Being a social enterprise champion — a GBSLEP year

Melanie Mills is the social enterprise champion for the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. In this post she reflects on what being a social enterprise champion means and looks back over her first year in this role.

Being a social enterprise champion — a GBSLEP year

Melanie Mills: GBSLEP Social enterprise champion

So a year and a bit in I felt it was high time I provided an update and some reflections on what being the social enterprise champion for GBSLEP is really like!

Like all voluntary roles we tend to start with passion and enthusiasm to get things done, to incite change and to ensure that our specialism is really part of the mix — after all, it’s why we take on the extra responsibility. However with all good intention then comes the massive realisation of gaps in knowledge, getting to grips with how the machinery of a complex structure like the LEP works and then most importantly it takes time to understand where social enterprise, social value, social investment and the wider third sector is most relevant and can make the most contribution.

However this was never about one person or one role. I see myself as merely the voice of many so we will need to do this together: encouraging more regular dialogue and opening up more direct channels of communication with GBSLEP (and the with the right people) will be fundamental to future activity.

So what have I learned?

1. Everything that the LEP does must be considered through the lens of creating and sustaining economic growth.

2. That as a sector our contribution may be small but it is not insignificant.

3. The fundamental question in this setting is where can it add the most value.

4. There is still a real disconnect and a lack of understanding about what social enterprises and charities do, why we do it and how it also creates not just economic growth but socially inclusive economic growth — something that is important to the GBSLEP agenda.

5. Pinning down how to articulate, how to execute and how to involve and collaborate with the sector to do this is now the challenge.

So the great place to start was through gaining your input into the draft GBSLEP Strategic Economic Plan Refresh. Thanks if you have shared your views in the online survey (there is still time it’s still open until 9th September) and to those who attended the consultation event on Thursday morning it was great to have an opportunity for Nick and Katie to hear directly from the sector and for wider views and some great ideas about how we might move forward.

So what next? I see three key areas where the sector can really add value:

» I am committed to help shape the language and tone of the SEP document to ensure that it is inclusive of our sector and the contribution that we can make. There are key opportunities in the creations of JOBS and SKILLS particularly in reducing unemployment in some of our most challenged communities and in addressing barriers for those furthest from the labour market. This is a space that many social enterprises and charities already work in and where we have a major part to play.

» There are also opportunities in us helping to shape the SOCIAL VALUE GBSLEP wants to see created through HS2 to ensure it underpins the key objectives within the SEP. Effectively we need to set out what Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP wants in the added value our suppliers and contractors create. Again Social Enterprises and Charities should be key partners in the delivery of these targeted social value outcomes.

» Lastly we see additional opportunities in PLACE in the affordable supply of housing, in the running and sustainability of community assets and in the regeneration and empowerment of communities to help effect such change.

It’s not that we couldn’t add more but it is about time and focus and it is fair to say (and only in my humble opinion mind) that we need to be content with some key target areas rather than the all-encompassing application of social value. Frustrating yes, but realistic maybe?

So lots to do. At the consultation we reflected how there has been a gap in our sector’s involvement at the heart of the LEP agenda. So whilst there is much to be celebrated about what GBSLEP has achieved and there are statistics to prove the economic power of progress, to really improve the quality of life for all citizens of the GBSLEP area, particularly those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged, we need more socially inclusive economic growth and this is where we as a sector must be part of the action.

Mel Mills, Social Enterprise Champion GBSLEP

Contribute to the GBSLEP consultation — complete the online questionnaire

Birmingham UK. Freelance research, evaluation and policy consultant specialising in social enterprise and the third sector. I maintain the BSSEC blog and website

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