Social entrepreneurs give Bronze medal for UK | Big Society Capital

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Social entrepreneurs give Bronze medal for UK

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A groundbreaking report came out this week – The Best Countries to be a Social Entrepreneur.

Using expert panels across the world’s 45 biggest economies, the report tries to find what’s working and what’s hindering the global movement of social entrepreneurs. And the winner is: the United States, followed by Canada, with the UK in third place.

The report is an initiative by GSEN - the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network for agencies supporting social entrepreneurs – along with UnLtd, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Deutsche Bank’s Made for Good. OK, so I have to declare an interest as one of the founders of GSEN, formerly CEO of UnLtd, and as a social entrepreneur by background. I am seriously biased! And also to note this is an expert panel methodology rather than a quantitative analysis, so views may be made on expectations as much as actual progress.

But the analysis covers all the key aspects of what makes social entrepreneurship flourish or struggle, from government policy to investment, markets to advice, understanding to making a living. It’s the full ecosystem. And that makes it highly relevant and useful for countries to see how they can improve.

There is global momentum, but with major problems on lack of public awareness, access to investment, and selling to governments.

The UK position in 3rd place is boosted by good support, favourable conditions, strong momentum, and relatively good public understanding. The UK comes 2nd in the world as a place where you can make a living from being a social entrepreneur – surely one of the most important long term issues.

But we come only 7th for ease of investment – and just 13th for ease of finding grant funding. Why can that be so when we have Big Society Capital, a raft of social investors, UnLtd and SSE for start ups, and foundations interested in innovation?

On the social investment side, it’s realistic to say that deployment of BSC investment is only just ramping up this year – probably doubling between 2015 and 2016 with more to come. Access, for smaller investments and with blended funds and support, has only just made its initial agreements. But our three social banks have been around for years, alongside a number of veteran social investors. Over 3,000 charities and social enterprises are currently using social investment, with 20% or so year on year growth. What is going on?

This report is focused on social entrepreneurs. The UK has excellent start up support, and a few accelerators for the next stage. Then there is a gap before the main area of social investment – there is a missing middle. My guess is that this is the key issue here. A pipeline is only useful if it works end to end – any break in the middle and it fails. Access and the SITR tax break may help, and an increasing number of social Angel investors supporting profit with purpose social entrepreneurs, but we still have a problem.

The worst finding for the UK is on ease of selling to government. A woeful 28th place, despite years of Government policy priority. The barriers placed by government commissioning for the social sector have been discussed for decades, and we’ve ended up with a sense it must be inevitable. Yet 27 other countries do better. Surely time for the UK government to start learning from others.

I look back to the first social venture I helped lead. We couldn’t have done it without a grant to start, practical support from established agencies, and revenue to make it stay the course. Of course we needed energy, passion, resilience, skills, all those entrepreneurial characteristics that get talked about so much. But without a functioning, well rounded ecosystem, would we still be on the drawing board?

Last updated | 
16 September 2016

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