Leading the world in social enterprise | Big Society Capital

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Leading the world in social enterprise

This report presents the findings of the State of Social Enterprise Survey 2015 – the largest, most rigorous and most representative survey of social enterprises in the UK.

Its results are taken from 1,159 telephone and online interviews with senior figures in social enterprises.

Background and context

The UK is viewed as a pioneer of social enterprise and the associated practices of social investment and social value. Government statistics identify around 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £24 billion to the economy and employing nearly a million people. Since 2005, over 11,000 Community Interest Companies have been founded, and the last five years have seen significant development of social investment to support the growth of this movement.

In an age of public sector austerity, globally networked markets and significant social and environmental problems, social enterprise has a substantial contribution to make – in many areas of business or public service delivery or charitable work, the status quo is no longer an option. Social enterprise has some of the answers: combining a sustainable business model with a clear social purpose, working and employing in the most challenging areas, and demonstrating that this can be done in an accountable, fair and inclusive way.

Our summary of the survey findings

Social enterprise is thriving – it is outperforming its mainstream small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) counterparts in almost every area of business: turnover growth, workforce growth and job creation, innovation, business optimism, start-up rates and diversity in leadership.

The nature of the social enterprise sector is changing: the start-up wave that has been reported in the 2011 and 2013 surveys continues apace here: almost half of social enterprises are under five years old. This has profound ramifications for those seeking to support, invest in and help grow the impact of these organisations.

Funding and finance remains a key barrier for social enterprises of all sizes: the demand for smaller-scale, simpler, unsecured investment remains constant. Barriers to accessing social investment are more likely to be about navigability, accessibility and confidence than cost of capital or legal structure.

This survey also reveals an increasingly localised and devolved picture, even as common barriers are shared across the whole UK – start-up rates, optimism, workforce growth and the ability to access finance vary regionally and by home nation.

Finally, the public sector remains a key market and source of income for social enterprises – this is particularly the case for those operating in the most deprived communities. The next five years will require joined-up and targeted work from local public and social sector agencies, improved implementation of the Social Value Act, and continued income diversification from social enterprises to maintain such important work

Last updated | 
10 September 2015