Friday, 2 December 2011

On The Guardian's Social Enterprise Network: How we can usher in the age of the global social entrepreneur

Apologies for the lack of blogging this week! The Guardian's Social Enterprise Network has published an article today that I wrote on global social entrepreneurship and the trade missions programme that I'm running:
Imagine farming in the developing world without fair trade… microfinance without Grameen… cosmetic testing without the Body Shop… teaching in deprived areas without Teach First. Without these social innovations, the world would be a poorer place, literally. 
I'm fascinated by the problem of how social innovation can spread internationally, accessing social investment along the way. Market forces enable great businesses to scale, but to date there haven't been the same drivers in the social sector. Ashoka, through its Globalizer programme, is aiming to link initiatives ready for global scale to the support they require to go global. The Young Foundation has set up a Global Innovation Academy, leveraging its expertise and global networks, to skill people in social innovation across the world 
The UK is currently attracting interest from around the world for the work that it is doing in social innovation, entrepreneurship and investment. It is estimated that one in five businesses in the UK have a primary social goal – contributing a total of £97bn to GDP; 1.7m people are involved in leading social sector organisations in the UK today – 2.8% of population and 238,000 people are trying to set up social enterprises, with one in three start-ups currently being primarily socially motivated. 
The question, however, is how do we leverage this interest to see our brightest and best social enterprises and business scale? We have seen some UK- based social innovation scale internationally, including social impact bonds – Social Finance having created a United States sister organisation that has opened an office in Boston, Massachusetts. The Hub concept has spread from London to 26 cities across five continents.Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Restaurants have opened abroad. But, I think – with many social entrepreneurs struggling to scale internationally – it is fair to say global social entrepreneurship is not yet here. 
Part of the answer – I believe – is to learn from what the private sector has done through trade missions to help businesses expand and replicate it; taking a group of sector-specific social enterprises and businesses abroad and helping them build partnerships, meet social investors and expand. Since the five trade missions that Oli Barrett and others have run with partners including United Kingdom Trade & Investment, participant companies have raised over $160m, over 50 major US partnerships have been formed and over 20% of companies have now set up subsidiaries in the US. 
I've been working with Big Society Network and United Kingdom Trade & Investment (UKTI) to create and lead a programme of trade missions, running over the course of the next year, to support social innovators and entrepreneurs to expand internationally. The first mission will take place in Washington DC in March 2012, focusing on social innovation and entrepreneurship in the public sector which is where there is specific interest from the US federal government and other agencies around this area. 
This will be followed very soon after by a mission supporting technology-based social entrepreneurs to the US as part of the South by South West Interactive Festival. The final 2012 mission we are planning is to support social investors and social innovation creators to provide services in the Far East where there is particular interest around how ecosystems to support and finance social enterprise are created. 
My hope is that these trade missions can be an answer to the problem of social innovation not spreading internationally, helping facilitate bottom-up global social entrepreneurship in the process.

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