What is the ‘State of Us’?

What is the ‘State of Us’?

Powerful Communities and Economic Democracy
By Gareth Hart, Director Iridescent Ideas CIC and Plymouth Social Enterprise Network with Ed Whitelaw, Real Ideas and Plymouth Social Enterprise Network

The State of Us Conference: bookings and information

Throughout history, people have striven, fought and sacrificed for self-determination and for enough freedom, power and choice to meet their needs and create meaningful futures. Citizens with agency, hope and ambition can create wider, comprehensive benefits for society.

A growing sense of inequality and unfairness was apparent even before COVID struck. A handful of people own half the world’s wealth and many of the richest have got richer during the pandemic. The poorest have been hit hardest by both redundancies and COVID itself. We desperately need to rethink our economic models to address this imbalance.

What do we want?

We need to revitalise our high streets, the public realm, and green spaces. We want better health and wellbeing. We want decent and meaningful work. We need to meet our basic needs and, at the same time, not overshoot and destroy the environment we rely on to create our and our planet’s wellbeing. To do all this we need active citizens, robust communities and more purposeful businesses.

There are cities and towns around the world like Plymouth (UK), Barcelona (Spain), Cleveland (US) and Jackson (Mississippi, US) that are developing vibrant, greener and fairer economies. Using concepts like municipalism, community wealth building and social value; and economic models such as social enterprise, community business and co-operatives; determined activists are creating alternative forms of power to advance and expand a more democratic, regenerative economy. People are building powerful communities with greener, economic democracy at the core.

What about locally?

In Plymouth alone – the UK’s first ‘Social Enterprise City‘ – we have seen the social enterprise, co-op and community business movement expand dramatically over the past few years alongside witnessing growth in local spending and a clear aspiration to create a more inclusive economy. Plymouth is now home to around 200 social enterprises, co-ops and community businesses. These organizations employ over 9,000 people and spend £600 million a year – all for social purpose. If you include the voluntary, community and education sector, the wider social economy is nearly twenty percent of Plymouth’s economic output and jobs. This new economy has been driven by an inspired partnership of a leading local social enterprise network, a pioneering council, the world’s first certified social enterprise university and an engaged private sector.

We need to create new alliances and build a wider platform for progressive change. Too often the social enterprise, co-op, union, environmental, food and other movements operate in isolation and sometimes even with friction. Yet we are all ultimately joined by a similar, high level purpose and vision.

The impact of COVID is ongoing and there is a real risk that pre-existing inequalities will intensify. The reality of Brexit is hurting business. Hard-won employment rights are under threat. The effects of climate change increasingly being felt. Digital opportunities abound but how are artificial intelligence, machine learning, driverless cars, 5G, data platforms, cryptocurrencies and the rest going to deliver a more equal world?

It is timely, then, that a ground-breaking group of social enterprises, co-ops, think tanks, networks and funders ask you to join them for four focussed online sessions exploring these themes. These events will look at The State of Us and ask: what role do community-focused, economic actors have in building powerful communities? What is best practice? Who are our allies and who shares our values? And how can we organise better? What does democracy look like in everyday areas of our economy such as work, public spaces and the production of the goods we consume? How do communities actively create power, within and beyond authority?

The event

The State of Us will explore work, resilience, places and spaces and more. It is for anyone working on social, environmental, racial and economic justice and democracy and power across the UK. Whether through local enterprise, community organising, activism, third sector, or local government, these events are for you.

Fundamentally, what is The State of Us? And how do we make it better? Join the debate now!

Celebrating the best social entrepreneurs of 2020 – The Social Entrepreneur Index

Celebrating the best social entrepreneurs of 2020 – The Social Entrepreneur Index

The Social Entrepreneur Index 2020 campaign has wrapped up with the publication of the Index report, celebrating the social impact, creativity and innovation of 55 of the UK’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs.

A further 19 individuals are highlighted as “ones to watch” – the judges felt in the coming year these are entrepreneurs that will be making a significant impact.

The Social Entrepreneur Index is powered by UMi, in partnership with Social Enterprise Mark, Inspiring Women Changemakers and the School for Social Entrepreneurs. The campaign focuses on the entrepreneurs behind the businesses, telling their story and providing inspiration to thousands of others to do more and go further in their businesses.

Nicki Clark, Chief Executive of UMi, said: “At UMi we believe that business has the power to make a difference to the world we live in and with that in mind the Index is an inspiring read –  what a powerful group of people and enterprises doing amazing things.”

The report includes highlight Q&As from four of the social entrepreneurs – Tim Howarth, CEO of United World Schools; Waltraud Pospischil, founder of Arkbound Foundation CIO; Dave Anderson, founder of Heartwood Skills; and Andy Douglas, founder of Scotland All-Strong. Full versions and many more nominee profiles are available online on the Social Entrepreneur Index website that make for thought-provoking and inspiring reading. 

In addition to celebrating and promoting their work, the campaign offers social entrepreneurs a platform to network and discuss the challenges that they face. With its vibrant mix of entrepreneurs from so many different backgrounds and specialisms, the network is a rich source of knowledge, experience and support. 

As part of the celebration event, the online ‘roundtable’ discussions showcased this perfectly. The entrepreneurs shared how they had successfully adapted to challenges, offered support to each other and contributed ideas on what further support would be beneficial from fellow social entrepreneurs, the community, industry partners and government.  

This year’s Index was judged by Rachel Fell – Social Enterprise Mark; Kate Welch – Social Enterprise Acumen; Kat Luckock – Social Entrepreneur Coach; Josie Armitage – Josie Armitage Associates; Louise Graham – Impact Mentor and Coach; and Arabela Silva – Inspiring Women Changemakers.  

The UK Social Entrepreneur Index has received the support of eight ambassadors who were selected for being shining examples of how social entrepreneurs can make an impact on a local and international level. They have invested their time to help inspire current and future social entrepreneurs. They are: Lucy Findlay MBE – Social Enterprise Mark; Andrew Bastawrous – Peek Vision; Cameron Saul – BOTTLETOP; Kate Welch – Social Enterprise Acumen CIC; Lucy Buck – The Good Company People CIC; Paul Skidmore – Rising Academies; Rachel Wang – Chocolate Films; and Rosie Ginday – Miss Macaroon.

View the report here and the full index is now live at https://www.socialentsindex.co.uk

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

What happened to George Floyd in America has shocked and appalled us. And this keeps happening. We stand beside the Black Lives Matter movement and for racial equality. However, we know that words are not enough.

Racism, persecution and prejudice is a systemic issue across the world, including here in Plymouth.  The way we do business in our city and in the country is deeply tied to racism and inequality. Modern capitalism and much of our wealth as a nation was built on colonial exploitation and slavery. Plymouth has its own profoundly disturbing relationship with the slave trade.

If we are to tackle racism we need to change how we do business. We need to tackle the inequities and racist underpinnings of mainstream economy. We need to embrace new practices and business models that offer solutions to the injustice of racism. Social enterprises are businesses set up to reduce inequalities, this must include racial inequalities.

If we want to achieve this, we must challenge the prejudices and inequalities within the social enterprise world. We need more diversity in the social enterprise movement in Plymouth. Our work is dominated by white culture and white privilege.PSEN is proud to support the social enterprise community in our city. We need to learn and understand. We believe that socially responsible businesses, including social enterprises, co-operatives and community businesses have a responsibility to act and significantly step up our commitment to addressing racism. We will encourage and support PSEN member organisations to reflect and act and we will engage with local government, businesses and the voluntary and community sector and to help to create a more equal society.

World beaters

World beaters

Sensational, dramatic, beautiful. Three words to describe England’s fantastic cricket World Cup win yesterday. Congratulations to England and fair play/commiserations to New Zealand. Sport can bring people together and what a performance under incredible pressure from such a diverse group of players.

Also, these three words could define Plymouth’s social enterprise scene: Sensational in its scale; dramatic in its impact and beautiful in its ability to inspire.

I spoke at a conference in Santander, Spain last week on these themes: about how social enterprise has developed in Plymouth, how we became the UKs first Social Enterprise City and what this has meant for the city.

I showcased the work of many of PSEN’s members and talked about our contribution to the local economic, social and environmental priorities. I explained how the city is developing a cooperative strategy and our work around building a fairer, more inclusive economy through business in the city.

There was time for a trip to a fantastic local social enterprise called the Amica Association which runs a recycling and a laundry social enterprise. Why can’t these things be done in Plymouth? Amica works with people with learning disabilities and the work they do to value everyone’s differences and skills really shone through.

Some of the themes emerging from the conference I think we should look at in Plymouth were:

  1. The need to continually engage consumers around the fundamental idea of what social enterprise – in all its forms – is and why it is important
  2. The need to ‘change mindsets through story telling’ – a quote from Chris Blues of the Skoll Foundation
  3. To embed the UN Sustainable Development Goals more strategically and solidly in all our work
  4. Gathering good data on the social enterprise and cooperative economy to inform and influence policy making at local, regional, national and international levels.

I came away from the conference with a strong feeling of camaraderie and hope: work to promote social enterprise, coops and community business goes on all over the world and sometimes knowing that makes it feel less like we are working in a tiny bubble in south west of the UK but that we are part of wider, global movement.

Other speakers included Rachel Brown from Social Enterprise Mark, Professor Jonathan Levie of Galway University, Karel Vanderpoorten from the EU Commission on the social economy, Chris Blues of the Skoll Foundation, Elgar Bleumer the European Director of Enactus from The Netherlands, Inge Hill of Enterprise Educators UK, Holke Brammer from Yunus Social Business, Jairo Ruiz Nava of Monterrey University Mexico and Millian Diaz from Zaragoza University. All spoke on themes about social enterprise, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and work to promote social entrepreneurship across the world.

The conference was organized by the Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo (UIMP) and held at the stunning Palacio de la Magadalena overlooking the Bay of Santander.

Gareth Hart – Chair of PSEN



Representing in the wider social enterprise sector

Representing in the wider social enterprise sector

Social Value Summit

On Monday we went to the Social Value Leaders’ Summit. Thanks to Livewell SW for supporting us to attend on your behalf.

This event saw the launch of a government consultation on Social Value in procurement. Oliver Dowden, Minister for Implementation, described how government spending could create diverse and safer supply chains, improve inclusion and wellbeing, reduce environmental impact and encourage development of employees. There was a timely BBC news story about it too.

These are warm words but the devil is in the detail and this is just a consultation. We urge you to put in your own response and PSEN will lead a collective reply to this as it seems crucially important and, potentially, a great opportunity for members that have business with government. It also sets the tone for a wider range of public sector organizations to follow. Here in Plymouth our local council has done some ground-breaking work on social value and we hope this can be extended across the public sector in the city. Other themes from the event were:

  1. Universities increasingly seeing themselves as ‘in service of society’ and well-placed as large anchor organizations to champion social value and procure with purpose
  2. How the local industrial strategies need to support re-structuring the economy to make it fairer. This is another consultation we urge you to get behind. There is an event on the local industrial strategy on 25th March you should attend if you can. Book here.

There is a report on the event from Pioneers Post here

Social Enterprise Places

On Friday we represented Plymouth – as the UK’s first Social Enterprise City – at the national Social Enterprise Places conference. This brought together some of the 30 counties, cities, villages, towns and zones that are demonstrating social enterprise at its best. The event was sponsored by NatWest and facilitated by SEUK. Key learning from the event:

  • Need for the places to come together more strategically with SEUK in response to local economic policy making and sharing intelligence
  • Need to raise public awareness of the social enterprise places movement
  • Increasing market opportunities for social enterprise in the places through Corporate Buy Social and other campaigns
  • Opportunities through NatWest on investment and local business support which we will share separately
  • SEUK are launching some new videos with celebrity patrons in partnership with the Co-op. Watch out for these soon.

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Plymouth Social Enterprise Network