Wednesday 13 July 2011

Social Enterprise is the way forward

Before attending this conference, I have been struggling to bring together the current need I have for a job with my passion for a resilient oil-independent future. I felt that transition could be seen as using up valuable job-hunting time but then get depressed when the only positions available are in unsustainable industries that are trashing the planet!

After the conference, I feel a lot different. I see now that there is another option, and look forward to pursuing it.

At the conference, it seemed there was a general consensus that social enterprise is the way forward for transition, and for healthy sustainable communities in general. At the first session I went to, I heard about successful projects in Dunbar, Scotland and 9 Carrots in Birmingham. It was clear that some groups had developed their small projects, which relied heavily on volunteer labour, into fully-fledged business which not only earn enough to pay their staff, but can feed some profits back into a local investment fund.

Then the Scaling Up fishbowl session became a continuation of this conversation for me, and highlighted the importance of creating business models that regenerate their local communities rather than just draw from them (either in time or money). There was a lot of talk about creating livelihoods, rather than "jobs", and making transition a collaborative effort by partnering with the council, schools, established community groups and local businesses.

On Sunday afternoon there was a long workshop which gave me more insight into how this can be done, and came back to some of the great projects which have already happened. One great example was Eldonian Group Ltd from Liverpool, a community owned company whose subsidiaries have become immensely successful businesses, whilst regenerating the local area and providing clean local energy. They reinvest all of their profits in new regeneration projects, not being afraid to try something new, but making sure they are economically sustainable too.

If you want to become part of this conversation in Norwich, join our Economics and Livelihoods googlegroup. It's a discussion group, so we'd all love to hear your take on the role of Social Enterprise in local communities. You'll also get the latest updates on Economics and Livelihoods Theme meetings in Norwich.

Images and videos: The Economics, Business and Social Enterprise session at Transition Network Conference 2011; An emerging social enterprise in Finsbury Park, London put up their sign; Jonathan Melhuish speaks about


  1. Hi Simeon,

    Great to read your post! And of course in Norwich FarmShare Transition Norwich has already inspired and supported the creation of at least one social enterprise - I can think of two others too...


  2. Indeed, Josiah, we're already ahead of the game, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do more! At the Transition Conference, we were talking about making social enterprise the norm - that businesses should always be feeding profits back to their communities. Just imagine how much nicer Norwich would look if Aviva fed their profits into local community projects, rather than fat cats' wallets?

  3. Couldn't agree more. Though I tend to worry that the term Social Enterprise creates a sense of other, when really it's just how all responsible businesses ought to operate: as you say, we need to normalise, or perhaps just re-capture and promote, ideas about commerce that have always been about for ever but that took a bit of a back seat in the late 20th century.... and of course Aviva used to be Norwich Union which started (and spent a lot of) its life as a mutual - owned by (initially mostly local) policyholders who shared any profit.

  4. How true, Josiah. I think it would be great to identify the social enterprises that exist out there but we've only ever thought of as companies, because some of them may be doing really good stuff and we fight against them because they are "capitalist". Places like John Lewis (entirely staff-owned) are to some extent an example, although they may have bad practice in other areas, I don't know.

  5. A really interesting article about social enterprise.