I woke up bright and early this morning feeling excited that the conference was moving into ‘practice’ with workshops for practitioners and further conversations on the structural and operating environment within which we all operate. The challenge was to make sure you were in the right place at the right time today, with 27 official workshops, large and mini-plenaries going on! Not to mention the spontaneous groups popping up to discuss what was important to them.
One of the key themes that is shining through in SEWF2017 is the role of social enterprise in the rebuilding and regeneration of cities and communities. In our first plenary, one of the speakers, Andrea Chen of Propeller spoke of the challenges faced by social enterprise in pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
The conclusion people are coming to is putting the ‘social’ into enterprise is the next stage of economic development – fascinating stuff and very close to my own heart.
I was very focused today on the workshop I have to deliver: ‘Developing and maintaining a customer base’, one of the biggest challenges for social enterprises. I delivered with Social Traders (Australia) and St Andrews First Aid Training (Scotland). Over the three hours (we delivered it twice) we helped early stage and well established social enterprises to think through the challenges they face in accessing new customers and developing the appropriate systems and processes to grow. I will definitely be repeating this workshop when I get back to the UK and I hope to persuade Michelle Ferguson (MD of St Andrews First Aid Training) to do it with me. It’s good to mix up the strategic thinking with practical activity at a conference and I think they’ve got it right.
The conference is also an opportunity to hear about work in other countries and use those ideas to stimulate work in your own. Something that struck me particularly today was what we heard from Pat Pillai of Life UnLtd (South Africa) about working with children to help them understand social enterprise, developing incubator schemes with schools and supporting school children to develop their ideas into new social enterprises. This was inspiring. Pat has used his work with children to grow 1,200 social enterprises over recent years. He suggests that if children understand enterprise providing social benefit it gives them skills for life.
My final reflection today concerns ‘networks and infrastructure organisations adding value’ and the changing role such organisations have in helping social enterprises start and grow, especially in a time of reducing resources, not just in England but internationally.
This was the theme of a mini-plenary I took part in and my conclusions are that the function of infrastructure support should be to provide information, brokerage, be enablers, support collaboration, provide support and above all develop awareness of the social enterprise sector. The plenary confirmed that networks and networks-of-networks will become increasingly important to the growth of the social enterprise sector, providing access to further markets and income streams, as will a rise in co-working space and self-help groups.
Tomorrow is the last day and the first plenary will kick off with ‘Global Citizenship and Sustainable Development Goals’. It’s another stimulating day and making choices for sessions is going to be hard!
Sarah Crawley, iSE