Lessons from the SEWF2019 and world leaders in Social Enterprise

Lessons from the SEWF2019It’s funny how we go can through life under our own ‘illusion’ of things.

You know, that too much social media’s not good for you, or that Christmas is advertised too early.

For me, my illusion’s been that I’ve always set big, impactful goals, when, in actual fact, they’ve been anything but.

Well, that’s all about to change, and I invite you to change with me…

Thanks to the bursary from the British Council, I was given the incredible opportunity to go to the SEWF2019 (Social Enterprise World Forum) in Ethiopia.

See, before arriving, I was quite comfortable under the illusion that the vision and goals I had for the future – how I wanted all businesses to be social enterprises, and to support 100,000 children out of poverty around the world – was, to be quite frank, big thinking.

But, what I learnt at SEWF2019, taught me that I’ve been playing small; playing small, thinking small and achieving small.

Because Social Enterprises in Africa? Well, they only deal in big.

Having spent four days listening and talking to African Social Entrepreneurs, it’s crystal clear that their goals aren’t to effect change for the few, but for everyone.

Here are a few stand-out facts about Social Enterprise in the African Continent:

1 They don’t want to work with thousands of people, they want to work with millions within 5 years and billions within 10.

Not to be facetious, but I don’t know any Social Enterprises in the UK with those kind of ambitions, do you?

2 They don’t expect funding, as their business model is viable from the start. MVP (minimal viable product) is alive and kicking with the expectation that the model needs to be paid for by people purchasing (just like ordinary enterprise) and not reliable on funding just because it sets out to help people.

3 They use tech to enable rapid scaling and proactively seek partnerships focused on maximising the impact they have. Accelerator Programmes support scaling of 10-100 times over 5-10 years (wow just wow), and the more diverse the cohort the bigger the impact is (in terms of the increased revenues and investments the entrepreneurs receive).

4 What’s more, their laser-focus mission to achieve the SDGs by 2030 is unrivalled by any business here in the UK, (it still shocks the life out of me that some social entrepreneurs don’t even know what the SDGs are)

5 And now the biggy… The UK is not leading the world of social enterprise – there is a plethora of amazing work happening globally, with amazing innovations.

Now, I don’t know about you just reading that for the first time, but, let me tell you when I sat and listened to it for the first time, it was like a shock to the system…

It made me realise that here in the UK, we have such a long way to go, and it’s going to take a bigger vision, something way, way bigger than we ever dared to imagine previously, to get there.

And by this, (personally speaking) I don’t mean adding an extra zero on the end of my goal of 100,000 children, I’m talking adding several zeros on the end of it, several zeros meaning the number of people, businesses and organisations I work with has to grow exponentially to achieve this.

If I’ve not completely scared you off, here are two other key reflections from SWEF:

1 The Revolution is here

Social enterprise has a vibrancy that can’t be found in other parts of capitalism.  And it’s no wonder that more and more businesses are wanting a piece of the social enterprise pie.  Whether by re-positioning themselves as social enterprises, as businesses with purpose or by committing to buying social, it doesn’t matter – the revolution is here – everyone at SEWF2019 was and is part of that revolution, whether they recognise it or not.

2 Social Enterprise needs to be a brand

Lord Victor Adebowale said, “Social enterprise needs to build a brand”.

Rather than arguing about the definition of what a social enterprise is, or questioning if social enterprise works differently in different countries (which all seems a bit pointless to me), let’s create the social enterprise brand.

And brand is not a thing, it’s what social enterprise make you feel like.  Based on my experience of SEWF2019 social enterprise is:

  • Passionate
  • Purposeful
  • Caring and committed
  • Honest
  • High energy and vibrant
  • Raising people and the planet up

But most of all it’s a human thing.  The thing that connects us, that keeps us real and reminds us that each of us has a heartbeat and to prioritise one person’s heart beat over another would be wrong.

And finally, my own sentimental reflection…

To miss-quote Henry Ford, whether you believe you’re doing good or not, you’re right.

Social Entrepreneurship is a pragmatic belief system that we ourselves have the power to do good in the world. It’s not a commercial fad, or a school-holiday temp job, and it’s certainly not an illusion…

…it’s the best job in the world.

Now let’s go achieve big things.