Social enterprises deserve more kudos

Social entrepreneurs: research from O2 shows that nearly half of the adult population doesn’t know what a social enterprise is, despite being the fastest growing sector in the economy, contributing £28bn a year to GDP. Their common cause is to solve social problems using commercial instruments and approaches – why doesn’t anyone give them more recognition?

In truth, social enterprises are picking up pace – even the new government has started to take a bigger interest in the sector. Earlier today, for example, speaking at Cass Business School, business secretary Vince Cable praised social entrepreneurs. “We will be encouraging more of them,” he said.

“I’ve always believed that the value of mutualism, cooperatives and social enterprise lies precisely in the way they help people be self-motivated entrepreneurs with a clear stake in what they do for a living, while still remaining part of a supportive community of fellow workers.”

The business world is also perking up its ears: O2 has just launched a consultation – in partnership with Social Enterprise Magazine and social enterprise Livity – to try and change the public’s perception.

O2’s research has already revealed some interesting misconceptions: 

  • Over half of the adult population believes social enterprises gains most of their income through grants and donations rather than trading
  • 77 per cent assume social enterprises performed the same or worse than mainstream SMEs during the downturn, when in reality they outperformed most businesses, with 56 per cent actually improving their turnover
  • While 56 per cent would correctly identify the Big Issue as a social enterprise, 49 per cent incorrectly believe that Shelter belongs to the sector, while it’s a charity
“Even if you’re not aware of it, you will likely have been a customer of a social enterprise,” says Tom Rippin, founder and CEO of On Purpose, a social enterprise that takes some of the best of today’s new talent and places them in social entrepreneurial environments, including O2, Comic Relief and The Young Foundation.

“The space covers a vast array of organisations and sub-sectors from enterprising charities to socially-minded businesses. They not only create direct value that can be valued in pounds and pence, but also untold social impact, which the economic figures only hint at. It’s so important to reinforce social enterprises’ standing in the mind of the general public.”

If you already run a social enterprise, you can share your views of what kind of support your business needs most by taking part in O2’s consultation before the end of June.

You can also read all about Britain’s rising social entrepreneurs in the June issue of Real Business, out next week.

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