Social Enterprise UK (SEUK)was established in 2002 to create a favourable environment for social enterprises to thrive and to change people’s lives and communities for the better. Early on in our work, it became apparent that building a strong and rigorous evidence base was going to be important not only to advocate and seek to influence policies and practical support programmes, but also to understand the key challenges and obstacles the movement was facing, in order to try to address them. To that end, SEUK began its State of Social Enterprise (SoSE hereafter) work in 2007, and this has now become the centrepiece of our research programme and a biennial publication that has grown in comprehensiveness, depth and reach.
The research has always looked at a wide spectrum of social enterprises where they operate, what sectors they concentrate on, who and how they employ, their financial performance, their structures, their plans for growth and optimism and so forth. From the first survey onwards, finance became a key focus amongst that wider range of issues – access to finance has consistently been raised by social enterprises as one of the key barriers for those starting up, those seeking to sustain operations, and those seeking to grow.
In the same time period, from 2007-2015, the field of social investment has grown enormously, both in the range of products and the number of intermediaries operating in that area. These have been encouraged and accelerated by signature interventions from government, including the establishment of Big Society Capital, and a continuing support at a policy level for social investment. In some ways, this is a reflection of changes to the social sector and to public finances – there are more social enterprises and social sector organisations with trading business models (for whom social investment is possible), and there is less money around to be given out as grants either at local or national government level. Social investment attempts to be part of the solution to the latter, whilst addressing the needs of the former.
All of this means that there has been significant and growing interest in the data relating to finance in the SoSE, even above and beyond what can feasibly be included in the overall report. This is why the Access Foundation has partnered with SEUK on this work: to better mine the data that we have, to make more of it accessible, and to build understanding in the sector. More directly, that understanding can also feed into Access’ own work.