The importance of social enterprises in London


Last month Extinction Rebellion brought parts of London to a standstill as our climate emergency finally started to dominate the airwaves.

Meanwhile, a report from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty cast into sharp detail the devastating impacts of poverty and inequality on communities across the UK – further evidence that we now live in a country where work is no longer any guarantee of escaping poverty and where public safety nets have been contracted and eroded.

It’s a bleak picture and it’s easy to feel powerless when confronted with such political uncertainty, rapidly rising inequalities, and the mammoth task of shifting our economy on to a sustainable footing.

Something that is not talked about enough is how business fits into this narrative of a warming planet and an increasingly fragmented world. When it comes to climate change, the reality is that as few as 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of global carbon emissions.

It is the nature of our economic systems and structures, including the structures of business and trade that are principally responsible for the grotesque and growing levels of inequality in the UK and right around the world.

While these very structures have brought so much to human progress and quality of life, many believe they now threaten our very existence and are ultimately behind the breakdown of social trust and growing social division.

Luckily, there is a growing cadre of businesses that are beginning to challenge the ‘profit first’ way of doing things. I’m talking about the UK’s growing social enterprise movement, which provides insight into what the future of business can and must look like.

There are over 100,000 social enterprises in the UK – businesses which are set up to trade for a social or environmental purpose and which reinvest the majority of their profits to further their missions. They are tackling some of the most pressing issues we face head on and are outperforming mainstream businesses when it comes to innovation, growth and the diversity of their leaders and workforces.

Social enterprises are businesses which are set up to primarily benefit society and this can be seen in where they work, how they work, who they employ, and the fact that they reinvest profits into innovation and furthering their social impact.

Whether it’s soap manufactured by people with disabilities, coffee carts employing people who are homeless, solar powered buses providing community transport services, undertakers tackling funeral poverty, employee-owned social care providers, or community-owned renewable energy schemes – there are social enterprises in nearly every sector demonstrating that a different way of doing business is possible and profitable. This newspaper is itself a social enterprise – creating employment opportunities for individuals with special educational needs – and it’s great to see it thriving as it reaches its 100th edition.

This week Social Enterprise UK is shining a spotlight on the workforce of two million people working within social enterprises and purpose-first businesses.

One place where social enterprises are making a real difference is in the quality and the security of work that they create. The recent UN report reiterated the stark reality that the majority of people in poverty are from families where at least one person is in work.

There is something seriously wrong when we find ourselves in a position where work no longer pays the bills. Social enterprises are leading the way when it comes to empowering staff and paying fairly.

Almost nine in 10 actively involve staff in decision making and 78% pay at least the Living Wage as accredited by the Living Wage foundation.

Two thirds support those from disadvantaged groups, such as people who are homeless, ex-offenders, or those with physical or mental health issues, and 79% employ over half their staff from their local area.

Social enterprises create the kind of jobs that not only our future economy needs, but jobs that reward staff equitably and fairly. Follow #MyJobMatters to meet some of the people who work within social enterprises and see the difference they are making.

The future may appear terribly uncertain right now, but follow this hashtag, learn about the difference social enterprises are making, and you might feel as I do, that this quiet business revolution could really change the world.