt (even more keenly than us and perhaps unsurprisingly) that we should not just be looking to government for answers. Nor should we be looking to the corporate sector for the answers. We as a sector need to be taking control of our destiny. As Indy Johar mentioned in his session, we need to be more ambitious as a sector to create real system change.
Sometimes it feels like we are just dancing to someone else’s tune – e.g. how can we get the government or corporates to buy from us and support us? Yes financial sustainability is important but it is a means to an end – to change the world!
Given the theme of our own conference this year, ‘Spreading the Wealth’, we need to think big… we need to be linking to our true allies and partnering more effectively, not just sitting in our bunker and endlessly talking amongst ourselves and preaching to the converted. We need to acknowledge that we are part of the bigger answer and find allies and partners who also believe and want to achieve this. Collectively, we should be a powerful force for change – let’s reach out and grab it!