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Social Enterprise: leading a more purposeful future in Wales ….. are we making a difference, are we making the right difference?

Jane Ryall is Wales Manager for UnLtd – The UK Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs. In this guest blog for Social Enterprise Day, Jane talks about pulling together a meaningful action plan to help develop a stronger & more ambitious Social Enterprise sector to tackle critical issues facing Wales.

By Ceri-Anne Fidler Jones · November 20, 2019

See this page in: Cymraeg

Many of us working in the social enterprise sector in Wales are convinced of the merits of our work. We see the outcomes of the organisations we support on an almost daily basis. Yet, we often still find it hard to envisage how social enterprises can play a major role in tackling some of the critical social issues facing our nation today.

Let’s be honest

Let’s be honest, of the 2000 or so social enterprises in Wales, it’s a diverse bunch – in size, scope, purpose and impact. Led by truly genuine and talented people, with an unstoppable desire to make change, only the more established may be confident about their long term future and sustainability. In their efforts to break new ground, many starting out struggle to find routes to market, to scale, to earn a living and to evidence the real difference they are making. Often working within fragile Welsh economies, they are constantly asked to prove their existence and respond to a system that is not working for them. Surely these committed people and organisations deserve better?

Last year, a group of staff from different social enterprise agencies in Wales began getting together to discuss how we can make our support more relevant and impactful to the needs of the people and organisations we serve. We were unhappy at our work still being regarded as niche and frustrated at not being able to bring about more ambitious and creative solutions for our communities.

So, imagine a more ambitious future for social enterprise

Janis, founder of a community garden is providing regular work and training sessions for marginalised people in the Cynon Valley. The nearby doctor’s surgery refers patients to the garden for occupational therapy and better mental health. Janis is able to sell the produce from the garden to the local primary school. The children use the site to not only learn about the outdoors and the environment, but to be kind to others whatever their age, background and ability. There is a shop on site selling fresh food to the local community. An electric vehicle delivers the fresh produce to those unable to collect. This gives a job to a local person. Janis and her team help set up a similar venture, in the neighbouring valley. Meanwhile, other kind people join this local movement to offer their skills and time. The ripple effect spreads ….

So how do we help people like Janis on their journey get there faster?

How do we garner and encourage others like Janis?

The group (aka The Social Enterprise Task Force*) asked people, in person and online. And the results have come back:

  • We need to get better at messaging. Cut the jargon, what really is social enterprise and how does it make a practical difference? We must influence now – including those with power and the next generation.
  • We need to show leadership. But what does that really mean? Perhaps all of us involved in the sector (activists, supporters and investors) need to lead from the front. “A leader does the right things, not does things right”.
  • Let’s really co-operate and start supporting each other, sharing ideas, talking over problems, setting common goals, tracking progress – again this means all of us (practitioner, funder and adviser).
  • Social enterprises need more money, but where, when and how? New social businesses starting out need essential cash to get going, but then they must learn to stand on their own two feet we hear. That can’t be done overnight. They need help on the way, to build skills, confidence and become independent. Just like a child.
  • With limited resources, we must back those people and organisations which can make the biggest difference, those who challenge the status quo and can adapt the system with new solutions. This means providing more money, meaningful networks and specialist support.
  • Then how do we make our support available in a way that truly works for our social enterprises. By letting go, investing in people and giving them the wings to fly. By breaking down the barriers to access the right support, avoiding duplication and putting social enterprise at the heart of what we do.

So, what’s next? “Our group” is not a closed group. We are just taking the lead in drawing these thoughts into a meaningful plan of action, ready for 2020. Come join us on our journey to help make a “real difference”.

*The Social Enterprise Task Force comprises Antur Waunfawr, Coalfield Regeneration Trust, DTA Wales, Social Firms Wales, UnLtd, Wales Co-operative Centre, Wales Council for Voluntary Action and Welsh Government.