A return for Grace, a trip to the Big Smoke and one big question…

Having spent the past six months immersed in my new role as a Mum, I was perhaps more excited than the average person to dust off my ‘work hat’ and resume my role as a director of Yellow Jigsaw by attending an event at the House of Commons. 

Hosted by School of Social Entrepreneurs, the event brought together social entrepreneurs, policy makers and business leaders to celebrate the power of social enterprise and ask “how can we best mainstream its success”?

Catching up with inspirational leaders including Andy Haddon from Big River Bakery, Paul Costello from Leigh Community Cinema and Chris Barratt from ThinkFound, both myself and Kirsty came away from the event believing that mainstreaming our sector’s resourcefulness, energy and endless optimism would no doubt have an exponential positive effect on people’s lives. 

But how do we mainstream a type of business that often works in broken markets, or relies on types of funding that restricts us from long term, strategic planning?

Here are my – and a few of the events’ panelists’’ – thoughts: 

Raise Awareness: as is often the case at these types of events, we are preaching to the converted. “Social Enterprise” is not a universally recognised or understood term amongst the wider public. Attempts to agree on one clear definition of our sector have had limited success. Instead, introducing the world to the incredible people and stories that make up our sector would go some way to achieving mainstream awareness. Coordinated, consistent marketing campaigns would strengthen our profile on a national level. 

A long overdue action, that was reiterated at the event by MP Jo Gideon (Chair of the Social Enterprise APPG), is to make Social Enterprise the remit of the Department of Business and Trade – so we are aligned with our business counterparts, rather than our current alignment with charities under the Department of Culture Media and Sport. 

Government Advocacy: social enterprises are constantly innovating to tackle the country’s worsening social problems. Our sector has demonstrable outcomes when it comes to addressing the complex causes and effects of poverty, public sector cuts, mental health issues, re-offending rates to name a few. Seb Elsworth, CEO of Access, passionately makes the case for public sector reform, including procurement opportunities, simplified regulations and a genuine prioritisation of social value in tenders. 

Networks and Support:  throughout our business journey, we have been fortunate enough to benefit from incredible support from SSE, as well as local networks such as Flourish CIC. Budding social entrepreneurs in other areas of the country are not so lucky: ‘cold spots’ dotted around the country are limiting the potential growth of social enterprise activity. Mentorship and peer learning opportunities help social entrepreneurs navigate challenges, access expertise, and scale their ventures and should not be a postcode lottery. 

Access to Finance: a key focus at the SSE event was the benefits of finance to social enterprise growth. Our personal experience of social investment, thanks to GMCVO was a positive one – and, as stated by Yvonne Farquharson (Founder and Managing Director, Breathe Arts Health Research) choosing the right time for investment is key to taking social enterprises to the next level of growth. Offering support for social entrepreneurs to understand when investment would be beneficial, and encouraging collaboration between traditional lenders and social finance organisations, would help mainstream investment.

There is no magic bullet that can mainstream social enterprise – but SSE’s oversubscribed event was evidence that there is huge appetite from our sector to make sure the world knows about us and, crucially, buys from us! 

Fancy a catch up now I’m returning to the day job? Drop me a line: grace@yellowjigsaw.co.uk