‘Social Entrepreneurship’ features increasingly as a buzzword in the business and start-up sector. The World Economic Forum defines it as ‘a growing global movement’. What makes it particularly appealing – to governments, universities, and corporations (check out B Corps) – is its commitment to have an actual impact on people’s lives or on the environment and make the world a better place, rather than exclusively a profitable one.
Social enterprises can be broadly defined as traditional businesses that use their profits to create positive social or environmental sustainable change locally and globally. For instance, Social Enterprise UK identifies social enterprises as businesses that:
- Have a clear social and/or environmental mission set out in their governing documents;
- Generate the majority of their income through trade;
- Reinvest majority of their profits;
- Are autonomous of the state;
- Are majority controlled in the interests of their social mission;
- Are accountable and transparent.
Among others in this sector, Grant Hayward – founder and Director of Collaborent – suggests that ‘we need a broader definition of Social Entrepreneurship’ and that ‘we might even stop using that phrase in the future’. Still, the term is catchy both in the corporate world – where there is increasing awareness that profit and social justice can go together – and among charities, that are increasingly appreciating the necessity of generating more income by categorising themselves as ‘social enterprises’. In the UK, the implementation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act – which requires people who commission public services to think about how they can also secure wider social, economic and environmental benefits – has played an important role in making businesses more purposeful. Check out the great work of national organisations such as NAVCA and NCVO.
What about the social entrepreneurship ecosystem here in Oxford? In 2014, David Cameron defined Oxfordshire as ‘a beacon of social enterprise activity, the first country to become a Social Enterprise Place’. In Oxford in particular, there is a thriving scene on the social entrepreneurship front, but no general agreement on its very definition:
Nazia Ali, Programme Manager at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship: ‘At the Skoll Centre we don’t have a clear business model in mind or a fast and solid definition of social entrepreneurship. We look for people who are very purpose-driven and who have an international outlook. You can use a variety of different and hybrid business models, and it should be less about the product but more about the purpose you have. The first concern for a social entrepreneur is mainly how to solve a problem for society at large’.
Mark Mann, Senior Licensing & Ventures Manager at Oxford University Innovation (OUI), strongly believes in the innovative potential of social entrepreneurship, and is committed to promote it among researchers who often do not have enough time to push ‘their great new ideas’ forward: ‘I have a practice-oriented mind-set and I believe in the application of academia to the real world… I appreciate the urgency of putting ideas into practice to promote social change. An example is the TORCH Institute here in Oxford, as it’s projected towards social impact and services rather than commercialisation and money.
Rachel Marshall, Programmes Manager at the Oxford Hub: ‘Students can help tackle today’s most pressing social and environmental issues in different ways… through frontline volunteering, skilled placements with local organisations, or by launching their own innovative social enterprises. There’s so much potential to have an impact and its all right on your doorstep here in Oxford.”