Where there’s a will there’s a way: the social enterprise response to Brexit

Brexit and Beyond was the result of several months of agonising over the impact of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union on our opportunities for working productively together with other social purpose organisations across Europe.

Tess Lundgren speaking at Brexit and Beyond

We started from the position that if there’s one thing that social entrepreneurs are good at, it’s finding creative and viable solutions to social and environmental challenges. Where there’s a will there’s a way, as one of the participants pointed out. So, the foci of the event were to celebrate the ESSE project; to hear about some of the other ways in which social purpose organisations are already working together across boundaries; and to think about how to do that more, and do it more effectively in future.

We heard from Paul Matthews of City College about the ESSE Train the Trainer programme which is currently being piloted in five countries so that careers advisors and vocational educators can support young people to consider social enterprise as a career. Tess Lundgren, from Swedish social enterprise Urkraft, talked about the value of international collaboration and shared learning for their business which supports adults with disabilities such as autism into work. Luke Cooper, a senior lecturer in Politics and International Relations and convenor of the campaigning organisation Another Europe is Possible shared stories about the many ways in which European social purpose organisations are currently working together towards shared goals.

Some of the key ideas that emerged from the presentations and group discussions were:

  • Brexit is seen by many as a solution to some of our most pressing social and economic problems. Social enterprises can and do address these problems every single day. Added to that, there are a whole range of ways in which social enterprises enable people to “take back control”, from providing services to people with dementia to creating secure and purposeful employment. This is an important message. We need more social enterprises, more investment in social enterprise and more education for social enterprise.
  • As a group of people who are predominantly pro-remain, in a city which was 60:40 in favour of leaving we can continue to be present and active in Brexit places as we work towards a more inclusive economy. Many of our activities directly address social exclusion, others seek to build bridges within and between communities. All of these are important.
  • Cross cultural exchange inspires social innovation and we should both push for continued funding for such initiatives and find other, more enterprising ways to make sure they continue to happen.
  • Building alliances, locally, nationally and internationally between social enterprises, co-operatives, community businesses, voluntary and community organisations is key. One of PSEN’s objectives for the coming year is to strengthen local alliances and work more closely with the many others who are trying to create a more sustainable and inclusive economSmall group discussion at Brexit and Beyondy. Nationally, we can take advantage of our status as a social enterprise city, and continue to work with Social Enterprise UK to improve the profile and influence of the social enterprise movement. Internationally, the ESSE project has established a network of social entrepreneurs and people and organisations who are interested in social enterprise. We have a strong foundation from which to build.

If you want to get involved with any of this, there are no shortage of places to start…

Another Europe is Possible is a British-based campaigning organisation which is now seeking to protect environmental sustainability, human rights, workplace protections, and free movement as Brexit in negotiated. They are also arguing for a referendum on the terms of exit once they have been negotiated with Europe with an option to remain in the EU if the terms are rejected.

Undivided. This is the young people’s project for a ‘Better Brexit’. It includes young Leave and Remain voters.

Democracy in Europe Movement. A pan-European movement for democratising the EU. Yanis Varoufakis is one of the co-founders and the co-ordinating committee includes Noam Chomsky and Vivienne Westwood.

European Alternatives. An excellent pan-European NGO currently working on a ‘European Commons Assembly’ project.

Plan B for Europe. Eurosceptically inclined but open to people who are pro and anti-European and focused on opposing austerity and the current nature of European monetary union.

European Citizens Initiative. This is a EU project that comes out of the Lisbon Treaty. It provides civil society networks with the opportunity to initiate European legislation if they secure one million signatures. Luke mentioned a European Alternatives initiative on media reform, which can be read about here.

Closer to home, don’t forget to subscribe the weekly PSEN newsletter, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook to stay up to date with events and new developments. If you would like to be part of the growing ESSE network of social entrepreneurs and social enterprise educators drop me an email michelle@plymsocent.org.uk.

3 Responses to Where there’s a will there’s a way: the social enterprise response to Brexit

  1. David Folley November 25, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    Informative overview and helpful article reminding me of the issues discussed. Many thanks Michelle

  2. michellevirgo December 16, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

    Some additional campaigning organisations sent to me by Andy Pratt who runs the Devon and Cornwall constituency office for our Green MEP.

    We Move Europe https://www.wemove.eu/ WeMove.EU is a citizens’ movement, campaigning for a better Europe; for a European Union committed to social and economic justice, environmental sustainability and citizen-led democracy (more ‘38 degrees’ style) provide the capacity for cross-border mobilisation that has been sorely lacking on a European level…. Mainly online campaigning.

    European Alternatives. An excellent pan-European NGO currently working on a ‘European Commons Assembly’ project. ‘The most urgent political, cultural and social questions can no longer be dealt at the national level: we foster transnational citizenship to restore to citizens democratic control over our future.’ https://euroalter.com/
    Plan B for Europe. Eurosceptically inclined but open to people who are pro and anti-European and focused on opposing austerity and the current nature of European monetary union. https://www.euro-planb.eu/?page_id=865&lang=en

  3. michellevirgo December 16, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

    And some thoughts from Paul Matthews, teacher training co-ordinator at City College:

    Social Enterprise in Plymouth and the backlash against globalisation

    Across a broad political spectrum commentators agree the post-industrial working
    class are not happy. The political class are ‘out of touch’ and the working class have been taken for granted, particularly by the Parliamentary Labour Party. At the same time the working class have seen their prospects fade in the liberal economic policies
    adopted by all mainstream parties. Ultimately, this has gradually developed into a ‘rage against the elites’ and a mistrust of the establishment. Sounds like fertile soil for radicals…

    For some, the ‘ordinary people’, that is, those who are not part of the elite or
    the establishment- those who are not doing well in the current economy, feel as though it is becoming harder to get on in our society- and harder to support their families. We can hear some of them say, ‘How can an MP with two homes and generous allowances
    understand how I struggle to pay the rent?’ These thoughts and feelings breed resentment and attract an increasing number of people towards the right wing of the political landscape.

    The recent Brexit vote reveals a resurgence of national solidarity and a retreat
    from global solidarity. SE is part of our attempt to promote and develop our social solidarity, but this must speak to local communities not abstract idealistic narratives.

    If so, how can SE in Plymouth flourish in these conditions? How can it work for the Brexiteers?

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