Social enterprise: halfway to mainstream?

The UK arguably leads the world in its support for social enterprise – and is keen to position itself as such, from putting social investment high on the agenda of its G8 presidency in 2013 to inviting other nations to learn from what we’re doing.

I covered the latter – during a British Council-hosted visit for EU policy-makers – for the Guardian’s social enterprise hub last month, and heard how countries like Croatia, in the midst of finalising its own first social entrepreneurship, are hungry to learn from UK policy-makers’ 15 or so years’ experience in this area.

In this country, social enterprises employ over 2 million people (more than the financial and insurance industries combined!) and contribute at least £55bn to the economy; this is also birthplace of the world’s first social impact bond, an innovation that’s spreading slowly further afield. The opening up to such innovations and to the new forms of business that the likes of On Purpose, my current programme, are trying to promote, is partly thanks to cross-party support: happily, it seems there’s something in social enterprise for all on the political spectrum.

Even in the UK, though, there’s still a fair bit of influencing to do. The civil service, I was told, still have “no idea” of the range of organisations existing between public and private sectors; and much of the drive on social enterprise policy is thanks to some driven individuals, rather than something systematic. As Hazel Blears, a Labour MP and longtime proponent in this sector put it, social enterprise “has always been niche – the icing on the cake” – whereas the goal should be “to infect the mainstream economy, so that the social economy starts to change the mainstream way of doing things.” And, she added, we’re probably about “halfway on that journey”. It remains to be seen how far along the next government will take us.

Read the full article here: ‘Making it mainstream: six ways government can drive the social economy‘.

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