I’d like to start this article with a vision: “By 2030 the majority of businesses in and around ‘deprived communities’ are run on a cooperative or social enterprise model, are incentivised to recruit locally, and allocate a proportion of their profits to the regeneration of the local community – in consultation and collaboration with that community.”
Let me continue by saying I personally dislike the term “deprived communities” though I understand the need to use this term so we all know what we’re talking about. I prefer the term “communities of untapped potential” or CUPs for short. Using this term could just help to frame any future discussion in a more positive and solutions focussed way.
What I’m really interested in, however, is the potential of the social enterprise model to unlock and cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit that is already within these communities.
This is an important challenge for the social enterprise movement and a challenge I believe we should be making our number one priority. Of course it will undoubtedly take an injection of capital in some form but we should at least attempt to make that capital work for these communities and produce a return that can be reinvested. Injecting finance in a way that stimulates entrepreneurial thinking makes business and social enterprise a new process for individual and community development and progression.
Perhaps it’s a “Little Society Bank” we need rather than a big one. A bank that makes it easier to obtain start-up money for a local social enterprise, a bank that is supportive and allows room for a degree of failure and one that’s willing to take more risks.
One mechanism for injecting micro-finance could well be social landlords. Couldn’t they perform some form of intermediary role between perhaps the Big Society Bank and the people and ideas on the ground?
Jas Bains, chief executive of Ashram Housing in Birmingham, wrote as a visionary article titled How housing associations can seed the civic economy, which says:
“First and foremost we should invest in order to grow the resilience of communities. Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen argues that it is the conditions for independent human flourishing that policy in general should focus on. That is a shared task, but housing associations need to play their part. This does take us quite beyond the role of landlord.”
Jas has identified a far wider role for housing associations and bravely identified future challenges for his own organisation and for the communities he so obviously cares about. So how can the wider social enterprise movement play its part?
Well let’s set up business and social enterprise task forces in every CUP in the country, bring in the imagination and creativity of the social enterprise movement, make these task forces community-led and diverse, incentivise local business to become involved and encourage social landlords to play their part. Most importantly, let’s actually show some faith that, given the right tools and the appropriate guidance, these communities can sort out their own problems. In this respect there should be a social enterprise army knocking on the door.
I believe that it is a perceived lack of power to change one’s own circumstances and the deeply held frustration that springs from it that ultimately led to the wide-scale looting and rioting that took place in August this year. Imposing solutions will not work in the longer term but the encouragement of micro enterprise just might. The involvement and ultimately leadership of the community is a given in this, but for the social enterprise movement in the UK tackling this issue head-on could just be the making of us.