The pandemic has inspired a new wave of social entrepreneurs who are developing business ideas to support their Covid-stricken communities, experts say.
The North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC) has reported a marked rise in demand for the business advice services of its social enterprise experts since the outbreak of the virus.
Enquiries are coming from individuals preparing to start-up new businesses aimed at making a difference to local people and places, as well as from existing enterprises with plans to expand everything from counselling services to food co-operatives.
And a new trend has emerged from traditional companies that are exploring changing their business model to become social enterprises, using their businesses for the greater good.
Kevin Marquis, the North East BIC’s Social Enterprise Manager, said more and more people are realising that the social enterprise model offers the perfect way to run a business that is not only profitable but also has social purpose at its heart.
He said: “As with all crises, the pandemic has brought out the best in a lot of people and has inspired them to take collective action to consider how they can best support others.
“People are thinking more about their social objectives and their own accountability and responsibility to their communities. They’re turning to social enterprise as this is the best model to support those objectives.
“Private businesses too are looking to convert to this model because their social conscience has been pricked and they recognise that this route opens up income and diversification opportunities that will make them more sustainable.”
At the latest count, by Social Enterprise UK’s State of the Sector report* in 2019, there were 100,000 social enterprises contributing £60bn to UK GDP.
And Michelle Booth, an Associate Consultant at the BIC, said there is a lot of evidence that the model is gaining traction in the North East.
She said: “It’s notoriously difficult to measure how many social enterprises are trading because there are a range of different legal forms. But a good gauge of the overall trend is the number of Community Interest Companies (CICs) recorded at Companies House. There are 942 active CICs in our region 71% of which have been registered in the past five years and shows a real uptick in social entrepreneurship.”
Despite the challenging economic climate of 2020, a total of 183 CICs were incorporated to the start of November. This accounts for 19% of all CICs in the region.
Michelle added: “The figures back up our anecdotal evidence but we know they’re a conservative estimate. There’s been a steady increase in this type of enterprise activity in our region in recent years, in line with an increased focus on localism, public sector reform and a changing economy.
“It’s a really exciting trend and one that we are proud to support here at the BIC through Innovate for Good, our social enterprise incubator, and other services to help businesses explore the benefits of this model and the incredible opportunities it presents.
“As more people face the prospect of redundancy in the coming months, we are preparing for even greater numbers coming forward for support to put their plans into action. We think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg – we’re expecting a lot of exciting change in this space in 2021.”
Sunderland was the first city in the UK to be awarded Social Enterprise City status by Social Enterprise UK in 2014 and Kevin and Michelle were recently added to the organisation’s Social Enterprise Futures Roll of Honour for their work to support the sector during Covid.
*Social Enterprise UK’s State of the Sector report can be found at https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Capitalism-in-Crisis.pdf