Social enterprises, support organisations and the Welsh government have worked together to produce a bold and ambitious vision for the sector in Wales. Transforming Wales through Social Enterprise, published by Wales Co-operative Centre, significantly raises the bar in terms of sector development goals and we can all learn from this well researched and clearly written document.
In 2020, the Welsh social enterprise sector has grown to more than 2,000 social enterprises employing 55,000 people and contributing over £3bn to the economy. By 2030, the report says, social enterprise will be the business model of choice for entrepreneurs delivering solutions to social, economic and environmental problems in Wales. And by working as a broad movement in ‘ethical alliances’ with other socially responsible businesses and organisations, social enterprises will be at the heart of a fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable Wales.
It clearly sets out the socio-economic problems Wales faces:
» Parts of Wales have levels of deprivation and inequality that are worse than the rest of the UK, with the added complexities of rural areas and former coalfields. Disabled people in particular are being denied the right to independent living. It has an ageing population.
» Workers on zero-hour contracts have been the worst affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
» The fourth industrial revolution — emerging digital technologies being deployed at unprecedented speed and scale — offers immense potential for good, but the Welsh government is also concerned that this could further widen inequalities, with automation substituting for labour.
» Wales, like the rest of the world, faces a climate emergency.
» Many communities feel excluded and disenfranchised: local resources and assets — including language and culture — are under-valued.
» Forty years of economic planning based on the rule that ‘markets know best’ has concentrated wealth, ownership and power in the hands of small, self-serving economic elites.
» Health and wellbeing are declining.
» Wales sees the need to further strengthen and extend the role of social enterprises in public procurement, with the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 having somewhat similar aims to the UK Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012.
In describing these entrenched socio-economic inequalities, one could say much the same of the rest of the UK.
The difference here, however, is that the Welsh government sees social enterprise models as absolutely central in offering solutions to these systemic problems and the document sets out the case for social enterprise being at the heart of long-term Welsh recovery.
The document identifies nine key outcomes that should guide efforts to support and grow the social enterprise sector in Wales over the next decade:
- More people will choose to engage with social enterprises –- as customers, employees, volunteers or leaders.
- More people will choose a social enterprise model to start a new business.
- Policy makers will prioritise social enterprise solutions when considering how to address problems and will create conditions which help social enterprises to rebuild and thrive.
- Social enterprises will be better connected to each other and will speak with a more unified voice.
- Social enterprises will play a greater role in tackling the climate emergency and protecting the environment.
- Social enterprises will adopt Fair Work practices, pay the Living Wage and increase diversity amongst their employees and volunteers.
- Social enterprises will be better able to exploit digital technology for social good.
- The range and value of finance options tailored to the needs of social enterprises will multiply.
- Good quality specialist business support tailored to the needs of the sector will be available to everyone who needs it.
How familiar some of these goals are. And yet taken together this is as far-reaching a national commitment to a social enterprise future as we are likely to see. One might even say it offers a blueprint for a ‘social enterprise country’ — and that really does take the idea of ‘social enterprise places’ to the next level.