Hands up for social enterprise, ladies?!

When asked, by show of hands, how many people understood the term “social enterprise” only around a third of the audience raised their hand.   A little worrying for a social entrepreneur like me….

Yesterday, at a conference to learn about social enterprise, organised by the Federation of International Women’s Associations in London (FIWAL), women from around the world gathered to find out more under the banner ‘working towards a more positive tomorrow’.

The umbrella body Social Enterprise UK introduced the concept, explaining the meaning of social enterprise and the sector’s growth.   Interestingly for the female audience, Head of Policy and Research Ceri Jones noted that the ‘glass ceiling’ is being broken by women in social enterprise; that 41% of social enterprise board members are women, compared to 11% in FTSE companies.

Founders of the social enterprises MyBnk.org, PositiveLuxury.com, Elvis & Kresse and Rococo Chocolates inspired the audience with their personal and business histories, describing how their businesses are making a social difference.

At the start of the day, most did not know the term ‘social enterprise’ but by the end, everyone had had the opportunity to meet successful social entrepreneurs. So what difference did this day make to such a group of international women?  Participants described how inspirational it was to hear from young passionate speakers doing such fantastic work.   Margaret Wickware, FIWAL President, said, “it was fantastic to learn about this 21st century business model and see how it relates to my own life”.

One participant noted that she was brought up in a consumer society, where waste is a given, built in to the system, and that her generation never questioned where anything came from.    She felt delighted that the day had sparked her social conscience and hoped it could create momentum, rather than everyone going back to their old habits.

The social enterprise sector is growing and the terminology is becoming better known, as is shown by the very fact that a group like FIWAL held a social enterprise conference. That’s why – despite the poor show of hands at the start – I feel confident that now is a great time to launch a social enterprise.  My organisation, www.frombabieswithlove.org, which sells organic baby clothes and donates 100% of profits to orphaned and abandoned children, is launching this month.

The inspiration felt by the audience demonstrates that people are excited to hear about social impact, about positive stories and how small organisations and initiatives can be part of a bigger change.  So there is only one way for those hands, and the social enterprise sector to go: up! up! up!

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